NEWS: Lisa Keightley to Leave England Role at End of Summer

Lisa Keightley will leave her role as England Head Coach at the end of the summer, the ECB have announced, with Keightley having informed the ECB that she will not be seeking an extension at the end of her current contract.

Keightley took up the role of head Coach in January 2020 and was almost immediately forced to navigate the uncharted waters of managing the team in a world of lockdowns and biosecurity forced on them by the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst also being separated from her own family back home in Australia. With Keightley’s long-term assistant Tim MacDonald also returning to Australia after the Commonwealth Games, this decision comes as little surprise.

Director of England Womenโ€™s Cricket Jonathan Finch alluded to some of these challenges, saying:

“Leading an international team is challenging at the best of times. It is more challenging during a pandemic, and Lisa has been able to continue the development of the team during what has been the toughest period we have faced off the field.”

Keightley enjoyed a win ratio of 68% during her time in charge of England, but although the cemented their position amongst the best sides in the world, they remain very-much second-best to Australia, who handed them an embarrassing defeat in the 2022 Women’s Ashes, followed by a drubbing in the World Cup Final a few weeks later.

At the recent Commonwealth Games, England were pipped by India in the semi-finals, and then embarrassed themselves in the bronze medal match with a poor and petulant display – something the new management team will need to address ahead of the T20 World Cup in South Africa next year.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: England v New Zealand – New Zealand Bold As Bronze

New Zealand thoroughly deserved their bronze medals in the play-off match at the Commonwealth Games, after restricting England to one of their lowest 1st innings totals in the history of T20 internationals.

Not to put too fine a point on it: New Zealand looked like they wanted the medals… England looked like they wanted to be somewhere else.

Having lost to England in the last match of the group stages, and been well beaten by Australia in their semi-final last night, with barely 12 hours between leaving the stadium last night and needing to be back here this morning, it wouldn’t have been surprising if it was New Zealand who looked tired and flat. That they came out fighting is credit to their leadership team.

The same cannot be said of England.

England talk a lot about being role models, but after one player was given an official reprimand yesterday for swearing on the field of play, the overriding image of England today was another being shown live on TV, smashing over a chair with her bat on her way back to the dressing room after being dismissed.

We can ask the question as to whether these bronze medal matches are needed or required – other sports in other tournaments just award both of the defeated semi-finalists a “shared” bronze medal – but everyone knew the deal coming into this tournament; and whilst frustrations do sometimes spill over for all of us – me very much included – we also sometimes need to accept that we’ve let ourselves down, front-up and apologise – not for losing in this case, but for losing badly with ill-grace.

The sight of the New Zealand players celebrating with selfies down on the outfield after the game, on the other hand, was lovely to see.

With a new coach and a new-look to their lineup, little was expected from the White Ferns at these Commonwealth Games. Getting to the semi-finals was probably over-par, after a slightly disappointing home World Cup, and so to come home with bronze medals was a fantastic achievement.

Although England were poor by their own standards, they did at least set New Zealand a chase that potentially made it interesting. It doesn’t happen a lot, but matches do occasionally get won by teams making less than 120 in the first innings, so it wasn’t quite a foregone conclusion. But the positive intent shown by Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates up top put New Zealand quickly in the driving seat. By the end of the powerplay they were over half way there, and Devine was able to push on to hit the winning run in the 12th over just after bringing up her half century.

It is probably just as well for England that we’ve got The Hundred coming up hot on our heels right now – there will be no time for the players to brood over the disappointment of the Commonwealths, but instead the chance to reset in a different environment, with different team-mates and different coaches. There will be some tough decisions for the management team to make ahead of the India series in September, but those decisions are for another day.

Right now, let’s just congratulate New Zealand and hope for a brilliant final between Australia and India this evening.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: England v India โ€“ Jemi’s a Gem for India

There wasn’t much in it – just 4 runs, after Sophie Ecclestone walloped the final ball of England’s chase for 6 – but it was India that came away with the win, and the chance to play for the gold medal tomorrow.

India’s total of 164 rested on two crucial performances at either end of the innings. Smriti Mandhana got them off to a flying start with 61 off 32 balls; but arguably Jemimah Rodrigues’ 44 off 31 at the back-end was even more significant.

Jemi had come in at the fall of the first wicket in the 8th over, and made her way to 18 off 19 balls through the middle overs, playing the anchor role; but then stepped up 2-or-3 gears at the death, hitting 26 off 12 balls at a Strike Rate of 217 in the last 4 overs of the innings, playing some lovely strokes over the top on the off side – not trying to hit the leather off it, but doing just enough – the perfect balance of risk and reward.

Without those extra 12-14 runs from Jemi’s bat, India would have finished on something more like 150, which would have handed England the game. As it was, 164 proved just too many for England.

Although England kept in touch with the rate for most of the game, a couple of weak overs towards the end of the middle-over phase pushed the required rate towards ten, and it was looking dicey. They looked to have been handed a lifeline when India gambled on giving Shafali a second over in the 16th, which went for 15; but the two overs that followed were the death knell.

Deepti Sharma bowled the 17th and restricted Amy Jones and Nat Sciver to just 3 singles. The pressure that put on then indirectly led to Jones running a panicked single off the second ball of the 18th, bowled by Sneh Rana, from which she was run out; and the result was a second consecutive over of just 3 singles, leaving England needing 27 off the last 2 overs, which they simply couldn’t manage.

(13.5 an over does sound do-able, and England did hit 13 off the 19th; but in practice it is virtually impossible to get even 10 off the final over – it just never happens – so really England needed 18-20 off the penultimate over – 13 was never going to be enough.)

There can be no doubt that the better team won on the day – India deserve to be the ones vying for gold tomorrow; while England came up short at the first real hurdle they’ve faced this summer, after South Africa’s failure to really challenge them in the series that preceded the Comm Games.

The “Glass Half Full” take is that England were close, and this exciting young team can leave Birmingham with their dignity intact. Alice Capsey did exactly what we always said she’d do – stepped up to international cricket with aplomb; while the Freya Kemp gamble worked out well enough, though she didn’t get any opportunity to prove herself with the bat, which could have been interesting because she is arguably an even more exciting prospect with bat than with ball.

The likelihood remains that, even if they’d come through today, they’d have been flattened by Australia tomorrow; but the “next” England team, which is starting to take shape now, looks a much better bet to really give Australia a run for their money over the next decade than they have recently.

This being the Commonwealth Games, there remains the small matter of a bronze medal match for England tomorrow. It’s the match no one really wants to play, and it will be a tough ask for the management team to get everyone up for it – the squad were so fixated on that gold medal, that anything less was always going to be a huge disappointment. But they need to be the professionals they are, and give their all nonetheless – England expects… even if it is “just” for a bronze medal.

OPINION: Seedings Are Ruining The Group Stages of International T20 Tournaments

In the past 4 years, we’ve been treated to 3 brilliant international T20 tournaments: the 2018 World T20 in the West Indies; the 2020 Twenty20 (try saying that after a couple of jugs!) World Cup in Australia; and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

All three tournaments have had basically the same format: two seeded groups to decide the semi-finalists, with the winner of Group A playing the team finishing 2nd in Group B in the semis, and vice-versa.

As a system it works to produce a balanced competition, and it is infinitely preferable to some of the crazy formats we’ve had in the past (and which they still have in The Other Gameโ„ข) with Super Sixes and whatnot!

But is it making all these tournaments too samey?

All of the past 3 tournaments have seen Australia and India in one group, with England and South Africa in the other. So England have played South Africa in the group stages in each of the past 3 “world” T20 comps (the Commonwealth Games being effectively a “world” competition) while never facing India or Australia; and ditto for India and Australia, who haven’t played England or South Africa in the groups stages for 4 years, but have faced-off against each other 3 times.

Furthermore, England have ended up facing India in the semi-final on all 3 occasions, albeit a) for slightly different reasons in 2018 and 2020 (when India won their group and England finished 2nd) to 2022 (when England won their group and India finished second); and b) England didn’t actually get to play India in 2020, due to the rain in Sydney.

And with another T20 World Cup coming along next year in South Africa, the same seeding system is likely to produce the same results on a 4th consecutive occasion too!

One answer is to draw the groups completely at random out of a hat. The argument against this is that it can produce a “Group of Death” which means that the best teams don’t all make it to the knockout stages; and can ultimately impact the quality of the final, which is the real “big deal” for TV.

But this could be avoided by having two hats: one for the top 4 seeds, and one for the rest. This would at least ensure some variety – each group would contain two top-seeds and 2-or-3 “others” – but we might see England get to play India or Australia in the group stages, rather than South Africa again.

Perhaps all of this is just really a symptom of the wider problem in women’s cricket, where the top teams are increasingly pulling away from the rest, making the group stages largely academic anyway? It certainly feels like there is less jeopardy in the group stages than there has been in quite some while, with England’s only real “worry” in Birmingham being whether they would face Australia or India in their semi-final. And with great crowds at Edgbaston, the evidence might suggest that the public doesn’t really care right now either. But ultimately, we do need to keep things interesting, and slightly more randomised groups could be a way of achieving that in South Africa next year.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: England v New Zealand – You’re Not Paranoid If Katherine Brunt Really Is Out To Get You

Among the songs played by the DJ at Edgbaston during the New Zealand innings was Paranoid, the seminal tune by local metal-meisters Black Sabbath. “People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time,” sings Ozzy Osbourne; but as the old retort goes, you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you… and England really were out to get New Zealand tonight.

With Katherine Brunt taking 2-4 from 3 overs, England restricted the Kiwis to 71-9. In 140 T20 internationals, New Zealand have only scored fewer runs batting first on one other occasion – also against England, when they were bowled out for 60 at Whangฤrei in 2015.

In front of a crowd of over 10,000, Brunt sailed in for the first over like a flagship on the evening breeze, almost bowling Suzie Bates before castling Sophie Devine with a roar of celebration. In her next over she did for Amelia Kerr too – it wasn’t a a great shot from Kerr, but they still only count if you hit the stumps, and Brunt did for the second time in the evening.

Brunt’s third over didn’t produce a wicket but only went for 2, and with New Zealand having also lost Bates in the meantime – a soft dismissal, caught by Nat Sciver off Issy Wong – the writing was already on the wall, and Brunt was not required to bowl another. She’d had her say though, and who’d bet against her having it again before these games are out?

Things went from bad to worse for New Zealand in the 7th over, as non-striker Brooke Halliday put her head down like a charging bull, setting off blindly for a run while Maddy Green stayed rooted in her crease, leaving both batters at the same end and the easiest of run-outs for Nat Sciver to complete. It was Halliday’s call in the sense that it had gone (just) behind square, but she really only had herself to blame nonetheless – if she’d just glanced up for the tiniest instant she’d have seen that Green wasn’t going anywhere and could have saved herself.

Their confidence shattered, New Zealand were just looking to stay alive after that, which they just about did, getting through the 20 overs for the loss of 9 wickets. Sarah Glenn bowled nicely, emphasising the value of consistently executing line and length in this format, rather than necessarily doing anything spectacular, finishing with 2-13 from 4 overs.

England’s response didn’t get off to the best start – again, Alice Capsey was into the action earlier than England would ideally have liked, but she’s making that number 3 spot her own now, and it was another box-office performance from the 17-year-old superstar. It was bang, bang, bang, bang, thanks for coming Lea Tahuhu, as the kid tonked the veteran seamer for 16 off her first over.

Not to be outdone, Sophia Dunkley hit Amelia Kerr for 10 off the next, and England were 41-1 – over half way there – inside 5 overs.

There was even room for a little wobble, with Capsey caught twice in the space of 4 balls (the first off a no-ball really summing up New Zealand’s day), and Dunkley bowled by Amelia Kerr, but Amy Jones is looking more confident with the bat than she has for a while and she finished things off with some stylish strokeplay to get England home with no further alarms.

New Zealand will need to pick themselves up off the floor before their semi-final against Australia. Bates and Devine have seen it all before of course, but it is their leadership, rather than their skills with bat or ball, which will be tested in the next 48 hours. You’d expect Australia to better New Zealand nine times out of ten, but there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be that one time, and if they can make the final they would have more than exceeded expectations from this tournament.

As for England, there is clearly a feeling of confidence in this team, but India have been looking dangerous with the ball and England’s batters will need to tread a delicate line of attack. Nat Sciver’s role as the anchor could be crucial without Heather Knight, who so often provides England with their backbone when things don’t go 100% to plan. The captain hasn’t really been missed yet, mainly thanks to the remarkable start to Alice Capsey’s England career, but we’re really at the business end of this intense tournament now, and India will look at England’s gung-ho approach and see a house of cards which they can bring crashing down. It should be quite a battle.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: England v South Africa โ€“ Al For One & One For Al

England took themselves to the brink of semi-final qualification with a solid performance against South Africa, as the Proteas failed to chase down 167 for the second time in 3 days, having been set the exact same target by New Zealand here on Saturday.

Although the South Africans got closer on Saturday, falling 13 short as opposed to 26 today, this was in some ways a better looking performance – they took more wickets than England did, and they stayed in touch with the rate until the 17th over, which was when things turned definitively against them.

With 3 overs to go, South Africa needed 51 from 24 balls – a required rate of 12.8, but with Chloe Tryon still at the crease along with Laura Wolvaardt it felt like a “definitely maybe” moment. But that 17th over bowled by Katherine Brunt turned “definitely maybe” into “definitely not”. An ugly single to Woolvie was followed by two dots to Tryon, who then tried to lump a slower ball over cow corner, only to find the hands of Freya Kemp at long off.

(Kemp has looked pretty handy all-round in the field, making a brilliant save at long on earlier in the day – if she ever gets bored of cricket, she’d make one hell of a goalkeeper! [Don’t give her ideas! Ed.])

Two more singles off the final deliveries of the 17th, and 51 from 24 had become 48 from 18 – a required rate of 16.0, and that was game over bar the shouting, with Brunt completing a spell of 1-16 from 3 overs. It won’t look like a “great” spell in the scorebook, but that 17th over was absolutely crucial for England’s hopes of progressing in this tournament.

The headlines though will obviously once again go to Alice Capsey, who has now batted 3 times for England, and impressed on every occasion. If her first innings was brutal aggression; and her second savvy game management; her third lay somewhere in between, as she became the youngest English woman ever to score a T20 half-century, 9 days before she’s legally allowed to buy herself a drink to celebrate.

The most impressive part again was actually the running – she was nailing the boundaries, hitting seven 4s and one 6; but she also wanted to take every single on offer, and then with the single taken was constantly looking for the second too. It showed her work ethic, and her willingness to play for the team, which is what gives you so much hope that this is just the beginning for her.

Proudly wearing the black eye she sustained before the Sri Lanka game at the weekend (“it looks worse than it is”), Capsey’s performance in front of the media after the game was equally as impressive and assured as she’d been on the pitch. Looking forward to a potential semi-final and medal match, she told the press: “Theyโ€™re the games that you want to be part of, playing against the best countries. Weโ€™re starting to build momentum, weโ€™re getting better each game.” Heather Knight couldn’t have put it any better herself!

England will now be waiting on the result of tonight’s other game to be 100% assured of qualification for the semi-finals. A New Zealand win (or a no-result) will put them into the next phase of the competition, with the White Ferns officially joining them if they get the win.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: England v Sri Lanka – Keep Calm & Capsey On

England opened their account at the Commonwealth Games with a win over Sri Lanka at Edgbaston, thanks to Alice Capsey, who kept a cool head while others around her were losing theirs, top-scoring with 44 off 45 balls as England overhauled Sri Lanka’s 106-9 with 17 balls to spare.

England’s afternoon started in chaos after their bags got misplaced on the way to the stadium, and things looked to be going from bad to worse when Capsey top-edged into her own face while warming up, sustaining a nasty black eye and causing a moment of panic as England contemplated having to reshuffle the lineup at the last minute. Fortunately for England, she came through a quick checkup and was able to play a crucial part in a chase which threatened a couple of times to ride off the rails.

It was a very similar innings to the one Capsey played in the inaugural Charlotte Edwards Cup Final at the Ageas Bowl last summer – instead of going on all-out attack, she held back and calmly managed her way through the run chase. After reverse-sweeping Ranasinghe for 4 in the 12th over, she didn’t hit another boundary for the rest of the game – taking 12 of the 14 remaining runs she scored in singles. Nat Sciver is usually Mrs Cool, Calm and Collected, but even she had to admit post-game that she didn’t know who was more composed out there in the middle – her or Capsey.

I wrote at the time of that innings in the CE Cup Final that in some ways it was a more important innings than her 50 in The Hundred at Lords, because it showed she could play more than one way, and today re-emphasised that. There will be times in the next decade when England need her to go out and smash four consecutive 4s, as she did against South Africa at Derby… but there will be times when they just need her to make sure they win the game, and that was the job she did today. There are no Player of the Match awards at the Commonwealth Games (for some reason it isn’t considered a Commonwealth Games “thing”) but if there were, she’d have surely won it in only her third appearance for her country.

It does cause a problem now for England though: who do they leave out when Heather Knight comes back? Capsey won the day for them today; Maia Bouchier has been solid; Sophia Dunkley has been explosive; Nat Sciver is obviously undroppable, as is Amy Jones, because there isn’t really another wicket keeping option, so… does Wyatt have to miss out? That would mean reshuffling the batting order… again… but might that be the answer, to have Capsey opening with Dunkley?

All of this excitement followed a slightly strange performance with the ball, which possibly sounds like a harsh judgement considering Sri Lanka finished 106-9. But it definitely wasn’t all smooth sailing.

Chucking Capsey in for an over during the powerplay was presumably a pre-ordained strategy, but I’m not sure she was in quite the right head-space still after the knock during the warm-up and she went for 11 in the one over she bowled.

Freya Kemp looked the most dangerous of England’s bowlers, and the first ball she bowled was a beauty, moving slightly off a perfectly upright seam to rearrange Chamari Athapaththu’s stumps. But as has been the case thus far on this hybrid pitch, the seamers have taken wickets but been a tad more expensive than the spinners, and this was possibly why Kemp only got two overs, going for 14.

Next up for England is South Africa… again, but it will be the game against New Zealand which is likely to give England their first real test of the summer. They had a good win today against South Africa, with Suzie Bates hitting her best international T20 score since 2018, and the 3rd best of her career.

Bates’ innings today contributed to a total of 167, which puts England’s efforts today into a bit of perspective. Yes, they were managing the chase, but they still ended up 5 down, and although Ecclestone is a very handy tail-ender as she showed the other day, she is still basically a tail-ender who we’d rather not be relying on to finish things off in a chase.

Still, a win is a win – England have got points on the board and now probably need to win only one more game to make the semi-finals. They say that all journeys begin with a small step… this was one – but there will need to be bigger steps to come if they want that gold medal at the end of it.

ENGLAND v SOUTH AFRICA: 3rd T20 โ€“ Sticks & Ecclestones Break South Africa’s Bones

England put South Africa out of their misery in another one-sided game at Derby, completing a clean-sweep of the white-ball series. It seems incredible now, but it was less than 6 months ago that England were going into a World Cup semi-final against South Africa as slight underdogs, having lost to them earlier in the tournament.

It has been a hard fall for the South Africans, and it just got a little bit harder with the confirmation this evening that Marizanne Kapp will not be returning for the Commonwealth Games – having reached the semi-finals of the 3 of the last 4 global tournaments, that’s suddenly looking like a very long shot in Birmingham.

The first ball was about as good as it got for South Africa today – a bit of a loosener from Nonkululeko Mlaba which Sophia Dunkley cut straight to point. Alice Capsey was carded to come in at 6, but told me afterwards she had been warned that she could be bumped up the order if an early wicket fell, and they don’t get much earlier than the second ball.

Having not batted in her debut on Saturday, Capsey admitted to a few nerves walking to the crease but they were soon put to rest, as she took a chainsaw to Masabata Klaas – carving her for four consecutive boundaries in the 2nd over.

Her innings was not a long one – she lasted until just the 5th over, facing 17 balls; but she scored 25 runs at a Strike Rate of 147, and put paid to any doubts that Alice Capsey is as ready as she’ll ever be for international cricket.

It wasn’t a perfect batting performance from England – they settled into a bit of drum-beat during the middle overs, and looked to be heading for around 140-145, until Sophie Ecclestone intervened. Ecclestone holds the record for the highest strike rate ever achieved in an ODI innings – 600, which consisted of 6 off 1 ball – so todays exhibition wasn’t entirely unprecedented, but it was stunning nonetheless – 33 off 12 balls, including 26 off the final over from Klaas, who conceded 62 runs in total from her 4 overs.

Thanks to Ecclestone’s efforts at the death, South Africa had a mountain to climb, and they never looked like climbing it. Issy Wong cleaned up Lara Goodall in the first over with a beautiful ball that shaped back in off the seam to clean bowl the left-hander.

(Though probably best not mention the fact that overall Wong went for 40 from her 4 overs – the joint-7th most runs conceded by an England bowler in T20s – and this in a game England won easily. Yes, the great Anya Shrubsole once conceded 50, but that was in the face of Meg Lanning’s onslaught at Chelmsford in the 2019 Ashes, not a dead-in-the-water South Africa. I still remain not entirely convinced that England can afford someone going at 10 an over in Twenty20 cricket if they want to compete with the very best, but… I said I probably shouldn’t mention it, so I won’t.)

The fall of Goodall brought Tazmin Brits to the crease for her first match of the English leg of this tour, and she produced a solid 59 off 57 balls, but South Africa didn’t need solid – they needed something spectacular, and no one could provide it. After the game, coach Hilton Moreeng acknowledged that he could have shuffled the order around, but with the series already lost he said he wanted to give the experience to the younger players coming through, and he’ll be pleased that Brits at least made something of it.

Meanwhile up in the media centre, debate raged about the Player of the T20 Series, which is selected by the written press. No one really stood out – Katherine Brunt and Sophia Dunkley had brilliant games in Chelmsford but it would have felt like one swallow making a summer; and while Ecclestone had bowled well, and given us those fireworks earlier in the evening, she wasn’t the leading wicket-taker! We prevaricated until the final ball of the final over, when Ecclestone bowled Chloe Tryon to pull level with Brunt on 5 wickets for the series, and suddenly the question was much easier to answer – Player of the Match and Player of the Series went to Ecclestone.

England will face tougher challenges in the next couple of weeks than South Africa have offered them – they’ll likely need to beat New Zealand, India and Australia if they want to win that gold medal at the Commonwealth Games – but overall this T20 series, with its new look squad, was about as good as warm-ups get and England will take a big bag of confidence with them as they travel back across the Midlands to join the party in Birmingham.