NEWS: Amanda-Jade Wellington Set To Be Omitted From Australia’s Ashes Squad

In a bizarre move, Cricket Australia are set to announce a squad for the forthcoming Women’s Ashes series which does not include Amanda-Jade Wellington, despite the leg-spinner finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the 2021/22 WBBL.

According to reports in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Wellington has been edged out by Alana King, who has received her premier call-up to the national side. She will be included in the Australia A side which will be in action against the England A side during the main Ashes series, but there is unlikely to be a chance of “promotion” to the main side as the two squads are being kept separate for Covid biosecurity purposes.

Wellington last played for Australia in 2018 and since then has been consistently and inexplicably snubbed by the Australian selectors, despite consistently being a top performer in domestic and franchise cricket. She was the top-ranked bowler in our Women’s Hundred rankings and a key factor in Southern Brave’s progression to the final.

Other notable inclusions in the squad, which will be announced officially tomorrow, are Adelaide Strikers captain Tahlia McGrath, who enjoyed success in Australia’s recent series against India, and teenage pacer Darcie Brown.

The squad looks set to be as follows:

  • Meg Lanning (c)
  • Rachael Haynes
  • Darcie Brown
  • Nicola Carey
  • Alyssa Healy
  • Ashleigh Gardner
  • Jess Jonassen
  • Alana King
  • Tahlia McGrath
  • Beth Mooney
  • Ellyse Perry
  • Megan Schutt
  • Molly Strano Hannah Darlington*
  • Annabel Sutherland
  • Tayla Vlaeminck

[Amended 12 Jan 2022.]

NEWS: Scotland Look To Qualify For Commonwealth Games As Costs Spiral For Competitors

Countries who wish to take part in the Qualifying Tournament for the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be required to pay their own hotel and travel costs, CRICKETher understands.

The Qualifier, which is due to take place in Malaysia in January 2022, will decide who takes the final, eighth spot in the women’s cricket event at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July, alongside hosts England and the six highest ranked T20 sides – Australia, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa and Barbados (representing West Indies).

All Commonwealth countries featuring in the current global T20 rankings were invited by the ICC to participate in the Qualifier. Scotland have already confirmed their participation, alongside hosts Malaysia, but with a substantial travel and accommodation price tag now attached to participation it looks less and less likely that other teams will be able to join them.

Northern Ireland have already confirmed that they will not be participating, due to the fact that the majority of players in the Ireland national team originate from the Republic of Ireland, rendering them ineligible according to current CWG criteria.

With the new Omicron variant wreaking havoc with global travel (and leading to the abandonment of the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in November), there is also a risk that any qualifier may be derailed and teams hit with a possible quarantine bill on return home. This may well serve to deter other possible entrants.

For Scotland, this set of circumstances represents a real opportunity to qualify for participation in the Commonwealth Games – an exciting prospect for a team who have never yet featured in a World Cup tournament.

But for other countries, the reluctance of the ICC to provide adequate resources to facilitate participation in the Qualifying Tournament will be a severe blow. The ICC have previously labelled the CWG “a huge opportunity to turbo-charge the growth of the game”; unfortunately, it appears that this “turbo-charging” does not extend to countries outside of the elite few.

NEWS: Women’s County Cricket To Continue In 2022

The news yesterday that Tash Farrant has regained her England contract after nearly three years in the wilderness was accompanied by a statement from Kent CCC which confirms that senior women’s county cricket is set to continue.

Kent Women’s coach Dave Hathrill was quoted as saying: “[Farrant] is a leading figure for Kent Women and we’re looking forward to seeing her progress further whilst also wearing the White Horse.”

Other counties have also made it public that they are continuing with their women’s winter training programmes – including Middlesex.

Play Cricket now contains a page showing County T20 groupings for the 2022 season, with groups once again formed on a regional basis. CRICKETher also understands that the ECB have issued a fixture calendar to the counties, showing four dates for a Women’s County T20 competition at the start of the season in April / May (though this has not yet been released publicly).

Interestingly, yesterday’s Kent press release suggests that they expect England players (including Farrant) to be made available to play for their counties in the 2022 season and beyond – thus answering a question we raised in a recent episode of The CRICKETher Weekly.

So it seems that – while the ECB are apparently reluctant to shout about their U-turn – women’s county cricket lives to see another day!

NEWS: Kent’s Tash Farrant Regains England Contract

Almost three years after she was discarded by England, Tash Farrant has regained her central contract.

Farrant was recalled to the England squad by coach Lisa Keightley for the tour of New Zealand earlier this year, and was selected in all of the England squads this summer, so this is no surprise. Her left-arm seam will be seen as a key point of difference ahead of the forthcoming Women’s Ashes, as well as England’s World Cup title defence in New Zealand in 2022.

It’s unclear what this might mean for the future of fellow left-arm seamer Katie George, who has not played an international since July 2018.

On the other hand, Farrant’s re-elevation to the England team will offer hope that there is a “way back” for formerly contracted players such as Alex Hartley and Beth Langston, thanks to the new regional deals on offer.

Interestingly, it was coach Mark Robinson who originally identified the need for such a system when he dropped Farrant from his squad – telling CRICKETher:

“For Beth [Langston] and Tash their decision now is: do I play KSL and county cricket, then the year after, when hopefully semi-professionalism comes in, they do that; or do they go on to a different career? [But] Tash might re-invent herself – she could be a major player.”

It is a statement that has proved prescient – Farrant did indeed begin a new career, spending a year as head of girls’ cricket at Trent College in Nottingham – but she found a way back via a South East Stars pro contract awarded in October 2020.

Meanwhile, South East Stars will be identifying a sixth player to progress to a professional contract, taking the total number of female “professionals” in England to 68. (The status of Fran Wilson, who announced her retirement from international cricket last month, remains unclear.)

NEWS: Lightning Seek Replacement Coach As Rob Taylor Departs

Lightning are seeking a replacement for Head Coach Rob Taylor, after the former Scotland and Leicestershire batter agreed to part ways with the region at the end of the 2021 season.

A job advert, placed on 13 October, confirms that Lightning are currently recruiting for the position, with interviews to take place on 22 November and the successful candidate to start in January.

Taylor was appointed Coach of Lightning in August 2020, having previously held the position of Head Coach of Loughborough Lightning in the Kia Super League. Under his leadership, Lightning twice reached Finals Day in the KSL.

However, since the new regional structure was put in place last year, he has struggled to replicate that success. Lightning finished in joint 4th place in the 2021 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, winning just 3 of their 7 matches, while in the Charlotte Edwards Cup they were bottom of the pile, losing all 6 of their games.

It seems the region are now looking in a new direction in the hope of improving on that performance next season.

CE CUP: Bedbrook’s Brand Brings It Home For Stars

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.

CE CUP FINALS DAY: 22 (Jenny) Gunn Salute

At the start of the 2020 season, Jenny Gunn picked up the phone for what she thought would be nothing more than a friendly chat with her old friend and ex-England teammate Dani Hazell. Gunn was looking forward to experiencing cricket from the sidelines, having announced her retirement from internationals in October 2019. And yet when Hazell asked if she would consider playing for the new regional side for which she was head coach, Gunn found the offer irresistible.

An inconsequential chitchat suddenly turned into a conversation with the biggest of consequences. Gunn was drafted into the Northern Diamonds side, and finished as their third highest run-scorer, with 149 runs including a half-century against Lightning, digging Diamonds out of a substantial hole to lead them to a 2-wicket win. She also picked up 8 wickets.

Gunn’s un-retirement was meant to last just one season, but after proving so instrumental in Diamond’s progress to the final of the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in September 2020, Hazell had yet another ace up her sleeve: the offer of a regional contract with the Diamonds. It proved enough to lure Gunn into another year playing for them.

Ironically, Gunn was initially intending to come out of retirement for one competition only: The Hundred. As it was, with Covid intervening to push back the tournament by a year, she did not even make it into the Northern Superchargers’ final squad. Instead, she has been able to focus her efforts purely on the regional competitions.

And those efforts have not gone to waste. In the 50-over Heyhoe Flint Trophy she has already hit a half-century, helping Diamonds overhaul Stars’ total of 250 at Leeds back in June. In the Charlotte Edwards Cup she was the key to Diamonds pulling off the squeakiest of narrow squeak wins against Western Storm, hitting a boundary off the final ball to see them home by 1 wicket.

On Sunday at the Ageas Bowl, she propelled Northern Diamonds through to the final of the Charlotte Edwards Cup, hitting 22* from 14 balls against Southern Vipers at the back-end of the innings, after they had been in some strife at 82 for 4 in the 15th over. Gunn wasn’t known for her big-hitting when she wore an England shirt, but no one would have known that watching her thump two sixes off Tara Norris in the final over, over long-on and deep midwicket.

With the ball she then took the key wicket of Georgia Adams, who pulled to short midwicket in the sixth over after looking in good touch for most of the powerplay, and she then returned to bowl two overs at the death and wrap up the Vipers tail. Her action is still distinctive as ever; it has served her well over the years, so why change it?

Adams spoke warmly of her nemesis in the post-match: “It’s brilliant. That’s the other bonus of the regional system…if you want a longer career, it’s there for you if you want it. Hopefully I’ll churn out a few runs when I’m as old as Jenny!”

In the final itself, Gunn followed up with an identical score: 22 not out, this time coming from 16 balls. Her fifty partnership with Diamonds captain Holly Armitage came in 38 balls, in the final 20 minutes of the innings, consisting largely of sprinted singles.

Of course, in the end it wasn’t enough: South East Stars won with a hop, skip and a jump, and nobody – not even Gunn – could stand in the way.

But I decided to write about Jenny Gunn anyway.

Why? Well, you could make a good argument that without Gunn’s contribution Diamonds wouldn’t have been in the final at all. Their eventual margin of victory in the semi was 18 runs: without Gunn’s 22*, Vipers would have progressed at their expense.

But the second and most important reason is that somewhere at home I have a signed Jenny Gunn England Test shirt and it will always be one of my most prized possessions; I still go in to bat for her on Twitter; and I still love watching her bowl. 

It remains to be seen what Jenny Gunn’s future looks like, beyond the summer of 2021. In some ways it was surprising that she took up the offer of a regional contract at all, given her protestations that she did not intend to stay playing cricket very long. I don’t know how many more times I’ll get to write a piece about Jenny Gunn, so what the heck, here I am.

What I will say is this: If I was Dani Hazell, whatever Gunn might or might not have said at the start of this season, I’d be making sure I picked up the phone sooner rather than later and, by hook or by crook, ensuring that she was signed on the dotted line for next year.

On the evidence of Finals Day in the inaugural Charlotte Edwards Cup, Jenny Gunn is simply too good to lose.

NEWS: Maia Bouchier And Charlie Dean Called Up To England Squad

Maia Bouchier and Charlie Dean have earned their maiden call-ups to the England squad which will face New Zealand in three T20s beginning on 1 September at Chelmsford.

Both were mainstays of their sides in The Hundred – Bouchier hit 33* from 19 balls in Southern Brave’s victory against Northern Superchargers; while off-spinning all-rounder Dean regularly bowled for London Spirit in the powerplay.

However, the call-ups are also a testament to the pair’s consistent performances for Southern Vipers over the past 18 months – both played a key role in the side which won the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in 2020, and Bouchier has recently been seen opening for Vipers in the 20-over Charlotte Edwards Cup.

Fran Wilson has been omitted from the squad after sitting out of the India series earlier in the summer.

The full squad is below:

  • Heather Knight (Western Storm)
  • Tammy Beaumont (Lightning)
  • Maia Bouchier (Southern Vipers)
  • Katherine Brunt (Northern Diamonds)
  • Freya Davies (South East Stars)
  • Charlie Dean (Southern Vipers)
  • Sophia Dunkley (South East Stars)
  • Sophie Ecclestone (Thunder)
  • Tash Farrant (South East Stars)
  • Sarah Glenn (Central Sparks)
  • Amy Jones (Central Sparks)
  • Nat Sciver (Northern Diamonds)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Western Storm)
  • Mady Villiers (Sunrisers)
  • Danni Wyatt (Southern Vipers)

THE HUNDRED: The Eliminator – Smart Van Niekerk Captaincy Wins It For Oval Invincibles

The Hundred’s “Strategic Timeouts” have been much derided throughout the short history of this tournament. Often, it has seemed as if they add little or nothing to the action, simply serving as a moment when, amongst other things, journalists can grab an extra cup of tea (ahem). Many captains – including Oval Invincibles skipper Dane van Niekerk – have readily admitted to forgetting that the timeout even exists.

But today’s strategic timeout – called by van Niekerk after 45 balls had been bowled – served a crucial purpose for the Invincibles.

At that point, Birmingham Phoenix needed 57 from 55 balls, with 8 wickets in hand and two set batters at the crease: Amy Jones on 29* and Erin Burns on 22. Oval Invincibles looked dead in the water.

Five balls later, Tash Farrant took a screamer of a catch over her left shoulder, diving full stretch running round from mid-off. Burns departed, and so the rot began.

So what exactly did DvN say to her team in the timeout? Tash Farrant relayed the short but rousing speech after the match. “If we get a few wickets we can get on a roll. Go down with a fight. Do not leave anything out on this pitch.”

It proved to be prescient: Phoenix went on to lose 8 wickets in 44 balls, falling 20 runs short of their target.

Admittedly, Phoenix were up against it with a batting line-up that even their coach Ben Sawyer described as “inexperienced”. With Shafali Verma back home in India, Katie Mack was promoted to the opening spot (she lasted 3 balls), while poor Marie Kelly entered the fray for the first time in the tournament with the score on 66 for 4, just after her captain had walked off the pitch with her head in her hands – hardly a gesture that inspired confidence.

“It does make it difficult, it’s not ideal,” Sawyer admitted when asked about the absence of Verma after the match. “If she’d have been here and knocked a few out it might have been a little bit different.”

Meanwhile Georgia Elwiss convinced Sawyer that she was fit to play in the must-win match, but was bumped down the order to number 8 to protect her thumb (which was heavily bandaged). By the time she came to the crease at 84 for 6, it was too late for her to have much of an impact on the game.

Perhaps the main fault, though, lies with Amy Jones. The Phoenix captain looked in delectable form, stroking effortless boundaries, all the way up until that strategic timeout. Soon afterwards, she drove the ball straight into the hands of van Niekerk at extra cover.

Her wicket really was the crucial one, and she knew it, pulling down her helmet over her eyes in disbelief before trudging off the pitch. Perhaps more than anyone else in the English set-up right now, in this “new normal” of big crowds in The Hundred, Jones needs to learn how to bat like nobody is watching, even when 12,000 people are doing just that.

The contrast with the calm, level-headed approach of van Niekerk as she made key decisions about when and how to best use her bowlers in defending an under-par target was marked. That included being willing to hand Alice Capsey a “ten” at an important moment, just after Capsey had taken a fantastic catch off her own bowling above her head to see off Elwiss – rather than potentially introducing Mady Villiers, whose returns this tournament have been poor.

Overall, it hasn’t been an easy year for Dane van Niekerk. She missed South Africa’s series against Pakistan and India with a back injury, and she publicly admitted at the start of this tournament that she is still struggling with fitness issues. It is also never straightforward as an overseas player to be asked to come in and bring together a team filled with players who don’t know you or each other very well, in a very short space of time. DvN, though, has done just that.

Farrant was full of praise for her captain. “She’s brilliant. Her super strength is really is how passionate she is about the game and how passionate she is in every situation. As a captain you know that she really cares about this team – it’s a franchise team, we’re new as a group, but having a captain that really cares about their players, we feed off her.”

As I write this, Oval Invincibles are doing a well-deserved victory lap of their home ground, and being given a standing ovation by over 12,000 spectators. I can’t recall seeing anything quite like that in England since the 2017 World Cup final (just one more tick box on the ever-expanding list of Reasons Why The Hundred Has Been Special For Women’s Cricket).

Talking of finals at Lord’s… there’s another one this weekend, and Oval Invincibles will – against all odds – be playing in it. Take a bow, Dane van Niekerk – you’ve certainly earned it.

THE HUNDRED: Brave v Superchargers – Slam Dunk For The Brave

Southern Brave sent out a clear signal in Saturday’s match at the Ageas Bowl, beating their nearest rivals Northern Superchargers by a mammoth 7 wickets with 13 balls remaining (D/L method). If all goes according to form, these two sides will be meeting again at the final in two weeks time… and on Saturday’s showing, you’d have to say that there is only going to be one winner of the inaugural Hundred (Women’s Competition).

The celebrations from Sophia Dunkley and Maia Bouchier in the middle as Dunkley hit the winning run, simultaneously bringing up her half-century, signalled that this win meant a great deal. If Brave have been following Syd’s Table Analysis Software (TM), they will know that even with 5 wins from 6, they are not yet quite mathematically guaranteed qualification – but with it now a 99% certainty, you’d forgive them if they spent Saturday evening with a few celebratory beers in the dressing room.

Dunkley’s 50* from just 28 balls, at a strike rate of 179, makes her only the fourth English player (after Danni Wyatt, Alice Capsey and Nat Sciver) to rack up a half-century in the tournament. Dunkley’s calling-card has always been her ability to make runs in domestic cricket – she did it in the Women’s County Championship, she did it in the Kia Super League. She now has an England spot nailed down, but her approach hasn’t changed, as demonstrated when – walking out at 5 for 2 – she slammed her first ball (from Linsey Smith) for six.

“The way I play, I want to be aggressive and put the pressure back on the bowlers – I think that’s one of my strengths and I back myself to do that,” she said after the match. “I’m trying to keep it the same old and bat how I’ve always batted and be positive and stick to my strengths, and don’t go too far away from that.”

Dunkley was made Match Hero, but credit should go to Maia Bouchier too, who made 33 not out from 19 balls and helped make what could have been a tricky chase look easy. The pair spent years batting together in age-group for Middlesex – Dunkley described today’s partnership as “rolling back the years” – and their easy communication helped them run hard in a chase when quick singles mattered.

They were assisted by some shoddy fielding by Superchargers. Dunkley was put down twice on 14* by Alice Davidson-Richards, who shelled two return catches off her own bowling – the second one admittedly a tough chance above her head. Another culprit was 19-year-old Bess Heath, who clearly isn’t enjoying being pushed out of her natural wicket-keeping role. Given that Lauren Winfield-Hill isn’t even England’s “back-up” keeper anymore, it seems bizarre that she has taken the gloves in this tournament. Why not let Heath do what she does best, instead of trying to “hide” her in the field?

Another strange captaincy decision came when, at another crucial moment in Brave’s run chase, Winfield-Hill handed the ball to left-arm seamer and debutant Rachel Slater, asking her to bowl balls 41 to 45. The ground announcer failed to recognise her, introducing the bowling change as “Katie Levick”; five balls later, Slater might well have been thankful for the pseudonym – tonked for 15 runs by Dunkley. Before her “five”, Brave needed 46 from 35 balls; afterwards, the equation was 31 from 30 – a walk in the park for a pair of established batters.

Slater was always going to be nervous, playing her first tournament match in front of 7,500 spectators – so why choose that point to introduce her? Interestingly, Dunkley admitted afterwards that she had deliberately targeted Slater. “I’ve never faced her before, I looked at footage yesterday and this morning,” she said. “Being a first game debut, it was the end to target. The bowlers they’ve got are quite experienced so we tried to be tactical about that.”

The Southern Brave “party line” is a consistent one in post-match pressers right now, and Dunkley repeated it again on Saturday: “I don’t think we’ve had a proper complete performance yet throughout the competition.” This message is clearly coming from coach Charlotte Edwards, who is nothing if not a perfectionist. And yet, if this is really is Brave putting in “incomplete performances”, you have to pity the team who come up against them when they do manage that illusive “complete” one.