Women’s County Cricket Day 2020 – Setting A Day?

By Richard Clark

With the 2020 Women’s County T20 fixtures now out there for human consumption, thoughts have been turning in this parish to next summer’s Women’s County Cricket Day.

Question one on the agenda – will there be one? The abolition (there really is no other word for it) of the 50-over Championship has reduced the County calendar to just four days of cricket. Slim pickings, by any yardstick, but still County cricket, and, as Syd was quick to emphasise, while there is Women’s County Cricket there should be a Women’s County Cricket Day. He is right, of course.

So we’ve had the calendars out and we’ve been poring over Google Maps trying to assess the best of the four days to choose. And the thing is, it’s not easy, because there isn’t an ideal date. And for that reason, I thought it was worth letting everyone in on the factors that come into play here.

For those who don’t know, there are four rounds of fixtures, across five Divisions, scheduled on Friday 8th May, Monday 25th May (both Bank Holidays) and Sundays 7th and 21st June. Thirty-four “Counties” are, as with previous seasons, split into National Divisions 1 and 2 and a regionalised Division 3 – very roughly speaking split into South West, Eastern Counties, and Midlands/North.

Some maths to begin with – whatever date we choose, there will only be eleven “fixtures”. Or, to put it more accurately, 34 matches but only eleven venues where cricket is being played. The triangular nature of the T20 competition – whilst an excellent format – means that only a third of counties, rather than half of them, are “at home”. That’s not ideal when you want to spread the net as wide as possible. Still, nothing we can do about it…

It’s also worth pointing out that no venues are known yet, so we can only think in terms of Counties rather than specific grounds at this stage.

With the benefit of last year’s campaign, I had a “wish list” of factors in mind that would make up a perfect reprise. I didn’t expect it all to fall into place, but honestly, I’m not sure there could conceivably have been a less favourable combination of fixtures over the four dates!

Some desirables remained unchanged from last year – for example, it would ideally be fairly early in the season, before international duties deprived us of the star attractions, and a day where there were minimal clashes with men’s county cricket so that we weren’t overshadowed or seen to be in conflict with “The Other Game” at all.

But two other things mattered to me. WCCD 2019 was very South-centric, as several in Yorkshire and Lancashire in particular were swift to mention. We didn’t plan it that way, it just happened that the optimum date fell when most of the Northern and Midlands counties were down South. But it did mean that the first thing I looked for this year were the days when there was a good deal of cricket north of Watford!

Friends, let me tell you, both Yorkshire and Lancashire have just ONE home fixture. In both cases it’s the final day of the season – Sunday 21st June – which you might think would make it a front runner for WCCD.

(Incidentally, if you’re wondering about a mouth-watering “Roses” clash, the teams are in different Divisions, so there isn’t one…)

Be that as it may, there are problems with 21st June. Firstly, whilst the international fixtures haven’t been announced yet, it’s highly likely to be in the midst of England’s series against New Zealand, meaning no England players on show.

It’s also a date when Division 3C has no scheduled fixtures at present. Now I strongly suspect, based on what happened last summer (which would take too much explaining to bore you with right now), that that will change, but I’m reluctant to gamble on it, and it doesn’t sit right with me to potentially exclude four of the less-heralded counties from WCCD altogether.

On top of that, Sunday 21st June sees seven matches in the men’s T20 Blast – just the sort of clash with the men’s game that we really want to avoid if at all possible.

And while we’re on that subject, Sunday 7th June (round three of fixtures) also suffers from a likely clash with the New Zealand series – or, at the very least, pre-series training camps – as well as coming up against another packed day of T20 Blast action.

The other “wish list” item was to have as many counties as possible who were away on WCCD 2019 playing at home on WCCD 2020, for what I hope would be obvious reasons. I won’t numb you with the numbers, but take it from me that the two June dates work out worst on this score as well.

So what about the brace of Bank Holidays in May?

I like the feel of a Bank Holiday, if I’m honest. It always strikes me as being a “spare” day. People often have their Saturday and Sunday routines planned out, but a Bank Holiday is a bonus, a day you can fill with something a little out of the ordinary, a day you can turn into an “occasion”.

Monday 25th May has distinct advantages. There are men’s County Championship matches scheduled that day – in fact all 18 Counties are down to play – but here’s the thing. It’s day four! Some, maybe many, perhaps even most, will be done and dusted. Others will be in the death throes. It feels like a day when the men’s game will be off the radar to an extent – in fact, there might be county supporters looking for matches to watch as their hoped-for fare has finished early!

But there’s also a snag. The furthest women’s cricket ventures North that day is Staffordshire. There is cricket to be seen elsewhere in the Midlands – Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Shropshire all host games – but nothing beyond that cluster. It’s almost exactly the situation I wanted to avoid!

Friday 8th May appeals more on that score. We may be out of luck with the Houses of York and Lancaster, but there are home fixtures for Durham (where Lancashire are one of the visiting teams), Cheshire and Nottinghamshire as well as Staffordshire. Looking at the “dots” on my maps it’s by far the best geographical spread of the four days. And only three counties are at home having been at home last year – it’s the best of the four possible days in that regard too.

However, it’s a Friday, and somehow a Friday doesn’t really seem like a Bank Holiday as much as a Monday does, especially this one, which is a new innovation (I wasn’t aware of it myself until I went looking for reasons why the ECB had been so utterly bonkers as to schedule women’s county cricket on a bog-standard Friday!). Might the unexpected and away-from-the-norm nature of the day work against us?

It’s also early May, and – let’s not beat about the bush – this is England. It could well be the proverbial scorcher, but equally I spent much of last summer’s WCCD (6th May, in case you’d forgotten) huddled against a chilly breeze at North Maidenhead, and with the T20 days timetabled to finish as late as 7.30 pm similar weather this year wouldn’t be appealing.

(Oh, and it’s my wife’s birthday… but I won’t tell her if you don’t!)

So there you have it. Not straight-forward at all. At this stage no decision has been made, and won’t be until the international dates are known at the very least, just to be certain of covering all the bases.

In the meantime, all comments and thoughts from the CRICKETher family are welcome and will be thrown into the mix – it’s not my day, it’s not Raf and Syd’s day, it belongs to all of us, so we’d love your input. You might come up with a compelling factor that none of us had considered!

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

NEWS: England Academy Squad Hints At England Contracts For Dunkley & Villiers

Recent debutantes Sophia Dunkley and Mady Villiers appear to have been parachuted into the full England squad, having been left off the list of players selected for the 2019/20 Academy squad.

The new Academy squad includes promotions for Hampshire’s promising allrounder Maia Bouchier; and Sarah Glenn, who had an outstanding KSL for Loughborough Lightning, placing 5th in our KSL Bowling Rankings.

Also new in the Academy squad are Vipers fast bowler Issy Wong, Hampshire keeper Lucia Kendall, Surrey’s Alice Capsey and Sussex’s Freya Kemp.

Missing out from last year’s Academy are Hollie Armitage, Georgie Boyce, Emma Lamb and Ellie Mitchell – though Mitchell is included in a separate “Spin Bowling Group”. However, all of these might expect to actually be better off next year nonetheless, with the strong chance they will be near the top of the lists for one of the 40 new full-time domestic contracts being brought in next season.

England Women’s 2019/20 Academy

  • Lauren Bell (Berkshire)
  • Maia Bouchier (Hampshire)
  • Alice Capsey (Surrey)
  • Charlie Dean (Hampshire)
  • Sarah Glenn (Worcestershire)
  • Danielle Gibson (Wales)
  • Amy Gordon (Surrey)
  • Freya Kemp (Sussex)
  • Lucia Kendall (Hampshire)
  • Ella McCaughan (Sussex)
  • Issy Wong (Warwickshire)

Training Squad

  • Alex Avoth (Hampshire)
  • Grace Ballinger (Warwickshire)
  • Chloe Brewer (Surrey)
  • Ria Fackrell (Warwickshire)
  • Lauren Filer (Somerset)
  • Alex Griffiths (Wales)
  • Sophie Munro (Nottinghamshire)
  • Sonali Patel (Middlesex)
  • Grace Scrivens (Kent)
  • Deeksha Sharma (Surrey)
  • Olivia Thomas (Lancashire)
  • Natasha Wraith (Somerset)

Spin Bowling Group

  • Hannah Baker (Worcestershire)
  • Helen Fenby (Durham)
  • Bethan Miles (Buckinghamshire)
  • Ellie Mitchell (Somerset)
  • Ilenia Sims (Staffordshire)
  • Sophia Smale (Wales)

NEWS: Lisa Keightley Appointed England Coach

The ECB have announced that Australian Lisa Keightley will be Mark Robinson’s replacement as the new Head Coach of England Women.

Keightley, 48, is currently the Head Coach of Western Australia in the WNCL and Perth Scorchers in the WBBL.

The former Australian international previously served as Head Coach of the England Women’s Academy between 2011 and 2015.

Keightley, already absorbing the official lingo, said she was “massively” excited about her new role. “It’s a huge opportunity. It’s a team full of world-class players and to be given the chance to work with some of the players who I worked with a few years ago is really exciting. I can’t wait to get started and see where we can get to.”

“England are the current 50-over World Champions and they made it to the final of the last ICC Women’s T20 World Cup. They’re a very competitive side and they wouldn’t be in big matches like that if they didn’t have a really strong group of players who can perform on the big stage. I’m really looking forward to getting underway and helping the team progress.”

Managing Director of Women’s Cricket, Clare Connor, said: “Lisa was the stand-out candidate from a varied and highly talented group of applicants.”

The interview panel, which consisted of Jonathan Finch, Clare Connor, John Neal and Tom Harrison, were impressed by Keightley’s demonstration of her suitability for the role, her impressive knowledge of the game and her passion for coaching and developing players.

“She outlined clear plans as to how she believes she can take the team and this group of players forward,” said Connor.

Keightley will begin the role formally in January, following the end of the 2019 WBBL tournament, with Interim Head Coach Alastair Maiden continuing to lead the team until that time.

Keightley will be stepping down as Women’s Head Coach of London Spirit in The Hundred, and her replacement in that role will be announced in due course.

THE HUNDRED: Why Was There No Women’s Draft?

During the men’s draft for The Hundred last night, quite a few people were questioning when the women’s draft was happening, and were subsequently surprised to learn that there wasn’t going to be one, asking if this was another case of “All cricketers are equal… but the men are more equal than the women”?

Sources at the ECB have told us that they did consider holding a women’s draft, but decided against it; and we think that this was actually the correct decision.

The main stated reason for this is that the average age of the women is much lower than the men – there were going to be a lot of teenagers involved, and you simply can’t just pack a seventeen year old girl off to the other end of the country, to live and play for six weeks with people she doesn’t really know, and expect that to not end up with problems somewhere along the line – at best homesickness; at worst, a life-changing mental health crisis.

Of course, the ECB could have excluded teenagers from the competition, or found a way for them to “dodge” the draft, but excluding them completely would defeat the entire object, and allowing them to dodge the draft would have made the process ridiculously complicated and/ or unfair.

There were also no doubt a couple of other considerations at the back of peoples’ minds at the ECB.

One was the issue of players who come as a “package” – you get both, or you get neither. Arguably, you could say “That’s their problem!” but then don’t be surprised if several of the world’s best players decide to say “Thanks… but no thanks!”

There are also… inevitably… a few instances of players who absolutely will NOT play together any more, for similar reasons, and again this would be very complicated to handle in a draft. You could have given players an “Objection” but then someone would inevitably ask “Why?” and then… well… as the kids say… awks!

It was also the case that the England players didn’t want a draft. After their experience of being shifted around in the KSL – a much more contentious (and occasionally fraught) process behind the scenes than people ever let on – they wanted to be in control of their own careers and destinies, which was especially important given that The Hundred isn’t really just six weeks for the women, because the franchises are likely to be strongly tied to the Centres of Excellence. So the ECB listened to what the players had to say, and acted on it.

Therefore they opted instead to have an “open market” system, where players could accept or reject offers – so if people wanted to play with (or not play with) a particular coach or other player, or in a particular city a long way from home, they could ensure that.

It might not have had the excitement and media impact of a draft, but it by-passed a lot of potential problems – the ECB don’t get everything right, and we’ve been very critical of The Hundred at times; but in this case they made the right call for the right reasons.

WBBL: Are The Hurricanes Set To Blow Everyone Away… Or Blow Out?

Team Played Won Lost Points
1. Hobart Hurricanes 2 2 0 4
2. Brisbane Heat 2 1 1 2
3. Adelaide Strikers 2 1 1 2
4. Melbourne Renegades 2 1 1 2
5. Sydney Thunder 2 1 1 2
6. Sydney Sixers 2 1 1 2
7. Perth Scorchers 0 0 0 0
8. Melbourne Stars 2 0 2 0

After the opening fixtures of the WBBL, it is perennial wooden-spooners Hobart Hurricanes who sit clear atop the table, after two wins against Melbourne Stars. Aside from Perth Scorchers, who don’t play their first match until Wednesday, everyone else won one and lost one over a topsy-turvy weekend.

At North Sydney Oval, Brisbane Heat, Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder played out a win and a loss each; whilst in Adelaide, the  Strikers shared the spoils in their “series” with the Melbourne Renegades.

So have Hobart Hurricanes finally found a way to play winning cricket? Or is this just a temporary glitch, before the order of the universe is restored and Sydney Sixers return to their predestined place at the head of the table?

There is no doubt that the Hurricanes are a very different team to last season. With the signings of Nicola Carey, Maisy Gibson, Belinda Vakarewa, and Tayla Vlaeminck they have an all-new bowling attack, and with Heather Knight as the fifth bowler, there isn’t a really weak link there, even if there isn’t a superstar either. (Though yes, ideally, you wouldn’t play Vakarewa and Vlaeminck on the same team – both are quick and capable of blowing batters away, but both are also liable to leak runs, and if they do it on the same day, it won’t be pretty!)

It is arguably on the batting side that the Hurricanes are weaker; but T20 is a game where you can often afford some spare parts in your batting line-up as long as the bigger names come through for you, and the signs are that they might. Heather Knight is class personified – we all know what she can do; Fran Wilson had a fantastic KSL and is out to prove she can do it in Australia, ahead of selection for the World Twenty20; and Chloe Tryon has actually turned up (some might say “for once”, though that isn’t entirely fair) facing 36 balls so far without being dismissed, scoring 75 runs at a Strike Rate of over 200. With that batting, literally no score is unchasable for the Hurricanes.

Will they do it every time? No, probably not! The Hurricanes aren’t going to be consistent – they are more likely to finish mid-table than top-table; but all they need to do is have a slightly better than evens record to make the semi-finals, and then all bets are off – as the Brisbane Heat proved last year, you are then two “performances” away from glory… and I certainly wouldn’t bet against two “performances” from this Hurricanes line-up.

OPINION: The Times They Are A Changin’… Because That’s What They Do!

The international retirement of allrounder Jenny Gunn, confirmed this week by the ECB, means that the England squad have now lost two senior players in the past month, after Sarah Taylor announced her retirement two weeks ago.

For different reasons, neither Gunn nor Taylor were automatic selections any more – Taylor having already essentially opted out of overseas tours and tournaments; and Gunn reduced to a “squad player”, winning just one cap in the past 12 months, in the 3rd ODI against the West Indies.

But having been fixtures of the team for so long – Gunn made her debut in 2004; Taylor in 2006 – they will be missed by the squad, both professionally and personally.

Their retirements, combined with new contracts awarded this summer, reduce the average age of the “fully contracted” squad (excluding rookies) by an entire year, from 27½ at the start of the 2019 season to 26½ now.

Retirements are of course natural and expected – a 20-strong squad would normally see one or two a year – but the cycle had recently been put out by the introduction of central contracts, which allowed some to play longer than they might otherwise have done, whilst also pulling up the drawbridge behind them, as the “chasing pack” of amateurs fell back, unable to compete with the full-time athletes for skills and fitness.

Perhaps this is why the loss of two players in the space of a month, plus Dani Hazell earlier in the year, feels disconcerting – though not as disconcerting as it will feel when Katherine Brunt (34 – a year older than Gunn, and 4 years older than Taylor) also decides to join them on the great balcony in the sky… or at least in the great comms box on Sky, which is where most of them seem to be headed!

But one player’s retirement is another’s opportunity, with Georgia Elwiss perhaps set to take over Gunn’s job as the “squad player”, able to step up as either a late-order batsman or a bowler at a moment’s notice, as needs must in the heat of a tournament; and Amy Jones now secure in her role with the gloves, at home as well as away.

So yes, the next England contracted squad in 2020 will feel different – the times they are a changin’… but only really because that’s what they usually do – we just need to get used to it again!

OPINION: 40 New Contracts… But Who Should They Go To?

The ECB’s announcement of 40 new full-time domestic professional contracts is great news for the game in England and beyond.

In England, it means that for the first time there will be a cadre of professional players beyond the England squad. It has been noticeable recently how much the England players have pulled away from “The Rest” in terms of fielding skills and fitness in particular – not because the rest have got worse, but because the contracted players have become true elite athletes, as the benefits of 4 years of professionalism have begun to show. Professional contracts for some of The Rest will allow them to start to catch up again.

It is also good news for the game more widely, with concerns that the Australians are playing the sport on a different level to everyone else thanks to the depth of their professional structures. As these changes start to work-through, and as “The 40” become 60 or 80 in years to come, England will hopefully be in a position to challenge Australia, as well as raising the bar more generally across the top-tier nations.

The ECB have said that The 40 will be selected centrally, though presumably there will be some local input at least on an informal level; so this raises the question of who these contracts should go to.

Make no mistake – it will be contentious! During the discussion phase, there was a debate about whether the available budget should be used to pay everyone a little “semi-professional” money, or pay a few players enough to go fully professional. The latter won-out, but this means there will be Haves and Have Nots… and the Have Nots won’t necessarily be happy about it – there will be jealousies and bitterness and some of the Have Nots may well decide to quit the elite game as a result.

But leaving these questions aside, there are essentially two options now for The 40 – we either fund the best players on current form; or we pay those with the most potential to play for England one day in the future.

One of the arguments for abolishing county cricket, and establishing the eight new “Centres of Excellence” teams, was that county cricket didn’t provide a high standard of competition; so on this logic, you have to pay the best players to ensure the quality is raised – especially as those players are probably the most likely to walk away if they don’t get contracts. (“Why should I open the batting or the bowling, and carry the team, when X down the order is getting paid, and I’m getting nothing?”)

On the other hand, the purpose of these contracts is to build the England team of the future, so perhaps there is no point in paying players, however good they are right now, if they will likely never be pulling on an England shirt? CRICKETher understands that these contracts will not be going to students, but if all the contracts have gone to the current best, players coming out of university will still end up facing the same choice that Katie Levick did however-many years ago – cricket or… well… eat!

Hopefully the answer is a happy medium. Unfortunately, we are likely to lose some players as a result of this process – there are certainly a handful of big-ish names who would have to take pay-cuts to go pro on the salaries we are talking about, which they probably can’t afford to do; and we’ve also spoken to players who just don’t want to be professionals, even regardless of the money. But if we can use the budget to keep the likes of Aylish Cranstone and Marie Kelly in the game, through their twenties into their thirties, and give some of our most promising youngsters like  Rhianna Southby and Sarah Glenn a platform to build towards the dream of one day playing for England, we might just get the best of both worlds.