OPINION: The Summer Of Shafali

David Windram reflects on the emergence of a young Indian star

A Katherine Brunt send-off is hard to miss. This was no different as she charged down the pitch in celebration, raising her fingers to her lips. This one perhaps had a little extra on it. As Shafali Verma dragged herself off she knew the series was likely lost. On a personal level, Verma has only just begun. Eliciting such an animalistic send off from Brunt proved that she had been doing something right. It was the ultimate veiled compliment. A public service announcement that she had become England’s most desired wicket. Welcome to the summer of Shafali.

Image: Bahnfrend (Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes, all it needs is a name. The ring of those very specific syllables transporting you back to the summer they defined. Amla in 2012, Bell in 2013, Perry in 2015 or Smith in 2019. Throughout the summer they reveal themselves to be the face of a series. Shafali Verma became that face in 2021.

The road back to Test match cricket for India’s women has been arduous. By playing in just one, Shafali Verma has been involved in a seventh of Tests played during her short time on the planet. She was 10 the last time those particularly crisp whites were buttoned up. Bristol was the venue for the long-desired return; England the opponents.

For Verma, unfamiliarity did not breed uncertainty. Red, white, or pink, a cricket ball is a cricket ball after all. Still, this wasn’t a simple pressure-free introduction to the toughest form of the game. England had piled on runs before declaring and were in peak predatory mode, unashamedly hunting twenty wickets without the need to bat again. Verma shrugged and got on with it.

Accompanied by Smriti Mandhana, she blunted, drove and caressed her way to 96 runs in a partnership of 167. The disappointment in missing out on a debut ton testament to the expectations which now attach to her, all 1.3 billion of them. But the highest score on Test debut for an Indian woman was quite the expectation satisfier. Not that Verma seemed to care. Simply another day in the life of the kid from Rohtak.

T20 debut at 15. Followed by discarding you know who as India’s youngest half centurion for India; the little master in waiting. At 16, officially the world’s best T20I batter. Now 17, and India’s youngest cricketer to play all three formats. A next-generation cricketer, in the most literal sense.

It should have been job done at Bristol. A weather affected four-day test leaving minimal time for a result. But Verma’s teammates wanted more, and who can blame them? The remaining nine wickets falling promptly following the debutant’s demise.

Back for more to face a similarly ravenous, now reinvigorated, bowling line up, who were sniffing an unlikely victory. That prospect was quickly extinguished. Verma again frustrated the English bowlers, while still managing to show impressive attacking intent. A further 63 runs ensured a draw for her team and the Player of the Match award. An imperious and classy debut. Global eyes were now open.

Verma is a multi-format cricketer in the purest sense; she simply has to be. Format switching is the cricketer’s Rubik’s cube. The modern career is spent constantly tweaking and fiddling hoping that it clicks in time for the impending format. This elasticity is increasingly vital for the female cricketer, where multi-format series are now the norm. These series provide an extreme examination of patience, technique, skill and imagination; only the truly elite can thrive.

Luckily for India, Verma is elite. Her range of shots appears limitless. Come straight at her and she will blunt you; pitch it up and she will drive you; bang it in short and you’re swatted to the boundary. She will walk across her stumps to clip you away to leg, or give herself room and smash through the off side. The variety with which deliveries are dealt with is bold and brash. Pre-summer there remained an unanswered question. Was the temperament transferable to longer formats? The answer has been emphatic.

Verma made contributions in at least one game of every single format, including an epic 48 runs off 38 balls in the second T20I to keep India’s series hopes alive. If Brunt didn’t get her early, she made runs. This is the beauty of the multi-format series. It allows these mini battles to develop. Verma v Brunt became captivating viewing.

Yet, there remains a dichotomy at the heart of Verma’s success. Indian cricket has a generational talent on its hands – yes, another one. Her cricket is exciting, high quality and intensely enjoyable to watch. But without the requisite backing from her cricket board, it almost feels like it doesn’t matter what she does. She can be as good as she wants, but unless something changes, she will only be given a tokenistic glance.

Verma received a “Grade B” contract from the BCCI. It pays her approximately £29,000 to be one of the best in the world. Her male equivalents are paid around £485,000, with the lowest centrally contracted male player receiving roughly £97,000. There is also the well-documented caper in which the BCCI withheld prize money from the women’s inspirational run to the World Cup final in 2020. These “life-changing amounts” were only paid to the players once they had raised invoices and when the story was diligently reported in the mainstream press. The money had been paid to the BCCI fourteen months previously.

There appears a reluctance to conjure up a legitimate female equivalent of the IPL. The current tournament, The T20 Challenge, in which three teams play two games each is merely a box-ticking exercise. As the male tournament becomes unnecessarily bloated with repetitive game after repetitive game, the women’s competition couldn’t be trimmed any further. As sad as it is, money makes the game go round. The BCCI have copious amounts to throw at whatever they feel is worthy. At the moment there is a clear rejection of the women’s game.

It leaves Shafali Verma hunting for game time, o the extent that she spent time training with Haryana’s men’s team and facing Mohit Sharma in nets. She is reliant on the WBBL and The Hundred. For all the follies of The Hundred, and they are pretty much endless, the female version has become vital for the players. The salaries peak at £15,000 – the lowest male players being paid nearly double the highest women – but it is as much about game time. Opportunities remain scarce and need to be grabbed when available, regardless of what they look like. Sometimes it is simply about survival.

India was eventually in win or go home territory with two T20s to play. On ball twenty of the must-win match, Verma unleashed. Inevitably, it was Brunt on the receiving end. With a violent swipe of her bat, the ball was catapulted to the boundary. Next ball, same result, as Verma stepped away and launched back over Brunt’s head. Ball three was hung outside off, this time a feather- like touch clipped the ball past point to the rope. Two slightly more agricultural swipes, led to two more boundaries, off the final two balls of the over. It was carnage. Brunt was stunned; England were stunned. Five fours off five balls and India’s recovery was on.

It demonstrated every aspect in confirming she is destined for stardom. The temerity to rip apart a world-class bowler. The ability to play whatever shot the delivery required. Sometimes it wasn’t perhaps the perfect shot selection, yet she made whatever shot she played work. The concept of the 360-degree cricketer has become a cliche; for Verma, it is nothing less than reality.

Ultimately, Brunt would have the last laugh with her final match send-off, but Shafali Verma has arrived. Now the headliner of the coming generation, let’s make sure she is given the proper platform. Your move BCCI.

PREVIEW: The Hundred (Women’s Competition)

Sasha Putt previews The Hundred (Women’s Competition)

With England’s series against India over, it is time to turn our attention to the biggest event in cricket this summer: The Hundred. With games set to commence on Wednesday, the tournament promises to be a month of exciting cricket, with some of the best international talent on display, despite the withdrawal of many Australian stars due to Covid concerns.

Before the tournament kicks off, here is a run-down of all eight squads ready to do battle this summer, and some pre-tournament predictions as well.

Birmingham Phoenix 

Most noticeable for Birmingham is the loss of Ellyse Perry, arguably the best cricketer in the world and someone who would have bolstered the side with a perfect all-round option. Despite this setback, the Phoenix squad does not lack star power: they have a host of internationals, spearheaded by one of the bright young stars in the game today – Shafali Verma. Backed by England internationals Amy Jones and Georgia Elwiss, with red-hot Evelyn Jones hoping to continue her domestic white-ball form and veteran Erin Burns earning a replacement call-up, the Phoenix top-order appears to be solid and able to score runs quickly.

A youthful bowling core could prove to be feisty as well, with Emily Arlott and Issy Wong both able to take wickets quickly and restrict the run-rate, while Abtaha Maqsood could inject some energy in those middle overs.

This is the squad that could be the most hit-or-miss; if Verma and co. can get firing they’ll easily put up big scores which would be difficult to chase, but an inexperienced bowling attack could prove to be an Achilles heel amongst the more well-rounded sides.

London Spirit 

Much like the Edgbaston side, the Spirit have a stacked batting line-up with a host of international stars at their disposal. The England duo of captain Heather Knight and Tammy Beaumont will both be confident after a series win against India, and so should look to anchor the top of the order. Perhaps an even more exciting prospect is to see the fantastic trio of Deandra Dottin, Deepti Sharma and Chloe Tryon in action together, making up what could be the best top-five of the tournament.

Although Dottin, Sharma and Tryon have offered something with the ball at times, this side will need its young bowlers to carry the load. In particular the duo of Freya Davies and Charlie Dean could prove to be difference makers, but the strength of the bowling attack comes in a clear second when considering the power up top.

This being said, the Spirit still have one of the strongest squads this summer, and only need two or three of their stars to get runs on the board to put up a total most sides would struggle to beat, marking them as an early contender for champions.

Manchester Originals

The Originals display a plethora of options in the bowling department, with England’s Kate Cross and world number one T20I bowler Sophie Ecclestone, backed by former international Alex Hartley, a fearsome attack that will look to take quick wickets early, whilst restricting any chances of scoring.

International imports reinforce Manchester’s batting, with Harmanpreet Kaur, Mignon du Preez and Lizelle Lee solidifying an explosive top order in plenty of form. Joined by Emma Lamb, the first centurion of the Charlotte Edwards T20 Cup and a very handy bowling option, and Cordelia Griffith capable of consistently chipping in with runs, the team at Old Trafford are one of the most complete sides of the tournament, with few weak spots besides potential depth.

Northern Superchargers

A return to top-heavy teams here with the Superchargers boasting an impressive collection of batters with Lauren Winfield-Hill, Laura Wolvaardt, Jemimah Rodrigues, Laura Kimmince, Sterre Kalis and Alice Davidson-Richards all having big scores in their locker. Key for the team will be to bat first and bat big, adopting a more aggressive approach from the outset due to the depth in quality and quick-scoring talent.

Beth Langston could prove to be a very useful pivot for the team, handy with both the bat and ball, but it’s difficult to see where wickets would come from with this side. However, that does set the ground for one of England’s young prospects to announce themselves in a high-profile domestic tournament.

Despite a solid batting core, barring the emergence of a young star I struggle to see this team making a serious impact unless they can consistently put up big totals.

Oval Invincibles 

If you’re a fan of the Proteas, then have I got the team for you. Three of South Africa’s greatest ever headline the South London side, with Dane van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail a formidable core of players to build any team around. Although van Niekerk is returning from injury her experience will prove to be a lynchpin for the side, with Kapp currently the best ranked ODI all-rounder (third for bowlers) and Ismail the second best T20I bowler. The success of this Invincibles side is likely to come through this trio, particularly if they’re firing on all cylinders.

To call the rest of the squad a ‘supporting cast’ would almost be an insult, considering the talent available. England internationals Tash Farrant and Mady Villiers round out a very strong attack, and Fran Wilson provides experience with the bat.

Batting could be the Invincibles’ weakness, lacking the big-name stars of other teams in the tournament. However, Georgia Adams and Alice Capsey have both shown flashes of form, and so could be crucial for this top order to keep up with their bowling attack. The Invincibles are definitely a team that could surprise a few and make it to the knockout stages.

Southern Brave 

To me, this is by far the most exciting team in the competition. Above all is world number one ODI batter Stafanie Taylor, who comes into the tournament on a hot streak, having made 49, 105* and 43* in her last three outings. Deadly with the ball as well, the West Indies legend is a must-watch over the summer.

Even without Taylor the Brave roster would pose a problem for anyone. World Cup hero (and fellow Bathonian) Anya Shrubsole leads a fierce bowling attack, with Lauren Bell and Charlotte Taylor both able to pick up wickets regularly. Smriti Mandhana and Danni Wyatt have been in fine form during India’s recent tour of England and complement Taylor perfectly, and if Sophia Dunkley can continue her domestic form then this is a group of batters that could easily dispatch any bowling unit.

Even the Brave’s depth is strong, with Tara Norris providing a very useful left-arm option who has seen plenty of domestic success in the past couple of years. Clear favourites to win the tournament, a lot of pressure is surrounding this squad to perform.

Trent Rockets 

It seems like when drawing up their squad Trent Rockets management had just one word in mind: all-rounder, with 11/15 of their squad being listed as so. The Nottingham side was hit hard by the delay of the tournament, losing Beth Langston and Mady Villiers to other teams, then Elyse Villani and Sophie Molineux pulling out due to pandemic concerns.

As a result, the Rockets are left reliant on their England stars, which isn’t the worst consolation prize. World number one T20I all-rounder Nat Sciver is a perfect talisman to build around. Seamer Katherine Brunt and leg spinner Sarah Glenn can both tie up an end, and Australian replacement Heather Graham has been in excellent domestic form with the bat. New Zealand veteran Rachel Priest could establish herself as a fan favourite, particularly with her talent behind the stumps.

Aside from Teresa Graves, the rest of the Rockets’ depth could struggle if Brunt and Sciver aren’t dominating. Those stars could still help cause an upset or two, however, and so shouldn’t be counted out.

Welsh Fire 

Alongside the Rockets the Cardiff-based team have also been depleted by the pandemic. The losses of Jess Jonassen, Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney leave large gaps in both the bowling and batting departments. However, their replacements could still be exciting, with Piepa Cleary and Hayley Matthews solid all-round options, and keeper Georgia Redmayne in incredible recent form, averaging nearly 240 across her last 5 innings.

The loss of key stars doesn’t take away from the true draw of this side: the return of Sarah Taylor, undoubtedly England’s best keeper this century. Already finding her groove behind the stumps for the Diamonds in the Charlotte Edwards Trophy, the Hundred will provide an incredible opportunity for some fantastic glovework to appear on our screens.

Although lacking in big-name stars elsewhere, the Fire have plenty of domestic talent ready to break through. Sophie Luff and Georgia Hennessy have both shown themselves to be capable of building big innings, albeit in the longer limited-overs format, and Bethan Ellis has shown flashes with bat and ball.

It might just be my excitement to watch Sarah Taylor but this side looks poised to make some serious waves and cause a few upsets over the course of the tournament, and could sneak in to the final three.

Five Must-Watch Games:

  • Invincibles vs Originals – 21st July – first game and a South African showdown
  • Spirit vs Rockets – 29th July – contest between England’s stars at Lord’s 
  • Originals vs Brave – 5th August – two top teams squaring off 
  • Invincibles vs Spirit – 14th August – Battle for London with playoff implications 
  • Superchargers vs Phoenix – 17th August – a potential run-fest

(A full list of fixtures can be found here.)

Pre-tournament, will soon be proven wrong predictions: 

Winners: Southern Brave – bowling, batting, everything – where is this team’s weak spot? 

Final Three: Southern Brave, London Spirit, Manchester Originals 

Player of the Tournament: Sophie Ecclestone

International Star: Stafanie Taylor

Surprise Star: Charlotte Taylor

Worst team name: Manchester – When the Manchester Bees was floated as a potential team name anything else is a let-down 

Best/Worst Kit: Birmingham – I’ve been sat here for an hour trying to come up with a reason for why I like this jersey but have managed nothing. I still have strongly considered getting one. 

PREVIEW: All-Square Super Series Moves On To Titwood

Jake Perry looks ahead to Round Two of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Super Series.

The Women’s Super Series resumes at Titwood this weekend, where the Ross and Sutton XIs will battle it out in the third and fourth T20s of Cricket Scotland’s new representative competition. After a nail-biter of a day in Arbroath last Sunday, both teams will be keen to build on the positives of an entertaining first round which finished all square. 

Of the two it was probably the Sutton XI which left Lochlands the happier, having recovered from a trouncing in the first game to take a 10-run win in the second. That transformation was built on a far more dynamic showing with the bat – where the Ross bowlers had dominated the morning, with only three Sutton batters reaching double figures, game two saw each of the top three score at a strike-rate of above ninety as they posted a much more impressive total of 133 for 2. Ellen Watson and Lorna Jack led the way with an opening stand of 64, and although Watson was then bowled by a beauty from Hannah Rainey, Charis Scott, and in due course Katie McGill, made sure that that early momentum was carried through to the end. Most encouraging of all, though, was the form of Jack, who showed more than a glimpse of that attacking flair which first came to prominence in the World T20 European Qualifier back in 2017 – that her 46 runs came at well over a run a ball while containing only three boundaries said a lot about her busyness at the crease and aggressive running between the wickets.

The Suttons’ final total still needed some defending, of course, but fine catches from Emma Walsingham and Ikra Farooq and a slower-ball yorker from Niamh Robertson-Jack ensured they got off to a good start in doing so. It was Nayma Shaikh who was the star of the innings, however, with a hat-trick which kept the chasing team on the back foot. Shaikh had an excellent WPL as a batter – after finding plenty of movement in the air and off the pitch here, though, it is the development of her bowling in the shortest form which will be most fascinating to watch as the rest of the competition unfolds.

The Ross XI, meanwhile, can reflect on a performance in game one which shut the door on their opponents in emphatic style. Megan McColl’s burst of three wickets in eight balls left the Suttons reeling at 27 for 3, and with spinners Abtaha Maqsood and Katherine Fraser then turning the screws even tighter, any hope of a revival was quickly snuffed out. That the top three of Ailsa Lister, Abbi Aitken-Drummond and Becky Glen then set about the chase with such relish will have been particularly satisfying for Peter Ross – Glen’s unbeaten 21-ball 36, with its five fours and a six, must have pleased him most of all.

And there were plenty of plusses for the coach to take from the afternoon, as well, as the Rosses stayed in game two until the very last over. The middle-overs partnership between McColl and Emily Cavender ensured that the early damage was quickly repaired, and although Cavender then became the first of Shaikh’s memorable trio, McColl continued to play her shots as her side moved into three figures. The 20-year-old’s near run-a-ball 37 underlined her rapidly developing game – after her excellent showing with the national side in Ireland, the Arbroath all-rounder is already making her mark on this new competition.

Both Peter Ross and Daniel Sutton make two changes to their squads for Titwood. Lois Wilkinson makes a welcome return in place of the Hundred-bound Abtaha Maqsood, while Katherine Mills comes into the Ross XI in place of Emily Cavender. Samantha Haggo, a late withdrawal from round one, takes her place in the Sutton team instead of the unavailable Katie McGill, while Niamh Muir replaces the unfortunate Ikra Farooq, who is out for six weeks after breaking her thumb in the second match at Lochlands.

All in all, it promises to be another fascinating day. A stated aim of the Super Series is to give players at both ends of the experience scale the chance to showcase their skills – on the evidence so far, that is something that is already bearing fruit.

The Cricket Scotland Super Series will be live-scored and streamed via CS Live.

Ross XI: Abbi Aitken-Drummond, Ailsa Lister, Becky Glen, Megan McColl, Katherine Mills, Lois Wilkinson, Katherine Fraser, Hannah Rainey, Catherine Holland, Molly Paton, Anne Sturgess, Zoe Rennie. 

Sutton XI: Priyanaz Chatterji, Ellen Watson, Samantha Haggo, Lorna Jack, Abbie Hogg, Charis Scott, Emma Walsingham, Emily Tucker, Niamh Robertson-Jack, Orla Montgomery, Nayma Shaikh, Niamh Muir.

——

Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the men’s and women’s league action from across the As part of our ongoing coverage of men’s and women’s domestic cricket, The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the Super Series every Tuesday, with analysis and player interviews along with those from other featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

PREVIEW: All Eyes On Lochlands As The Super Series Begins

Coaches Peter Ross and Daniel Sutton look ahead to Cricket Scotland’s new Super Series, which gets underway on Sunday.

After Carlton were confirmed as winners of the Women’s Premier League last weekend, the next phase of Scotland’s domestic programme begins on Sunday as the Cricket Scotland Super Series gets underway at Lochlands. The T20 competition, which replaces the Regional Series, sees teams coached by Peter Ross and Daniel Sutton go head-to-head over five of the next six weekends.

Removing the geographical basis by which the Eagles and Stormers were selected, the new tournament is designed to provide a more balanced spread of players. With international cricket looking unlikely for Scotland in the short term, that improved competitiveness will be all the more important as the European Qualifier for the Women’s T20 World Cup gets closer.

“The main thinking behind the change is that we want to provide the highest quality of cricket we can for our current and aspiring national team players, and in the discussions between the high-performance group and senior management it was felt that taking the best players in the country and splitting them into two teams would provide the best contest,” said Peter. “It also removes the situation that we saw last year when we had one team with three wicket-keepers and one team with none, for example.” 

“Ultimately, it’s about recognising the need for higher-quality cricket, creating more competition for places, and just trying to make sure that the players are challenged as much as possible to prepare them for international cricket.” 

“I think it’s a great move by Cricket Scotland,” agreed Daniel. “It gives the players that are currently Wildcats the opportunity to prove that they’re at that level and it gives a great opportunity to those who aren’t there yet to knock on the door and give Mark Coles a bit of a headache when it comes to selection.”

Flexibility in the make-up of the squads will also ensure that the Series’ competitive edge is kept keen.

“We want the best cricketers playing against each other,” said Daniel, “and if that means swapping every now and then to make sure the games are even and competitive, we’re happy to do that.”

Each squad features a mixture of established and up-and-coming players, with rising stars such as Catherine Holland, Emma Walsingham, Niamh Robertson-Jack and Nayma Shaikh rubbing shoulders with experienced Scotland internationals.

“The way the teams are matched means it’s going to be a good contest,” said Peter. “On my side we have Abbi Aitken-Drummond, who is coming off the back of a really productive WPL campaign where she batted up top for Carlton and was quite destructive in a couple of games. Becky Glen, too, is someone who’s always done the job with the national team, and it’ll be good for her to lead the squad.

“Abtaha Maqsood is available this weekend before she goes off to The Hundred to play for Birmingham Phoenix, and as ever she’ll be a real handful on the pitch. Hannah Rainey is in a really good spell at the minute, she bowled with good pace for Carlton and played well for the Performance Academy on Monday [taking 3 for 29 against the Northern Diamonds Academy at Alnwick]. Katherine Fraser is always excellent, and Megan McColl had a really productive series with the national squad in Ireland as well.

“So in terms of our senior players there’s a lot to be excited about, and then you’ve also got people like Catherine Holland, who had a good WPL campaign for Stewart’s Melville, Molly Paton too, and then a couple of others who are also trying to push their way into the team.” 

“Katie McGill is going to captain the first weekend for us,” said Daniel. “She obviously brings a lot of experience with her and did really well in Ireland, and we’re hoping to benefit from that. Priyanaz Chatterji is going to be vice-captain, and again she brings loads of experience with her – because we’ve got quite a few younger girls in our squad it’s going to be important to have those leadership figures there to help and support them.

“I’m really looking forward to watching Orla Montgomery bowl,” he went on. “She’s probably the quickest bowler in Scotland, and is definitely one for the future. We’ll be encouraging her to bowl as quickly as she can – if she goes for a few runs, so be it, there’s not many girls who can bowl with pace in the female game at the moment, so she’s a great asset for our team.

“Overall a win would be great, but a few girls putting their hands up to say that they’re ready to play at this level would be even better.”

“We’re also looking forward to the professional side of it,” Daniel concluded, “with the live-streaming, match officials, physios and so on. It feels like we’re arriving at the next stage of the women’s game in Scotland, towards it becoming more professional in this country.”

The Cricket Scotland Super Series will be live-scored and streamed via CS Live. 

Ross XI: Becky Glen, Abtaha Maqsood, Abbi Aitken-Drummond, Ailsa Lister, Megan McColl, Emily Cavender, Katherine Fraser, Hannah Rainey, Catherine Holland, Molly Paton, Anne Sturgess, Zoe Rennie. 

Sutton XI: Katie McGill, Priyanaz Chatterji, Ellen Watson, Samantha Haggo, Ikra Farooq, Lorna Jack, Charis Scott, Emma Walsingham, Emily Tucker, Niamh Robertson-Jack, Orla Montgomery, Nayma Shaikh.

——

Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the men’s and women’s league action from across the As part of our ongoing coverage of men’s and women’s domestic cricket, The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the Super Series every Tuesday, with analysis and player interviews along with those from other featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

NEWS: Carlton wins the Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League

By Jake Perry

Carlton have been crowned Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League champions after the final game of the season was concluded at Myreside on Sunday. West of Scotland’s 116-run defeat to Watsonians/Grange ensured that the Grange Loan team could not be overtaken at the top of the table they have led for all but a single week of the competition.

“We’re really delighted,” Carlton captain Annette Aitken-Drummond told The Cricket Scotland Podcast. “That was our main aim, to win the league this season. To win all but one of our games has been really impressive, and everyone’s worked really hard to achieve it.”

The evidence of that effort is clear to see. Carlton’s dominance with the bat saw them rack up over a thousand runs over the course of the campaign, with Charis Scott, who scored 209 runs at 52.25, and Annette herself, with 198 at 66.00, occupying the first two places in the batting averages. With 13 wickets at 12.31, Charis finished at the head of the bowling table, too, narrowly ahead of young prospect Maisie Maceira, who took 12 at an average of exactly 10.00.

“In our first game Charis was definitely the stand-out,” said Annette, “and she [continued to contribute] with the bat and the ball all season. In the last game she stood up when we were struggling, and that’s when you need players who are going to go in and do the job for you.”

“I’ve been really impressed with Maisie as well,” she continued. “She’s bowled really well and has taken a lot of wickets for us. And then Abbi [Aitken-Drummond] has hit quite a lot of runs, Sammy [Haggo] hit some runs [and] Hannah [Rainey] bowled really well without reaping the rewards, but having her open as a serious quick for us [has been] a great advantage. Young Ashley Robertson [with 5 wickets at 4.20] has impressed over the last couple of games with the ball, too.”

“But what’s impressed me most is how deep our squad can bat,” said Annette, “and I think where some of the WPL teams are perhaps reliant on one or two batters, the last game showed that we can bat pretty well into our squad and that we’ve got a lot of players willing to step up when we need them to.”

There have been several moments over the course of the season when just that has happened.

“Charis’s knock of 97 in the first game set us up for a really good start, and although I didn’t play in the second game against Stew-Mel, I know Sammy batted really well and we were quite unfortunate to lose,” Annette continued. “We had some good catches in the field against George Watson’s – Sarah Beith took a great double-mid-air catch which was quite incredible to watch – and Amelia [Beattie] has taken a few good ones as well. Maisie took a five-fer against Dumfries & Galloway, which was definitely an outstanding moment, and against West of Scotland Abbi’s batting was pretty awesome, too.”

And then in the last game against Royal High Corstorphine we were definitely under the pump for a little bit at [34 for 4], so for Charis and Zaara [Dancu] to come in and steady the ship and then start scoring runs to give us something to defend, that was really good to watch.”

But perhaps most the pleasing aspect of Carlton’s victory is the ongoing story behind it. That the team has found a winning mix of internationals, up-and-coming young talent and truly dedicated club players is no accident: the structure of the club, and the focus it places upon the women’s game, has sown the seeds of its success.

“I remember when I first joined Carlton when I first moved to Edinburgh,” said Annette. “There were maybe five or six of us at the nets, I’d say. But the thing I remember is that after training somebody cooked, and we all sat and ate together, and that team and social atmosphere still continues to this day.”

“We’ve got a women’s committee at Carlton, and we’ve tried quite hard to make it fun, but [alongside that] we’ve got a really talented coach in Peter Ross who the girls and women are all learning from.”

“And the club have put the women’s section at the forefront of a lot of things. We’re the second team mentioned on social media, for example, and it’s tiny little things like that that make you feel important and a real part of the club.”

“We’re in the best place now that we’ve ever been – we’ve got about 25 women training regularly on a Friday night, and it’s going onwards and upwards.”

“It’s a brilliant club, but as a woman it’s a brilliant club to be a part of.”

—–

This week’s edition of The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include the full interview with Annette, as well as a report of the Watsonians/Grange v West of Scotland game. The podcast will also be providing full coverage of the upcoming Super Series, as well as the Beyond Boundaries Scottish Cup, which begins next month. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

And if you or your club has a story for us, please email jakeperrycricket@gmail.com and gary@gh-media.co.uk – we look forward to hearing from you!

PREVIEW: Much To Applaud In A WPL Season To Remember

Ahead of the final round of matches this weekend, Jake Perry looks back over what has been a fascinating Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League.

The Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League draws to a close this Sunday with the final round of matches in what has been an exhilarating season. After Carlton took a massive step towards the title last weekend, the remaining teams in the competition will all be looking for a strong finish before attention turns to the Beyond Boundaries Scottish Cup next month.

Royal High Corstorphine entertain a Stewart’s Melville side that stayed in contention to the very last. Defeat at Hamilton Crescent finally ended their hopes of three-in-a-row, but Catherine Holland’s team can still be proud of the challenge they mounted and the quality of the individual contributions within it. The young skipper, with four wickets to go with her 138 runs, has provided an excellent foil to opening partner Emma Walsingham, whose feats with the bat have left her with an opportunity to finish the campaign at the top of the averages. The consecutive ducks that followed her blistering century against George Watson’s College notwithstanding – the cricketing gods can be relied upon to keep the best of batters grounded – her 189 runs at an average of just under 38, often scored against international bowlers at the top of the innings, is a return to be proud of either way. Along with Katherine Fraser and the all-round powerhouse that is Katie McGill, Molly Paton has also shone with the ball, taking eight wickets at 5.25, while Jenny Ballantyne, Iona Lowry and Chloe Kiely are amongst those that have caught the eye too in what has been another balanced and well-coached Stew-Mel side.

For RHC, as well, it has been a case of so near, and yet so far. Table-toppers after Round Two, Megan Taylor’s team never quite got going again after losing to Dumfries & Galloway in Week Three, an agonisingly close loss to West of Scotland in Week Four compounding their dismay. They bowled themselves into a good position against Carlton last weekend, too, reducing them to 34 for 4, but wickets at crucial moments in the chase saw them fall 24 runs short at the end. With 55 in that game, opener Riti Patel joined Kitty Levenson and Ikra Farooq as one of the team’s three half-centurions, and with wickets shared amongst a good number of their bowlers – Taylor herself not least amongst them – RHC will be looking for a morale-boosting win to set up what is sure to be a determined cup campaign.

The most frustrating story of the last few weeks has been that of West of Scotland, forced to postpone their first two games by ongoing COVID restrictions in Glasgow. With the Super Series beginning next week, whether those missed matches can now be made up is unclear, but the Hamilton Crescent side has played some brilliant cricket nonetheless, not least in the win over RHC at New Williamfield. Nayma Shaikh starred in that particular encounter, while in Sophie Trickett, Neha Mahatma, Faatima Gardee and Anne Sturgess, the team has more exceptional young talent on which to draw. Scotland stars Ellen Watson and Abtaha Maqsood have shown their influence both on and off the field, while skipper Charlotte Dalton-Howells has led by example, exuding a calm authority. Whichever way the league season ends up, West is a first-rate outfit, and they will certainly be ones to watch in August. 

Their opponents at Myreside are Watsonians/Grange, who recovered from their opening-day mauling from Carlton to post wins against Stew-Mel and George Watson’s College. While the part played by Becky Glen, Megan McColl and Priyanaz Chatterji has been significant, Niamh Robertson-Jack and Catherine Edwards have both underlined their burgeoning talent, and the delight with which the whole team greeted its maiden win at Inverleith was a pleasure to see. It has been a good first season for this new collaboration – the hope for both clubs will be that they can field separate sides in the not-too-distant future. 

The final game of the round sees George Watson’s College take on Dumfries & Galloway, with the home side still looking for their first win of what has been a challenging campaign. The only team without any international players in its ranks, GWC has nevertheless produced some very good individual performances, underlining the production line of talent for which the school is rightly famous. It’s been a tough season for the division’s youngest side, but with Emily Tucker, Nina Whitaker, Cara Scott and others, they have plenty of cause for optimism for the future. 

Their final-day opponents will be looking for a top-half finish after a campaign which has brought them two wins and two losses so far. In Orla Montgomery and Niamh Muir, Dumfries & Galloway boast two of Scotland’s brightest young prospects, while Lorna Jack, Rosy Ryan and Sue Strachan have all stepped up when needed, too. There have been other highlights as well, Fiona Ramsay’s RHC-taming 4 for 10 and the down-to-the-wire nail-biter that went just the other way at Inverleith chief amongst them. But in the pace of the fit-again Montgomery, D&G has a definite ‘x’ factor – there won’t be many looking forward to facing her when club cricket resumes again. 

All told, it’s been a fascinating few weeks which have underlined both the talent and the spirit within the Scottish game. We’re now just a few weekends away from the start of the Beyond Boundaries Scottish Cup: if what we have seen in the Women’s Premier League is anything to go by, there will be plenty of teams that will fancy their chances. 

Women’s Premier League – 4 July 2021

George Watson’s College v Dumfries and Galloway (at Craiglockhart) 

Watsonians/Grange v West of Scotland (at Myreside) 

Royal High Corstorphine v Stewart’s Melville (at Barnton)

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Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the men’s and women’s league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from our featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

PREVIEW: Carlton Ready To Make Their Final Push For The Title

Jake Perry looks ahead to the penultimate round of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League. 

Carlton bring their Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League season to a close this weekend having cemented their position at the top of the table. Last Sunday’s victory over West of Scotland ensured that no team in the competition will finish it unbeaten, and with just one hurdle remaining, captain Annette Aitken-Drummond is delighted to still be out in front.

“We’re really pleased,” she said. “Our aim at the start was to win every single game, so to lose the second one [to Stewart’s Melville] was quite disappointing for us.”

“But I think it has boosted our performances since then, and it’s been really good to see how the girls have upped their game over the last couple of weeks or so. We’d like to finish the season off well if we can, too.” 

Carlton’s campaign has been built on some exceptional individual contributions. Sam Haggo, Charis Scott and Abbi Aitken-Drummond have all starred at various times with the bat, while Annette herself tops the averages with 191 runs at 95.5. But while the side’s Scotland contingent plays a central role, other members of the squad have also thrived in the opportunities they have been given.

“I think Maisie Maceira has been a real stand-out for us,” said Annette, “for her wickets but also her attitude as well. Being able to play alongside internationals like Hannah [Rainey] and Abbi and Sam and Charis [has really helped her game] – a lot of them are bowlers, so it’s been about getting her to think more about field placements, throwing in some variations, things that she might not have thought about had she not played alongside those players.”

“But whenever I’ve tossed her the ball and said go for it, she’s shown real heart. She’s hooping it in sometimes which is great to see, and her ability to perform under pressure has been really good as well. We got a team hat-trick last weekend, but I think she’s been on a hat-trick herself four times this season, which is absolutely nuts. And a lot of them have been bowled – Abbi in particular will say, bowl at the stumps, and that is the simple thing that Maisie does really well.” 

But Annette has also been excited by the standard of the division as a whole, including at West of Scotland, who put in another good performance after their heroics against Royal High Corstorphine in Round Four.

“They were really good,” she enthused. “I was really impressed with them and the way they were set up. They’ve got some Scotland players in Abtaha [Maqsood] and Ellen [Watson], but I was very impressed with their bowlers, who bowled a really consistent line and length which I was struggling to get away, to be honest.”

“Sophie Trickett played really well, too – she had no fear, just came in and absolutely biffed it. I love to see younger players who just come in and play a natural game. That’s what I try and say to the Carlton players, to just hit the ball, and she definitely came out and did that.”

“They got off to a really good start, and if I’m honest I was looking at the scoreboard and panicking a little bit, but we managed to rein them in, and then having Abbi open the batting and play in the way she did, it just took the pressure off the rest of the team.”

Chasing 147, Abbi’s 23-ball 49, which included two sixes and six fours, set Carlton on their way to an eight-wicket win, with Annette scoring her second fifty of the summer and Hannah Rainey chipping in with a quickfire 37. A strong Royal High Corstorphine eleven is still to be overcome, however, with Annette expecting another tough challenge at Barnton.

“RHC have put in some impressive performances,” said the former Scotland international. “Ikra [Farooq] has been scoring quite a few runs and they’ve got a few more big hitters in the team as well.”

“They should be well rested, too, after not playing last weekend, so it’ll be a real test for us.”

“But we won’t be thinking too much about what they are doing. We’ll focus on what we do well, and hopefully we can carry on the form we’ve shown and finish the season off with a win.”

Elsewhere, fifth-placed Dumfries & Galloway entertain the in-form Watsonians/Grange, while second-placed Stewart’s Melville travel to Hamilton Crescent on the back of a hard-fought victory over D&G last weekend. With West of Scotland still hoping to rearrange their COVID-delayed fixtures the game is a must-win for both sides, each of whom, like Carlton, have been beaten only once this season. After this weekend only one full round of fixtures remains – the title race, though, is still very much alive.

Women’s Premier League – 27 June 2021 

Dumfries & Galloway v Watsonians/Grange (at Gatehouse) 

Royal High Corstorphine v Carlton (at Barnton) 

West of Scotland v Stewart’s Melville (at Hamilton Crescent)

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Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the men’s and women’s league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from our featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

Why?

By Richard Clark

There was much to celebrate at Bristol – Shafali & Sophia, Rana & Bhatia, Eccles (tone or cakes, take your pick), Brunt’s outswinger, Anya’s inswinger, THAT CATCH, the media positivity – social and mainstream – and plenty more besides.

But it’s not my intention to dwell on any of these because you will already have read and heard copious amounts on all of them. And because for all those stand-outs from a tremendous four days I came home with something else that will stick in my memory.

I don’t know whether they had just arrived, or perhaps had been sitting elsewhere up until then, but some time shortly before lunch on Saturday I became aware of people shuffling into their seats behind me. It turned out to be (one assumed) a father and two daughters, I’m guessing aged around 8 and 10, and for the next couple of hours the father – a patient chap, and clearly knowledgeable – took on the task of explaining to his girls what was happening.

We all know how difficult it is to describe cricket to the uninitiated. Where do you begin? And once you’ve begun, where do you end? The game is so utterly bonkers when you set about unravelling it all that even the most seasoned observer will readily admit to learning something new all the time.

But our man did his best, and his best was eminently passable, I assure you. Inevitably, though, the obvious question came soon enough from one of the girls. I can’t be sure – memory isn’t what it was these days – but I think it was after a few words centred on the square leg umpire being called “the square leg umpire.”

“Why?”

Every parent lives in dread of this question, the worst question your child can possibly ask. Worse even than “Are we nearly there yet?” Yes, that bad.

“Thank you for your explanation, father. However, I must inform you that, having given the matter due consideration, I consider it inadequate. Please try again, and do better this time.”

You have failed. In order to simplify things, maybe, you’ve tried to go for the lazy, half-cooked option and hoped to get away with it while she was distracted by that pigeon, or those clouds. But she saw you coming, and she’s not having it. Not only have you failed, but she has now pointed out to everyone around you that you have failed. Please try again, and do better this time. No pressure.

But at the same time it’s the BEST question you can be asked, because the alternative is a child who isn’t interested. And these girls WERE interested. So he did try better, and so the afternoon passed. There was never any hint of boredom, or mischief, just watching and chatting, chatting and watching. At one point even a tentative “Come on, Sophie,” was ventured by one of them, although it was in definite need of an exclamation mark that would have carried it across the Nevil Road ground and, who knows, might have sprung a much-needed wicket to spark an England victory march. Ah well…

Tellingly, when they all agreed to go home at the tea interval, it was the girls who were the more reluctant parties to the agreement. I suspect in the end there may have been bribery involved. We’ve all been there.

I tell this story apropos of nothing really. It’s not especially related to women’s cricket – after all, it could easily have been a couple of lads, and a men’s cricket match (and a mother, come to that). The scenario would have been the same. But the fact is, it wasn’t either of those things. It was two girls watching a women’s cricket match and learning about the game. And it was wonderful.

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

PREVIEW: West of Scotland Adds An X Factor As The WPL Reaches Its Halfway Stage

Jake Perry previews Round Four of the Women’s Premier League

Week Four of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League sees the last of its seven teams make their entrance. And having watched the first three rounds unfold from the sidelines, West of Scotland is delighted to finally be able to do so. 

“We are incredibly excited,” said co-captain Charlotte Dalton-Howells. “It’s been hard knowing that others have been able to get their games in, but it’s stirred up that ‘cricket fever’ amongst the group even more. We’ve seen the results and we know that people have been putting in good performances, so there’s plenty of motivation around. 

“It’s been really difficult to get training and intra-club fixtures organised because of the Level 3 restrictions, which prevented a lot of our players from travelling into Glasgow,” she continued. “But the training sessions we have had have been good – a combination of skills work to dust off the cobwebs and some middle practice as well.” 

And despite all the obstacles, Charlotte is hopeful that her team can find its feet again after an impressive debut season in 2019 which brought four league wins in all. 

“We have a really nice blend of experience and young talent,” she said. “We have Abtaha Maqsood and Ellen Watson as our Scotland contingent, and then there are younger up-and-coming players who are involved in the Western Warriors and Scotland Under-17s like Faatima Gardee, Sophie Trickett, Neyma Shaikh and Maryam Faisal. We’ve also got a couple of other really talented players who will be making their debuts, like Anne Sturgess. 

“But above all we’re just really excited to be getting out on the pitch again. It doesn’t really matter who our first opponent is – we’re just looking forward to seeing other people from outwith our club, putting a good game in and enjoying the experience.” 

WoS play a Royal High Corstorphine side keen to get back to winning ways after its chastening defeat last weekend at Nunholm. Emily Oliver’s 4 for 15 and an unbeaten 49 from Ikra Farooq was not enough to prevent a six-wicket loss to Dumfries & Galloway, but with Megan Taylor and Caitlin Ormiston returning to bolster the Edinburgh team’s all-round capability, the West may well be facing a somewhat different beast on Sunday afternoon. 

Equally fascinating will be the encounter at Gatehouse of Fleet, where Dumfries & Galloway will be looking for a repeat of the fine display they put in last weekend. A first-wicket partnership of 95 between Lorna Jack (53) and Niamh Muir (33) did most of the heavy lifting with the bat, Muir having already taken 2 for 16 with the ball, but the performance of the day came from Fiona Ramsay, whose 4 for 10 in 3.2 overs helped restrict the visitors to 132, a target that was quickly overhauled with more than eleven overs to spare. 

Leaders Carlton travel to Galloway fresh from a 107-run win over George Watson’s College, Abbi Aitken-Drummond scoring a half-century and Charis Scott taking 3 for 17 as the Grange Loan side put the previous week’s loss to Stewart’s Melville well and truly behind them. GWC move on to Inverleith to play a Stew-Mel team determined to get its own ambitions back on track after defeat to Watsonians/Grange last Sunday. 

So many contenders, so many possibilities. And with West of Scotland now adding an extra factor to the competition as it reaches its halfway point, there is still everything to play for. 

Women’s Premier League – 13 June 2021 

Dumfries & Galloway v Carlton (at Gatehouse) 

McCrea West of Scotland v Royal High Corstorphine (at New Williamfield) 

Stewart’s Melville v George Watson’s College (at Inverleith)

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Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the women’s (and men’s) league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

PREVIEW: England’s International Summer… And Beyond

Sasha Putt reports

With one more round of matches to go before the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy takes a break for the summer, our eyes turn to the packed summer of international cricket ahead. England face an intriguing trio of India, New Zealand and Pakistan throughout the summer and into October.

England begin with their strongest opposition – India, in a points-based format akin to the Women’s Ashes, with 1 Test, 3 ODIs and 3 T20 games. Although they both ended in a draw, England were dominated by Australia in their last two tests, failing to bowl them out in any innings. Their last non-Ashes Test saw a similarly poor performance, losing to India after being bowled out for 92 in the first innings. Heather Knight’s side will need to perform much better in the match at Bristol to turn this run of form around.

While the squad for the series was announced on Wednesday, a spot in the final XI for the Test is still up for grabs. Whilst key bowlers Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole and Sophie Ecclestone and a top order of Lauren Winfield-Hill, Tammy Beaumont, Heather Knight and all-rounder Nat Sciver are likely to feature, there are a variety of options for the remaining places.

Strong performances from Sophia Dunkley in the RHF Trophy definitely merits her inclusion in the squad, but it remains to be seen if she can sneak into the Test team to strengthen England’s middle-order.

Likewise, the last few bowling slots will be hotly contested with Freya Davies, Tash Farrant and Kate Cross, continuing their fine runs of form in the RHF Trophy, both on the peripheries of the playing XI – and now youngster Emily Arlott hot in their heels after her surprise inclusion in the squad.

Regardless of the team, England need to use this one-off match to establish how they aim to play Test cricket, and the best approach to translate their white-ball success into the longer format of the game.

For the limited overs series against India the goal is much simpler: get players into form against top opposition and iron out a side for the rest of the summer. With so many promising names bursting on the scene as a result of the RHF Trophy, squad rotation will likely play a part in selection, but England will also want to finish these games with a fairly concrete idea of what their best side looks like in a multi-format series. India will be the toughest opponent England face this summer, and so it is unlikely there will be significant experimenting with the side here.

The New Zealand series presents a much better chance for giving younger prospects the opportunity to play. With The Hundred dominating late July and August, the New Zealand series has been packed into September, with matches coming quickly one after the other. Giving those fringe players the experience of international cricket would be perfect for their development, against a side England comfortably managed to beat earlier this year.

England’s last series against Pakistan should see a mix of the two, with any players showing exceptional form mixing with established stars for what should be another comfortable white-ball series that should confirm the full side which travels to Australia in the new year.

It is this upcoming Ashes series which underpins all of England’s planning for their summer of cricket. Having last held the trophy in 2014, Heather Knight’s side will see the 2022 instalment of the format as the perfect opportunity for an upset against a dominant Australia. For now though, the summer ahead should give plenty of exciting action as England’s women look to find their groove against a trio of eager opponents.

A full list of fixtures can be found here.