OPINION: Mali Playing Cricket Is Great… But Is Calling It “International Cricket” A Problem?

At a time when a Men’s World Cup and an England Women’s international series against the West Indies are going on, the talk of Twitter in the last 24 hours has been… a T20 International between Rwanda and Mali Women.

Mali were bowled out for 6, including 8 ducks with a top score of 1; and Rwanda then knocked-off the total in 4 balls. (Full scorecard here!)

This led many to question the ICC’s relatively new policy of counting all T20s as full internationals, where previously this would have been an “Other T20” in the record books, with even some of those who are most supportive of associate cricket confessing to doubts about the new system.

Rick Eyre for example commented that he had “mixed feelings about seeing this game classified as a full international“; while cricket statistician Ric Finlay said:  “I call on the ICC to reverse its decisionI am happy to record Mali v Rwanda, but I’m not comfortable having it sit alongside Australia v England.”

Others responded defending the more inclusive international designations. Ian Myers echoed a common theme, pointing out “Nobody asks how many international goals Gary Lineker scored but excluding San Marino, Lichtenstein and Luxembourg.”

However, that’s not quite what is going on here – it is actually more akin to San Marino thrashing Lichtenstein 30-0 every week… and then having their number 10 rock up to receive the FIFA Golden Boot ahead of Vivianne Miedema.

The statistics are quite literally being debased. Eight of the top ten women T20 bowlers (by wickets taken) in the past year are from associate countries, who have only played against other associate countries, and who wouldn’t get into a park team in England or Australia. (Unsurprisingly, given the low scores in many of these matches, the batting numbers aren’t affected to the same degree – with just one associate player in the top ten by runs.)

And this is only happening in the women’s game, which is being turned into a laughing stock as a result – undermining the achievements of those players who really are “top ten”. At a time when the women’s game is still to a certain extent having to widely justify its legitimacy, it just feels massively unhelpful.

Admittedly, the genie is out of the bottle now, and whether it can be put back is a difficult question… but it is one which needs to be asked nonetheless.

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INTERVIEW: Warwickshire Women’s Performance Manager Laura MacLeod

“It was a long time in the making,” says former England allrounder Laura MacLeod of her new role as Warwickshire’s Women’s Performance Manager.

“Back in January 2018, I was on a CPD [Continuous Professional Development] event for the ECB. The Warwickshire lads were in doing some fitness testing, and I happened to see Ashley Giles on the balcony and we started chatting. He said to me ‘Have you had a look at it?’ I said, ‘To be honest, no I haven’t!’”

“At the time I was thinking that I would want to go further in the recreational game and I didn’t really think about the performance side; but I looked at it again, and we had a further chat, and I decided that I’d go to interview.”

“So I had my interview, but Ashley and I agreed was that it would be best if I started in the winter, so it was 1st October 2018 when I started.”

Even though the new job currently means 5am starts to commute from Lancashire to Birmingham, MacLeod has no doubts she made the right move:

“It is the best decision I’ve made – to take that step across from the recreational game into the performance game – I’m thoroughly enjoying myself!”

The day-to-day role involves overseeing the 9 teams on Warwickshire’s performance program – from Under 11s right through to the county 1st XI, including doing some coaching for the age-group sides.

However this is likely to change substantially next year, with Warwickshire joining up with Worcestershire for The Hundred and the new “pro” regional setup:

“In effect the role that I currently do will not exist next year in the capacity that it is now – the role next year will only be the senior and the academy – they will obviously have some oversight of what goes on in the pathway but there will be no direct responsibility.”

But MacLeod is already thinking about how things will operate going forwards:

“We will be a new area for both the regional domestic structure and also the Hundred, and I want to make sure we hit the ground running.”

Being a “new” side, without an existing KSL franchise, is a particular challenge:

“Almost everyone else will be established and will have continuity and will have people in mind. We won’t have anything that is consistent but we might be able to attract a few people over to us.”

MacLeod sees the existing Warwickshire team as the foundation of the new squads.

“What we’ve been able to do in Warwickshire is attract the best players from the West Midlands so largely it will be those who are currently playing now, plus we will utilise the number of overseas that you can have, just to bring the quality up.”

In order to get the players ready for next year, MacLeod has been leveraging her contacts to get as many Warwickshire players as possible into the Super League this season:

“I’ve been doing a bit of almost ‘agent’ work with some of these girls to get them into the Kia Super League. So we’ve got 7 players now into the Super League and through my contacts and me speaking to the coaches, I can say ‘Have you thought about so-and-so?’ So that is really good – it will be great exposure for them…” She laughs… “So long as they come back!!”

The aspiration to put the Men’s and Women’s Hundreds on an equal footing is going to be an interesting challenge for those at the sharp end like MacLeod:

“I thought that when Kate Cross was asked the question recently she answered it really well – it is about looking back and asking ‘What improvements have we made from last year?’ And I’m already seeing improvements – there is a definite will and desire from [Warwickshire CEO] Neil Snowball and [Worcestershire CEO] Matt Rawnsley to endeavour to do whatever they can to ensure that the men and the women have equal access.”

And if not… they will have Laura MacLeod to answer to:

“I will be one of those people who will ensure that we get as much as we can and hopefully we will see some really good things next year.”

DEBRIEF: T20 Cup – Weather Wins Big In Divs 1 & 2

Team Played Won Lost N/R Points
Hampshire 4 3 0 1 13
Surrey 4 2 1 1 9
Birmingham 4 2 2 0 8
Lancashire 4 1 0 3 7
Nottinghamshire 4 1 1 2 6
Middlesex 4 1 1 2 6
Kent 4 1 1 2 6
Wales 4 0 2 2 2
Sussex 4 0 3 1 1

On a weekend when only 3 of 9 Div 1 fixtures were completed due to the weather, Hampshire moved into top spot with a 4 wicket win over Birmingham Bears at Aldershot – full report here.

Surrey went second with a big win over Sussex – Kirstie White hit 74 off 56 balls as Surrey posted 144-4 from 20 overs, before the stock story of Sussex’s season played out once again, as their batting collapsed to 87 all out – Surrey skipper Hannah Jones leading the bowling with 2-11.

With no rescheduling allowed in the T20 Cup, the lost matches are lost for ever with each team allocated just 1 point compared with 4 for a win, leaving Lancashire particularly aggrieved, having now had 3 of 4 games rained-off so far this season.

It was the same story in Div 2, with washouts up and down the country – including Scotland making the 8-hour road-trip to Essex, only to have to turn straight around again, with no prospect of play whatsoever due to an uncovered pitch.

With only the fixtures at Hartlepool surviving in Div 2, home side Durham took advantage to post victories over Cheshire and Somerset and leapfrog Scotland into first place.

MATCH REPORT: Hampshire Out-Run Birmingham Bears To Go Top In T20 Cup

Despite having their match against Notts washed-out by rain, Hampshire went clear at the top of Div 1 in the T20 Cup with a close-run victory over Birmingham Bears at Aldershot.

On a day when the weather held most of the cards, Hampshire and Notts could only sit in the pavilion watching the Men’s World Cup on TV, as the first match of the triple-header went first from 20 overs down to 12, before being cancelled completely as rain showers persisted through an early lunch and into the afternoon.

Notts v Birmingham, scheduled to start at 1:30pm, eventually got underway as an 8-overs-a-side thrash at 10 past 3.

Notts got off to a reasonable start, despite losing Sonia Odedra for a duck off the first legitimate delivery of the innings, with the Graves sisters, Teresa (24) and Yvonne (10), putting on 30 for the second wicket; but 4 wickets for 12 in 2 overs, including a hat-trick from leg-spinner Nish Patel, pegged Notts back to 61-8.

In reply however, the Bears didn’t quite get out of the blocks quickly enough, and despite Marie Kelly hitting 32 off 23 balls, they ended up 5 runs short.

With the sun finally making an appearance as afternoon turned to evening, a genuine Twenty20 match between Hampshire and Birmingham – joint leaders coming into the weekend – offered one or the other the chance to seize control of the title race.

In-form Marie Kelly opened the batting for the Bears, but lasted just one ball as Maia Bouchier appeared to spill the easiest of Caught & Bowled opportunities, but somehow managed to juggle it and take the catch on the third attempt.

Despite the early setback, the Bears made steady progress through the powerplay, including a sudden burst of acceleration in the 5th over as Gwenan Davies and Thea Brookes plundered 15 off Fi Morris’s first over. It was Morris who would go on to have the last word, however – coming back at the death to deliver a further 2.4 overs for just 6 runs, taking 3 wickets along the way, as Birmingham stuttered to a below-par 95 all out.

A 34-run partnership between Maia Bouchier (20) and Sam Betts (20) then appeared to have put Hampshire in the cruising seat to an easy win, before Jess Couser intervened to dismiss Betts and Bouchier in successive overs. Couser’s third over then added the scalps of Fi Morris and Emily Windsor, and for a moment the comeback looked on for Birmingham.

But Katie George (20*), despite taking a few risks along the way, managed to hold things together with the help of Ella Chandler (13) and Charlie Dean (9*), to see Hampshire home with 6 balls to spare, to go 4 points clear at the top of the T20 table.

NEWS: Linsey Smith Called Up To England T20 Squad

Sussex left-armer Linsey Smith has been called up to England’s squad for the T20 series against the West Indies which begins at the County Ground in Northampton on Tuesday evening.

A T20 specialist for England, Smith has never played an ODI, but has won 8 T20 caps since making her debut at the World Twenty20 last year, with best figures of 3-18 against Sri Lanka.

However, there is no room for the other 3 recent debutantes – Sophia Dunkley, Kirstie Gordon or Freya Davies – although the squad has not been officially announced all 3, plus Lauren Winfield, have been released to play county cricket this weekend. The omission of Dunkley is a particular surprise, as there isn’t a lot resting on this series and “Count Dunkular” has been in startling form for Middlesex, scoring two hundreds this season in the 50-over County Championship.

The Kent duo – Laura Marsh and Fran Wilson – appear have been retained. (As obviously has Kent captain Tammy Beaumont.)

One remaining question mark is over Bryony Smith, who bowled very economically in the final ODI at Chelmsford – we will know whether or not she is in or out at about half past one this afternoon, when Surrey take to the field against Kent at Brighton!

England v West Indies – Bryony Smith Offered The Candle For England

When Laura Marsh played her hundredth ODI this week at Worcester, and in doing so joined the elite club of 9 players to have passed that mark for England, the much-deserved congratulations were accompanied by hopes that there would be “many more”.

It was the right thing to say at the time, but the truth is that there won’t be many more – Marsh is 32 years old, and though doctors have performed minor miracles on her troublesome shoulder to keep it turning for this long, her career won’t go on for ever, because nobody’s ever does.

Marsh was rested for the final match of the series, and replaced in the XI by… well… that’s actually an interesting question!

As well as Marsh, England rested Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver, bringing in Jenny Gunn, Fran Wilson and 21-year-old Bryony Smith for an ODI debut. So who replaced who? It isn’t really straightforward, and Mark Robinson probably wasn’t thinking “like for like” anyway, but if you say that batsman Wilson replaced mostly-batsman Sciver, and bowling allrounder Gunn replaced bowling-allrounder Brunt, that leaves Smith to replace Marsh.

And yet Smith has come to prominence in domestic cricket as a hard-hitting opening batsman – topping the Women’s County Championship Batting Rankings with 347 runs for Surrey this season; and while she does bowl tidily at county, she is often second or third change and doesn’t take a huge number of wickets.

Nonetheless, she came into the team on Thursday, didn’t bat, but bowled her full compliment of 8 rain-reduced overs, with a very nice economy rate of 2.5 – in other words, exactly what we would have expected Laura Marsh to do!

So it seems that Mark Robinson is (again) one step ahead of the rest of us in identifying a role for Smith that no one else foresaw – while we were all thinking “The Next Tammy Beaumont” he was thinking “The Next Laura Marsh” and it is a role she could be perfectly suited to, not least because there probably isn’t an opening for “The Next Tammy Beaumont” for several years!

Smith might not take millions of wickets, but that won’t be her job – it will be to dry-up the runs in the post-powerplay overs, which is where West Indies really lost it again yesterday (they were actually slightly ahead of England on runs at 10 overs) and smacking some sixes down the order at the death is just an added bonus.

This is the candle Mark Robinson has offered Bryony Smith – it is now up to her to seize it… and she has made a pretty good start.

England v West Indies – 3rd ODI – Jones Takes The Gloves Off

Amy Jones – who was named Player of the Series for her innings of 91 in the 1st ODI and 80 tonight – has now won two consecutive ODI Player of the Series awards in England – the previous one coming at the end of last summer against New Zealand. With 5 half-centuries in her last 6 ODI innings, it is fair to say she is England’s most consistent player right now.

But it was not ever thus.

Having made 41 on debut in 2013, she suffered repeated failures and was eventually dropped in 2016 having not got close to that score again. When she was recalled to the ODI team in 2018 in India, in the absence of Sarah Taylor, she failed twice more, bagging ducks in the first two ODIs of that series.

She must have been in the last chance saloon when she walked out to bat in the 3rd ODI in Nagpur, but the runs finally came – 94 of them. England lost the match narrowly, but Jones was finally in business. Prior to that day, her ODI average was 18; since that day, it is currently running at 46.

What changed?

Not the talent – she was always an elegant player to watch; but she so often seemed to only be able to do it when no one was actually watching – at county or in warm-ups – put in the spotlight, she seemed blinded.

Her renaissance has become a familiar story under Mark Robinson – first Tammy Beaumont, then Danni Wyatt, now Amy Jones – all underachievers inherited from the previous regime, who have been turned into achievers under Robbo’s watchful eye.

But there is also something else too – it wasn’t until Jones was able to step out from the shadow of Sarah Taylor, and take her preferred role as a keeper-batsman, that things really started to come together. Prior to this series, Jones averaged just 38 with the gloves, but just 17 without.

So perhaps the most significant thing about Jones achievement in this series is that she has succeeded without also keeping wicket – battering the Windies, but also battering any remaining doubts that she truly belongs at this level as a batsman.

With the gloves off… the gloves finally came off!