ENGLAND v INDIA TEST: Day 1 – The Professionals

A few weeks ago, having handed back the keys to their Kias, the England squad took delivery of their latest rides, courtesy of new team sponsor Cinch. If I know anything at all about cars (and let’s be clear here… I don’t!) they were Ford Kugas; but perhaps Mark III Ford Capris would have been more appropriate, because this England team are The Professionals.

If one moment today summed this up, it was Tammy Beaumont facing Shikha Pandey. Beaumont came out of her crease looking to drive, but the shot wasn’t there and she was forced to just bunt it back to the bowler on her follow-through. With Beaumont out of her ground, seeing a glimmer of a chance Pandey pounced on the run-out opportunity, gathering the ball to shy at the stumps.

Beaumont’s instinct… anyone’s instinct… would have been to try to get back into her crease; but Beaumont is a wily old cat these days, so the first thing she actually did was subtly reposition herself to make sure her body was between the bowler and the stumps. Only then did she peddle back towards her ground, with Pandey’s throw hitting her “innocently” on the legs as she did so.

More generally, this wasn’t a glamourous day of cricket; but having chosen to bat, England’s top order all did their jobs. Lauren Winfield-Hill and Beaumont showed good control in the first hour, defending the good balls and making hay off the bad ones. It wasn’t risk free – Beaumont wasn’t afraid to play her trademark ramps and Winfield-Hill smashed two cracking sixes over the ropes. Of course, Winfield would have wanted more – losing her concentration for a moment, allowing Taniya Bhatia to take a showcase catch – but you can’t win ’em all, and she shouldn’t feel disgraced at all by “only” making 35.

Similarly, Heather falling within inches of what would have been her second Test hundred might look disappointing on paper… and might feel disappointing in the crowd… not to mention in the press box, where more than one scribbler had already all-but filed a piece with the words “Knight Century” in the headline. But in the scorebook where it really counts, the 95 runs she got were a whole lot more important than the 5 she didn’t; and she’ll absolutely know that.

The only thing I might have approached differently was the final 40-minutes or so. With the last “proper” batter, Georgia Elwiss gone, I might have told Katherine Brunt and Sophia Dunkley that 300-9 at the close was a better position than dropping anchor to 269-6.

But if Brunt and Dunkley can come out tomorrow and take England well past 300, there should still be plenty of time for England to go on to win the match; and they’ve probably ensured already that India will struggle to do so, unless Knight offers a generous second-innings declaration of course.

That would be fun… and sporting… though ironically not particularly “professional” – that’s a moral dilemma for the captain; but right now, it is a moral dilemma for another day.

RHF TROPHY: All To Play For In September

CRICKETher’s computer analysis confirms that there is still everything to play for when the 50-over RHF Trophy resumes in September.

Currently, Vipers sit top on 14 points, with Diamonds and Sparks hot on their heels on 13 points each.

But with 3 rounds of fixtures remaining, all 8 teams can still qualify for the “eliminator” (AKA “semi-final”) by finishing 2nd or 3rd, and everyone except Sunrisers can still theoretically qualify directly for the final by finishing 1st.

CRICKETher has analyzed 250 million possible scenarios, using our predictive modeling software, taking into account all possible outcomes of the 12 remaining matches, with the results shown below.

The ‘Qualification %’ is an indication of the likelihood of achieving at least 3rd place and making the eliminator, with an asterisk indicating that qualification is dependent on other results.

Obviously, qualification remains an outside bet for Storm and Sunrisers. Sunrisers could actually finish 2nd, though that would need a fairly extraordinary series of results, including other fixtures being rained-off; but given that it will be September… and it’s England… that’s certainly not out of the question! Like Storm and Sunrisers, Thunder are dependent on other results, but for the everyone else the maths in their hands – if they win all their remaining matches, with bonus points, they are guaranteed qualification.

Team Points Best Points Best Position Qualification %
Vipers 14 29 1 82
Diamonds 13 28 1 74
Sparks 13 28 1 73
Lightning 9 24 1 33
Stars 9 24 1 33
Thunder 8 23 1 25*
Storm 4 19 1 4*
Sunrisers 0 15 2 1*

RHF TROPHY: Sparks v Thunder – A Big Start Beats A Big Finish

Having won the toss and elected to bat yesterday against the Thunder, Central Sparks skipper Eve Jones walked out to open the batting at New Road with the world at her feet. Sparks were top of the table after 3 rounds, having beaten both last years finalists, Diamonds and Vipers, and the much-fancied Storm – they couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2021.

Five-and-a-bit overs later, things were not looking quite so rosy. Poppy Davies got a good ball first up and was LBW; but Milly Home and Gwenan Davies (no relation) had only themselves to blame – both running themselves out, as Sparks spluttered to 17-3.

Eve Jones rebuilt, in partnership with Steph Butler (25) and Clare Boycott (17), but (rightly, given the situation) all the focus was on staying in rather than scoring runs, and both Butler and Boycott finished with strike rates well under 50. By the 35 over mark, Sparks were alive, but barely – 116-5, and heading towards a total of around 160/170.

It took the nonchalance of youth to inject a bit of life back into the Sparks innings, in the shape of Issy Wong. On paper, 18 off 22 balls – a strike rate of 81 – doesn’t sound like much, but in the context of the game, it suddenly looked like Shafali Verma had sneaked out of quarantine in Southampton and hitched up to Worcester for a knock!

Wong’s innings also seemed to change the way Jones was playing, with Jones’ personal Manhattan showing a distinct up-tick in the last 15 overs.

That paved the way for Sparks to finish on 203 – a 20/30 run bonus, which definitely felt defendable, especially on a dodgy pitch, with Sarah Glenn bowling into the rough left over from a 4-day men’s Championship game.

Sparks opened with pace, and Issy Wong immediately had a very literal impact – hitting Emma Lamb on the lower arm, as a delivery reared up from nowhere out of that rough. Fortunately Lamb was able to continue after treatment; and her and Georgie Boyce set about their business.

After taking a few overs to get a feel for the pitch, Boyce and Lamb really took charge. Overs 6-10 went for 3.8 runs (7.6 per over), by far the most productive period of the game, as the pair used the pace of Wong and Liz Russell to make hay. After 12 overs, Thunder were very-much on top at 66-0; and… in a way… that was the game won.

There was a long way to go, of course – Thunder still needed 138 more runs, but with 10 wickets in hand to get them, the pressure was all on Sparks from that point. Thunder didn’t need 138 runs; Sparks needed 10 wickets – that was the only way Sparks were going to win the game.

The introduction of Glenn and Georgia Davis, who bowled 20 over straight between them, did have the potential to tilt things back towards the home side; and the spinners did their job, taking 5 wickets between them. But with both of them bowled out at 30 overs, all the Thunder’s tail had to do was cling on – and cling on they did!

The epitome of this was Danielle Collins, who came in at 9, and finished 8 not out off 22 balls. That’s a strike rate of “only” 36, but it didn’t matter, because if she stayed there, Thunder were going to win the match, thanks to the platform Boyce and Lamb had set. And that’s exactly what happened – Alex Hartley eventually hitting the winning runs with 2 overs to spare – a big start beating a big finish by 2 wickets.

As a result, Sparks slip back to third in the table, behind Vipers, who got a bonus point win at Storm, and Diamonds, who Gunned down Stars; but Sparks shouldn’t be too disheartened – the format of the competition means that no one will remember who won the “group” stage – the key is to finish in the top 3 and give yourself a shot at the final, and Sparks remain very-much still in the fight to do that.

NEWS: Emily Arlott Called Up For India Test

Worcestershire’s Emily Arlott has been called up to the England squad for next week’s Test against India at Bristol. The 23-year-old seamer took 5-29, including a quadruple-wicket-maiden, for Central Sparks against Southern Vipers last weekend, and joins a 17-player squad which also includes Tash Farrant and newly contracted batter Sophia Dunkley.

There is no room at the inn however for Danni Wyatt, despite having scored 3 consecutive half-centuries in the RHF this season; or Katie George, who is currently injured – otherwise, the squad includes all other centrally contracted players.

If she ultimately plays, Arlott would be perhaps the most left-field England selection since Holly Colvin’s debut as an unknown teenager in 2005. Like Colvin, she would be a wicket-taking option – while she isn’t going to break the speed gun, Arlott is zippy and can attack the stumps while also moving the ball away from the right-hander. Crucially, she won’t give much away either.

England have also taken the opportunity of this squad announcement to instate Nat Sciver as official vice captain on a permanent basis, taking over from Anya Shrubsole as Heather Knight’s deputy. At 28, Sciver is only 2 years younger than Knight, so if there is an element of succession planning here it is quite short-term. However, it may prove to be a smart move if Knight is planning to retire in the next couple of years, with (as yet) no obvious heir amongst the younger generation.

All 17 players are already in quarantine ahead of the 4-day Test, which begins next Wednesday; but the squad is likely to be trimmed before then to allow players to turn out for their regional sides in the RHF.

Full Squad

  • Heather Knight (Western Storm, captain)
  • Emily Arlott (Central Sparks)
  • Tammy Beaumont (Lightning)
  • Katherine Brunt (Northern Diamonds)
  • Kate Cross (Thunder)
  • Freya Davies (South East Stars)
  • Sophia Dunkley (South East Stars)
  • Sophie Ecclestone (Thunder)
  • Georgia Elwiss (Southern Vipers)
  • Tash Farrant (South East Stars)
  • Sarah Glenn (Central Sparks)
  • Amy Jones (Central Sparks)
  • Nat Sciver (Northern Diamonds, vice captain)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Western Storm)
  • Mady Villiers (Sunrisers)
  • Fran Wilson (Sunrisers)
  • Lauren Winfield-Hill (Northern Diamonds)

NEWS: Sophia Dunkley Awarded Full England Contract

South East Stars batter Sophia Dunkley has been awarded her first full England contract, replacing Kirstie Gordon in the 17-player contracted squad.

Dunkley made her England debut at the T20 World Cup in the West Indies in 2018, and has subsequently made 15 T20 international appearances, most recently last winter during England’s tour of New Zealand. Having made a fine start to the regional season, scoring 104* and 92 for South East Stars, she is widely expected to be a significant part of England’s plans for the next 18 months and beyond.

Dunkley was named as one of South East Stars’ regionally contracted players last year, so technically the Stars now appear to be one contracted players short (all regions in theory should have five centrally funded “pros”); while Kirstie Gordon has moved over to Lightning, who now have a 6th “pro” on their books.

Gordon’s “parachute” move to Lightning illustrates an additional, hitherto unsung benefit of the regional system: it means she avoids the fate of Tash Farrant, who went directly from “England Pro” to “Unemployed” within weeks of losing her England contract in 2019.

Assuming she doesn’t make any further England appearances, Gordon would requalify for Scotland next summer; though if she chose to represent Scotland anew, she would be ineligible to ever play for England again without special dispensation from the ICC. (See section 2 of the ICC’s Eligibility Regs.)

The latest set of England contracts will run until October 2022, to align them with the regional contracts (which run annually between October and October) and ensure that it is easier for players to smoothly transition between the two set-ups.

England Contracted Players (May 2021 – October 2022)

  • Tammy Beaumont (Lightning)
  • Katherine Brunt (Northern Diamonds)
  • Kate Cross (Thunder)
  • Freya Davies (South East Stars)
  • Sophia Dunkley (South East Stars)
  • Sophie Ecclestone (Thunder)
  • Georgia Elwiss (Southern Vipers)
  • Sarah Glenn (Central Sparks)
  • Katie George (Western Storm)
  • Heather Knight (Western Storm)
  • Amy Jones (Central Sparks)
  • Nat Sciver (Northern Diamonds)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Western Storm)
  • Mady Villiers (Sunrisers)
  • Fran Wilson (Sunrisers)
  • Lauren Winfield-Hill (Northern Diamonds)
  • Danni Wyatt (Southern Vipers)

RHF TROPHY: The Race To Be England’s Next Top Wicket Keeper

When Heather Knight and Lisa Keightley sat down this weekend to pick England’s squad for the upcoming series versus India, the second name on the team sheet, after “Knight, H” was probably “Jones, A”. We can talk at length about who the “best” wicket keeper in the world is, but there is little argument that Amy Jones is in the top two, alongside Australia’s Alyssa Healy; and is currently an automatic pick for England.

For so long the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Sarah Taylor, Jones has blossomed since Taylor’s retirement, and has now amassed over 100 England caps. But she will be 28 next week and while her days certainly aren’t “numbered”, the question now needs to be asked as to who will succeed her in 4-6 years time when she retires?

This dilemma comes about particularly because there is currently no successor in the England squad – should Jones get injured, England would turn to Tammy Beaumont or Lauren Winfield-Hill to fill in. (Interestingly, Winfield-Hill has been keeping her eye in behind the stumps for the Diamonds in the first 3 rounds of the RHF.)

So, who are the key candidates in the RHF “Proving Ground”?

Three can be ruled out instantly: Carla Rudd (Vipers), Amara Carr (Sunrisers) and Gwenan Davies (Sparks) are all in their late 20s – however good they are, they aren’t going to succeed Jones. The remaining hopefuls are therefore: Sarah Bryce (Lightning), Ellie Threlkeld (Thunder), Nat Wraith (Storm), Rhianna Southby (Stars) and Bess Heath (Diamonds).

Below are their stats to date in the RHF, across both seasons.

Player Team Age Dismissals Runs
Sarah Bryce Lightning 21 5 419
Ellie Threlkeld Thunder 22 9 127
Nat Wraith Storm 19 8 140
Rhianna Southby Stars 20 4 42
Bess Heath Diamonds 19 8 37

Though we are talking about wicket keepers, perhaps the key column here is actually not Dismissals but Runs – all the top international sides these days will prefer a competent keeper who can bat over brilliant glove-work – that’s the reason England would turn to Beaumont or Winfield-Hill if Jones was injured.

This suggests that if she can maintain her form with the bat, Sarah Bryce is currently in pole position. Of course, her allegiance is currently with Scotland, but in a joint interview with her sister Kathryn by ESPNCricinfo’s Matt Roller, neither sister ruled out switching to England, which (because they both live in England) would not require a qualification period.

Bryce’s runs are the standard the others need to aspire to in order to get their names in the hat alongside her. Wraith and Threlkeld both have 50s in the bag in the RHF which prove they can bat, but they’ve both got to convert their starts more regularly. With so much regional cricket being played this season, they will have every opportunity to prove themselves and make that case, as will Southby and Heath, the latter of whom has yet to play this season.

Of course, the actual answer to the original question could be “None of the above”. It is not inconceivable that Amy Jones continues for another 8 years, and her eventual successor is someone who isn’t even on the regional radar yet.

Whoever it turns out to be, Amy Jones will inevitably be a hard act to follow, and the England selectors may need to kiss a few frogs before they find their new princess. Just one thing is certain: England need a wicket keeper – you can’t take to the field without one – so it will be fascinating to see who steps up in the RHF over the next couple of years.

RHF TROPHY: Vipers v Lightning – Paige Scholfield… And How Blocking Out A Maiden Won The Game

It’s the 45th over of the Vipers’ innings, and they are 202-5 – needing just 13 runs to overhaul Lightning’s total of 214-9.

In perhaps a last throw of the dice, Lightning captain Kathryn Bryce takes the ball herself. It means she won’t bowl the final over; but unless she can produce a bit of magic, she knows the game won’t go that far anyway. And if anyone can produce that bit of something special, it’s her – last season’s top-ranked bowler in the competition.

At the other end of the pitch waits Vipers pro Paige Scholfield, playing her first List A match after having undergone back surgery over the winter. Scholfield is 32*, and although the Vipers’ claim to “bat all the way down” has a degree of plausibility, if you are the opposition, the next wicket gets you into the tail.

In her heart, Scholfield probably knows this too – though she won’t admit it to the likes of us! But it is very much on her – the Vipers have never lost in the RHF… and it is her responsibility to ensure that streak lives to die another day.

Kathryn Bryce has had a week she’d surely rather forget, with Scotland crushed 3-1 by Ireland in Belfast; but every over is a new over, and the first ball is a good one – a yorker on Scholfield’s toes, played to short mid on. No run. The second ball is similar – a low full toss. Again, no run. The third gives Scholfield an inch of width on the off side, but she can’t take advantage, and it’s another dot. The fourth is another good length delivery, which Scholfield can only play straight back to Bryce; while the fifth give Scholfield something to play at, but she hits it straight to the fielder at midwicket.

Five balls; five dots.

And now, the Sliding Doors moment…

In another world, very like the one we live in, Scholfield – who has had the reputation since breaking into the Sussex team as a teenager as a bit of a “See ball; hit ball” kind of player – looks up at the scoreboard, which hasn’t moved in 7 deliveries going back into the previous over, and starts to feel the pressure. She sees a gap in the field over mid on, and decides then and there, that’s where it’s going. As Bryce bowls, she takes a big step down the pitch, but Bryce sees her coming and holds it back just a bit – Scholfield’s huge swing of the bat takes a leading edge, and the ball balloons up into the air, with Bryce taking the catch herself – the first of 5 wickets to fall in the space of two overs, as Vipers collapse and Lightning go on to record what turns out to be only the third most unlikely victory of the day in the RHF.

But this is, of course, not that world. The Paige Scholfield of today is no longer that “See ball; hit ball” teenager – she does the maths, and calmly blocks Bryce’s final delivery. Bryce will have the maiden; but ultimately the Vipers will have the game, taking 9 off the following over to make Bryce’s next over a formality. And though the wicket of Emily Windsor gives a hint of what might have occurred, Vipers close out the win with 3 overs to spare.

Yesterday morning, Central Sparks Director of Cricket, Laura MacLeod expressed her hope on Twitter that this season we would “move the game forwards with skill & power with the bat, control and guise with the ball, agility and anticipation in the field”. Others saw those hopes played out in spades that afternoon, with remarkable come-back wins for Western Storm, and for MacLeod’s own Sparks. We weren’t at those games, but it didn’t mean we couldn’t witness, nevertheless, a little of that same skill, control, and guise… albeit carefully disguised as a determined block, in one ball faced by Paige Scholfield.