KSL: Vipers v Stars – Danni Wyatt’s Effortless Ton Puts Vipers In Firm Contention

12 months ago, at Arundel, Southern Vipers suffered a 9-wicket defeat to Western Storm, having been bowled out for 91. Afterwards, Vipers looked in disarray: an exhausted group of players with no real sense of togetherness. It was without doubt the lowest ebb for a side who had gone unbeaten in the first year of the competition, and only just missed out on retaining their crown second time around.

Today, at that same ground – Arundel – it was Vipers handing out the thrashing: beating Surrey Stars by almost 100 runs. After the win they immediately, as one, withdrew to the pavilion to sing their team song – “WE ARE SOUTH-ERN VIPERS” to the tune of Queen’s We Will Rock You. The contrast with last year could hardly have been greater.

The shake-up in the Vipers squad – with 5 of last year’s first XI no longer featuring – appears to have done the trick. “Everyone’s enjoying themselves, great vibe, everyone’s really close which is nice,” Danni Wyatt said afterwards. “Everyone’s playing with a smile on their face.”

Wyatt was clearly the star of the show today, hitting a 56-ball century – the first ever by an English player in the Super League. It was an innings made all the more impressive by the fact that it was hit on a difficult, spongy pitch (following rain earlier in the day). In fact, Wyatt and fellow opener Bates hit just 29 runs in the powerplay.

“It was a tricky wicket,” Wyatt said. “Me and Suzie [Bates] struggled a bit in the first few overs. It was one of those wickets where you have to just back yourself and slog it really. I came off the pitch thinking ‘wow, how did I manage that?!’”

Stars, though, had gambled everything on bowling out Marizanne Kapp with 4 successive overs up top; but although she gave away just 11 runs, as soon as she went off Wyatt seemed to actively decide to go up a gear – dispatching the first ball of Laura Marsh’s over midwicket for the first six of the innings, and going onwards and upwards from there.

“Once I was in, I wasn’t thinking and just wanted to hit boundaries. Anything up there and full I tried to get my hands through,” she said. The amazing thing was that she made it look so effortless – the six that brought up her half-century, which sailed over the deep midwicket boundary, barely made a noise, despite being struck with the full face of the bat.

Vipers then backed up her effort with a convincing display in the field – Tash Farrant and Fi Morris demolishing the Stars top order between them, and Paige Scholfield claiming two good catches in the deep, before Stafanie Taylor chipped in with 3 wickets to wrap things up. That included a comedy stumping from Tammy Beaumont – taking the gloves after Carla Rudd was omitted from today’s XI – in which Beaumont fell over twice but still managed to remove the bails to see off Sarah Taylor, who presumably will have been making a mental note not to emulate her England teammate in that particular department.

For Wyatt, as she herself acknowledged, today was important in showing that – after a difficult summer – she is still England’s best T20 batsman: “I’ve not hit a 100 for about 15 months so it’s nice to get another one!”

For Vipers meanwhile, previously neck and neck with Stars but now out clear in second place by 5 points, it sent out a clear statement that they have every intention – after missing out last year – of being present at the last ever KSL Finals Day in a fortnight’s time.

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KSL: Vipers v Storm – Random Thoughts: Fearless Farrant, Brilliant Bates And Level Luff

Fearless Farrant

For almost the whole of their run chase against Southern Vipers, Western Storm looked to be cruising to their 142-run target. On the two occasions their momentum was disrupted, though, one bowler was responsible: Tash Farrant.

Firstly, coming on to bowl the 11th over, with both Smriti Mandhana and Heather Knight looking set, Farrant outsmarted both – Smriti top-edging her slower ball to short fine leg, before Knight was castled 4 balls later. Then, after Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson had taken Storm to the brink, and with just 8 needed from the last 2 overs, Farrant again intervened: having Luff caught at mid off trying to go over the top, which in turn unsettled Wilson enough to run out her new partner Deepti Sharma.

It wasn’t quite enough for Vipers in the end, but Farrant – who England have, arguably, badly missed this summer after she lost her contract in February – at least gave them a sniff when it looked like the match was dead in the water. Farrant might no longer count as an “international” but she is still one of Vipers’ biggest assets.

Brilliant Bates

Suzie Bates has taken on a different role at the Vipers this summer: having handed the captaincy reins over to Tammy Beaumont, she is now simply the senior pro; and she seems to be quite enjoying it: “I’m a lot more relaxed off the field!” she said at close of play today.

It’s given her time to focus more on her own game, and while her 38-ball 33 was less than fluent today – “I didn’t time it from ball 1, and then tried to overhit” – she was the player trusted by Beaumont to bowl the 20th over, with Storm needing just 2 runs from it. It seemed an impossible task, but Bates breathed life into a game that should have been done and dusted.

How did she approach it? “I’ve watched enough T20 cricket to know that you’ve just got to stay in the game,” she said afterwards. “I thought if I could bowl it full and straight – sometimes you get to that point and to finish the game as a batter is the hardest thing. I thought I had nothing to lose, and if I could hit the stumps I’d be in with a chance.”

First ball she had Wilson LBW: “I fell over with excitement that she’d missed a full and straight one! Then I knew it was going to be nervy for the batters coming in, so I had my back up and wanted to take it as deep as I could.”

Next ball was a dot, that hit incoming batsman Anya Shrubsole on the pad. Her third ball then sent Shrubsole packing, swinging and missing at yet another straight one.

Fortunately for Storm, Sonia Odedra and Naomi Dattani both kept their heads – each scoring singles, to see the visitors over the line with one ball to spare.

Interestingly, Bates has barely featured with the ball of late in T20 cricket. This was the first match in this year’s KSL in which she has been called on to bowl her full allocation. She did not bowl once for New Zealand in their T20 series against Indian in February this year, and in the World T20 in the Caribbean last November she bowled just 2 overs across 4 group stage matches.

Bates, though, wants to change that. “I want to be that bowler for the White Ferns that bowls to the death,” she said today, “so it helps to get those opportunities for the Vipers.”

New Zealand could do a lot worse.

Level Luff

Heather Knight and Fran Wilson have stolen the headlines on both occasions, but in Storm’s two recent run chases – against Thunder yesterday and Vipers today – Sophie Luff, coming in at number 5, has played a key role. Today, her 58-run partnership with Wilson steadied the ship at a crucial stage in the game, the pair running hard between the wickets to ensure the run rate continued to tick over.

Yesterday against Thunder, Wilson’s half-century was made with Knight at the other end: today, with Luff, she was the senior partner, which you’d think would have added more pressure. Not according to Wilson: “I didn’t feel like that really,” she said. “I’d probably say yesterday was harder.”

“I especially like batting with Luffy. She’s really good to bat with – complements our order really well, she can hit the boundaries, but I also don’t know how she gets the singles she gets – she sees the gaps that a lot of us don’t see.”

It helps that the pair have known each other since they were both playing under-12s age-group cricket for Somerset. “A bit of psychic powers there, maybe!” Wilson joked after play. “We’ve always batted well together. We both like to run well. We’re quite different as personalities as well – she keeps me quite level.”

Storm threw away the chance to reach last year’s final after they collapsed in the semi against Surrey Stars: a bit of Level Luff in this year’s competition is just what the doctor ordered.

Women’s Ashes 3rd T20 – England Play The Long Game

Before yesterday’s match, Syd and I discussed how England would approach what was a completely dead rubber. Afterwards, Heather Knight provided the answer:

“We talked after the second game about trying to draw a line in the sand after the series and try and treat today as Day One of us getting back to where we need to be.”

It was an approach that seemed to pay dividends: England bowled better lengths than they had all series, while Lauren Winfield took advantage of a final opportunity to prove to Mark Robinson that she deserves her spot on the plane to Australia next February.

After the match, Australia even looked momentarily downcast, having fallen at the last hurdle in their goal of going unbeaten through the tour. Alyssa Healy actually had to gather the team together and remind them that nothing should be allowed to spoil their celebrations: “There was great leadership from Alyssa Healy at the end there – she brought everyone in together and said ‘lets remember how great this tour’s been’,” Matthew Mott told the media.

Of course it’s easier to play good cricket when the series has already been and gone, but last night – likely to be the last international T20 cricket England play until their tri-series ahead of the World T20 in Australia – was important in showcasing that they can at least be competitive in that tournament.

“We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us to try and catch up with the Australians, to go back to where we need to be and where we want to go,” Knight said.

“That World T20 is going to be a big focus for us now over the next 8 months. The performance we put in is a sign of what we can do.”

It was also a chance to showcase that, far from the cupboard in England being bare, there are young talents emerging: 20-year-old Mady Villiers, who only joined the Academy in November, had a game to remember, taking the crucial wickets of Healy and Ash Gardner on debut.

“Mady was outstanding,” Knight said of the newest addition to her team. “You could see from the look in her eyes, she absolutely loved it out there. That’s what you want to see – you want someone desperate to go out and perform well and she really took the opportunity with both hands.”

All the talk over the past few weeks has been about the disparities between the English and Australian domestic set-ups. Even with the ECB’s proposed changes, the worry remains that England will move further behind Australia before they can even begin to think about catching up, as the new system takes time to bed down and only moves slowly towards becoming fully professional.

With that in mind, the question becomes: When might England next win an Ashes series – 2025? 2027?

A depressing thought. But as a great philosopher once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. England took that step last night.

NEWS: ECB Backtrack On Plans To Abolish Women’s County Cricket

In the ECB’s first public announcement about their planned restructure of women’s domestic cricket from next season, Clare Connor has backtracked on the initial plan to completely abolish women’s county cricket, recognising that the weaknesses of the existing club structure are greater than she had realised.

In a piece published in the match day programme for the men’s England v Ireland Test at Lord’s, Connor says: “There will probably still need to be a place for some county cricket, while the club game develops, and we are reviewing that currently.”

She also officially confirms that the plan is for an eight-team semi-professional competition, with women in the eight teams playing both 50-over and T20 cricket, and with the eight teams set to be closely aligned to the new Women’s Hundred sides (of which there will also be eight).

The full programme piece, authored by Connor, reads as follows:

“Over the past 11 months, we’ve had a rigorous and constructive debate across all 39 counties and Wales, about how to invest the £20m the board at the ECB has approved for 2020 and 2021 to transform the women’s and girls’ game.

It has been reassuring to hear the level of support and commitment across the game for our headline plans to:

  • Develop compelling cricket activities for girls in secondary schools
  • Strengthen the club offer for female players of all abilities
  • Invest in the county talent pathway for girls
  • Build a new eight-team semi-professional competition structure in both 50-over and T20 formats, with each team being underpinned by a year-round Academy
  • Maximise investment through areas of alignment between the new eight-team semi-professional competition structure and The Hundred – Women’s Competition

The area of most debate has been about the future of the women’s county game, which has done an important job for a number of years, thanks to the dedication of volunteers who remain the bedrock of our game.

As the game has grown in popularity, our structure has needed to evolve to suit the growing demand at the recreational level. In many counties, women’s club cricket has not been sustainably developed, meaning county cricket is the only available playing opportunity of any standard or frequency.

Women’s county cricket is therefore being used in many parts of the country as a participation experience, which, everyone agrees, is far from ideal. We will be failing female recreational players if we – the ECB and the counties – do not address hardball club cricket with real commitment.

There will probably still need to be a place for some county cricket, while the club game develops, and we are reviewing that currently.

Collectively we have the opportunity to put in place a pathway that allows all areas of the game to flourish. We’ve had fantastic success with All Stars Cricket and we need to progress in other areas, so that the eight-year-old girl who has been inspired to pick up a bat can see a clear pathway to becoming a semi-pro or professional cricket, should she wish to.

There will be equal emphasis from us on improving both the participation and the performance experience for women and girls.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the women’s and girls’ game – a transformation which is vital to the future of the entire game in this country. I think we are about to start the most exciting period in the history of women’s cricket in this country.”

NEWS: Mady Villiers Called Up To England Squad For Ashes T20s

England have announced their squad for the 3 Ashes T20s which begin at Chelmsford on Friday.

The big news is that they have called up 20-year-old Essex and Surrey Stars bowling all-rounder Mady Villiers to the squad, after she impressed in the recent Academy matches against Australia A, hitting 30 off 15 balls at number 8 in the final T20 match; as well as an unbeaten half-century in the 3-day warm-up at Marlborough College against the full Australian side.

Danni Wyatt also returns to the squad having been dropped for the Test, while Georgia Elwiss retains her spot after earlier missing out on the ODIs.

England can still draw the Ashes series 8-all if they win all 3 matches in the T20 series.

Full squad:

  • Heather Knight (Berkshire)
  • Tammy Beaumont (Kent)
  • Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire)
  • Kate Cross (Lancashire)
  • Sophie Ecclestone (Lancashire)
  • Georgia Elwiss (Sussex)
  • Jenny Gunn (Nottinghamshire)
  • Amy Jones (Warwickshire)
  • Laura Marsh (Kent)
  • Nat Sciver (Surrey)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Berkshire)
  • Sarah Taylor (Sussex)
  • Mady Villiers (Essex)
  • Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire)
  • Danni Wyatt (Sussex)

OPINION: 5 Things England Need To Do To Win The Test

1. Forget The ODIs

England will rightly feel humiliated after that performance at Canterbury – that’s not how they want to be playing their cricket. At some point, they will need to look back through the video footage, do some proper analysis, and try to work out exactly what went wrong. But the time for that isn’t now. “We’ve got to get a bit of calmness, take stock and get a bit of space,” coach Mark Robinson said after the third ODI. Calmness is the right word: England are a good side and the issue isn’t that they don’t know how to bat – it’s all about what’s going on upstairs. With just a few days to readjust before the must-win Test begins on Thursday, they need to look forward, not back, or the problems will only get worse.

2. Bat Like It’s A Test

Obvious, but tricky, given how little multi-format cricket that any of these players get to participate in. With just one 3-day warm-up to adjust, at Millfield School this weekend, England need to work out a way to shift things down a gear in a relatively short space of time. On the other hand they also need to NOT approach things like they did at Canterbury 4 years ago, when they seemed to fold in on themselves completely and see “Test-match batting” as meaning “I don’t need to score any runs”. It’s a tricky balance to strike: the real answer is more women’s Tests, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be about to change any time soon… in the meantime, the Ashes are at stake!

3. Make Some Radical Selections

Mark Robinson has gone down a highly conservative route so far this series, with the same squad of players contesting all 3 ODIs, and none of the newbies getting so much as a sniff at selection. Maybe that made sense at the start, but given England’s lack of success so far, and how inexperienced almost all his players are at the 4-day format, there is no time like the present for a bit of experimenting.

Syd has already suggested that Eve Jones could be worth her weight in gold when it comes to the Test match format. In the past 10 days, she’s hit 125 for club side Porthill Park, which has added fuel to the fire. Another possible contender could be Kirstie Gordon, who took 6-85 against the main Australian side in the Academy match at Marlborough yesterday, including the wickets of Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry. The Test is a must-win – so why not be bold?

4. Find Their Knight In Shining Armour

No one has made a Test century for England since Heather Knight’s mammoth effort at Wormsley in 2013: this would be a good time for one of the top 6 to bring that particular drought to an end. A good contender to do so is Tammy Beaumont, who will almost certainly be opening the batting and will no doubt be keen to add a Test match hundred to her glittering international CV. Whoever it might be, England need someone to shoulder the responsibility and go big on what is likely to be a good batting track at Taunton (the same place where two world record T20 scores were hit on the same day last year).

5. Pray For Brunt

Somehow, you don’t quite realise how irreplaceable Katherine Brunt is until you see England play without her: she just seems to fire up the rest of the team in a way that’s difficult to put your finger on (and her wickets are pretty handy, too!) Having caught sight of her stomping around angrily after England lost the the 3rd ODI – presumably fed up with a) her own self-inflicted ankle injury, and b) the way her teammates capitulated – I reckon it’s even more imperative that she makes it back in time for the Test: no batsman wants to face down an angry Katherine Brunt. In the long term, there’s obviously a worry about what happens when she finally, inevitably, retires: for now, she’ll be raring to go – let’s hope she gets the chance!

MATCH REPORT: Hampshire Stutter At Final Hurdle

Hampshire began the day at Aldershot Cricket Club knowing that their destiny was in their own hands: if they won both games, they would be the winners of the last ever County T20 Cup.

In fact, it was 50-over County Champions Kent who stole their thunder, winning both of their matches to leapfrog Hampshire and take third place in the final standings.

The two sides faced off in the first match of the day, with Kent winning the toss and electing to bat first. Maxine Blythin took advantage of some early fortune – including being dropped behind the stumps when still in single figures – to top-score with 43: hers was eventually the first wicket to fall in the 16th over, though her opening partner Kirsty Dymond had retired hurt several minutes earlier having been hit on the upper body by a powerful Blythin drive.

Hampshire reined Kent back somewhat in the last 5 overs, with Providence Cowdrill taking 3 quick wickets, but the visitors still amassed 124-5.

Last weekend against Surrey, Hampshire had successfully chased down 155, and they initially looked on course to do again, with Maia Bouchier making up for the mix-up which caused the run out of local hero Ella Chandler by slamming Chelsea Rowson for six over square leg and playing some beautiful on drives.

However, the home side were pegged back in their chase by some tight bowling from Megan Belt and Grace Gibbs, who seems back to her best after the horrific knee injury which saw her miss the back end of last season.

With Bouchier still at the crease, Hampshire still had a chance; but in an attempt to force up the run rate the opener ending up miscuing Rowson to point in the 15th over, with Hampshire still needing 41.

The target ultimately proved out of reach, wickets tumbling in the last 3 overs as Hampshire concluded on 117-8.

In Kent’s second match, against Wales, Blythin was again the star of a low-scoring encounter, dismissed 2 runs short of her half-century but hitting a grand total of 53% of Kent’s total of 91 all out in 19 overs. Only a good low caught-and-bowled from Gabby Basketter was enough to account for Blythin, though it also saw the spinner taken off the hospital and unable to bat due to a possible fracture.

Sadly Wales were unable to back up their bowling performance with the bat – the combination of Tash Farrant and Alice Davidson-Richards leaving them reeling at 12-4 in the first 5 overs, including Rachel Priest, clean bowled by ADR.

Claire Nicholas showed some resistance but could not keep up with the rate, taking 40 balls to amass 24 before Megan Belt trapped her LBW in the 16th over, with Rowson ultimately finishing things off in the 17th as Kent won by 19 runs.

Hampshire went into the last match of the day knowing that it was all or nothing, needing to win if they were to have any chance of topping the table.

The pressure appeared to tell, with Wales’ decision to put them in quickly paying off as first Maia Bouchier and then Sam Betts fell in consecutive deliveries in Nicholas’ first over – a double-wicket maiden.

Captain Katie George was next to go, driving a ball of Danielle Gibson into the hands of Lauren Parfitt at extra cover; while Alexandra Griffiths then decimated the middle order, both Fi Morris and Lucia Kendall falling victim to identical dismissals as Bethan Gammon held 2 stonking catches at mid-on.

Charlie Dean then ran out Ella Chandler after the opener had scored 21, and only some last-minute boundaries from Providence Cowdrill in the final over allowed Hampshire to take their score past 70.

Could they defend it? Stranger things have happened in women’s county cricket, but it wasn’t to be for Hampshire this time around – Priest finally coming to the party with a 25-ball 23. While two quick wickets from Providence Cowdrill did give them a glimmer of hope, Wales were already well on their way by then, and Nicholas ultimately finished things in style with two beautiful drives for four as Wales triumphed with 3 and a half overs to spare.

So that’s that – as far as we know – for the T20 Cup. The triple-headers are long days – for the players and us! – but it’s been a blast. Thanks for having us.