LONG READ: Richard Clark – My Women’s Cricket Journey

By Richard Clark

I wasn’t always a women’s cricket follower.  In fact, for most of my life I can’t say I was aware that such a thing existed.

My father was – and still is – a Worcestershire season ticket holder, and huge swathes of my summers were consumed with the ups and downs of the Schweppes County Championship and John Player League.  I was one of those things that apparently doesn’t exist these days – a child with an attention span and a love of cricket.  But it was exclusively played by the male of the species, and the possibility that the other half of the population might ever pick up bats and balls rarely crossed my mind.

I say rarely – I know I was aware of the existence of somebody called Rachael Heyhoe-Flint who played the game (on her own presumably, bowling to herself ad infinitum…?), and I recall too that we sat down in front of the telly one afternoon to watch bits of the 1993 World Cup Final on Sunday Grandstand.  Not that the day’s events had any great effect on me, or us.  We were pleased that England won – ours was the sort of household that would happily watch and support England against Johnny or Jenny Foreigner, whatever the sport – but it had no real long-term impact on my “cricket life”.  As far as I was concerned the England Women’s cricket team appeared on the box one day and then ceased to exist again the next.

It was twelve more years before Holly Colvin gave me another little nudge in the direction of the women’s game, when her selection to play for England in the 2005 Women’s Ashes at the age of 15 attracted media attention, and I followed the two-Test Women’s Ashes series from afar with mild curiosity.  Not enough curiosity, mind you, to haul myself the short distance to New Road for the second and deciding match of the series.  It was another little drip of the tap, perhaps even a slight trickle, but not yet was it a gush…

Like a few people, I would imagine, 2009 was the year that opened my eyes wide enough to want to know more, and to see for myself.  Despite it taking place in the middle of the night, I was listening as England defeated New Zealand in that winter’s Women’s World Cup Final – once more the habit of jumping on every England-shaped bandwagon coming to the fore.  I decided I needed to know more about a team that had achieved something (and I hesitate to say this because I dislike such trite comparisons, but here goes anyway…) our men had never managed.

The inaugural Women’s World T20, to be held in England that summer, provided the opportunity, and at Taunton on Sunday 14th June 2009 I watched not only my first women’s cricket match, but my second too.  The double-header format of the group stages meant two for the price of one, and after Australia had dealt relatively easily with the West Indies, to the tune of 8 wickets, England did likewise with Sri Lanka by the comfortable margin of 71 runs.

By the standards England have set themselves in recent years, and even with due allowance for the subsequent strides made since the advent of full-time professionalism at the top level, it perhaps wasn’t vintage stuff. The classy Claire Taylor (75 of 54 balls) apart, England were a shade pedestrian in reaching 140 for 7 with the bat, but their fielding from ball one was a cut above the other three teams, Australia included.  There was a buzz about them that made this first-time spectator really sit up and take notice.  The batting may have been a touch below par, but this was a serious team I was watching, even without the injured Katherine Brunt, a player I had been especially keen to see.

Having “dipped my toe” I kept an eye on the tournament’s progress, but with the semi-finals and final televised – thanks to a slightly different double-header arrangement which saw both women’s and men’s knock-out stages run side-by-side on the same days at the same venues, which allowed for Sky to cover the women’s matches at limited additional expense – I could watch from the comfort of my armchair as England repeated their 50-over triumph of a few months earlier.

The semi-final of that tournament was a genuine epic – a distinct “staging post” not just in my appreciation of the game, but in the development of women’s cricket in this country.  After putting tournament favourites Australia in to bat, Charlotte Edwards must have been wondering whether she’d done the right thing as the Aussies ran up 163 for 5 in their 20 overs.  That actually represented a good outcome for England after Australia had been 138 for 2 with more than three overs left.

Solely on the basis of the Sri Lanka match I feared for Edwards’ team.  Claire Taylor apart, I couldn’t see where the necessary “oomph” would come from, even with the shortened (but not by too much) Oval boundaries, and by the time Sarah Taylor and then Edwards both departed England needed another 121 off 13 overs.

There followed a masterclass, not just from Claire Taylor, but from Beth Morgan too. Their composure was remarkable, picking off singles, running hard for twos and threes, taking the bad ball when it came along.  You see plenty of innovation these days in women’s T20 matches in particular, but back then the game was yet to fully evolve to that extent.  Taylor and Morgan simply played good cricket shots, that’s all there was to it. And twelve overs and three balls later, England had won.  Taylor (75 not out) and Morgan (46 not out) had made the Australians look something they most definitely weren’t – ordinary.

We can all point to the unlikely run chases we have witnessed, matches that were pulled from the fire by some Herculean slogging, or where victory was gained inch by inch, single by single, as the balls ticked down and the last wicket pair clung on.  This was neither.  It was clinical, it was methodical, it was proper cricket.

It deserved a bigger crowd, and a bigger TV audience, and it also deserves seeing again – there is no hint of it on YouTube, and I’ve never seen it repeated on Sky.  It exists only on the pages of Cricinfo, and in my mind’s eye, which is a pity because it was an outstanding chase.

Later that same summer, England met Australia again, this time in a one-off Test match to decide the Women’s Ashes.  With the match being played just down the road from me at Worcester, it would have been rude not to pop my head around the door, so Day 3 of the match saw my first experience of “long-form” Women’s cricket.

Test cricket is a strange format in the Women’s game, something of an anomaly even.  The domestic game, both here and in Australia, is strictly limited overs, meaning the longer version is only experienced in Ashes Test matches themselves (England and Australia are the only two countries who still entertain the notion of playing Women’s Tests), or occasional warm-up fixtures.  There is an element of learning on the hoof for all involved, and in that context I went along to watch with the feeling that maybe it wasn’t necessarily fair to expect too much.  Truth be told, I wasn’t sure exactly what I DID expect…

Australia had started poorly on day one (28 for 5 at one point) but had recovered to 271 for 7 by the close, and eventually reached 309 all out the next morning.  England then mirrored their opponents to an extent, slipping to 28 for 4 and then 59 for 5 before Morgan and Jenny Gunn steadied the ship on 116 for 5 at the close of the second day.  Only 154 runs had been scored from 68 overs during a rain-shortened day, England hanging on defiantly late on as the Aussies looked to tighten their grip.

With the home side needing only a draw to retain the Trophy they had won four years previously and then retained down under in 2006/07, the onus was on the visitors to winkle the English batters out on day three.  Morgan occupied the crease for what seemed an eternity, with Gunn, then Brunt and then Nicky Shaw all providing support for a while, but when Morgan went for 58 with England exactly 100 behind, it looked like Australia were in complete control.

Morgan’s runs had come off 262 balls and took more than five hours.  In those five hours she found the boundary just four times.  A grind?  Perhaps, but she was the main reason why England were not in deeper trouble.  I’m sure some people would decry it as “boring” but to me it was gripping cricket.  No fireworks, no twists and turns, just a batter giving her all to defy the bowlers at the other end.

Nobody at New Road knew it when Morgan departed, but this was to be a day when tenth-wicket partnerships would frustrate and infuriate those in the baggy green caps.  While Jimmy and Monty were defying Ricky Ponting and his troops at Cardiff, Colvin and Laura Marsh batted together here for even longer – more than 20 overs – putting on 59 runs, and in that time they probably saved England from defeat.  Much like that T20 partnership at the Oval that took England to Lord’s, they did it with a mixture of common sense and proper cricket, defence and attack – eight boundaries between them.

There was time for Australia to reach 128 for 1 by the close, a not insubstantial lead of 169, but it was difficult to see how they could win the game barring an England collapse.

I enjoyed the day.  Despite free admission the crowd was sparse, reflecting the minimal publicity afforded to the women’s game at that time.  To this callow observer it seemed hard to avoid the impression that the ECB were almost embarrassed to shout about the game, as if they felt there was no point as nobody would turn up anyway.

Yet the cricket had been good, compelling even, and if spectators had been subdued for much of the day as Australia squeezed England’s batting, they had come to life a little when Marsh and Colvin began to get into their stride.  In many ways, it was no different from watching a County Championship match.  I certainly didn’t feel I’d been watching anything “second rate.”

England gained their draw, unseen by me, the following day.  Going for quick runs, Australia were bowled out for 231, which they may not have seen as a bad thing, but England negotiated the necessary 53 overs with little alarm and retained their Ashes trophy to complete a triumphant year.

I now considered myself a supporter of this team, and yet, so enthralled was I that I went another four years without attending a single women’s match.  It was 2013 before I dabbled again, when the next Ashes series came around.  This time we headed for Lord’s for a One Day International forming part of the newly-instigated multi-format Women’s Ashes series.  But first (and bearing in mind I said “we”, not “I”), let’s rewind a little…

In the Autumn of 2012 my daughter – then just turned 10 – came home from school with a form that her games teacher had handed to her.  “Em, you’re good at rounders, why don’t you have a look at this?”

“This” was an invitation to any girls interested in cricket to attend trials for Worcestershire’s girls age group squads.  My daughter loved, and still loves, sport; she was already playing netball and hockey at school, as well as netball for a club, and had been captivated by the London Olympics that summer, Jess Ennis in particular.  Yet for some reason it had never occurred to this cricket-loving Dad – now very much aware that the female of the species could play the game and play it well – that his sport-loving daughter might be able to… erm… play cricket.

So trials it was, and despite never having held a bat or bowled a ball in her life she was accepted into the Under 11s squad.  Now, I like to think that she dazzled the selectors with her instant knack for the game, but I’ll be honest with you – they all got in.  We’re talking about a time when girls’ cricket was not as popular as it is now.  If a girl who essentially knew nothing about the game could get through County trials it suggests to me that talent was thin on the ground, but still…

The summer of 2011 saw her first games of cricket both for the local club she had joined and for the County squad, and cricket became even more a part of our lives in a way that we certainly hadn’t expected.  Six years later she’s about to embark on her first season at Under 17s level (success at trials permitting).  It’s been a journey and a half – some good seasons, some not so good – but either way it’s been tremendously enjoyable.  We’ve been to Cornwall and Cumbria, and numerous points in between, and the group of girls she plays with (and their parents) have become great friends.

There have been highlights of the cricketing variety – did I mention she once took five wickets in an over, and then hit the winning run in a one-wicket victory, all in the same match?  No?  Strange – I’ve mentioned it to everybody else!!  And highlights of the non-cricketing variety – the World Tour of Dorset and Cornwall in 2016 will live long in the memory, although never was truer the adage that “What happens on tour, stays on tour”!

We’ve also seen the team bowled out for 20 (nine runs from the bat, six scoring shots…), which wouldn’t have been quite so bad were we not chasing the small matter of 243 for 3.  Hey ho…

More pertinent to the story is that her involvement in the game made me more determined that we would follow and support women’s cricket at every opportunity, partly because I already had that interest, but also because I wanted her to see what she might be able to achieve, and to have role-models within the game.

Back to Lord’s… for me a return to the venue where I saw Worcestershire lift the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1991, but for the rest of our family their first “big” cricket match (the odd men’s T20 at New Road notwithstanding).  It didn’t go well – England lost, in fairly limp style.  But it was to be their only defeat to the Aussies that summer, and with all limited overs matches televised we got used to watching England’s women as routine for the first time.

Again, a hiatus, until another Ashes tour two years later in 2015 (remember that, when they were coming along like buses for a few years?).  This time we had an ODI scheduled on our doorstep at New Road, only for persistent rain to scupper the day – or to be more precise, it scuppered the cricket.

Despite the apocalyptic forecast we went along anyway, and it proved to be a very good decision, as photographs with, and autographs from, the entire England squad and a good few of the tourists, were collected in the Pavilion.  The players of both teams were exemplary on what must have been a very frustrating day, giving their time freely, always with smiles, and chatting to anybody and everybody.

It’s something I see at every women’s match – players willing to give their time after the close of play to meet particularly the youngsters who have come to see their idols.  It’s an area where women’s cricket, through its relative lack of a big following when compared to the men’s game, actually has an advantage.  Youngsters have that opportunity to get close to the players, and the players genuinely understand and appreciate the influence they can have.

It wasn’t just snaps and signatures, either.  Late in the afternoon, we were entertained by the somewhat bizarre sight of Brunt and Sarah Taylor clearing a space in the bar, corralling a group of slightly bewildered girls and boys, and playing an impromptu game with a couple of rolled up socks.  It emphasised to me the importance and the power of these players interacting with the next generation.

There is a saying that has been prominent in women’s sport in recent years – you can’t do what you can’t see.  Girls need access to their role models, they need to be able to see the footsteps they are following.  When my sister and I were young, the only women’s sport I can remember seeing on the TV was the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, and Wimbledon, all – significantly – events where women’s sport co-existed alongside (let’s not say “piggybacked on”) men’s sport.  Actually going to watch a “stand-alone” women’s sporting event was not, to all intents and purposes, “a thing”.  My sister was never especially into sport, but then why would she be?  Essentially it belonged to men and boys.

The explosion (relatively speaking) in the coverage of women’s sport in recent seasons has been phenomenal in more senses than one.  For my daughter – and my son too, come to that – women playing sport is genuinely normal.  It happens, it’s on the TV, it’s in the papers, and more pertinently it’s on Instagram and Snapchat.  I asked my lad one night to name his three favourite cricketers – his answers, Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt and Fran Wilson, and then as an afterthought he chucked in the name of Joe Root.

Because we take them to women’s matches – not just cricket, but football too occasionally – they see it as perfectly normal, nothing out of the ordinary, more of which in a bit…

Up to now, the one gap in my experience of watching the women’s game had been domestic stuff.  I’d come to consider myself fairly knowledgeable as far as England were concerned, but what about the County game that produced these players?  Despite being a life-long Worcestershire supporter, and having my daughter in the “pathway” I didn’t really know much about the County’s women’s team, beyond the odd occasion when their training sessions crossed paths with my daughter’s age group training.

Late in the summer of 2015, a little slice of history took place at New Road.  Nothing too noteworthy in the scheme of things, but significant nevertheless for those involved – the first domestic women’s cricket match to take place at County HQ.  The women’s team took on Devon in a 50-over Division 2 Championship match, ostensibly as part of the County’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, so I made that my (our) first experience of the Women’s County Championship.

Worcestershire won the game, in front of a smallish crowd, and a cracking day’s cricket it was.  Chasing the home side’s score of 236 for 6, Devon made decent headway, whilst Worcestershire chipped away at the wickets column.  For most of the chase the match was well-poised, and with ten overs to go a tight finish looked in prospect.  In the end Devon ran out of wickets and steam as their lower order struggled, and Worcestershire were eventually winners by 35 runs, a more comfortable margin than had seemed likely for much of the afternoon.

Once again, I enjoyed it, and had found the standard a little better than I perhaps expected for a second tier fixture.  There were half-centurions on both sides, and a number of players looked very easy on the eye with bat in hand, whilst the bowling and fielding was good.

It may just be me, but I find myself wrestling with my praise and criticism of the women’s game, and this match was a good illustration of that.  How good were the players, how good was the game I had watched?  Was I over-praising because I wanted it to be good stuff, or because I was “making allowances” for the part-time status of the players, the big (ish) stage that most probably weren’t used to, or simply the fact that they were women?  Or was I judging on merit?  A good shot is a good shot, after all, whether played by a man, a woman or a child.

I try to be honest in my critique, whilst – yes – making what I think is reasonable allowance for all factors.  If a fielder lets a simple ball through his or her legs, that’s rank bad fielding whether the player concerned is professional, amateur or junior, but if it’s a 30-yard run and a full-length dive on the boundary to prevent a four, then I think it’s entirely reasonable to differentiate between a full-time professional and someone who trains intermittently when the commitments of their day job and regular life allow.

In areas of physical strength and conditioning, why would anybody sensibly expect the same standards?  In much the same vein, the idea that women play a “less worthy” game because they don’t bowl as fast or hit the ball as far is surely spurious.  The physical differences between the average man and the average woman are self-evident, and in professional athletes are exaggerated even further.

But in questions of technique, there is no reason why a woman – given the same training and playing time – can’t cover drive the ball as elegantly as any man.  And I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen Heather Knight drive the ball through the off-side in a manner that could not be bettered, and I’ve seen Anya Shrubsole swing a white ball that many male bowlers can’t move off the straight.  And we haven’t talked about Sarah Taylor’s keeping yet…

Too many people fail to understand – or don’t want to understand, because it’s doesn’t suit their blinkered view – that professional women’s cricket is still in its infancy.  Full-time women cricketers only became “a thing” less than five years ago.  And yes, as a result of that we should expect – and are seeing – higher standards, but that can only ever be a gradual thing.  Nobody gets exponentially better at anything overnight, and certainly not just because you pay them more or allow them to give up the day job.  Improvement will come quicker than it might have done otherwise, but it still comes in incremental steps.

And making somebody full time doesn’t change their back story either.  Players like Jenny Gunn and Katherine Brunt have been full-time since the ECB introduced professional contracts, but they’ve been England players for much longer than that.  Both made their debuts in 2004, a full ten years before full-time cricket came along.  How do you make up for the lost years of practice, training, physiotherapy, rest?  You can’t.  Those players are as good as they are despite their backgrounds.

And what about the money?  For years England’s women had to pay their way, literally. It cost them money to play the game, whether through unpaid time off work, funding foreign tours, or the need for new kit.  And if that has changed now on the International scene then it certainly hasn’t lower down the ranks.

So when I watched Worcestershire and Devon that afternoon, I saw two things – firstly, cricketers playing for the love of the game, not for any kind of fame or reward; but secondly, players taking themselves and the contest utterly seriously.  The standards they set themselves were no lower than professional players might set, the pride in their performance no less.  It mattered.

If a catch was dropped or a poor shot played then nobody would be more critical than the culprit herself, so when it comes to those of us watching on, should we “make allowances”?  The complicated answer – to me – is yes and no.

Yes, because that’s how the players want it.  If you want to improve your game, whatever level you play at, then you have to be honest with yourself about the areas where you fall short.  If spectators adopt an approach that says, “never mind, you did your best” (or words to that effect) then that is selling the players short on what is expected of them, and ends up encouraging an attitude that excuses sloppiness.

And no, because when all that is said and done, we live in the Real World.  If full-time professional players can drop a catch or play all around a straight one then why expect a part-timer to be perfect?

A side-note to the match at New Road was that the minor historical nature of the occasion prompted me to make my first contribution to CRICKETher, a blog I had begun following some months previously.  It’s something I’ve continued to do from time to time, and I’m grateful to Syd and Raf for indulging my half-baked ramblings.  There are still not all that many places online to discuss women’s cricket but theirs is the leader in a fledgling field.

The summer of 2016 brought Pakistan to England for ODI and T20 series, in some ways a calm before the anticipated World Cup storm to follow in 2017.  Although there was a match scheduled for New Road, being a midweek date meant I was unable to attend due to work commitments.  The match was not without controversy, however, and watching highlights later it was easy to see why.  England coach Mark Robinson had requested that the boundaries be brought in to the minimum permitted distance, making the playing area look incongruously small.

The idea behind it was to encourage England’s batters to go for their shots, and aim to hit sixes, a facet of the game that hasn’t always been England’s strongest area.  It was, essentially, a means to an end.  With Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield both hitting centuries, and Nat Sciver a whirlwind 80 off 33 balls, England ran up a massive 378 for 6.

In some eyes it demeaned the women’s game, but that was just too simplistic a view – it was about more than just scoring easy runs as a one-off.  Robinson wanted to change the mindset of a team that had virtually strangled itself to death in the World T20 earlier that year, hitting just six sixes in five matches and stagnating in a welter of nudged singles.  He wanted to encourage them to think more expansively.

And it worked.  From that day on, whatever the boundary size, England have been a different team, with a different mentality, a classic example of what can be achieved when the shackles and the mental blocks are removed.  That match, although largely unheralded, and in some ways dismissed as an embarrassing misjudgement, was anything but.  It was the catalyst for the great leap forward.

Unable to be at Worcester that day, I wasn’t going to miss out altogether, so I settled on a trip down the M5 for a T20 fixture at Bristol.  “New” England dominated this game too, running up what was at the time their highest T20 total of 187 for 5, with both Beaumont and Winfield hitting 50s, but a Pakistan side that struggled all tour to mount a serious challenge to the home team put up a reasonable show of defiance with the bat despite falling well short on 119 for 7.

There was a distinct gap between the teams, though, one that had been evident all tour from what I saw of the televised games.  The far less experienced visitors lacked penetration with their bowling, were often shoddy in the field (albeit much improved that day in Bristol, despite England’s record score) and paled in comparison to England’s power with the bat.

None of that was surprising, given the disparity in resources.  Pakistan’s players remain amateur and come from a culture where, shall we say, the women’s game has not been nurtured with the enthusiasm it has here.  Hopefully with time and investment that will change, as the game needs more countries to drag themselves up towards the standard set by the top two or three, rather than seeing those better sides pulling further clear.

And so to 2017…

This was to be the summer that women’s cricket made its biggest mark yet, certainly in the UK.  The first Women’s World Cup to be held in England since that 1993 tournament, and the first global women’s competition here since 2009, would take the game to places it had not been before – the front page of many national newspapers for a start!

Frustratingly, my World Cup consisted of a mere two matches, not through any lack of interest, but thanks to a combination of work and other commitments – the clash between England and pre-tournament favourites Australia at Bristol, for instance, was red-inked in my diary the moment the schedule was announced, only for it to be usurped in those pages by my daughter’s County Under 15 commitment away to Herefordshire.  The Under 15s lost that match, but England had a more successful afternoon and listening to the commentary as we made our way home proved to be hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff, culminating in the relief of the final ball just as we were coming through Bromyard.

The highlights of the game backed up the sense of atmosphere that had come across on radio, with a crowd that approached raucousness in its support.  England’s players have since referenced that game as the day their cricket “got real”, with the crowd “getting stuck into the Aussies” (I believe that was the phrase Heather Knight used).  One particular moment stays with me – near the end Katherine Brunt caught Ash Gardner on the boundary – a crucial catch on the run, and not an easy one – and the roar as she took it and turned to the crowd, arms outstretched, came from the guts of the throng behind her.  There was nothing second-rate or inferior about that moment.

A week previously we were at Taunton for a slightly more gentle afternoon watching the hosts play Sri Lanka.  England gained the anticipated straightforward win, knocking off the 206 for 3 they needed to win with plenty of overs to spare, a workmanlike bowling and fielding display followed by a clinical century partnership between Knight and Sarah Taylor.  Knight’s innings was superb, Taylor’s something else.  A player who came into the tournament having been through her own personal struggles, and had begun with a couple of low scores, just came out and played.  And it was beautiful.

When Taylor bats with freedom there is nothing to touch her in the women’s game.  Meg Lanning is a machine, Sciver, Gardner, Lizelle Lee, Deandra Dottin and others can hit the ball a long way, but Taylor is a Picasso of a batter.  Three days later she peppered the Bristol boundary to the tun of 147, and in partnership with Beaumont they turned a much-vaunted South African attack to dust.  Even watching on Cricinfo it was gorgeous to behold.

We went to that Taunton game with a group of girls and parents from my daughter’s County squad – 23 of us altogether, I think.  An early start allowed time for a proper breakfast in “Stragglers” at the ground, and the sun shone all day.

It is said by some that “nobody cares” about women’s sport.  Tell that to the crowd at Taunton, who enjoyed that day no less than any men’s match on that ground.  Tell it to my daughter and her friends who supported England every bit as fervently as any boy watching the men’s team, especially when Fran Wilson measured her length on the turf in taking a stunning diving catch right in front of us, and became an instant legend!

The grown-up female sports fan of today didn’t have that when they were young.  Where were women’s team sports in the 1970s?  Cricket, football, rugby?  Nowhere, invisible, non-existent.  Hockey in the Olympics, perhaps, but that’s a couple of weeks every four years.  If women’s team sports don’t (yet) have the pull then right there is at least part of the reason.  It takes time, but hopefully when my daughter’s generation (both as mums and dads) start to bring up their children they will have that experience from their own childhood that they will want to instill.

It comes back again to that process of normalisation.  For the vast majority of the population, watching women’s sport – team sport in particular – is still “not normal.”  That’s not the same as saying that it’s “abnormal”, not the same at all, but even five years ago there was very little women’s team sport televised or written about in the newspapers.  We all grew up with no knowledge or interest in it because it was never part of our lives.  You only have to go back and re-read the first few paragraphs of this to illustrate that.

So when people attack women’s sport, when they say it’s boring, or rubbish, or that nobody cares, this is only a product of innate ignorance (in the literal sense), and it will take time and the passing of a generation or two to overcome that.  Of course, we want it quicker, we want it now, and we can all do our bit to accelerate the process, but we must temper that with a mixture of realism and patience.

England scraped their way to the Final courtesy of a 2-wicket semi-final win over the same South Africans, almost tying themselves in knots in a nerve-shredding chase.  The only problem was we didn’t have tickets for what was now announced as a sell-out.  There followed the best part of 36 hours virtually camped out on the ICC website, hoping that “four together” would come available – and they did.  Compton Upper, £50 the lot.  Lovely job!

There isn’t a lot to be said about this particular cricket match that hasn’t already been said or written.  However, what I will say is that it will take some usurping as the best day’s sport I have had the pleasure to be at, not just for the sport itself but for the occasion and the atmosphere.

Lord’s that day was different – the match was watched, dare I say, properly.  Everybody wanted their team to win, but not too much.  Everybody was out to have a good time, but not too much.  It was a World Cup Final, it mattered, but not too much.  I’ve been in full houses at men’s matches in all sorts of sports.  They aren’t always conducive to actually watching the match – whether it be excessive drink, a hostile atmosphere (in whatever sense), the procession of people disturbing you to make their way to the bar or the loo, or any number of things.  This was a completely different, and enriching, experience.

Over many years of watching sport, most of it played by men, I’ve grown tired of its importance being overplayed.  The media hype, the win-at-all-costs attitude and cheating from players, the scapegoating of officials, the aggression (and worse) from crowds, and – yes – the money involved in all sorts of ways (admission prices, TV subscriptions, players wages, gambling, and more).  They all point to sport being, in Bill Shankley’s adage, more important than life and death.  Well, it isn’t.

All that turns me off.  I want to care about the result, I want my team to win, but not to the point that it makes or breaks my weekend if they don’t.  I want to see my team strain ever sinew to beat the other lot, to leave nothing out there, as they say, but if that isn’t enough and if the opposition is just too good, too strong, then so be it, that is what sport boils down to – there isn’t always a winner and a loser, but I’ve yet to see a match where both teams won.

Much of men’s sport has gone too far in that respect, in my opinion.  The essence of competition has been lost in some sort of mad arms race, and it permeates everything.

Here’s another myth to bust.  Women’s cricket isn’t as good as men’s cricket.  Why not?  How are you even framing that question?  Because if it’s the quality of the contest, or the closeness of the finish, then let’s compare this Women’s World Cup with the Men’s Champions Trophy also held in England last summer.

The Women’s tournament boasted at least three matches that outdid any of the men’s games for sheer drama at the death – England’s group game against Australia, their semi-final victory over South Africa, and of course the Final itself.  That’s just one example, of course.  It “proves” nothing.  But it certainly gives the lie to any simplistic theories of what is “better” or “worse”.

My kids were shaking with nerves and excitement when Anya Shrubsole rattled Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s stumps.  Who am I kidding?  So was I!  I don’t care how long I live, nothing will ever top that – equal it, perhaps, but never top it.

And over the last few years, the most gripping sport I have watched, either in the flesh or on television, has involved women.  The Olympic Hockey Final of 2016, that cricket World Cup Final, and the Commonwealth Games Netball Final earlier this year.  All three have been utterly compelling.  That’s all you need to know about how good women’s sport can be.  The best sport is just sport – gender is irrelevant.

2018 has been quieter in some ways (how DO you follow a victorious World Cup on home soil?) but at the same time I watched more women’s cricket than ever.  One-day Internationals for England against South Africa at New Road – where Katherine Brunt played one of the best innings I’ve seen in a losing cause, gradually and defiantly dragging her team from a hopeless position up to a defendable target almost by sheer force of personality alone – and then New Zealand at Headingley were all we could manage on the International front, but that persistent itch brought on in 2015 by watching Worcestershire women’s first match at New Road has at last been scratched a bit.

Back in May I had been planning a rare day out watching Worcestershire’s men at New Road with my Dad, not something we get to do together very often these days.  But then I got word that one of my daughter’s County team-mates had been called up to the women’s squad, a “first” for her age group, so a quick change of plan saw me heading for Cropston, just north of Leicester, instead.

A good choice, too!  Leicestershire made 137 all out, which was considerably under par from 77 for 1, but Worcestershire looked bound for defeat when they slumped to 87 for 7.  It took a captain’s innings from Lauren Rowles and some staunch resistance at the other end for the visitors to squeeze home at 139 for 8.  I’ll be honest, not all of the cricket played that day was of the very highest quality, but not all of it wasn’t either.  There were a couple of truly outstanding catches, impressive innings from batters on both sides, and the guts shown by Worcestershire’s tail deserved the reward of a victory.  A day well spent.

It’s been enough to pique my interest further, and I’ve seen subsequent games against Shropshire (a big win), a T20 away to Warwickshire (a narrow loss), and then at the end of the season a winner-takes-all promotion play-off against Cornwall, once more back at New Road.  Another excellent day’s cricket saw the Rapids (in a positive move, the team shares the men’s branding) gain promotion with a 97-run win.  As it panned out, not necessarily the most exciting game in as much as the result was never in serious doubt, but a proper day’s cricket played by players giving their all and watched by spectators there for the love of the game.

Over the course of the summer, I’ve also become a little more involved in helping to publicise the women’s team, writing a couple of pieces for CRICKETher.  In turn that led to a conversation with one of the players, as a result of which I’ve ended up contributing articles to both the County Board and Worcestershire CCC websites.  It’s something I hope to be able to carry on doing and even expand on, if they’ll put up with me!

Around the same time, we did our first Kia Super League match, combining a weekend in London with a trip to the Oval to watch Surrey Stars and Western Storm.  With no team on our doorstep (Loughborough and Bristol are both a decent trek) it’s a shame  that we haven’t been able to support the KSL more, and it’s a shame also that the tournament is going after next summer because from what I have seen the intensity of the competition has advanced the women’s game in a way that the County system cannot.

Whether the Hundred will continue that good work, or whether it will be “lost” in the wash of the men’s competition, remains to be seen, and that is regardless of any fundamental doubts I may have (for the record, plenty) about the format.  My thoughts about the whole thing are too complex to go into here – suffice to say that I want whatever the future brings to drive the women’s game forward in this country as an entity in its own right, not to “keep it in its place” as an adjunct to the men’s game.

So here we are, nearly ten years on.  I started watching women’s cricket wondering how it would match up to the men’s game, because that was my only reference point, but I’ve grown to love it just for being “more cricket”.  And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  We call ourselves “cricket lovers” for a reason.  I wasn’t always a women’s cricket follower, and I’m still not now.  I’m a cricket lover.  It’s all just cricket, at the end of the day.


Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68


NEWS: 2018 Cheshire Women’s Cricket League Awards & Wrap-Up

Martin Saxon Reports


Division 1 (League Championship) Oakmere Appleton
Division 2 Stockport Trinity Leigh
Division 3 West Upton Nantwich
Division 3 East Appleton 2nd XI Woodley
T20 Divisional Competition Appleton Tigers* Stockport Trinity Fire*
Knockout Cup Appleton Tigers Stockport Trinity Fire
Development Knockout Cup Upton Nantwich Vipers

* Both clubs awarded trophies as winners of the respective Western and Eastern Divisions

Other Team Award

Tea Cup (Best matchday catering): Ashton-on-Mersey

Oakmere retained the Cheshire Women’s League Championship after losing just one league match. Curiously, their only reverse came in a cross-divisional fixture against second division Stockport Trinity – Oakmere were victorious in all matches against teams in their own division. Appleton maintained a strong challenge for a long time and hit the top spot as late as early August, but crucially they then lost to Oakmere for the second time. Ultimately though it was Oakmere who prevailed thanks to their wealth of bowling options and their ever-reliable key batters. Many of Oakmere’s wins were by large margins, and their second win over Chester Boughton Hall in early September was perhaps their most eye-catching performance, however Oakmere also had to rely on their winning knack in other closer fixtures, such as their first games against both Chester and runners-up Appleton.

Stockport Trinity were convincing winners of the second division and will be back in the top flight in 2019. Their dominance was such that not only did they have little difficulty with the opposition from their own division, they also won their cross-divisional fixture against division one champions Oakmere. Their only defeat came against Appleton on the final day, when the trophy had long since been secured. After a difficult start, Leigh finished strongly to finish second, in a season where all the sides in this division, bar Trinity, appeared to be fairly evenly matched.

Upton won Division Three West, ahead of Nantwich. In what was their first season of competitive cricket for both, the two clubs can look back with pride on what they achieved. Both clubs scored convincing wins on the opening day and went on to dominate this division throughout. However, thanks to two wins over Nantwich by margins of six runs and three wickets, it was Upton who finished in top spot.
Fielding a second team for the first time, Appleton’s second string held off Woodley’s challenge to finish as champions of Division Three East. Appleton did the league double over Woodley, but Woodley remained in contention until the very end, given that they beat Upton and Nantwich in cross-divisional matches, while Appleton’s seconds were beaten by both of these clubs.

Stockport Trinity and Appleton were undoubtedly the strongest teams in the shorter form of the game this year. The two clubs were unbeaten champions of the Western and Eastern divisions respectively, and also progressed largely untroubled through the Knockout Cup, although Trinity were pushed all the way by Didsbury in the semi-final. This all meant that Appleton and Trinity would meet twice on Finals Day, and it was Appleton who prevailed on both occasions – by margins of four and eight wickets – and who went home with both the Knockout Cup and the T20 Divisional trophy.

Upton and Nantwich not only dominated Division Three West, but also made it through to the final of the Development Knockout Cup, the cup competition for Division Three clubs. Upton beat their rivals once again, this time by 17 runs, to complete their own double.


DIVISION 1 Emma Barlow (Appleton) 438 runs Lorna Starkey (Chester Boughton Hall) 22 wickets Emma Barlow (Appleton) 9 dismissals Eloise Jackson (Appleton) 6 dismissals
DIVISION 2 Megan Cureton (Oxton) 298 Liv Bell (Stockport Georgians) 17 Megan Cureton (Oxton) 7 Gaby McKeever (Stockport Trinity) 9
DIVISION 3 WEST Lily Scudder (Upton) 322 Charlie Scudder (Upton) 19 Charlie Scudder (Upton) & Izzi Pearson (Nantwich) 6 Flo Seymour (Nantwich) 3
DIVISION 3 EAST Abby Barlow (Woodley) 287 Georgie Morton (Woodley) 12 Kate Scott-Griffiths (Didsbury 2nd XI) 6 Judith Barnes (Appleton 2nd XI) 5
T20 COMPETITIONS Carys White (Stockport Trinity Fire) 204 Emma Royle (Stockport Trinity Fire) & Nathalie Long (Appleton Tigers) 18 Georgia Heath (Appleton Tigers) 7 Gaby McKeever (Stockport Trinity Fire) 8

Other Individual Awards

Cheshire Women’s County Club Players’ Player of the Year: Kate Coppack
Cheshire Women’s County Club Coach’s Player of the Year: Dawn Prestidge
President’s Award (Outstanding Contribution to Women’s Cricket in Cheshire): Ray Bell (Stockport Georgians)

Emma Barlow had another consistent season at the top of Appleton’s order, and duly won the Division 1 Batting Award for the leading run-scorer for the sixth year in the last 10. She also took home a fielding award, indeed the number of fielding and wicketkeeping awards won by members of the Appleton first and second teams suggests that it was not just their batsmen and bowlers who contributed to their successes this year.

Perhaps the most convincing winner of any of these awards was Lily Scudder, who made five half-centuries and finished with almost twice the runs total of her nearest rival in Division Three West. Her twin sister Charlie won the bowling award in the same division, also with something to spare over the chasing pack.

The following were all league records broken this season:

  • Wickets taken in division 1 (Lorna Starkey, 22)
  • Wickets taken in all competitions (Nathalie Long, 33)
  • Fielding dismissals in league matches (Emma Barlow, 9) – previous record equalled


Didsbury reached the regional final of the National Club T20 and were only three runs away from a place in the national Finals Day.

The League XI beat MCC for the first time:

MCC 178 (Annie Rashid 3-21, Molly Price 3-33, Liv Bell 2-32)
Cheshire Women’s League XI 179-9 (Carys White 86*, Ali Cutler 26, Roshini Prince-Navaratnam 24)

MATCH REPORT: The West win the Beyond Boundaries Women’s T20 Scottish Cup Final

Jake Perry reports


The West 112-3 (E Watson 55*, E Talbot 1 for 21) beat Edinburgh South-Stewart’s Melville 111-4 (K White 60*, C Dalton 3 for 19) by seven wickets

It was a tale of two openers at New Williamfield as The West claimed the 2018 Beyond Boundaries Women’s T20 Scottish Cup with a pulsating seven wicket win over Edinburgh South/Stewart’s Melville. Although ESSM’s Kathryn White carried her bat for an unbeaten half-century, The West’s Ellen Watson matched the feat with 55 not out as her quick-fire partnership of 60 with captain Charlotte Dalton confirmed a maiden cup win for their young team.

After the loss of Catherine Holland (7) and Kathryn Fraser (0) reduced ESSM to 42 for 2 within the first nine overs of the first innings, the experience of former Scotland international White had proved telling as she and captain Hannah Short (21) led their side’s recovery with a fourth wicket partnership of 59. White’s powerful hitting was a constant threat, and, despite being given a life on 53 after she turned a no-ball into the hands of Lois Wilkinson, the forty-year-old’s belligerent 60 had put her side into a good position as the innings came to an end.

Charlotte Dalton’s three wickets had kept The West in touch, however, and with tight bowling from Naimh Robertson-Jack (three overs for 5), Moon Mughis (two overs for 11) and Lois Wilkinson (four overs for 12), too, the game was tantalisingly poised.

The West’s chase got away to a shaky start as Neyma Shaikh (0) and Abtaha Maqsood (2) fell within the first four overs, and when the dangerous Wilkinson (16) followed in the tenth to leave the score on 52 for 3 the fate of the innings, and the match, rested on the partnership between Ellen Watson and the incoming Charlotte Dalton.

Any potential nerves were settled quickly, however, as the two calmly led their side to victory. The in-form Dalton found the rope twice in consecutive deliveries from Chloe Keily, first pulling a high full toss through backward square before skipping down to plant a lofted drive over mid-on. Watson followed suit off the first ball of the next over, too, as she played a neat turn off her pads through fine leg before bringing up her fifty as the target loomed ever closer. Fittingly, it was left to the Scotland player to seal the win in the 17th over with her sixth boundary in what had been a well-paced knock.

“We’re absolutely delighted,” said Charlotte Dalton. “We lost our quarter-final last week but got through because another team wasn’t able to field a team today so we were quite fortunate, but I think that our performance today has vindicated us. We put in a really strong team performance in the semi-final against Carlton which was really pleasing. We come from a variety of clubs, we don’t train together, so for us to be able to come together and play like that has done everybody proud.

“We had lost to ESSM in the quarter-final last weekend so we felt we had something to prove against them today. We maybe gave them a few too many runs at the top of the innings but our bowlers and fielders really pulled it back and then our batters put on a really awesome performance. There was a bit of squeaky bum time in overs twelve to fourteen, I was doing the maths in my head and it was almost a run a ball needed and it was getting tense, but what a time for Ellen Watson to score her maiden fifty. She made it look easy and really steadied the ship to take us to the win.”

In the two semi-finals earlier in the day, a partnership of 55 between Abtaha Maqsood (28*) and Lois Wilkinson (24) was decisive as The West chased down Carlton’s 83 for 7 within fifteen overs, whilst Kathryn White (41), Chloe Keily (3 for 5), Kathryn Fraser (2 for 5) and Emma Phipps (2 for 10) were the stand-out performers in ES-SM’s 71 run win over George Watson’s College.

The play-off between the two capital sides saw Carlton claim third-place after an eight-wicket win against outgoing cup-holders GWC. Scotland U21s Charis Scott (3 for 5) and Ikra Farooq (2 for 2) restricted GWC to 49 for 7, leaving Carlton’s top order to put the finishing touches onto a comfortable victory by chasing down the target with more than ten overs to spare.


Jake Perry is a cricket writer based in Scotland.

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

MATCH REPORT: Worcestershire v Cornwall WCC Division 3 Play-Off

By Richard Clark with quotes from Worcestershire Vice-Captain & Wicketkeeper Chloe Hill

We didn’t get very much of the Bank Holiday sunshine that had been hinted at, but we did get a victory to celebrate, and with it promotion, and for Worcestershire’s Women’s Rapids that would do very nicely, thank you.

In the end it was comfortable – 97 runs the margin – although there were times during the afternoon when the odd doubt may have crept in, as Worcestershire did their best to undermine an excellent start with the bat.

There are many ways to reach a total of 227 for 9 off 50 overs, and this was probably among the more unlikely ones. Opting to bat after winning the toss, the Rapids could hardly have been better-placed at 147 without loss, and rattling along at five-an-over, only for a flurry of wickets to derail their progress and leave them a little way short of where they might have expected to be.

The innings was founded on half-centuries from Chloe Hill (78 from 86 balls) and Beth Ellis (69 from 118).  As the numbers suggest, Hill played the aggressor with eight boundaries, whilst Ellis was happy in a largely supporting role, turning over the strike and collecting singles at every opportunity.  The Rapids could hardly have wished for better.

And yet… attempting to turn the second ball of the match from Emily Geach to leg, Hill’s leading edge had looped up to midwicket where the fielder appeared to misjudge it, coming in a couple of steps before having to back-track in a vain attempt to take the catch. Fine margins…

*   *   *

“My heart was in my mouth. The biggest match of the year, all that build-up, so much at stake, and I’d stuffed it up right at the start!  I can’t describe the relief when I saw she wasn’t going to get to it.  But I guess it woke me up a lot!!”

*   *   *

The partnership wasn’t chanceless.  Hill was perhaps fortunate to survive a huge stumping appeal, and rode her luck again when a fierce pull went straight through the hands of Kellie Williams, striking the Cornish skipper a blow on the eye that forced her off the field for a while and left her with a handsome black eye to remember Hill by.

More than once, a fumble at the stumps allowed the batters to escape a run-out and the edge of the bat was beaten a good few times.  But Hill and Ellis ploughed on for the best part of 30 overs until Ellie Mitchell deceived and bowled Hill as she gave the leg-spinner the charge.

*   *   *

“Oh, there was a massive amount of frustration!  Everyone who was there would have seen my face when I walked off!  Who wouldn’t love a century on their home ground?!  But from the team perspective we couldn’t have dreamed of a better position to be in.  Runs on the board and plenty of batting to come.  I thought, ‘I’ve done my job and the rest of the team can chip in nicely to reach a big score.’”

*   *   *

Mitchell waited politely for Ellis to collect the two runs she needed to complete her own half-century at the other end, and then took up the attack again to great effect.  Within five balls she ripped out the “engine room” of the Worcestershire order, doing to the experienced Clare Boycott and Lauren Rowles exactly what she had done to Hill, but this time without either of them troubling the scorers.  147 for none had become 149 for 3.  Not so comfortable now…

Ellis and Rachael Howells steadied things for a while, adding 27 for the fourth wicket before Howells was caught behind chasing a wide one, and thereafter arrivals and departures came and went at a rate that would have alarmed the Stationmaster at nearby Foregate Street.  It wasn’t long before the Rapids found themselves 199 for 8, with Ellis among those to go, bowled by Charlotte Phillips.

*   *   *

“This 100% wasn’t in the plan!  You always expect to have a sticky spell during an innings but we couldn’t get ourselves going – although the strip was the same one used two days earlier for the Men’s T20 Blast quarter-final, a low-scoring match itself.  But with the positive start we thought we had a big total coming at the end of 50 overs.”

“I think we got caught between the need to push on and the need for new batters to just take an over or two.”

“But credit to Cornwall too.  They kept at us, there was a lot of ‘pace off the ball’ and not much that was there to hit.  They took the initiative away from us as much as we surrendered it.  We definitely needed a few runs from the lower order as I know we can bat right through.”

*   *   *

Those few runs came – 28 of them in the last seven overs – with the relatively experienced Jess Humby marshalling youngsters Ellie Fleck (the only player other than Hill or Ellis to reach double-figures) and Philippa Bray though.  It was “one of those” totals – a match that perhaps should have been out of reach… wasn’t.

Cornwall began with a flourish, Boycott’s opening over going for 14 with the help of five wides, but thereafter she and Issy Wong applied the brakes, albeit without being able to make inroads.  Mitchell (if anybody should know about opening at New Road, it’s a Mitchell…) and Caitlin Burnett looked largely unhurried.

At 34 without loss after eight overs, neither team had put themselves in the ascendency until Emily Arlott rattled Burnett’s stumps in her first over, and almost immediately Wong did likewise to Mitchell from the other end next over.

Rapids on top, and more so when the same bowlers repeated the dose to Amber Cummins (LBW to Arlott) and Sophie Richards (bowled by Wong).  Cornwall 44 for 4 and badly holed below the waterline…

*   *   *

“We didn’t start as well as we would have liked, but we knew a couple of wickets would change things.  Em and Issy are both pretty quick and I would back their bowling to take wickets.  For a 16-year old Issy gets some real pace, hits the gloves very hard which is pleasing to see at her age. Once Issy found her length and her rhythm she was on fire!”

“Em’s got so much experience now.  She knows exactly what she’s doing. She trains extremely hard to hit her areas.  Having seen Cornwall use their slower bowlers well we weren’t sure how pace would go.  Everyone knows it can fly off the bat and runs can come quickly.  But Em and Issy just didn’t give anything away in that spell.  With hindsight, that was the period that won us the match.”

*   *   *

For a while, Rebecca Odgers and Joleigh Roberts defied the home side.  Odgers in particular played beautifully, hitting 11 fours in her 56 from 57 balls, most of them textbook drives through the off side, and keeping Cornwall up with the rate.

They were undone by the curse of the drinks break, though, Roberts just failing to beat Boycott’s throw from backward point after an untimely mid-wicket “debate” about the possibility of pinching a single, and Charlotte Williams was snaffled by Rowles at midwicket soon afterwards, leaving the visitors 81 for 6.

Geach held firm in a stand of 40 as Odgers continued to carve away at the other end but the final nail came when Ellis had Odgers stumped by Hill.  Odgers couldn’t have moved her foot very far, or for very long, but Hill’s hands were fast, and she knew…

*   *   *

“When someone’s batting like that there’s always something in the back of your mind that thinks she could do it all on her own.  You know deep down it’s unlikely but it’s that little voice of doubt that nags away.  You get anxious, you try a bit too hard for a wicket and it doesn’t come, so you get a bit more anxious, and so on. But as soon as I saw her foot lift and drag out slightly I knew I’d got her, and let’s just say it was definitely a massive relief when that finger went up!”

*   *   *

The final two wickets fell quickly – fittingly one each for Wong and Arlott, who finished with 4 for 22, and 3 for 21 respectively.  Ellis deserves a mention too, her ten overs quietly yielding 1 for 29.  Job done.

Cornwall will be disappointed but looking down their team sheet I recognised at least five names who have played age-group cricket against my 15-year old daughter.  They include Odgers and Geach, who took 2 for 29 off her ten overs and – Odgers excepted – faced more balls than anybody else.  There should be encouragement for them in the performances of those youngsters.  They can only continue to improve.

For Worcestershire, Division 2 awaits after a single season away.  It will be a challenge but one the Rapids will hope to meet head on.

*   *   *

“What a day!  It’s always fun to play at New Road but to do so with something real at stake, and to win in front of your own supporters – not much beats that!  And to be back in Division 2 where we knew we should have been last season is great!”

“There were celebrations and it was great that we could do that with our teammates, friends and families.  And personally, I just want to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to all our supporters this season, and to our home ground Kidderminster CC and New Road.  Hopefully all these positives can go into next season.  As we all say,  #UPTHERAPIDS!🍐🌊”


Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

PREVIEW: What’s Hove Got To Do With It?

By Richard Clark

Monday sees the climax to the Women’s domestic cricket season, with five momentous matches taking place across the country.

That’s right, five.  For whilst KIA Super League Finals Day down on the South Coast will attract all the interest and headlines, attention in Long Melford, Bicester and at Blackfinch New Road, Worcester will be on other matters, with six counties vying for promotion to Division 2 of the Royal London One-Day Cup (the County Championship to some of us) – or in Essex’s case hoping to retain their place there.

At Bicester, Oxfordshire welcome Durham, whilst Long Melford plays host to something of a local derby, as Suffolk welcome the afore-mentioned Essex.

Worcestershire, meanwhile, will entertain Cornwall – provided the visitors can first overcome the notorious Bank Holiday weekend M5 traffic – and whilst the Women’s Rapids home matches are usually played at Kidderminster, it was announced soon after the fixture was confirmed that this one would go ahead at “County HQ”.

It remains relatively rare, of course, for the major county grounds to host women’s county matches.  Kent and Northamptonshire have played one home fixture each at Canterbury and Northampton respectively this season, but they are the notable exceptions rather than the rule.  County CEOs see the matches as loss-making, and no doubt some groundsmen would have their own views on their workload being added to.

The switch to New Road, though, is not a one-off, and is indicative of an increasingly close relationship between the County and the Cricket Board, with at least one match being played at New Road every year since 2015.

That summer saw a 50-over Championship game against Devon, whilst a “triangular” T20 Cup day (sadly rain-affected) followed in 2016.  Those fixtures were competitive, but last season saw only a T20 “friendly” played as a post-script to a men’s T20 Blast fixture, and this summer’s two scheduled T20 “curtain-raisers” to men’s Blast fixtures were both – during our driest summer for many years – wiped out by rain.

Monday, therefore, marks a welcome return to competitive women’s county cricket at New Road, and Womens’ Rapids coach Sam Wyles feels that can only be positive.

“We really appreciate being given this opportunity to play at Blackfinch New Road,” says Wyles, “And our thanks go to everyone at Worcestershire CCC for their support.  It’s a relationship we see growing in 2019 and into the future.”

County CEO Matt Rawnsley agrees.

“The relationship between the County and the Women’s rapids is very important to us, and that goes beyond just staging matches now and then.  At the moment the County Cricket Club and the Cricket Board operate separately, and in many ways that makes no sense.  The link between the men’s and women’s games is something we are working hard on, because we believe it will be beneficial to both sides.”

“Throwing a bit of money at it and thinking that is enough would be an easy option, but there are so many more ways where we can work more closely.  Greater use of shared facilities and coaching resources is one area, commercial sponsorship involving both men’s and women’s teams in some way is another.”

“We have to be realistic in our aims, but a lot of things can be done that would be very effective but wouldn’t involve huge cost.  There are some exciting things in the pipeline.”

As an example of that “joined-up” approach, the Women’s team already wears the same playing kit as the men’s team, and shares the “Rapids” branding. And both kit and name have been extended this season down through the girls are group squads. It all helps to re-enforce the impression of a single entity.

As for Monday’s match, Wyles believes his team is ready to grasp the opportunity with both hands.

“Preparation hasn’t been ideal, with the two games we had hoped to use as practice both washed out, but the squad is working hard at training and are very focused on Monday.”

“Playing at New Road may be daunting in some ways but a lot of our players have played there before and know the ground, so it’s at least a familiar venue to us.  We can treat it as just another game of cricket.  Perhaps playing on a bigger stage adds a bit more pressure for Cornwall.”

For the players, meanwhile, the match can’t come soon enough.  Rapids’ bowler Jess Humby sums up the mood in the camp ahead of the game.

“As a one-off fixture it’s huge!  We talked a lot over the winter about getting into the play-off.  That was always our target, but then to be at the County Ground where we really only get the occasional chance to play really adds to the occasion.”

Fast bowler Emily Arlott puts it more succinctly, describing the match as “the biggest certainly of this summer if not for a few years.”

Worcestershire’s season has been a case of taking both the high road and the low road, mixing Division 3 cricket in the 50-over game with a first ever venture into Division 1 of the Vitality T20 Cup, and whilst relegation from the top flight was a blow, their campaign at that level may well stand them in good stead.

“Playing in Division 1 has definitely helped,” says Humby.  “We came up against some very good teams and it perhaps took us out of our comfort zone.  You learn so much more about yourselves – the importance of bowling good lines, backing our bowlers up in the field, batters hitting the gaps and running hard. You can get away with those little things at a lower level but in Division 1 they really count.”

The vagaries of the calendar mean that these games take place a full three months after the conclusion of the “regular” 50-over season back in late May.  As Humby points out, that in itself poses a challenge.

“We haven’t played much cricket together since the T20 campaign finished nearly two months ago.  Our luck has been out with the weather and the two T20 wash-outs.”

Wicket-keeper and Vice-Captain Chloe Hill points out that the players haven’t been idle, though.

“Most of us have been playing club cricket which is 40-50 overs, so we’re all still playing the longer form.  We should all still be disciplined, and we certainly won’t be coming in cold.”

As far as the opposition is concerned, it’s very much “the Devil you don’t know”!  Whereas the professional men’s teams will have video footage and endless analysis to pore over, the Women’s game – of necessity – relies more on teams just playing their own game

“We played them three years ago in the T20 competition, so we have come up against them before,” explains Arlott, “but most counties tend to change personnel a bit year-by-year, so it will be interesting to see how they compare.”

Hill agrees.  “When I played for Buckinghamshire we played against Cornwall regularly, but any team can change over time.  Our squad has evolved over the three years I’ve been with Worcestershire, so I expect it will be much the same with Cornwall.  We can look at the stats from their matches and that might tell us who their key players could be, but that’s as far as it goes.”

“Ultimately, if we all believe in our own game then we know we can do no more.”

For the players of Worcestershire, promotion on Monday may be all they are thinking about, but it would seem that is only one part of a bigger picture in the ongoing development of the bond between “the County” and the Women’s team, with Worcestershire hopefully leading the way for other counties to follow.

Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

KSL: Thunder v Stars

Martin Saxon reports from Old Trafford

A winning margin of 55 runs is certainly a ‘thrashing’ when it comes to T20, and by triumphing by this margin Surrey Stars moved within one point of third-placed Lancashire Thunder. It was of course a much-needed victory for the Stars, while things are looking a bit more precarious for the Thunder, especially as they now face away trips to both of the top two sides.

When Sophie Ecclestone was deservedly named Player of the Series in the recent international tri-series, there was at least one batsman who had not been bamboozled by her bowling. South Africa and Stars opener Lizelle Lee is certainly a superb player of spin bowling, and it’s easy to imagine that she was licking her lips here against a Lancashire side who have only one seam bowling option, where once again Old Trafford’s playing area was akin to a postage stamp in size.

After a relatively sedate powerplay, Lee actually decided to accelerate once the boundary was well patrolled. Even her most ardent admirers may not suggest that the South African possesses an array of elegant shots, or that she scores all around the ground, however although her wagonwheel here would have showed a significant number of runs hit over ‘cow corner’, it really didn’t matter. Thunder posted the boundary riders in the right areas, but it didn’t seem to stop her at all – Lee just hit the ball way over their heads! Her blistering innings of 70 from just 37 deliveries included six maximums, and even Sarah Taylor was reduced to simply working the ball for singles to give her partner the strike.

Lee is certainly a major asset to any team at any level, but if she was English (or Australian), would she be rejected as an international player due to a perceived lack of athleticism?

After Lee had finally holed out in the deep, her brute force was replaced by some superb stroke making from both Taylor and Dane van Niekerk, whose combination of dabs, sweeps, ramps and more conventional shots such as drives and cuts ensured that the scoreboard operators remained busy. Taylor made 51 from 37 balls and although van Niekerk only made 19, she had certainly played her part in entertaining the crowd and the watching TV audience.

Five wickets fell in the last three overs, so the final total of 167-8 was lower than might have looked likely just a short time earlier. Emma Lamb added to her growing reputation as a spin bowler by finishing with 2-12 – she bowled two overs at the start before Lee had opened her shoulders, and one more after she had been missed. Kate Cross (1-27) and Ecclestone (2-32) also did a reasonable job, but Danielle Hazell and Alex Hartley suffered badly against Lee’s onslaught.

So Thunder needed 168 to win, which they shouldn’t have regarded as impossible, having made just 15 fewer on the same ground four days earlier. However, their reply never really got going – Nicole Bolton and Eve Jones came out and displayed an uncanny knack of hitting the ball straight to the fielders for most of the first five overs. 

Whether wickets were falling or not, the scoring rate remained pedestrian – Bolton and Jones took 9.4 overs to add 55 for the first wicket, then in the remaining 9.4 overs, the entire Thunder team were dismissed for the addition of just 57 more.

If the run chase was looking tough when Harmanpreet Kaur came to the wicket first down with the required rate around 11, it looked even harder when the Indian start batter had once again been run out for a duck. On this occasion she never even got to take guard; once again the call from her partner was ambitious to say the least, but once again Kaur seemed extremely slow out of the blocks.

Amy Satterthwaite came in at four looking like she meant business, striking her first two deliveries for four. She was the only Thunder batsman to record a strike rate of appreciably over 100, but fell for 21 from 11 deliveries, having tried in vain to single-handedly give the innings some momentum.

Van Niekerk’s 3-20 and Bryony Smith’s 2-9 from two overs were the best of a series of excellent Surrey bowling figures.

This is the fourth time Lancashire Thunder have played what might be described as a showcase fixture at Old Trafford, and all four have resulted in defeat. Indeed only the first of this year’s matches at the Test ground could be described as being in any way a competitive match. Seeing the home side thrashed year on year is not encouraging the people of the North West to come back and watch more elite women’s cricket, and the eerie silence amongst the crowd during the stuttering run chase was far from pleasant to experience.

MATCH REPORT: Cavender stars as Scotland claim back-to-back wins over Germany

Jake Perry reports from Meigle Park

Match One: Scotland Women U21 161-6 (E Cavender 56, T Gough 2 for 24) beat Germany Women 54-8 (C Scott 2 for 6, I Farooq 2 for 6) by 99 runs (revised target)

Match Two: Scotland Women U21 139-5 (E Cavender 58*, T Gough 2 for 7) beat Germany Women 64-8 (T Gough 20, M McColl 2 for 9) by 75 runs

The old cliché of four seasons in one day was in evidence in Galashiels as Scotland Women U21 completed two comprehensive wins against Germany in the T20 double-header at Meigle Park. On a day which began in cloudy humidity and ended in hot sunshine, punctuated by a heavy shower, two magnificent half centuries from sixteen-year-old Emily Cavender put the icing onto what were two excellent performances from Gordon Allan’s young side.

The changeable weather added to the challenge of batting on what was already a tricky looking surface. From the outset several deliveries popped up off the soft, green track, and with the hot sunshine drying the pitch from the earlier rain, too, Scotland’s greater experience was to tell in both matches as Germany struggled to get their innings going.

In the first game of the day a superb partnership of 91 between Cavender (56) and Megan McColl (28) had formed the backbone of Scotland’s imposing 161 for 6. Sarah Bryce’s 23-ball 41 set her side on their way before Germany struck back with four quick wickets to peg the hosts back to 63 for 4, but with Cavender and McColl subsequently taking control, Cavender bringing up her first half century of the day off 36 deliveries, Scotland posted a total which was never likely to be threatened.

Left-arm seamer Tina Gough (2 for 24) bowled particularly well for the visitors, nipping the ball in off the soft, green surface, but with Scotland’s batters regularly finding gaps in the field the bowling side struggled to put their opponents under any sort of pressure.

Germany’s run-chase got off to the worst possible start as Karthika Vijayaraghavan (1) cut Laura Grant (1 for 3) straight to Ailsa Lister at point, and with Scotland captain Abtaha Maqsood (2 for 16) and Isobel Couttie (1 for 13) claiming early wickets, too, the visitors were soon struggling on 19 for 3 after nine.

The first ten overs of the reply featured no boundaries as Scotland tightened the screw, and despite the weather intervening to reduce Germany’s target to 154 off 19 a further flurry of wickets confirmed what had already become an inevitable outcome. Charis Scott (2 for 6) took two in an over as Germany lost three with the score on 51 before Ikra Farooq (2 for 6) put the seal onto a comfortable win with the wicket of Asmita Kohli (1) off the final ball of the innings.

After their 99-run win earlier in the day Scotland lost Scott (0), Grant (4) and Lister (16) within the first seven overs of the second match after being asked to bat first once again, but Bryce (28) and Cavender then picked up the pace with some aggressive batting. Bryce cleared the rope at midwicket for the first six of the day and although the wicketkeeping all-rounder was to fall two balls later Cavender continued the assault as Scotland pulled away. Cavender’s second fifty of the day arrived off only 27 balls and featured nine fours as the Scots finished on 139 for 5 off their twenty overs.

Faced with another target in excess of a run a ball Germany again faltered, losing Stephanie Frohnmeyer (0) in the first over as she mistimed a catch to Maqsood. Bianca Maes (2) soon followed, McColl (2 for 9) claiming her second wicket, and when Maqsood effected the run out of Karthika Vijayaraghavan (8) in the eighth, Germany were again in trouble at 19 for 3.

All-rounder Gough (20) and Anuradha Doddaballapur (11) offered brave resistance but after the two fell in close succession, the latter run out after hesitation in going for a quick single before a sharp catch by Maqsood at midwicket to dismiss Gough, Germany’s innings fell away quickly to confirm Scotland’s second win of the day.

“I’m very happy,” said Abtaha Maqsood. “We hadn’t really played together as a squad before, our first game together was only on Wednesday, but the way we all came together and played as a team was really nice to see.

“It was tricky to bat out there with the pitch and it was pretty windy too but we still got two good scores on the board. Bowling into the wind wasn’t easy so I’m really pleased with our performances.

“It’s been a good day. Everyone contributed and for Emily in her first game to get two fifties is amazing.”

“It’s been a great learning experience for us today,” said Germany captain Anuradha Doddaballapur. “Most of us don’t get to play on grass pitches in Germany so conditions-wise this is something for us to learn from.

“I think we did pretty well in our bowling and batting. It was good to play against spin because again we don’t have the chance to do that very often in Germany and that’s something we want to work on. There are quite a few young girls in the squad as well, for some it’s their first tour with the national team, so I think overall it was a great experience for everyone. It’s lovely to be able to play in Scotland, too, although it’s hard not to be distracted by the scenery!”

Germany’s tour now continues in the north of England.

“We’re based in Ashington for the next four or five days,” she said. “We have two games against Northumberland Women and then against Durham. It’s been really good for us and for German cricket, to see the standard we are pitching against.”


Jake Perry is a cricket writer based in Scotland.

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket