The inaugural edition of the Charlotte Edwards Cup ended in a convincing win for South East Stars in the final on Sunday, who chased down their not-insubstantial target of 139 to win with 5 wickets and 2 overs to spare.
The most notable thing about the game was the convincing way in which they went about the chase – Bryony Smith and Aylish Cranstone putting on a 71-run partnership for the first wicket in the opening 8 overs, which set a platform that not even a middle-innings wobble could disrupt.
For Stars, their path to victory in the tournament was built on mammoth scores, three times hitting 160+ batting first at a level where totals of 120 are still the norm: 175 against Lightning, 167 against Vipers and 165 against Sparks.
This is the kind of attacking, confident batting which we have rarely seen before from homegrown players in women’s domestic T20 cricket. Speaking to captain Bryony Smith after Stars’ win in the final group stage match at Edgbaston, she labelled it “a positive brand of cricket”:
“We wanted to bowl first in all of those games but it just shows we’ve got the bowling to defend any score. We want to go out, go from ball 1. I’m trying to lead that myself and to see the young ones come in and play like that – I’m really proud of them.”
It seems apparent that coach Johann Myburgh has given his players license to play without fear, and they have responded to that.
The roots of this culture, though, go back further than the dawn of regional cricket in 2020 – they began in 2017 when Surrey CCC decided to appoint a full-time coach of their women’s team. Now Regional Director of the Stars, Richard Bedbrook has worked with many of these players for years, overseeing their development.
“There’s a bit of benefit when you’ve been around the game for a while, and you’ve been in the women’s cricket space in this region like I have,” Bedbrook admitted, speaking to CRICKETher after the final. “The regional development centre was operating during the KSL days – and now the likes of Emma Jones, Kalea [Moore], Alexa [Stonehouse] – so many of those players are still teenagers, and it’s a nice proud moment to see them graduating from being much younger players into being inspiring young women who are going to push the envelope of where the game is for the next few years.”
How did Bedbrook feel, watching his team playing in that final in the way that lived up so successfully to the Stars “brand” of cricket? “It was really good to watch. When you get to a final, you’re hoping that the players will stay true to what they’ve been working for for so long. When they’ve been playing the way they’ve been playing in the group games, you worry that they might regress or they might play safe, but the performance today is testament to the work that Mybs [Mybergh] has done and Tom [Lister] as well, our senior talent manager.”
“They’ve worked with the batters all winter and put them into a place where they’re like, this is the way we’re going to play, and we’re not going to avoid that. And this season it’s come off more times than it hasn’t! You need the players to commit to it.”
“We are really proud of just how many players have come forward this year and have contributed. It is very much a squad effort. Every one of them has contributed at certain times, and that’s very pleasing.”
Of course the breakthrough star of the season has been Alice Capsey, who shot to fame in The Hundred but has also turned it on in regional cricket exactly when it mattered: she finished as Stars’ top run-scorer with 203 runs, including an unbeaten 40* in the final, averaging 41 at a strike rate of 131.
Stars may therefore have a dilemma on their hands. It was noticeable just how much Southern Vipers missed Charlie Dean and Maia Bouchier in the semi-final on Sunday: creating players who are so successful that they disappear on England duty is certainly a double-edged sword. Bedbrook, though, seems unconcerned.
“There might be a little bit of time for that to happen – that next step into international cricket is a big one,” Bedbrook said. “The role she gets to play might not be the same as the role she’s playing for us and that takes a bit of adjustment as well. We’re just going to keep making sure that we’re supporting her in her ambitions, and clearly that’s to play for England and do what we can to support that.”
It’s a mark of how ambitious Bedbrook is for his players that he is also keen to emphasise that Capsey may be brilliant now – but in a few years time could be the best player in the world, if she keeps working for it. “She’s a big star in the making,” he says. “One thing we’ve got to make sure she continues to realise is that there’s still a long way for her to go, and that’s not necessarily in the structure and the programme of the game and the levels that she’s got in front of her, but actually getting into those levels above her and being better and better and better, and holding onto some key values to help support her there.”
“We’re enjoying this season that she’s having, and we’re proud of the work that she’s put in, because she’s a better player than she was last year, and that’s what we want to keep pushing for – keep improving.”
For Stars, the focus now comes back onto the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, where they are currently ranked fifth, with work to do if they are to come back into contention for the final on 25 September. The CE Cup medals hanging around their necks will do plenty to spur them on.