NEWS: TalkSport’s New Broadcasting Rights Exclude Women’s Internationals

CRICKETher has learned that TalkSport’s new radio broadcasting rights, which cover England Men’s forthcoming winter tours to Sri Lanka and West Indies, do not include either the Women’s World T20 or England Women’s winter internationals.

While in the past the rights have generally been sold as a package, with the BBC covering both the men’s and women’s tours, this time around the women’s matches appear to have been offered up as a separate set of rights which were not purchased by TalkSport.

The WWT20 will take place in West Indies in November as a standalone women’s tournament. In addition, the Women’s International Championship dictates that England will play at least 3 ODIs over the winter, though the formal schedule has yet to be announced.

This potentially leaves the way open for the BBC to bid for the broadcasting rights for these matches, which could help to fill the hole in their schedules which the loss of these men’s overseas tours has created.

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OPINION: 100-Ball Cricket A Nuclear Disaster For The Women’s Game

Today the ECB have announced that what we thought would be the new city T20 franchise league will actually be an 8-team domestic competition played according to the totally-not-tried-and-tested format of 100-ball cricket.

Today the ECB have not only thrown common sense to the winds but appear to have entirely ditched their commitment to developing women’s cricket.

We already knew that the end of the Kia Super League was probably nigh: the lure of a brand new T20 competition, to be played in an aligned way with the new men’s franchises according to the BBL / WBBL model that has been so successful in Australia, was too strong to resist.

In itself that hurt. We – and by that I mean not just CRICKETher but the administrators, the fans, the coaches and the players – had poured our hearts and souls into the KSL. We wanted to make it work, and it did: audiences in their thousands, including nearly 3500 spectators at last year’s Hove Finals Day, were finally paying attention to domestic cricket.

But we could deal with the hurt, because we thought that maybe something better, or at least equally good, was coming.

How wrong we were.

This new 100-ball format, the ECB says, will provide “clear differentiation from other competitions” and be “distinct from the popular Vitality Blast”. The fact that the new competition will blast a nuclear hole through the women’s domestic pathway in England is not so much glossed over as ignored completely.

KSL is the only top-level T20 cricket that our domestic players get. There is a county T20 tournament, but the two competitions are frankly incomparable. The Super League is a paid competition which features the best players from all over the world. The women’s county T20 competition is amateur, unpaid, and short-lived, with each side playing a maximum of 7 games a season. For that reason it tends not to attract overseas players.

And yet this, from 2020, is what we will be left with: all players below England level having 7 T20 games a season to learn the format that is at the fundamental heart of women’s international cricket. It is farcical.

Clare Connor states in the press release that for women players this competition represents “an exciting stage upon which to display their talent”. But will players like Sophie Devine and Meg Lanning really want to come to England to play “100-ball cricket”? Why would they? Do the ICC have plans to introduce a 100-ball World Cup?

3 years ago, when plans for the Super League were first announced, I was so excited. I wrote that there was “much to celebrate, and much to look forward to”. It felt like the development of the women’s game was being made a priority.

Today, as I read incredulously through the ECB’s press release, all I could see was the total lack of consideration that those high up making these decisions have given to the women’s game. Make no mistake: for women’s cricket, 100-ball cricket is a nuclear disaster waiting to happen.

See also: The 100 Is English Cricket’s Vietnam

INTERVIEW: Alex Blackwell speaks about retirement, captaincy and being a “respectful agitator”

If there is one thing Alex Blackwell is known for, it is speaking up for what she believes in. When I interview her weeks on from the announcement of her retirement from international cricket, it is this that comes across most clearly. “I’ve got my own moral compass and values that make me as a person,” she says. “I can’t be anyone else other than myself.”

As still one of very few female cricketers who has felt able to be open about her sexuality – she married her partner, former England cricketer Lynsey Askew, in 2015 – Blackwell is keen to encourage others in the sport to follow in her footsteps. “What I’ve tried to do is break the silence. From my point of view I feel like while athletes are really comfortable to be themselves in their closed circles that’s wonderful, but there seems to be a bit of a silence about who people really are outside the sport.”

“It’s not always going to be possible for individuals to be completely transparent, but I do want to endorse that teams should continue to strive to be really inclusive and really welcoming, and celebrate everyone’s differences, because that gets the best out of those individuals and teams in terms of performance.”

This was one of the key reasons, she says, why she chose to come out publicly about her relationship with Lynsey. “I knew that being my whole, authentic and transparent self in every aspect of my life was going to allow me to perform better. And I honestly believe that without being my true self I wouldn’t have reached the heights I have.”

They are quite some heights. Blackwell first represented Australia in 2003, as a 19 year old. She was part of 5 World Cup winning teams and finished her career with 5250 runs to her name and 251 caps across all three formats, the most of any Australian female cricketer, ever. Just last summer she almost (but not quite) turned the 2017 World Cup semi-final on its head, in a record-breaking 10th-wicket partnership with Kristen Beams. She cites the 90 runs she made in that match as “probably her best ever effort with the bat for Australia”.

Recently ranked as the fifth best batsman in world cricket, her retirement rather took everyone by surprise; but she says it was the culmination of a lengthy thought process. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for many years. Before the Ashes series in 2015 I was thinking, ‘could this be my last series?’ It could have been.”

She is, understandably, tight-lipped when I broach the subject of the appointment of Rachael Haynes ahead of Blackwell as stand-in captain for Meg Lanning during last year’s World Cup and Ashes series. She seems sanguine about the whole affair: “Captaincy’s not something that anyone has the right to,” she says. “It’s a decision that was made and the team just has to get on with doing the best job in whatever role they have.” But she was, after all, Australia’s official vice-captain, had done the deputy’s job for 7 years, and had led Australia to victory in the 2010 WWT20, standing in for Jodie Fields.

She says she is “very proud” of what she achieved as captain of both Australia and the New South Wales Breakers, who she captained to 7 state titles. What she doesn’t say is that her record as captain speaks for itself – which only makes last year’s decision all the odder.

I question whether she would still have retired, had the decision gone differently. “That’s an impossible question for me to answer,” is the response. It remains a baffling decision.

Retirement, though, seems to have opened up numerous opportunities for Blackwell. “I feel good about it,” she says. “I’ve been really busy. I’ve done quite a few speaking gigs and various events. I spoke at SBS, which is a TV broadcaster and they’re huge on diversity. I was on a panel with Matt Mitcham, an Olympic gold medallist, and Casey Conway, a former rugby league player, talking about the inclusion of LGBTI people in sport and the workplace. And I got 2 VIP tickets to watch the Sydney Mardi Gras. It was in its 40th year but also marriage equality occurred in the year gone by so it was particularly special.”

She was described in a recent interview with Gideon Haigh as a “quiet radical” – but how would Blackwell herself like to be remembered? “As a respectful agitator,” she says. “As someone who had strong views, shared them, and helped the sport ultimately get better.”

Wherever she goes from here, that legacy seems already secure.

OPINION: Wisden and Women – The Watershed Moment

I spend a lot of my life in the British Library, reading back editions of Wisden Cricketers Almanack. To get your hands on a copy, you have to go into the “Rare Books” reading room, sit in a special area and – as security – leave your readers card behind the issue desk. It’s the British Library’s equivalent of the Hope Diamond. The system reflects what most cricket fans know, instinctively, to be true: Wisden is special.

Today’s news – that 3 of the 5 Wisden Cricketers of the Year are women: Heather Knight, Nat Sciver and Anya Shrubsole – is also special.

The Almanack, published since 1864, did not feature women’s cricket until 1938; until then, one would have been hard-pushed, reading it, to see any evidence that women were playing the game at all. But they were, and in 1938 the editor Wilfred Brookes decided they warranted inclusion. “I found a good deal of support for the suggestion that some space should be given to women’s cricket,” he wrote.

“Some space” is perhaps an overstatement, implying something more than the reality: one page of the 1000-page volume would carry a women’s cricket report, having to cover – in approximately 500 words – the entire of the global and domestic women’s game in one calendar year.

Occasionally women broke through the barrier: in 1970, the first full page feature on women’s cricket was to be found, featuring leading England all-rounder Enid Bakewell, who in Australia in 1968/9 had become the first cricketer to score 1000 runs and take 100 wickets on tour. But such coverage was rare, to say the least.

Indeed the standing joke was that the women’s cricket page was to be found languishing near the back of the 1000-page volume, right next to the obituaries. Joking about it was the women’s cricket community’s way of shrugging off the fact that their achievements were often given less space than the Eton v Harrow fixture at Lords.

When Roedean School in Brighton submitted their averages for inclusion in the schools section of the 1991 edition, the editor Graeme Wright said they had presented him with “an editorial dilemma”. It was, apparently, shocking to believe that a girls public school might wish to feature alongside their male counterparts. (They were included, reluctantly, in the 1992 Almanack.)

Gradually in recent years more women have featured within the pages of the Almanack, including – in 2009 – the first woman to be featured as a Cricketer of the Year, Claire Taylor. Then editor Scyld Berry wrote that “there is no element of political correctness or publicity-seeking about her selection. The best cricketers in the country should be recognised, irrespective of gender.” Five years later, in 2014, Charlotte Edwards received the same honour. Still, though, a closer look at Almanacks in the decade between 2000 and 2010 reveals that more words were sometimes devoted to “cricketing wives” than any woman worthy of inclusion on her own merit.

It was not until 2015 that a full “women’s cricket” section was introduced, in the same year as the Leading Woman Cricketer in the World was inaugurated as a separate award – both the brainchild of current editor Lawrence Booth. Meg Lanning was the first recipient; Suzie Bates, Ellyse Perry and now Mithali Raj have followed in her footsteps.

Today, in 2018, we have women not just inside the pages of the “Bible of cricket”, but a triumphant Anya Shrubsole adorning the front cover as well.

There are many women in times gone by who would have been worthy Cricketers of the Year: Myrtle Maclagan, who hit the first ever century in an Ashes Test, in January 1935; Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, who in 1973 organised and starred in the first ever cricket World Cup; Cathryn Fitzpatrick, still the fastest bowler to have played the women’s game. To have ignored them has always been Wisden’s loss, not theirs.

Today, though, is a time to look forward, not back. This is not the end of the story for women’s cricketing equality – it never is – but it matters because Wisden matters. It represents – it is read by – the conservative cricketing establishment which ignored the women’s game for far too long. Suddenly, now a woman is on the cover, it becomes simply no longer possible to ignore women’s cricket. That’s worth celebrating.

FEATURE: Cricket Taking Off At South Hampstead High School

In the wake of England’s World Cup victory last summer, one of the questions that was asked a lot was: would it encourage more girls to take up cricket?

For one school in London, the answer is an undoubted yes.

South Hampstead High School has recently reintroduced girls’ cricket to its curriculum, after many years of rounders being the main summer sport, and Head of PE Lucy Kench says that the girls are loving it: “We’ve had requests from girls to do more cricket, which is great. The success of the World Cup was a big thing for us.”

Back in the 1930s, South Hampstead High School was a hub of girls’ cricket; England’s Netta Rheinberg learned her cricket there. But somewhere along the way cricket was replaced by rounders – until last year when, following the Department for Education’s decision to remove rounders from the national GCSE curriculum, the decision was made to revert back to cricket.

Why? Lucy explains: “With rounders there’s not a lot of progression. If you play first team rounders at school, where do you then go and play rounders? There’s not very many opportunities.”

South Hampstead is also part of the Girls Day School Trust, a group of 24 leading independent schools, and in GDST schools across the country the feeling is that it is important to provide girls with more sporting options, beyond traditional ‘girls sports’ like hockey and netball. The key aim is to keep as many girls as possible actively engaged in sport in their teenage years and beyond; a range of sporting options is seen as the best way to sustain girls’ interest in sport.

At South Hampstead an indoor cricket club has run across the spring term. This will continue outdoors in the summer term, when Middlesex CCC will provide the girls with coaching. There is also a London GDST Cricket Hub which organises sessions for the girls with ex-professional female cricketers.

Girls Cricket at SHHS

Girls Cricket at South Hampstead High School

Girls from SHHS will also be attending the “MCC Women’s Day” at Lords next month alongside around 4,000 other schoolchildren to watch Middlesex Women play their first ever match on the main ground at Lord’s.

Generally the switch to cricket away from rounders has gone down well, but one issue has been getting teachers on board with the change. “Some people were really against it to begin with,” Lucy explains. “For some teachers who have taught rounders for lots of years, they find it very difficult to adapt the game.”

But GDST teachers have recently benefited from CPD training from Lydia Greenway, who runs nationwide coaching organisation Cricket for Girls and is helping them to understand the best ways to teach cricket to their pupils. “One of the barriers or challenges is getting teachers up to speed with the game of cricket, but also breaking down the barriers that it’s a complicated game, that it’s a technical game,” Lydia says. “And actually empowering them, giving them the confidence, and the skills and drills for them to deliver lessons. They’ve responded really well.”

CRICKETher recently attended a session at South Hampstead and the enthusiasm for cricket displayed by the girls – most of whom had never played cricket before this term – was evident. When asked what they most enjoyed about cricket, answers included: “Being in a team and working together”, and “You work in a team but you keep your own space, it’s nice because it’s not full on tackling and it’s more fun than other sports.”

NEWS: Sophie Ecclestone Wins Cricket Society Award

18 year old Sophie Ecclestone has received this year’s Cricket Society award for Most Promising Young Female Cricketer.

The award, made on the recommendation of Clare Connor, is awarded annually for the young female cricketer who showed the most promise in the preceding 12 months. It has run since 2002, with previous winners including Nat Sciver (2013), Heather Knight (2010) and Katherine Brunt (2004).

While Ecclestone missed last year’s World Cup due to exam commitments, she finished 2017 on a high, helping England draw the women’s Ashes series out in Australia.

She was also leading wicket-taker in Division 1 of the Women’s County Championship, and instrumental in Lancashire “doing the double” last season, winning both the County Championship and the T20 Cup. On the last day of the County Championship she tore through the Warwickshire batting line-up taking 6-12 – the performance that ultimately took them to Championship victory.

The award was presented at yesterday’s Society Lunch and while Sophie unfortunately could not be present to accept it – she is currently in India on England duty – her parents Elaine and Paul were delighted to do so on her behalf.

OPINION: Mixed Cricket – It’s Really Not Worth A Try

The Sydney Morning Herald has published an editorial today which suggests that the next step for women’s sport in Australia is to go fully mixed. Non-contact sports like cricket, the piece argues, should lead the way here. It might not work, but if it did, it could “break down the entrenched attitudes”, not just in sport but in other fields too. “It’s worth a try,” the author concludes.

Actually, no, it isn’t. Mixed cricket would be a disaster for the women’s game.

Of course there are a few women who could be successful playing in a mixed international side (Sarah Taylor is the obvious candidate who springs to mind). But, overall, there’d inevitably be less women playing international cricket. Think about it logically. Even if rules dictated that there had to be a mixed gender split in the Australian cricket team – say 6 men and 5 women, or vice versa – that would still mean that only about 50% of the women currently representing their country would get to keep doing so. How is that a good thing?

Secondly it would negatively affect the grassroots of the game, and narrow the available talent pool – at a time when many women’s sides are already struggling for survival. Why is it that so many clubs – including those in Australia which offer the Milo programme for 7-12 year olds – are beginning to run girls-only training sessions? Because they’ve realised that not all girls want to play mixed cricket. Girls develop at different rates, are often less confident, and have sometimes (sadly) had less grounding in the game from an early age. They feel happier playing surrounded by other girls. If we impose mixed cricket on them, then many of these girls will be lost to the game for good.

And lastly, and most importantly, to suggest that for women’s cricket to be taken seriously it needs to merge with the men’s game is actually frankly rather insulting. Our sport is worthy of respect in its own right. It isn’t inferior, it is different, and we don’t want it to be subsumed into male-dominated structures. We want players like Sarah Taylor to be granted media attention and prestige for their world-class performances within the women’s game, not for there to be endless speculation about how well they might perform in the men’s game. One of the great things about the World Cup last summer was that this really did seem to be happening: women’s cricket really did seem to be becoming respected on its own terms. To suggest that the next logical move is to make cricket gender-mixed totally undermines that.

Mixed cricket isn’t something to “try out”, something to be taken lightly and that we can abandon without a second thought if it doesn’t work out. Of course it would shake things up. But would it really be a progressive move? I don’t think so.

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 2nd T20

Brunt Bounces Back

Something Mark Robinson’s England have in spades is resilience. To bounce back after throwing away the Ashes in the space of a few overs on Friday can’t have been easy, but the way they came out today, to not just win but wipe out their opponents, made an important statement about the way this side want to play their cricket.

No one epitomised that attitude more than Katherine Brunt. In tears after the loss on Friday, she somehow channelled all her disappointment and frustration into a sparkling innings of 32* – including the only 2 sixes of England’s innings – and then followed it up with a pace bowling T20 masterclass, conceding just 10 runs from her 4 overs. Sarah Taylor’s stumping of Elyse Villani was itself a masterclass, of course, but it was Brunt’s 3 dot balls up top in the over that forced Villani’s hand.

Basically, don’t upset Katherine Brunt. It’ll come back to bite you in the end.

Gunn Earns Her Spot

There have been question marks over Jenny Gunn’s inclusion in this T20 team, given that it’s Georgia Elwiss – the star of Day 4 at North Sydney – who appears to have given way for her. But Gunn’s bowling in T20 is incredibly precious – she is economical AND takes wickets – and today she really did provide the turning point for England, with her direct hit run out of Beth Mooney; plus that little matter of 4 wickets to boot.

Two Differing Approaches

There were times when you felt today that Matthew Mott had sat the Aussies down before their innings and told them they needed to hit all the runs in boundaries – far too many reckless shots were played, with Healy, Gardner and Haynes all caught trying to hit big. England were much more content to rack up singles and twos, leaving them with wickets in the bank for the crucial final 5 overs.

Nonetheless, the attacking approach has served Australia well over the years, and England might want to consider taking a leaf out of their book. The stats that Syd put out on Twitter earlier about Nat Sciver v Alyssa Healy provide a good point of comparison:

It’s not that Sciver isn’t capable of hitting big, more that she hasn’t often done so in a T20 situation for England – something that needs to change.

So England may have won this match, but there is no room for complacency: their batting, and power hitting in particular, has to be a key area of focus ahead of next year’s WWT20.

Wyatt Up Top

It’s still a bit of a mystery why Heather Knight opened in the first T20 of the series given that she has repeatedly said she doesn’t want to open while captaining – perhaps Robinson felt it was the best option, or perhaps it was just an experiment gone wrong. Either way, it was great to see Danni Wyatt rewarded for her 50 on Friday with a boost to the top of the order; and she certainly did the job required of her today, with quick runs up top to get England off to a positive start. She’s opened before in T20 – the last time was in Cardiff against Australia in 2015 – but has never had a sustained run at it, so maybe that time is now.

A Dead Rubber?

Some will argue that Australia took their foot off the gas today, relaxed about the whole endeavour now they have secured the Ashes trophy. If there’s any truth in that, it’s pretty poor – England could still go on and draw the series on points. They could also still win the T20 leg of the series; and a T20 series win in the year before a T20 World Cup is not to be sniffed at. In short, it’s all to play for come Tuesday.