MATCH REPORT: Devon Take The Spoils As County Cricket Signs Off

Richard Clark reports from Wombat CC

The simple story of this match is that Devon beat Somerset by 2 wickets. But that really is just the simple story, because there was so much more to it than one team beating another.

It may not quite have “had everything” in the way that a certain other match taking place on Sunday seemed to, but it had “most things” needed to make a compelling tussle, and as a final instalment – if that is what it was – in the story of the Women’s County Championship it did the game proud.

There was, of course, nothing at stake. Tell that to the players, though! Local pride is never to be sniffed at, and for Somerset’s part they were clearly eager to secure the six points required to climb above Worcestershire and out of the notional “relegation” zone.

Arrival at Wombat CC – a beautiful setting, and tremendously proud and enthusiastic hosts on the day – brought a scene to encourage any cricket lover. Yes, both teams warming up with the gusto one might expect ahead of the opening game of a new season, but also a lively All Stars session in full swing, with around 20 youngsters enjoying the warm sunshine

And those children would have a role to play shortly afterwards as they lined up for a guard of honour for the Devon team and the two Somerset openers as they took to the field. A lovely touch, the loveliest of touches.

The early stages gave little indication of any drama in store. Skipper Sophie Luff and Nicole Richards settled in, picking off the odd boundary and rotating the strike, whilst Devon were guilty of helping them along with a (un)healthy dose of wides. At 61 for none in the fifteenth over all was going swimmingly for the home side.

Enter Charlie Phillips with her gentle spin, first inducing an edge from Richards to Amara Carr behind the stumps, and then two balls later trapping Rebecca Odgers LBW for a duck. 61 for 2, and Somerset would never quite regain the control of the game that they looked to have during that initial period.

But Luff was still there and ticking along nicely. Along the way, she tucked Sophie Florides into the leg-side to move to 23 and in doing so passed Bryony Smith to become the leading run-scorer for the season across both forms of the game.

However, Phillips would prise her out on 30 with one that perhaps bounced a touch more than expected and took a top edge to lop up to Georgia Hennessy at slip, and then Hennessy repeated the dose at midwicket to claim Nat Wraith off Becca Silk. Somerset now 90 for 4 and in one of those could-go-either-way positions.

Emma Godman and Niamh Holland added 28 for the fifth wicket, but both went in the space of a few balls and from there the innings petered out somewhat. With more than seven overs unbowled Somerset were dismissed for 137, collecting just two bonus points, and meaning that they would almost certainly need to win the game (or take nine Devon wickets) to collect the points needed to lift themselves above Worcestershire.

The visitors began their reply in bullish style, Hennessy driving Georgia Tulip through extra cover, and then straight, for two picture-perfect boundaries in the opening over, but Tulip had her revenge soon afterwards as Hennessy feathered the ball through to Wraith to depart for 9. Game on?

Carr joined Claire Varcoe in the middle and the pair batted as fluently as any batsmen had all day, adding 41 for the second wicket. Both hit sixes – Carr depositing hers into the adjoining tennis courts – and for a while the match seemed to be heading inexorably Devon’s way until Luff turned to Richards, whose second over threw a major spanner in the works.

First Carr, who had looked utterly untroubled, attempted a sweep and was pinned in front for 16; two balls after that Emily Edgcombe picked out Godman at midwicket; and then from her second ball Olivia Churcher went the way of Carr for another duck. Three in five balls. 58 for 1 had become 58 for 4. Inexorable had become anything but.

And drama became crisis when, having watched all this unfold from the other end, Varcoe, on 28, then tickled the very next ball from Tilly Bond into Wraith’s gloves. Four in six balls. 58 for 5.

In hot water all of a sudden, Devon needed a cool head, preferably two of them. Rebecca Halliday and Milly Squire provided stability for a while, adding 18 for the sixth wicket before Richards picked up Squire for her fourth wicket. 76 for 6. Edgy stuff, this…

Once again a partnership developed as Becca Silk joined Halliday for 20 precious runs. Silk accumulated intelligently, whilst Halliday found the boundary from time to time, but with 42 still needed Niamh Holland found the perfect yorker to rattle her stumps and swing it Somerset’s way once more.

Luff rang the changes with her bowlers, but Silk and Phillips continued to collect the singles and Devon’s target came down, run by run. For a match that had nothing of any significance riding on it this was seriously gripping stuff. With 19 needed, Wraith claimed her third victim as Phillips edged Jodie Filer behind for 6. 119 for 8.

Yet again, a partnership, as Silk and Amanda Higginbotham stuck at their task, and this one would take Devon home pretty much one run at a time. Somerset did nothing wrong, there were no loose deliveries, no horrendous misfields, nothing handed to Devon on a plate. They had to work for every run.

To Tulip fell the honour of delivering the final ball in “official” Women’s County Cricket, and to Higginbotham the pleasure of swinging it out to deep midwicket and running through for a single. And that was that.

Silk deserves a mention here. A bowler by trade, her 15 wickets saw her finish as one of four joint leading wicket-takers in the Championship, but her batting won this day. Before the match her highest score in competitive county cricket this season was 5 (although she has a career top score of 40). Carrying her team to victory with 28 of the coolest and calmest unbeaten runs you could hope to see made her my player of the match.

That apart, one could pick at the bones and examine where the game was won and lost, the little things here and there that add up to make a difference, but somehow it feels irrelevant. It was a cracking match, and that’s all that needs to be said.

Somerset skipper Luff was philosophical afterwards. “It’s always challenging defending a below-par score. We back ourselves to defend anything but we probably missed two key bowlers yesterday. We didn’t quite have that fire power to bring back on to try to finish Devon off.”

On her own success with the bat, Luff added, “Personally it’s been a decent season, there have been a fair few times when I haven’t gone on and gone big and that’s been frustrating. You always want to be better, I guess. But in the majority of games I’ve led from the front and that’s something I really pride myself on.”

“We’re a very young group and I’m desperate to lead by example at the top of the order. Ultimately the way I played in a number of the T20s was down to the way we performed as a unit with the ball – chasing down less than a run a ball allowed me to take responsibility opening up the batting.”

Luff also expressed pride in the team’s T20 Division 2 triumph.

“I’m super proud of the girls for the way we performed in the T20. To finish top of the table is a fantastic achievement for this young group. They deserve that success and recognition and it’s been a complete team effort throughout that competition.”

Of the youngsters in the Somerset squad, Luff picked out Holland as one to watch for the future.

“Niamh is only 14 and has shown just what she is capable of at senior level. A genuine all-rounder, she’s been a great find with the ball for us this year. Having worked with her over the winter as her coach, to step on the field with her as her captain has been a real highlight. Seeing how she’s developed has been really pleasing.”

“Representing Somerset means an awful lot. It’s something I’ve done since the age of 12. It’s been a huge part of my life and to captain the team over the last couple of years has been a real privilege. Playing in what may be the last ever match is something I’ll probably look back on in years to come, and it’s fitting that it was against Devon. It’s always a close contest and a game I’ve always looked forward to over the years. Amara and I have played against each other for as long as I can remember so for us both to be out there as captains shows the journey within the county game. We’re great friends and I think that’s definitely a special element of county cricket and what it offers.”

Carr echoed Luff’s thoughts on the County game.

“County cricket over the years has opened up a lot of opportunities in the women’s cricket pathway and enabled me to experience different challenges along the way. I started my county cricket career as a shy 13-year old where women’s county cricket was the only cricket really available and I’m finishing having captained my home county for many seasons.”

“It’s exciting to see how much the women’s game has developed even since my childhood and all the opportunities it now has to offer young girls. I feel very proud to have been a part of the process and playing alongside some of the younger girls who I’ve since coached and seeing them playing their own part has been very rewarding.”

MATCH REPORT: Oxford University v MCC at Lords

By John Skinner

There was a mixture of trepidation and excitement as the teams lined up for the photocall in front of the historic pavilion on Tuesday prior to the MCC match with OUWCC.

Oxford Uni v MCC

Under leaden clouds the MCC lost early wickets before the sun glimpsed through, whilst Claire Taylor (41) and EM Porter (20) repaired the early damage with a stand of 68.

There were three wickets apiece for A Hearn, EA Harbourne and CE Dack, ably backed up by ME Bouchier and AVB Skinner. Quality bowling led to three of the top five MCC order falling without scoring and being in difficulty at 25-4 and 41-6, before the class of the former England captain told, helping the MCC to a defendable total of 127. The Oxford fielding was exceptional at times, as was that of the MCC later, including two catches of the highest standard.

Oxford started cautiously, building a stable base through the openers by the break. A century opening partnership and a huge 6 from Bouchier settled any nerves there might have been in the student camp. Bouchier, the Southern Vipers and Hampshire player, fell for 82 after brutally dispatching the MCC bowlers to various parts of the ground. Her partnership with VM Picker saw the Dark Blues home by 9 wickets to cap a memorable day, where every player did themselves justice.

PREVIEW: Women’s County Championship 2019

By Raf Nicholson & Syd Egan

With a radical restructure on the cards for next year, the 2019 Women’s County Championship is set to be the last in the current format, which has been running since 1997, when it replaced the old Women’s Area Championship.

The purpose of the restructuring is to strengthen the top tier, but ironically Div 1 looks the strongest it has been for some time – there are no obvious “easy games” and any one of these teams could end up champions… or relegated – albeit academically, as the restructure won’t take into account this year’s positions in determining the membership of the new (semi) professional top tier from 2020.

Predicting the eventual winner feels like a fool’s errand. Could last season’s champions, Hampshire, do it again? Or the previous winners, Lancashire? Or Yorkshire, who came second by a combined total of just 5 points in both of those seasons? What about Kent, who have won it 7 times? Or Sussex with 6 titles? And don’t rule out Warwickshire (who came third in 2016 and 2017), Notts or Surrey!

(But if predictions are what you really want, you’ll find ours at the end!)

Hampshire

Last Season: Champions

Whether Hampshire can replicate their astounding performance last season, whereby they leapt straight from promotion to the top of the pack, remains to be seen. They were fortunate to emerge the winners in several very tight contests last season, and will once again be heavily reliant on last year’s leading Division 1 run-scorer Suzie Bates at the top of the order (who will be MIA for the first 3 rounds, playing in the Women’s IPL in India). Having said that, 18-year-old Charlie Dean – following her promotion to the Senior Academy in October 2017 – came into her own with the bat last season, and after another winter at Loughborough will be looking to replicate that in 2019. New captain Katie George will be fit for the start of the season (she has been out in India training with the Academy), which will be a bonus. Overall, it will certainly be an interesting test for new head coach Charlotte Edwards, who confirmed just this week that she has stepped away from a playing role, having enjoyed that final championship-winning “hurrah” in 2018. [RN]

Squad:  Katie George (C), Fi Morris (VC), Suzie Bates (WCC only), Sam Betts (T20 only), Maia Bouchier (from Middlesex), Ella Chandler, Providence Cowdrill, Clover Crosse, Charlie Dean, Ariana Dowse, Lucia Kendall, Naomi Lynch, Alice Monaghan, Tilly Callaghan, Dani Ransley, Mel Story, Charlotte Taylor, Emily Windsor.

Kent

Last Season: 3rd

After winning the championship in 2016, Kent lost Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates to Hampshire, and narrowly avoided relegation the following year. In 2018, they did better – finishing 3rd, but some way off the pace set by Yorkshire and Hampshire, having struggled for runs. In this respect, the recruitment of Fran Wilson from Middlesex is definitely a smart move; and if England let Tammy Beaumont play the full season that’ll help too. Bowling is less of an issue – Megan Belt led them with the ball again last season with 18 wickets across both formats (why, oh why hasn’t anyone given her a chance in the Super League?) and Grace Gibbs has a bright future ahead of her, having hopefully fully recovered from the horrific freak knee injury she sustained in the KSL last season. The key to it all for Kent, though, is all-rounder Alice Davidson-Richards – she was outstanding last season, as she rode the high of becoming an England player for the first time; but now that England seem to have decided to go with other options, can she refocus mentally and accept a possible future as “just” a very good county player? If she can, and she brings her A-game with both bat and ball, Kent will be challenging for a top spot in 2019. [SE]

Squad: Tammy Beaumont (C), Alice Davidson-Richards (VC), Megan Belt, Laura Marsh, Izzy Cloke, Phoebe Franklin, Jenni Jackson, Molly Davis, Lauren Griffiths, Hannah Jelfs, Lottie Bryan, Fran Wilson (from Middlesex), Tash Farrant, Grace Gibbs, Chelsey Rowson

Lancashire

Last Season: 4th

After winning the championship in 2017, Lancashire slipped back into the pack last season. This season, they’ve signed Georgie Boyce, who scored a hatful of runs last year for Notts, to strengthen a batting line-up that already had two of the top 3 batsmen in the County Championship’s “Never Played For England XI” – Eve Jones and Emma Lamb*. Their front-line bowling attack, led by Kate Cross, Sophie Ecclestone and Alex Hartley, is second-to-none – though their second string are a bit weaker than some, and they will definitely feel the absence of Ecclestone while she is at the Women’s IPL. Overall, if you are a Lancashire fan, you can freely hope… but it is probably best not to necessarily expect[SE]

[* Kirstie White is the other… since you asked!]

Probable* Squad: Eve Jones (C), Natalie Brown, Georgie Boyce (from Notts), Jess Couser, Kate Cross, Rachel Dickinson, Alice Dyson, Sophie Ecclestone, Alex Hartley, Laura Jackson, Emma Lamb, Nalisa Patel, Ellie Threlkeld

[* Squad not announced at time of writing]

Nottinghamshire

Last Season: 6th

Notts escaped relegation last season by the skin of their teeth, and while they will be relieved to still be up in the top flight, they now have the challenge of competing against the other Div 1 teams with a broadly similar squad to 2018. They have lost Academy player Georgie Boyce to Lancashire (following her move to Thunder for the 2018 KSL), which will be a worry given that she was their second-highest run-scorer in the 2018 season. The meteoric rise of last year’s leading wicket-taker Kirstie Gordon is also a double-edged sword, given that England players are often unavailable for at least some Championship matches. However, Scotland’s Sarah Bryce (who featured in last year’s ICC Global Development Squad) is a good “buy”. Interestingly, they have also secured the services of New Zealand keeper-batsman Polly Inglis, who will no doubt be looking to make a mark with an eye to future selection for her national side. [RN]

Squad: Sarah Bryce (from Scotland – WCC only), Megan Burton, Jodie Cook (Dibble), Amy Gauvrit, Teresa Graves, Yvonne Graves, Kirstie Gordon, Jenny Gunn, Lucy Higham, Megan Hodkinson, Hannah Hughes, Polly Inglis (OS, NZ), Sophie Munro, Sonia Odedra, Rachael Potter (from Oxfordshire), Rebecca Widdowson

Surrey

Last Season: Promoted (2nd in Div 2)

Having worked their way back into Div 1 via a long-term rebuilding project, Surrey have the kind of solid, home-grown heart which every great team needs – unlike some sides, you don’t feel they are totally dependent upon their “big” England player, Nat Sciver, who will be playing in the Women’s IPL in the early part of the season anyway. Hannah Jones – who officially takes over the captaincy this season – is the bellwether for a new generation who have the potential to go on to do amazing things. “Potential” though is the operative word here –  it is probably still 2 seasons too early for them to really fulfil their promise – England Academy and Training Squad members Amy Gordon, Eva Gray and Rhianna Southby are the future, but not quite yet the present. Surrey will win some games, but they will likely lose some too, and the real question is how those young players will respond and grow as a result. [SE]

Squad: Hannah Jones (C), Mary Ali, Charlie Bawden, Kira Chathli, Priyanaz Chatterji, Aylish Cranstone, Amy Gordon, Eva Gray, Dani Gregory, Jasmine Jones, Beth Kerins, Laura Sandy, Nat Sciver, Bryony Smith, Rhianna Southby, Alex Travers, Kirstie White

Sussex

Last Season: Promoted (1st in Div 2)

On paper, you look at Sussex and think: how on earth did this team ever get relegated to Div 2? (The answer is it was by the squeakiest of squeaks – 3 teams had a 3-4 win-loss record that season!) But they did… and they bounced straight back up as Div 2 winners. With 5 current England players, on paper they look very strong; though there are a couple of injury question marks there, and of course Danni Wyatt will be missing for the first half of the season at the Women’s IPL. Though they’ve got their share of younger players coming through the squad – the likes of Ella McCaughan and Ellie Robinson (yes, that name does ring a bell – she’s the daughter of current England coach, Mark) – they have also got the likes of Georgia Adams, Chiara Green and Carla Rudd, who should all be entering their peak years as county “pros”… albeit unpaid ones! I’d back Rudd in particular to shine this season after a change of scene, having come back to her childhood club Sussex after 8 years at Berkshire. [SE]

Squad: Georgia Adams (C), Ellen Burt, Izzy Collis, Freya Davies, Georgia Elwiss, Chiara Green, Nancy Harman, Beth Harvey, Cassidy McCarthy, Ella McCaughan, Tara Norris, Ellie Robinson, Carla Rudd (from Berkshire), Paige Scholfield, Linsey Smith, Sarah Taylor, Ella Wadey, Lucy Western, Danni Wyatt, Hollie Young

Warwickshire

Last Season: 5th

Warwickshire’s big signing ahead of this season is an England all-rounder with nearly 90 caps across a 10 year career… who will not pick up a bat or bowl a ball! The answer to this riddle is Laura MacLeod, who took up her post as Warwickshire’s Director of Women’s Cricket last October. If the County Championship was awarded to the nicest team in England, Warwickshire would have won it a few times recently – how can you not love a team that includes The Kelly Gang (Marie and Sian), Amy Jones, Kathryn Bryce and (when the occasion presents itself) Sophie Devine? MacLeod’s challenge will be to add some cold, hard steel behind the nice – something one of those aforementioned players, Amy Jones, seems to have found a way to do for England recently. If Jones can bring just a bit of that mettle back to Brum this season and share it around, things could be looking up for the Bears in 2019. [SE]

Squad: Marie Kelly (C), Eve Alder, Thea Brookes, Kathryn Bryce, Jess Couser, Laura Crofts, Gwenan Davies, Georgia Davis, Nyah Edwards, Bethan Ellis, Ria Fackrell, Jo-Anne Gardner, Milly Home, Amy Jones, Amelia Kite, Anisha Patel, Emily Perrin, Liz Russell, Issy Wong

Yorkshire

Last Season: 2nd

Once again last season Yorkshire were just pipped to the post on the final day, failing to catch Hampshire on bonus points – after finishing twice two years running, they’ll be hoping to avoid a similar fate this time around. New Zealand’s Leigh Kasperek is returning to the mix, having taken 15 wickets in the 2018 season. That should strengthen a bowling line-up which was already one of the strongest in Div 1, featuring county stalwarts Katie Thompson and Katie “Secret Weapon” Levick, who last season became the leading wicket-taker of all time in the WCC. They are also joined by Abby Freeborn, who may well take the gloves ahead of Lauren Winfield, allowing the opener to focus on pinning down her spot in the England XI ahead of this summer’s internationals. [RN]

Squad: Hollie Armitage (C), Katherine Brunt, Hannah Buck, Leah Dobson, Abby Freeborn (from Sussex), Elise Good, Beth Langston, Katie Levick, Leigh Kasperek (OS, NZ), Alex McDonald, Charlotte North, Ella Telford (from Lancashire), Katie Thompson, Jess Watson, Lauren Winfield

Our Predictions

Syd

The last two championships have been won by teams newly promoted from Div 2, and I’m backing Sussex this season to turn that stat-trick into a hat-trick. In doing so, Sussex would draw level with Kent on 7 all-time championship wins, which seems a fitting place to end things between the two great rivals of the tournament’s history, both of whom look likely to not exist next season.

Raf

In what is almost certain to be the last version of this iteration of the Women’s County Championship, I’d love to see Warwickshire take home the title. They’ve come agonisingly close to winning on several occasions, but have never quite brought home the bacon – so I’m going to take a leap of faith and say they will finally manage it in 2019!

Div 2

Teams: Berkshire, Wales, Devon, Durham, Essex, Middlesex, Somerset, Worcestershire.

Having been relegated from Div 1 by only the narrowest of margins, and then gone on to win the T20 Cup, Middlesex looked clear favourites to stroll through Div 2 this season. Their loss to Essex in the opening game was therefore something of a shock, but the smart money will still be on them to come out on top at the end of the season and win back “moral” promotion to Div 1, where they are expected to be playing anyway next season as part of the restructure.

Among the challengers, Essex made the early running with that win against Middlesex; whilst Berkshire will be hoping they can put on a better show this season than last season’s 5th place, though this will partly depend upon the availability of Heather Knight and new signing Anya Shrubsole. Meanwhile Rachel Priest-powered Wales will be aiming to replicate the form that saw them promoted last year to Div 1 in the T20 Cup, and provide a platform for their presumed step up to the big-leagues on the back of their Hundred franchise in 2020.

SPONSORED FEATURE: SM Cricket UK Launch Expanded Women’s Range – Designed By Women For Women

SM Cricket UK have launched a range of new women’s cricket equipment as part of their signature Heather Knight Collection, including pads, gloves, bats, wicket-keeping gear, bags, balls and teamwear all designed specifically for women’s and girls’ bodies.

It makes them the only company in the country to offer a full range of kit that is designed especially for women and girls.

SM Kit

The range has been launched after extensive feedback from female cricketers spanning a whole range of abilities. As a result SM Cricket have produced a lighter, brighter, and more comfortable range of cricket equipment with zero compromise to the quality of their products.

The range is already in use by England players Heather Knight and Kirstie Gordon, as well as former Scotland captain Abbie Aitken and Academy players Danielle Gibson and Ria Fackrell.

SM Heather Knight

SM Cricket UK pride themselves on offering top quality kit that is made to last, be comfortable and have a great fit for girls and women who might otherwise struggle to find appropriate sized kit for them. Their women’s bats, for example, come as light as 2lb 6oz with a super shock absorbent handle and extra thick edges to enhance the sweet spot.

SM Bat

In addition to playing equipment, SM Cricket UK also offers a fantastic range of teamwear, again appropriately sized for women and girls’ bodies, with a variety of custom designs in as well as to the opportunity to create bespoke teamwear. They are also offering free delivery for the whole month of April, using the code FREEDELIVERY on all orders over £30.

The full range is available here.

Women’s and girls’ clubs can also sign up for SM’s Club Cash Builder Scheme, which is a great way to raise money for your club. Clubs can sign up for free to earn back 20% of all sales generated by club members on SM branded goods. You can find out more here.

The aim is to expand the Heather Knight Collection next season based on a survey of female cricketers in the UK, which will be launched in the coming months – look out for a link to this on the CRICKETher Twitter.

The Heather Knight Collection: Designed By Women, For Women.

MATCH REPORT: 3rd T20, England v India – “Walk this way…”

Ravi Nair reports

In the intervening day between the second T20I and today, there was some talk about India’s running (or walking) between the wickets. India’s captain Smriti Mandhana in an interview said, among other things, that India needed to work on their running, that they hit either fours or dots, that they needed to rotate the strike more, and so on. CRICKETher’s very own Syd Egan then proved this, using numbers and tables, and probably slide rules and the differential calculus as well. But a lot of this sounds like captain’s waffle, or overanalysis to the spectator, until she sees it exemplified for herself in an actual match. And that, as if made to order, was what happened in the third and final (“dead rubber”) T20I between India and England in Guwahati.

Simply put, England won by one run, after a fantastic final over by Kate Cross in which she took two wickets and gave away only one run. But behind this lies a tale. In their last three overs India scored three boundaries, England none. Yet in their 18th, 19th and 20th overs India scored 19 runs, while England scored 26. It means that Shrubsole and Dunkley, one extra from a wide aside, ran the equivalent of nearly 500 metres each in 19 deliveries. The Indians managed 60. England allowed one dot ball in those three overs. Mithali Raj alone played out six, with Fulmali adding another three at the end of the Indian innings. Just one more would have given India a tie. Two more, the match.

Even without the final score and these reflections on it, the match was an exciting one. It was a dead rubber, the series had been decided. But it was a Saturday and the eventual crowd at Barsapara was the largest of any of the six matches in the tour. Mandhana wanted her first win as captain, and her team wanted to keep the overall score all square, at three matches each team. Heather Knight, however, may have been thinking slightly differently. Katherine Brunt, England’s most effective bowler this tour, was rested. And, on winning the toss, Knight decided to bat. Perhaps she was challenging her team to bat first and win even though they knew the Indians preferred chasing. Perhaps she was testing her entire squad, which has lost more resources before and during this tour than Spinal Tap lost drummers. Whatever the reason, it was set up for Mandhana to play the innings that all cricket fans wanted to see: a big one, in a chase, leading to a win.

Danni Wyatt set off just as one expects, like a greyhound out of the traps. Tammy Beaumont wasn’t far behind. Each hit a six. Each hit fours. India kept their discipline and refused to give away a single extra. So England reached 50 in exactly seven overs with Wyatt on 24 and Beaumont on 26. In the next over, with right arm finger spinner Anuja Patil bowling, Wyatt for whatever reason saw the ball going wide, very wide, of off, but couldn’t resist stretching for it. Result: top edge caught at third man.

After which it was another England mini-collapse. Sciver didn’t seem to know where the ball was going after it pitched when the leggie Poonam Yadav was bowling, played and missed a couple and then heard, rather than saw, the third take her off stump, spinning from middle and missing her outside edge. Beaumont, believing this was the right time for it, charged Patil, missed, and was stumped. Taniya Bhatia makes few if any mistakes in situations like this.

Amy Jones and Knight did some repair work, and Jones was beginning to look like the batter we had seen in the WWT20 in the Caribbean, making her most useful score of the tour to date, when Knight decided to stretch forward to Ekta Bisht. The ball evaded her outside edge, and Bhatia took the bails off while Knight was still stretched, her back leg behind her as though in a yoga pose, and her foot about 10 cm in front of the crease. But that wasn’t enough. Mandhana brought Deol on to bowl her right arm leg spin and Lauren Winfield was deceived and trapped in front. England had lost five wickets in the space of scoring 31 runs. After the powerplay England had looked on course for a score in excess of 140. Now it looked as though 100 might be ambitious.

Nine runs later even Jones was gone. With her score on 22, she was dropped by Mandhana at mid off. To celebrate, she lofted Deol over Mandhana for four. Full of the joys of the Indian Spring she decided to do it again, and this time holed out to Shikha Pandey who had moved slightly finer at the boundary for just this eventuality. Significantly, the English batters had crossed over by then so Dunkley, who hadn’t yet scored, but had at least faced, got to play out the last two deliveries of the over.

This left Shrubsole and Dunkley to make the best they could out of the three overs left to them. As related earlier, they did not score a single boundary between them, but ran about half a kilometre each to take the final score up to 119, and India’s target to 120: a score they had not yet reached thus far in the T20 series. But it was an achievable score, a disappointing one from England’s point of view, and on an easy paced pitch that offered nothing like the seam or turn of the Wankhede pitches, it was the perfect opportunity for Mandhana to show what she could do.

She did.

For 58 runs over 39 deliveries Mandhana gave us left-handed elegance and unstoppable strokeplay, the likes of which has not been seen since the retirement of Brian Charles Lara. Glides through third man, pulls off the hip, lofted drives to long off and long on, pulls and cuts led to eight fours and a six, along with 20 runs she actually ran, in the remaining 29 deliveries. Little wonder that her partners at the other end, Deol and Rodrigues, contributed 12 runs in total to India’s first 59.

It didn’t last, however, as Mandhana, looking to gently stroke Laura Marsh on the off side, under-edged the delivery and saw it bounce back onto her stumps. Until then the match was over and India were walking it. Eight runs later Deepti Sharma attempted a quick two, and Raj ran as hard as she has in the last few months, but it was Sharma, slow on the turn and accelerating slowly on her way back, who found herself about 20 cm short as Jones gathered and took the bails off as neatly as a stumping.

Even so, it should have been India’s game but, perhaps traumatised by the run out, Raj refused anything that looked like a sharp run. She was going to be there until the end, and she was not going to run out any of her partners, waving them away as they looked at her whenever it was her call. Time was still on India’s side, as was Fulmali, who had shown her talent in her debut in the previous match. The lack of singles, however, meant that the required rate was rising, going from 4.5 with six-and-a-half overs left to a full 6 per over for the last three.

Knight, inexplicably, ignored Wyatt, who had bowled two overs for just seven runs, and went back to her seamers, Sciver, Shrubsole and Cross, for the last three overs. Raj hit Sciver three times to mid on but refused to run. Even so, the over seemed the end of the fight for England as she did manage two fours, using the pace the spinners would not have given her, and taking a single off the last ball. India needed just 9 in the last two overs.

Shrubsole managed to keep her discipline, Raj managed to curb any mad impulse to take quick singles, even though the first two deliveries were walked through for one each. And then, on the last ball, Raj once again used Shrubsole’s pace to get herself a four.

Which left, as we know, Cross with the unenviable task of defending three runs in the last over, with India only four wickets down. Somehow she did it, bowling straight at Fulmali and giving her no room to swing her arms, changing her length slightly from ball to ball so that Fulmali could not set herself up for it beforehand. Jones missed a stumping too, on the third ball, as it beat Fulmali coming forward, but bounced off Jones’ gloves. Before Jones could pick it up and remove the bails, the batter was back in her crease. On the fourth delivery, trying to take the pressure off, Fulmali holed out to Shrubsole at mid off. Next ball Anuja Patil jumped about halfway down the track, swinging for dear life and, inevitably, missing. Jones made up for her earlier miss, Patil was out, and Pandey came in for the last ball of the innings needing a three or better to win. She skewed it out to Beaumont at point who flung herself on it and then carefully sent it back without running any danger of an overthrow and, though the Indians ran, they could only get one.

Game over, and huge release and relief for the England camp.

Mandhana will look at the next few months, when India have no matches coming up, and consider deleting Aerosmith’s “Walk this way” from the playlist of every one of her teammates. The England squad, if they are Kate Bush fans, will consider “Running up that hill” was definitely worth it. Heather Knight, however, looking grim rather than triumphant at the presentation, might be wondering exactly how much of her squad’s depth she is going to have to test on the next leg of the tour, and be singing to herself (albeit without Ariana Grande’s satirical tone), “Thank you. Next.”

MATCH REPORT: 2nd T20, England v India – Oh Mandy, you came and you gave…

Ravi Nair reports

Smriti Mandhana (whom I dearly hope is called Mandy in the dressing room) has, probably since she made her debut, and definitely in the last two years, been thought of as FIC (Future India Captain) just as much as Mike Atherton was FEC to his team mates long before he captained England. She is only 22 and India are surely, barring ill-health or accident, going to see her rule the world as its premier batter for another 10 years at least, so it makes perfect sense for her to be considered the ideal next captain or co-captain for India. Fans, of her, and the game, however, might have wished the opportunity had not arrived quite so quickly. It is not easy to develop much confidence, in your ability, in the squad’s ability, or the squad’s in you, if you are two down with one to play in a home series. Yet that is the situation Mandhana is in after India lost the T20i series in Guwahati to an England performance that, while not as assured as during the first match, was still comfortable enough at the end.

It had all started well for India, though. Knight may have won the toss and decided to chase, which would also have been India’s preferred option, but it wasn’t a big issue: Mandhana correctly assessing that this fresh pitch would play much the way the first did, slow and consistent throughout the day. And Knight played her three-card bowling trick again, with Sciver, Shrubsole and Brunt taking overs 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Except this time Sciver’s first over didn’t go as planned, particularly as Deol cover drove her off the first delivery to the boundary and then she gave away five wides in the same over. Shrubsole’s first over was, if anything, even worse. Mandhana lofted her sublimely on her very first delivery over the long off boundary for six. And then repeated the dose later in the over. At 21 – 0 after 2 overs, it looked as though it could be an epic score for India.

Brunt, as she does so often for England, restored sanity in the third. Mandhana, trying the lofted drive yet again, misjudged the bowler and the line, to outside edge to the keeper. Amy Jones has the unenviable position of playing Stuart MacGill to Sarah Taylor’s Shane Warne when it comes to keeping for England. Jones is one of the best keepers in the world in her own right and it must have been frustrating to her, and to England, for her to have to be kept out of the first T20 through injury. Beaumont was whole-hearted in taking up the gloves for that match, but even she must have been relieved, as must everyone else in the England camp, to see Jones back behind the stumps. For Jones, even standing back as England’s keepers tend to do for each pace bowler’s first over, it was a regulation catch, and after that it was simply a question of how much the visitors could keep down the host’s score.

Wickets began to come more regularly, both Brunt and Linsey Smith bowling well enough to keep India in that twilight zone between trying to hold on to their wickets and still trying to push the score along. They weren’t helped by Mithali Raj’s disinclination to run quick singles. She nearly had Sharma run out early, and later achieved it just when her partner looked as though she had the measure of the bowling. In the absence of Harmanpreet Kaur, Raj is probably essential to add batting gravitas to this Indian T20 side, but she does sometimes make it hard to sympathise with her selection. Her 20 runs, though the highest score of the Indian innings, was not as valuable as that sounds, since they didn’t come quickly and she got out as soon as she attempted to push the scoring rate along.

Even on a pitch like this, unless you are a Smriti Mandhana, it will take an over or two to get its measure, and wickets falling will always stall an innings. India found their run rate dropping with almost every over, and certainly with every wicket. Once Sharma was gone, it was a steady procession with no improvement in the run rate. Special mention must be made, however, of Bharti Fulmali, making her debut: she kept her head and showed some good strokeplay to help India during the last third of their innings, and almost certainly helped achieve what respectability their score did.

England, after halfway, came out having to chase down India’s 111-8, on an easy pitch, and with the confidence of having set 160 on a near identical surface just a few days earlier. Wyatt set off like a drag racer, in the style England expect of her in T20i matches and it looked as though, at over a run a ball, requiring less than five an over, the match would soon be done. Beaumont, however, having spent a little while letting Wyatt make the running, decided it was time for her too. Unfortunately she may have forgotten that a slow pitch is not the same as a pitch that doesn’t take turn at all. Simply put, Beaumont jumped out to hit Radha Yadav (the left arm finger-spinner) missed the ball and lost her stumps.

After this, with Pandey being slightly less effective than has been her wont this tour, it was Bisht and the two Yadavs who put pressure on the England batting, chipping away at the wickets: Jones caught and bowled, Sciver LBW and Knight LBW; keeping the scoring rate down and giving their captain hope of a good fight. Albeit Wyatt at the other end had still not (and did not throughout her impressive unbeaten innings) dipped below a strike rate of more than a run a ball.

Winfield, in next, helped provide what England needed – a partnership with Wyatt that put the match to rest. In fact Winfield batted so well, getting her eye in quickly and scoring fours at every opportunity, that she easily outscored Wyatt during their 47 run stand. This might also be partly down to Wyatt, inspired by the maturity she had shown in the third ODI, throttling back to ensure she kept her wicket to see England home. When Winfield, ambitious and mistiming the ball a touch, holed out, England needed just 9 runs with 14 deliveries left.

Brunt just had to keep her wicket, survive a very close LBW shout, and score two runs. Wyatt did the rest as England won by 5 wickets with 5 balls in hand. It wasn’t an actual stroll in the park but it wasn’t as close as the scoreline might suggest.

Wyatt won Player of the Match, which was only fair, given she had scored 64* when nobody else on either side even reached 30 (and in fact only Winfield and Raj had even reached 20). It was also nice to see, after her “mature” face throughout her innings, to see the intensity relax into the smile we are accustomed to see from Danni Wyatt as she went up to collect her award.

As it stands, England sit dormy in this tour, being one match up in total, with one to play. They will want to win the last game, on Saturday, to prove that they are the side they believe they are. Mandhana will want her first win as a captain too. Given, however, that it is once more a “dead rubber”, the series having been decided, there may yet again be a slight lack of intensity in it. This would be a bit of a pity since, as the only the weekend match of this tour, it may well get the highest attendance of any match so far (where Barsapara stadium has already shown its ability to attract about five times as many spectators as Wankhede did).

As for India, despite the issues surrounding Raj’s place in the team, and her problems with the team management (now all allegedly smoothed over), since she was in the playing XI, it might just have been worthwhile making her the makeshift captain for this series and allowing Mandhana to bat with greater freedom, particularly in the first match, which might have made the difference between winning and losing this series. But now, battle-hardened as it were, she might as well captain for the third too: she is likelier to feel more confidence in her bowlers after this performance, and maybe even get the right blend of freedom to hit combined with responsibility, to make a substantial score of her own. It’s time for “Mandy” to do a little taking for herself.

MATCH REPORT: 1st T20, England v India – “And besides, the pitch is dead…”

Ravi Nair reports

At the end, they were playing for pride. Deepti Sharma and Shikha Pandey have put in all they could for India, not just in the three ODIs that preceded this, but also while bowling and fielding during the first innings of this first T20I. But they had been dealt, face up, a losing hand, and been left to do with it what they would. And they responded with pride, and commitment, and no hope regarding the result: they were beaten even before they came together on the pitch, at the end of the 15th over, with 85 runs to win. That they came within 41 runs of England’s total must be cause for some, grim, satisfaction.

On winning the toss Mandhana had decided to chase. Given she is India’s premier batter and has an astonishing record in chases, this seemed sensible. Also, this was a pitch, at Guwahati’s Barsapara Stadium, that was new to them. Watching how the opposition fared on it would give the Indian batters a good idea of what to expect and how to plan their chase. So it seemed, all round, to be an impeccable decision. And it was the wrong one.

The England Women’s team does not quite have the power-hitting ability of their male counterparts, who mishit for 6 and keep hitting, but in players like Wyatt, Beaumont, Sciver, Brunt and co they have caught up to a large extent with the Healeys, Devines, Dottins and Kaurs of the world and they do, particularly in the T20 format, have strength in depth that, perhaps, only Australia amongst the other teams, can match.

Given a slow and consistent pitch, therefore, the England batters can take just about any bowling attack to the cleaners and that is what they proceeded to do. Beaumont and Wyatt, opening, were careful just to watch the ball for the first two overs, taking any runs on offer (6 of their first eight runs were from extras) and then, having got the pace of the pitch (and it was a consistent, reliable, slow pace) they began to hit out.

Shikha Pandey, for India, was as good as she had been during the ODIs. So was India’s other star bowler, Poonam Yadav. The problem was that Mandhana, with the responsibility of captaincy at 22 years old, had to keep Yadav on and bring back Pandey, before the 15th over of the England innings, just to try to stem the flow of runs. The tactic worked, to an extent, with Wyatt caught in the deep by Mandhana herself off Pandey.

But it meant that the last five overs of the innings had to be bowled by the hard-working, but not as dangerous, trio, of Reddy, Yadav (Radha), and Deepti Sharma. While Sciver too was out early that still left Beaumont, still merrily striking away, with her captain, Knight, for company.

Now there are, on the English team, and in most teams, batters so distinctive that if someone were to play you a stick-figure animation of them batting you would be able to tell who it is.

“Of course, that pull – it’s Mandhana!”

Or:

“How orthodox is that? Raj for sure. And that lofted drive must be Wyatt. That Dilscoop is surely Beaumont. Did you see the weight of power in that drive? Has to be Sciver!”

And so on.

But there is something almost anonymous about England’s captain, Heather Knight’s, batting style. If she pulls you might think it was Beaumont pulling. If she cuts it might be Wyatt. If she drives it could be Sciver.

If you were asked about her you might say: “Ummmmm… she’s… good.” But that might be all you had.

Which is what made the 18th and 19th overs of the England innings such a revelation. Reddy started the 18th bowling at Beaumont who, having played herself into fluency, and then out again, managed a single. Knight then hit a four. And another. And another. And… she only stopped when she ran out of balls to face, having hit the hapless bowler for five consecutive fours, each with a different shot: a pull, a sweep, a cut, a lofted drive… Knight pulled them all out of her menu. It was a la carte boundary smiting and utterly brilliant. In the next over she hit a sixth consecutive four, and then a single, going from 15 runs in 11 deliveries, to 40 in 19. The next ball she faced she, well, holed out. And that was fine, because she had taken England from a good score to an almost unbeatable one.

When Beaumont was stumped for a superb 62, it was left to Brunt and Winfield to get what runs they could in the last few deliveries, taking England to 160 for 4 after their allotted overs.

In the limited overs games, and particularly in ODIs, some commentators claim that ending an innings with just four wickets having been lost is a bad thing: it shows that you haven’t used all the batting resources available to you, and you would have been better off hitting out more frantically, even though you lose eight wickets.

On a slow pitch like this, however, and in a T20 match, England’s innings was about as good as an innings can get from a professional, percentage play, point of view (it was also very exciting, but that’s a different matter): had they simply hit out and lost wickets, each new batter, to be effective, would have had to spend, or waste, some deliveries just getting the measure of the pitch. The set batters, on the other hand, having had the opportunity to calibrate their strokeplay to the speed of the surface, could always take better advantage of each ball bowled at them. A wicket meant not just a wasted scoring opportunity, but three or four more wasted deliveries as the new batter got her eye in.

To that extent, therefore, losing wickets to hasty shots would be a big mistake. This, unfortunately, is what happened to India when they started to chase.

England, having seen Sarah Taylor return home, as scheduled, then played without Amy Jones either, leaving the glovework behind the stumps to Tammy Beaumont. It was a risky tactic, particularly given Beaumont had just batted for 19 of the 20 overs, but in this shortest of formats it was a chance that England could just about take. Beaumont did, nevertheless, look a bit rusty in the first two overs, but she made no mistake in the third.

Instead of Mandhana’s ODI partner, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol opened with her captain and Knight, either confused, or showing immense tactical nous (I prefer the latter idea), had each of the first three overs bowled by a different bowler: first Sciver, then Shrubsole and then Brunt. The pitch was placid, yes, but having three different bowlers meant it was that much more difficult for the batters to feel as though they knew what pace it was playing at. Deol played slightly late and edged the merest flicker of a touch into Beaumont’s gloves. Immediately, India were under pressure: the weight of runs required meaning that they could not, thereafter, afford for their batters to take two overs each bedding in. Worse was to come as Mandhana fell for the old trap of being tempted to loft the ball to the onside, and finding Kate Cross at long-on, precisely placed for this shot.

This was to the young Linsey Smith, another one of England’s seemingly endless bench of left arm slow finger spinners. To add to it, Rodrigues, on the first ball she faced was strangled down the leg side with Beaumont taking the catch. If, that is, you can be said to be strangled down the leg side to a spinner.

Even though Raj, and Veda Krishnamurthy (returning to the XI) were at the crease, it was clear that the match was over as a contest. With each over India fell further behind the required rate. The batters had to try to push the score along, with the result that they played non-percentage shots and, as could have been predicted, got out.

Raj and Krishnamurthy were back in the dressing room before the score reached 50. And as though to hammer it home, as India got to 76, Brunt got her second wicket: Reddy, caught by Dunkley.

From then on Pandey and Sharma, two of India’s most hard working and valuable players, could only try to not get out, and to score enough runs to make the scoreline not look like a thrashing. But the contest was over before they even came to the crease.

Knight must be thinking that this is what she expected from her team when the squad first arrived in India. Mandhana, reflecting on her decision at the toss, must be thinking that life’s a pitch.