The CRICKETher Weekly – Episode 113

We’re getting married this weekend, so in a special pre-recorded episode Raf speaks to Rob from https://www.talkinaboutwomenscricket.com/

Rob is the author of From Peden to Haynes: Australia’s Women Test Cricket Captains (amongst other books), and a women’s cricket aficionado!

MATCH REPORT: Sussex v Kent – Sussex Hand Kent First T20 Losses In 2 Years

A swashbuckling 88 off 62 balls from captain Grace Scrivens was not enough to prevent Kent going down to the second of two defeats in the T20 Cup versus Sussex at BACA in Brighton – Kent’s first reversals in the format since before the pandemic.

Opening the batting in the second match of this double-header, 18-year-old Scrivens treated the Sussex attack with growing contempt, building to a crescendo in the 17th over when she walloped fellow teenager Mary Taylor for 15 runs including her only 6.

Dominating both sides of the wicket, Scrivens was assisted by some woefully poor fielding, perhaps reflecting that the County T20 Cup is now essentially an amateur competition. In those circumstances, you’d expect a full-time professional to be a class above, as indeed Scrivens was. With Charlotte Edwards taking notes from the boundary, it wasn’t hard to wonder if we might be witnessing a future England coach get an early glimpse of her future England captain?

Ultimately Scrivens fell in the final over – stumped coming down the track to Chiara Green – but the 145-7 on which Kent finished looked like a good total on a chilly, overcast day, with some big boundaries that held the ball up in its tracks, with fielders more than a few times able to retrieve it having come to a standstill a few feet short of the rope.

In reply, Sussex lost Mary Taylor early, bringing Georgia Elwiss to the crease. Elwiss was initially happy to play second-fiddle to Ella McCaughan, on her way to 32 off 35, but upon McCaughan’s dismissal picked up the pace in a partnership of 79 with Paige Scholfield. Scholfield’s 47 off 27 broke the back of the chase, and although she was comically run out, ending up at the same end as Elwiss who had shown absolutely no interest in a second run following a quick single off Ryana Macdonald-Gay, the stage was set for Nancy Harman to help finish things off with a quick-fire 15 off 8 balls – her and Elwiss getting Sussex home with 6 balls to spare.

It gave Sussex their second victory of the day, after a somewhat less exciting match earlier had seen them win by 8 wickets, having restricted Kent to 90-7 off their 20 overs, with Scholfield taking 3-14, bowling with visibly more zip than last season, having apparently fully recovered following a back operation last spring.

A run-a-ball half-century from McCaughan did the business for Sussex in the chase, with a little help from Scholfield (27 off 17) to get the job done with 6 overs to spare. Sydney Gorham was the only Kent bowler to take a wicket, snagging the scalp of Elwiss caught behind; though 17-year-old Alexa Stonehouse (0-10 off 3), who is heading to Trent Rockets in The Hundred this year, also looks like she may be one to keep a close eye on over the next couple of seasons.

BOOK REVIEW: Stumped: One Cricket Umpire, Two Countries by Richard Harrison

Stumped – a memoir of the author’s days as a cricket umpire – is a book of two innings: the first his early years, umpiring men’s league cricket in Kent; and the second, his seasons umpiring women’s cricket in Melbourne.

Its 200-odd pages are divided more-or-less chronologically into 51 short chapters, the very longest of which can be read in a couple of minutes, almost all of which centre around a particular match, often using it to reflect upon a wider facet of the game: pubs (very much part of the game in Kent apparently), teas, LBWs, and so on!

For women’s cricket aficionados, the second half of the book will obviously be the focus. After umpiring a handful of men’s games upon his return to Australia after his years as an expat in England, and not enjoying the more combative experience, Harrison informed the convenors of the Cricket Victoria Premier Umpire’s Panel that he would continue as an umpire only if he were able to stand exclusively in women’s cricket.

They acceded, and so the next few years were spent in the women’s game in and around Melbourne, watching the rise of the likes of Sophie Molineux, Elyse Villani, and of course Meg Lanning, about whom he describes a memorable incident arising from the Australian captain-to-be encroaching upon the pitch when fielding at silly mid on during a club match.

“By law, that is a ‘No Ball’ and I called and signalled exactly that,” writes Harrison.

“What followed was a wildly disproportionate reaction from [Lanning] as she expressed her obvious displeasure and absolute disbelief at the decision….Β In the end, I suggested that she should contact the MCC, if she wanted to seek any clarification (or have the law changed).”

The whole book is chock-full of such anecdotes, recorded with wry, dry Aussie humour, which slip down like a pint of bitter on a hot day. And like that pint of bitter, it will be followed by another and another, until the barrel is dry. It’s the kind of book to have by your side, ready for a wet weekend when you still need your cricket fix. And in that regard, it won’t disappoint.

Anya Shrubsole – Heart & Sole

If you could pick one moment to “cut out and keep” from the career of Anya Shrubsole what would it be? The retrospectives and social media posts which greeted her retirement from international cricket, aged 30, suggest two in particular stand out: the 2017 World Cup final of course, but also Anya with her hand on the shoulder of a distraught Dane van Niekerk at the end of the semi-final against South Africa.

For me, it was neither of those, but a moment in the field playing for Berkshire. I can’t remember exactly when it was, nor who Berkshire were playing. I’m pretty sure it was at North Maidenhead, though I might be wrong about that too. It’s not important though. The batter (who shall remain anonymous because… I don’t remember her either) struck the ball firmly square of the wicket, and Anya went steaming off in pursuit.

I can think of a few international players would would have thought “county game; nobody watching” and if not given up, perhaps turned the dial down a little, but Anya put in a full-on last ditch dive… and, in a moment that could have been scripted by Buster Keaton, face-planted over the boundary into the deck-chairs of a group of fleeing spectators – not just any spectators either, but her own family and friends!

Emerging from the ensuing rubble, Anya herself was the first to see the funny side.

For me, that moment sums up Anya Shrubsole – the commitment… the effort… and the ability despite those things, to nonetheless not take it all too seriously. Without that, none of the “big moments” of her career would have been able to happen.

It’s easy to forget that England only got to Lord’s in 2017 because of Anya Shrubsole. England needed 3 off the final over in their semi-final against South Africa, and that became 2 off 3 balls when Laura Marsh was bowled by Shabnim Ismail. With 8 wickets down, in a home World Cup semi-final, in front of a crowd of thousands at Bristol, and with millions watching on TV, this was totally unchartered territory for players who had debuted in the amateur era.

Out walked Anya – not really a recognised batter, despite having once scored a freakishly fast century for Somerset against Wales in 2013, to face the biggest 3 balls of her life. She needed just one, almost absent-mindedly swashing the ball for 4… and the rest is history. Because of that ability to not take it all too seriously, she’d treated one of the best bowlers in the world, on one of the biggest stages in the world, like it was just a game in the park, and taken England to a World Cup final.

Don’t take that to mean she didn’t care though. Back in the days of the old Women’s County Championship, promotion and relegation between Div 1 and Div 2 was decided via a play-off between the bottom placed team in Div 1 (Warwickshire, that year) and the winner of Div 2 – Anya’s Somerset. Warwickshire were, I’m sure they’d be the first to admit, a bit of a shambles that year, while Somerset were at their peak with Anya, Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson, who all made scores as Somerset posted 220.

Warwickshire’s reply was held together by Helen Shipman, but when she was dismissed for 124 (with one Anya Shrubsole running the length of the field to shake her hand as she walked off) the game looked to be Somerset’s to lose, with Isabelle Watson and Liz Russell (Warwickshire’s 8 and 9)  ending up needing 15 to win off the final over, bowled by… you’ve guessed it… Anya Shrubsole.

As I wrote at the time:

To screams of delight from the pavilion, Shrubsole’s first two balls were dispatched for four, and suddenly it was on! A single followed, then another BIG heave for four and it was down to two-from-two – a single from the penultimate ball brought the scores level (which (I believe???) meant that Warwickshire had actually already survived) but they made sure of it with another single off the final ball.

Somerset had lost and Anya left the field in tears – she cared, and the only thing she didn’t care about was who knew it.

How much she cared about Somerset in particular – her “home” in every sense – was emphasised shortly afterwards when a directive came down from the ECB that all England players were to move to Div 1 counties, to try to keep the top flight as strong as possible. I’m sure Anya didn’t actually put it quite this way, but her response essentially consisted of two words, the second of which was “off”.

One of the photos doing the rounds on social media these past couple of days was taken by a journalist late into the after-party following the World Cup win at Lords. The truth behind that photo is that Anya wasn’t really enjoying that evening – it was a fuss, and she didn’t much like a fuss, especially when she was in the middle of it. She wasn’t there for the glory, or the gold watch she got for being Player of the Match. She might have been a professional cricketer, but at her heart she remained an amateur of the best kind – she was there to have a game of cricket with her mates and help them win – that’s the heart (and sole!) of Anya Shrubsole.

OPINION: Throw The Kids Into The Commonwealths – It’s The Tournament We’ve Prepared Them For

In the aftermath of England’s World Cup final defeat, I provoked a fair bit of debate by arguing that England now face a difficult choice between prioritising the up-coming Commonwealth Games or the next World Cup in 2025.

Many of the responses suggested that we didn’t have to choose – we could give the old stalwarts a swansong at the Commonwealth Games and then look to the future going forwards from the India series in September. I understand the emotional pull here – it is a unique tournament, on home turf, which the players are desperate to be part of.

But the key issue for me is that if you choose do this, you really are still choosing: you are prioritising the Commonwealth Games over the next World Cup. There are 3 English summers remaining before the World Cup – if we want to be in with the best chance of winning that World Cup with a younger team, we can’t afford to throw most of one of those summers away.

More than that though, the Commonwealth Games is an opportunity to bring the youngsters into exactly the kind of tournament we’ve prepared them for via the Hundred – a high-profile, intense tournament, in a short, sharp format, played on a familiar, English pitches. (Well… “a” familiar English pitch, as it is all played at Edgbaston.)

I’m not suggesting that we debut 11 players at the Commonwealths though!

The South Africa series which kicks off the summer will be a long one, including a Test, and gives us the opportunity to build somewhat incrementally, if more rapidly than might be ideal. Importantly, the ODIs are not part of the ICC Championship, so there are no World Cup qualification points on the line.

One thing we don’t want however, is a repeat of what happened to Emma Lamb – given just one game to prove herself at the end of the Ashes series. If we give someone a shot in either the ODIs or the T20s against South Africa, it must be for all 3 games of that series.

None of this is an exact science, but an approach against South Africa could be to “re-debut” Freya Davies (as a proper opening bowler) and Emma Lamb (opening) in the Test, add Lauren Bell and Bess Heath (a bit of a wildcard, but we need to start thinking about cover for Amy Jones) for the ODIs, and then Alice Capsey, Bryony Smith and maybe Dani Gibson in the T20s.

This then gives you a bit of a platform to select an explicitly younger side for the Commonwealths, including up to 5 or 6 players who were not in the 2022 World Cup XI, but could be part of things in 2025.

Would this be our “best” side right now, to win the Commonwealth Games?

No, no, and thrice no! It’s not ideal, but we’ve got ourselves into a less than ideal situation by a total lack of succession planning with the batting and fast bowling.

So given where we are, would taking this opportunity give us a better chance to prepare players to win the next World Cup?

In the immortal words of Churchill: Oh yes!