OPINION: Poor Marketing and Media Coverage is Letting Regional Cricket Down

On Saturday MCC proudly issued a press release which stated that the crowd of 15,000 people at Lord’s for the England v India fixture was a record for a bilateral women’s fixture in England.

24 hours later, less than 500 people were present to watch the final of the 2022 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy – a thrilling game of cricket which came down to the very last ball and saw Northern Diamonds triumph over Southern Vipers by just 2 runs. The cricket was phenomenal and the surroundings were iconic – but (almost) no one came.

This should have been the perfect marketing opportunity for regional cricket – a Weekend of Women’s Cricket to wrap up the season at Lord’s, with a captive audience present from the previous day and some of the same players in the England squad present on both occasions. Not least Charlie Dean, who after inadvertently finding herself the centre of attention on Saturday then played another 100 overs of cricket on Sunday – good on her!

But if we are purely judging by the size of the crowd, then… it flopped.

Of course, not everyone who might have been interested in women’s cricket was able to get to Lord’s – they could instead watch on Sky at home. Or could they? The game was pushed onto the red button after 3pm – it was still available on YouTube, but even so the decision suggests that someone at Sky felt that keeping it on a main channel was a “waste”.

That’s not even mentioning the quality of the coverage, which was more akin to a poor live stream. Firstly, it was fixed camera. Secondly, as a friend of ours watching at home said: “the sound went up and down like a yo-yo, and at times the ground effects microphones packed up completely. At others, you couldn’t hear the commentators.”

And this for a day which was supposed to be the pinnacle of the regional calendar. Imagine if T20 Blast Finals Day was treated like this?

The whole day was symptomatic of a wider problem. The new professional domestic structure is now three seasons old… and yet the marketing of regional cricket is still wildly inconsistent, part-time and in many cases almost non-existent. The replies to my tweet made this pretty clear:

If you’ve time, it’s worth reading the replies in full, but here’s a sample:

Perhaps more importantly, the disparity between attendance at the RHF Trophy final and the final of the Women’s Hundred a few weeks previously (20,000) highlighted more clearly than ever before the extent to which regional cricket is living in the shadow of The Hundred.

I’ve loved attending and covering both seasons of The Hundred. It’s been incredibly exciting to see the huge crowds for women’s cricket, and be able to watch the entire tournament from start to end on Sky and the BBC.

But for me, that was just Step One. Step Two is about translating those audiences into fans of the non-Hundred women’s teams as well. Because if the success of The Hundred, built on a vast marketing budget, is coming at the expense of regional cricket – then is it really success at all?

RHF TROPHY: Lauren Winfield-Hill Back To Her Best For Northern Diamonds After “Dark Winter”

Lauren Winfield-Hill said that she was “chuffed to bits” after top-scoring for Northern Diamonds in a hard-fought final against Southern Vipers on Sunday at Lord’s, which saw Diamonds secure their first ever regional title by just two runs.

“We’ve come close to the Vipers a few times now and we’ve got a few wounds against them,” she said. “We managed to hold our nerve.”

The match-winning performance came just a few weeks after she helped Oval Invincibles sweep to victory in the Women’s Hundred at the same ground – rounding off a prolific season with the bat.

She was the overall leading run-scorer in the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy with 470 runs; and earlier finished fourth in our Hundred batting rankings.

“My form this summer’s been the best it’s ever been, in terms of different competitions, different oppositions, different surfaces – I’ve adapted better than I ever have before,” she said.

The remarkable thing about her recent performances is that they have come after the most difficult winter of her career, during which she was dispensed with by England two matches into the World Cup.

“It’s no secret that I’ve found the winter hard, the bubbles hard, being dropped from England hard. I could barely even function as a human being. I was in a pretty dark place,” she said, after struggling to hold back tears in the post-match presentation.

“To be able to turn it around, fall in love with the game and take pressure off myself, enjoy what’s in front of me, has been the most enjoyable bit. I’ve loved every game, and that’s reflected in how I’ve performed. I’ve done a lot of work to get myself back into that place, and it’s nice seeing the fruits of that.”

What enabled Diamonds to finally get over the line after twice falling at the final hurdle to Vipers in the 2020 and 2021 RHF finals? Winfield-Hill pointed to the way that numerous players in the squad had stepped up at crucial times, including 21-year-old Bess Heath, who has had a breakthrough season in the middle order and scored 44 runs at No.6 in Sunday’s final.

“It’s not been a one-man band. That’s been our real strength,” Winfield-Hill said. “This year our preparation, how tight we’ve been as a team, how many people have contributed at different times was the difference this year that enabled us to get over the line.”

“I was in and out last year with England stuff,” she added. “It’s been nice to feel part of it this year, rather than the adopted one that just comes in every now and again.”

With an increasingly professional set-up at domestic level, it’s more important now than ever that consistency in regional cricket is valued on its own terms, rather than seeing runs in the RHF and CE Cup purely as a means to an end – that end being a place in an England squad.

The door may currently be closed on an England return for Winfield-Hill; but so what? Being instrumental in Diamonds winning their maiden title, and doing it at Lord’s – that’s a pretty good day to wrap up a monumental season at the office.

NEWS: Women’s Ashes To Feature Five-Day Test

The ECB have today announced the fixtures for the 2023 Women’s Ashes series – and the big news is that the Test at Trent Bridge will be held over five days.

The Test will be only the second in history ever to be played over five days, following on from repeated disappointment after a series of recent rain-affected draws – the most recent against South Africa in June.

The multi-format series will look similar to recent Women’s Ashes with one Test, three ODIs and three T20s – however, in a departure from previous series, the Test match will be played at the start, with the T20 leg in the middle, and the ODIs wrapping up the schedule. Two of the T20s will be played as evening games in London, at The Oval and Lord’s – the first time the Women’s Ashes has been played at these grounds.

It had previously been suggested that the question of a fifth day for women’s Tests was in the hands of the ICC, but the decision to host a five-day Test appears to have been taken by the ECB independently – there is no mention in today’s press release of any change to the ICC’s overall women’s Test match playing conditions.

It is also the first time ever that the Women’s Ashes fixtures have been announced at the same time as the Men’s Ashes fixtures, with the ECB running a new joint advertising campaign with the tagline: “One Epic Rivalry, Two Epic Ashes.” This marks an interesting point of difference from Cricket Australia’s strategy which aims to give the Women’s Ashes its own window, and to market it separately from the equivalent men’s series.

The full fixture list is below:

June 22 to 26 – Test match, Trent Bridge

July 1 – T20, Edgbaston, 6.35pm

July 5 – T20, Kia Oval, 6pm

July 8 – T20, Lord’s, 6.35pm

July 12 – ODI, Bristol, 1pm

July 16 – ODI, Ageas Bowl, 11am

July 18 – ODI, Taunton, 1pm

NEWS: Amy Jones To Continue As Captain For ODIs Despite Beaumont Recall

Amy Jones will continue as England captain for the three ODIs against India, despite Tammy Beaumont’s recall to the squad.

Jones had previously stated that she was unsure about taking on the role in the longer format, saying on Monday: “I’m not sure I’ll be throwing my hat in the ring. I think fifty overs is a whole other ball game.” It had been widely mooted that Beaumont, who is a former England Academy skipper and led the Welsh Fire in this year’s Women’s Hundred competition, might feel more comfortable taking up the reins in the ODIs.

However, the ECB appear to have opted for continuity, with Jones presumably set to continue filling in until Heather Knight returns from injury.

As well as Beaumont, Charlie Dean and Emma Lamb also find their way back into the squad, after missing out during the Commonwealth Games; while (of those who featured in the T20s v India) Bryony Smith and Sarah Glenn have been omitted.

That means that Alice Capsey and Freya Kemp have both earned maiden call-ups to the ODI squad – Capsey effectively making herself undroppable after a winning innings in the T20 series decider at Bristol on Thursday.

Interestingly, Maia Bouchier – despite being included in the ODI squad – has been released to play for Southern Vipers in Saturday’s RHF Trophy match against Diamonds, which will decide which of the two teams progresses automatically to the final.

The full England ODI squad is below:

  • Amy Jones (captain)
  • Tammy Beaumont
  • Lauren Bell
  • Maia Bouchier
  • Alice Capsey
  • Kate Cross
  • Freya Davies
  • Alice Davidson-Richards
  • Charlie Dean
  • Sophia Dunkley
  • Sophie Ecclestone
  • Freya Kemp
  • Emma Lamb
  • Issy Wong
  • Danni Wyatt

RHF TROPHY: Vipers v Thunder – Thunder Fail To Get Over The Hill

Southern Vipers beat Thunder at the Ageas Bowl by 4 wickets with 3 overs to spare, having dug themselves out of yet another hole with the bat.

Chasing 204 to win, Vipers had been 100 for 5 in the 26th over after set batter Paige Scholfield (31) was trapped LBW to Shachi Pai. Vipers super-fan Syd had his head in his hands and it looked to be as good as over.

But Vipers being Vipers, they found a middle-order pairing to rescue them from disaster…

This time it was Emily Windsor, who had done exactly the same thing a week ago against Southern Vipers Brave in the final of The Hundred; and Chloe Hill, who had ALSO done the same thing six weeks ago, in the last round of RHF Trophy games against Sunrisers.

Windsor and Hill have had very different Augusts. Windsor played 4 matches for Invincibles in The Hundred but was called upon to bat just once – her thrilling 13 not out in the final the difference between a win and a loss for Invincibles. Her Vipers teammate Charlotte Taylor, sitting in the crowd at Lord’s, reportedly did not know who she should be cheering for when Windsor came to the crease.

Hill, meanwhile, was not picked up by a Hundred franchise. She spent August captaining Worcestershire Rapids in the 50-over West Midlands Regional Cup – ideal preparation for the RHF Trophy. Some may consider county cricket unimportant but for players like Hill, who draw on their experience at county to produce match-winning performances at regional level, county cricket remains a crucial link in the pathway chain.

Thunder were without their premier bowler Alex Hartley – who is commentating in the men’s Test at The Oval this weekend – but it wasn’t their “second string” bowlers that Vipers chose to target. Hill took on the bowling of Deandra Dottin, who offered up short ball after short ball for her delectation.

“I don’t mind a short ball!” Hill laughed after the match. “She bowled in my area and if a bowler’s going to bowl in my area, I’m going to play shots regardless of who they are.”

“The first four that went off her, I was like ‘ohhh, that felt good!’”

Thunder will have paid good money to have Dottin rejoin them for the final three rounds of the RHF but on today’s performance, it could have been better spent. Having scored just 5 runs with the bat, she went on to concede 36 runs from her 6 overs – the most expensive bowler in the Thunder attack.

For Thunder, then, a day that started well – with Emma Lamb (63) and Ellie Threlkeld (79) both putting in good days at the office – ultimately ended in disappointment. After today’s loss, they are now out of contention to make the final three and gain a place in the play-off.

Vipers, meanwhile, are now officially qualified alongside Northern Diamonds, who enjoyed a bonus-point win against Western Storm; with South East Stars still in pole position to join them.

NEWS: LV=Insurance Launches Media Diversity Grant with BCOMS and the Cricket Writers’ Club

LV= Insurance, the Official Domestic Test and County Cricket Partner of the England & Wales Cricket Board, today launches a grant to drive diversity in the cricket media by giving a young person the opportunity to cover the 2023 Test Summer as a cricket journalist.

The Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS) will identify candidates for a fully-paid five-month internship with LV= with their brief to cover press conferences, matches and events taking place during the 2023 domestic cricket season.

The individual will be working with journalists from The Cricket Writers’ Club (CWC) – a partner of LV= Insurance – across the 2023 summer and get the chance to shadow members of the national cricket media at matches including the Ashes and within newsrooms, as well as co-writing match reports and news stories.

Media titles such as PA Media, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Cricketer and CRICKETher have already agreed to support the candidate with opportunities to work on their sports desk and shadow at events.

BCOMS will be liaising with their northern and southern cohorts to identify a selection of applicants and, following interviews, the top three applicants will then be asked to take on a pre-assigned writing task and submit their entries to an expert judging panel.

The judging panel will consist of:

  • Dean Wilson, Cricket Correspondent at The Daily Mirror
  • Raf Nicholson, Editor of CRICKETher
  • Andrew Ducille, Operations Manager at BCOMS
  • Lisa Leroux, Social Media Lead at BCOMS
  • Jon Mansley, Sales and Marketing Director at LV= General Insurance

Once the panel has decided the successful candidate, they will be unveiled at an event run by LV= Insurance in October in London.

The successful candidate will begin work on 20th March 2023 and spend their summer working on activating LV= Insurance’s partnership with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), shadowing the national cricket media and covering Test matches and the LV= County Championship for both the LV= Cricket Hub and on behalf of selected UK cricket media titles.

Heather Smith, Managing Director at LV= General Insurance, said: “It’s very exciting to be able to announce the launch of our Media Diversity Grant, which will offer a young person from a diverse background the opportunity to work in cricket. Bringing more diversity to the sport is incredibly important and with the world of sport journalism being hugely competitive, we’re delighted to be providing this opportunity.  Over the last 18 months, we’ve worked hard to open up cricket and support new communities through our £1 million grassroots cricket initiative #Funds4Runs which is co-funded with the ECB and, working together, we’re keen to continue doing as much as we can to support the cricket community.”

George Dobell, Chairman of the Cricket Writers’ Club, said: “It has become painfully apparent that our sport isn’t as inclusive as it should be. Alongside the Bethan James Bursary, which we introduced in 2021, this grant is a tangible attempt to improve things. We’re grateful to LV= Insurance for their investment and delighted to support it.”

Drew Christie, Chair of BCOMS, said: “Cricket has a long and rich tradition in Black communities, and it’s important that this is reflected in those that frame the narratives around the game, as well as participate in it. BCOMS is pleased that LV= Insurance and the Cricket Writers’ Club recognise the value of working to improve diversity within the sport, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity the Media Diversity Grant will offer aspiring Black cricket journalists to develop their careers.”

THE HUNDRED: Brave v Rockets – Nat Sciver Is The Real Match Hero

In what is surely the most thrilling match in the short history of the Women’s Hundred, Nat Sciver took Trent Rockets to within touching distance of a shock win against Southern Brave, before falling just short off the last ball.

Rockets had looked dead and buried with 24 runs needed off the final five balls; but with Tahlia McGrath tasked with bowling the set, Sciver smashed her for three consecutive sixes over the leg side – two of which went several rows back into the crowd, making a mockery of the shorter “women’s” boundaries.

The equation then became four runs needed off the final ball… but an exhausted Sciver could only manage a single, leaving Brave to celebrate reaching their second consecutive Hundred final.

Brave pride themselves on being an excellent fielding unit, but several chances went begging against Sciver today – including a bad drop at mid-off by Molly Strano when Sciver had just 8 runs on the board. They will need to tighten things up if they are to have a chance against the all-round excellence of Oval Invincibles in Saturday’s final at Lord’s.

On the other hand, after finding themselves 32 for 3 and then 58 for 4 in the first innings of the match, today is yet another example to add to Brave’s hallmark list of “winning a game which we should really have lost”. Afterwards, a relieved-looking McGrath reflected that the team had faced a rollercoaster few days, unsure if they would have to play in today’s Eliminator until 6pm on Wednesday.

“There’s been a lot of travel,” she said. “There’s been a lot of unknowns, a lot of packing, a lot of changes in plans and hotels and destinations.”

“But the most important thing is we turn up and we play cricket. We know that we can win from any position – that gives us a lot of confidence going into tomorrow.”

Sciver, by contrast, looked close to tears when she appeared on the BBC immediately after the loss – telling Isa Guha: “I’m annoyed at myself [for missing out on the final ball]”.

That interview summed up Sciver’s Hundred, which has proven something of an emotional rollercoaster, after spending the past three weeks feeling almost the entire weight of the Rockets batting on her own shoulders. Only she and Elyse Villani feature in our Top 20-ranked batters; while Rockets were overall the weakest batting team in the group stages.

Juggling it with her bowling AND the captaincy ultimately proved too much, with Villani asked by Sciver to take over for the final two matches, to allow her the chance to focus purely on her own game.

“It was a conversation from Nat and Nunny [Brunt], they brought it towards myself and Sall [coach Salliann Briggs],” Villani said after the Eliminator. “They thought it might be the best fit for the last couple of games.”

“I was a little bit surprised, but at the same time, I’ve been helping them in that role, having conversations and that sort of stuff. I know they’ve had a lot on their plate and they’ve had a lot of cricket. I could completely understand where they were coming from.”

It proved a wise decision, with Sciver striking her best score of the tournament against Brave – 72 not out from just 36 balls (not to mention figures of 1 for 16).

Unfortunately for Sciver, there appears to be no such chance of a break from the limelight when England’s series against India begins next week.

“She will be the England captain while Heather Knight’s injured,” Villani confirmed. “She’s got a big job coming up.”

As I’ve written recently, asking the world’s leading all-rounder to deal with captaincy on top of everything else is a LOT… and yet the problem for England is that they are left with a total lack of other plausible candidates to do the job. Sciver’s Hundred may now be over but her biggest challenge – picking up the pieces of an England side who looked shot in the bronze medal match of the Commonwealth Games four weeks ago – is just beginning.

THE HUNDRED: Spirit v Invincibles – Truly Mady Deeply

Oval Invincibles thrashed London Spirit by 9 wickets with 42 balls remaining at Lord’s to secure their spot in the finals of The Hundred, sending Spirit crashing out with a round of matches still to play.

Spirit should have been on a high after racking up their first win of the tournament on Wednesday against Welsh Fire. Instead they essentially lost the match within the first 25 balls, facing down 13 dots and losing 3 wickets – including the biggie of Beth Mooney, who sent up a tame catch to Alice Capsey at cover.

For the first time in this year’s tournament, Mady Villiers was tasked with opening the bowing; and after having Dani Gibson caught at mid-off, captain Dane van Niekerk chose to keep her on for a second consecutive set. The wicket of Mooney was her reward.

Before today, Villiers had bowled her full allocation of balls only once in this year’s Hundred. With Sophia Smale launching onto the scene so successfully, and Alice Capsey continuing where she left off last year, Villiers has been somewhat overshadowed: against Trent Rockets she didn’t bowl at all, while in Invincibles’ last match v Phoenix, she bowled just 10 balls – neither set in the powerplay. But she made up for it today, finishing with figures of 4 for 12 and the Match Hero award.

So what did she do differently?

“I just kept it more simple,” she said after the match. “Previously I’ve looked too much at what the other players do and I’ve focused too much on what the other person’s skills are, rather than what my best ball is.”

“I bowled my arm ball today more than I’ve bowled it in the other two games put together.”

Interestingly, her third and fourth wickets – Naomi Dattani and Grace Scrivens – were both bowled, a mode of dismissal which is unusual for Villiers. A lot more of her wickets than “average” come from stumpings (20%, compared with an average in women’s cricket of 7%) – only 15% of her dismissals are bowled (compared with an average of 24%).

Or, as Villiers put it: “I got two bowleds today. I don’t think I’ve got too many bowleds in my life!”

With Invincibles facing Manchester Originals in their final group-stage match – a game which could be important in deciding whether they qualify automatically for the final – a boost of confidence for a spinner who has so far been discarded by England this summer won’t go amiss.

Meanwhile, Spirit limped along to 80 all out, losing wickets regularly along the way and facing down far too many dot balls; leaving Suzie Bates and Lauren Winfield-Hill to come out and show them how it should have been done, smashing 12 boundaries between them (4 more than Invincibles managed in their entire innings).

Despite a revamp of their overseas ranks, with Beth Mooney and Amelia Kerr brought in to replace Chloe Tryon and Deandra Dottin (who were both felt to have underperformed), Spirit’s batting just hasn’t fired this year. Tammy Beaumont’s decision to move to Welsh Fire was a big blow; but of course the loss of Heather Knight just days before the competition started was the real biggie.

“Heather is a great person to have around, such a great leader,” Naomi Dattani said after the match. “Her experience and nous with the bat – we definitely miss having her. She’s around today and it’s been nice to have her in the dressing room and use that experience where we can.”

Dattani added that Spirit’s lop-sided schedule hadn’t helped matters:

“Three games away [to start] – we were on the road for 10, 11 days. We needed to start well. We had a couple of close games and if one of those were a win, it might have got us going.”

“We didn’t get over the line in the first couple of games and then we were on the back foot from there.”

THE HUNDRED: Invincibles v Phoenix – We Live In Interesting Times

Oval Invincibles pulled off a convincing 8-wicket win against Birmingham Phoenix at The Oval on Tuesday, handing them a first defeat of the season and pulling ahead of them in the race for a spot in the top three.

Invincibles set up the win by restricting table-toppers Phoenix to the lowest score so far in The Hundred this season – 105 for 7 – achieving the feat even with their best bowler Marizanne Kapp sitting out with “quad soreness”.

Just as they did in the 2021 competition, Invincibles are proving the value of a strong bowling unit tasked with clear plans. They are also, again, drawing on young players to achieve success – Alice Capsey, Sophia Smale and Ryana MacDonald-Gay are all ranked in the top 10 bowlers so far in the competition.

Smale was crucial today in the powerplay, helping restrict Phoenix to a score of just 23, and running out towards midwicket to take a catch off her own bowling and get rid of the exceedingly dangerous Sophie Devine. If she isn’t quite going to do a Capsey and launch a full international career within 12 months of the competition, 17-year-old Smale can at least feel fairly confident of bagging a spot in the inaugural U19 World Cup, scheduled for South Africa in January.

Smale’s brilliant diving catch to see off Georgia Elwiss, running around from short third in front of a huge crowd at The Oval, was the kind of thing we wouldn’t have seen domestic players pull off a few years ago – they’d have been overwhelmed by the occasion; and short on the requisite skill. Vive the regional system. As Syd said on Twitter, it typified a fantastic effort in the field from Invincibles, who made it very difficult for Phoenix to score freely.

In response, Invincibles got off to a flyer, helped by the fact that Sophie Devine decided to bowl Phoebe Franklin in the powerplay instead of Emily Arlott (who ended the match as by far the most economical Phoenix bowler, conceding just 8 runs off her 17 balls). Capsey showed her disdain for Franklin, getting off the mark with a huge six over long-on, as Invincibles raced to 41 for 1 in the first 25.

Phoenix did manage to peg them back after Capsey miscued Arlott to short third off the 47th ball, with Dane van Niekerk looking like someone who hasn’t batted in a cricket match for months on end – because, well, she hasn’t. But Lauren Winfield-Hill (now the competition’s third leading run-scorer, behind Wolvaardt and Dottin) eventually brought it home for her new team with 13 balls to spare. Is Winfield-Hill this season’s “best new buy”?

Hopefully van Niekerk’s time in the middle today will have helped restore some of her old confidence, after Phoenix helpfully fluffed a run out chance against her early on, allowing her to go on and make a run-a-ball 21*. Oddly, though, she didn’t bowl; it’s not clear whether that was her choice or coach Jonathan Batty’s.

What role will DvN play in the rest of the competition? An interview by Matt Roller with stand-in skipper Suzie Bates on Cricinfo, published today, is unclear on the answer to that question. Bates describes events so far in The Hundred as an “interesting time”: “It’s just one game at a time at the moment: I’m waiting to be told what the team needs from me,” she says. Hmmmmm. There is something very strange going on inside the Invincibles camp at the moment and I’m not sure we’ve got to the bottom of it yet. Watch this space.

THE HUNDRED: Invincibles v Brave – Is Dropping Your Captain A Smart Move?

It’s the age-old question in cricket – should a captain be selected first, and the team put in place around them; or should you select your best XI, and then choose a captain from that? Or, to put it a different way, how much does the wisdom and charisma of a captain matter, over and above their cricketing skills?

The Oval Invincibles management seem pretty clear on the answer to the above. In their match against Southern Brave on Sunday, they were happy to dispense with established skipper Dane van Niekerk, in order to be able to field their three other overseas players Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail and Suzie Bates. “We have four quality [overseas] players and the management decided that this is the best combination”, stand-in captain Bates said at the toss.

It’s pretty universally acknowledged that van Niekerk’s captaincy created a team environment last year which was conducive to success and ultimately led to Invincibles winning the title. OK, she didn’t have to bat in the opening game on Thursday; but dropping her seemed, well… brave. [Ed: That’s the type of pun I expect from Syd, not you.]

Whether it cost Invincibles the game is (obviously) hard to quantify, but it certainly didn’t help.

Brave had two “big” phases of their innings. The 25-ball powerplay saw Smriti Mandhana having lots of fun smoking boundaries, with Danni Wyatt’s main role at the other end being to get her partner on strike and keep her there.

Invincibles pulled it back well in the middle phases – Brave lost 5 wickets for 40 runs between the 37th and the 72nd balls. Sophia Smale was excellent yet again – a late replacement for the competition in place of the injured Emma Jones, could she be the Hundred’s equivalent of Linsey Smith, who was a last-minute injury replacement in the first year of the KSL (and went on to catch the eye of then-England coach Mark Robinson)?

After Bates put down a simple chance at midwicket off Smale’s first ball of the day, the 17-year-old kept patient, and smart. In her next set, she tempted Wyatt down the track a couple of times, and ultimately had her stumped. She then did for possibly the best T20 batter in the world at the moment, Tahlia McGrath, courtesy of an absolutely brilliant catch from Kirstie White diving forwards at short third. Perhaps most importantly, 10 out of the 20 balls Smale bowled were dots.

But at the back-end, Freya Kemp and Georgia Adams were able to take advantage of Bates’ decision to front-load her best bowlers, adding 47 runs off the final 25 balls.

With Invincibles already light on bowling due to the absence of Alice Capsey (sitting out with “stiffness” after Thursday night’s ankle injury), and Bates unable to turn her arm over due to her long-standing shoulder issues (she hasn’t bowled a ball in anger since the 2020/21 WBBL), it seemed to make even less sense to assume they could do without van Niekerk’s leg-spin.

Invincibles’ efforts at the death were also damaged by the fact that they dropped behind the required over rate, and were therefore only allowed three fielders outside the circle for the final 10 balls of the innings. There seemed to be a LOT of chat going on between balls and “sets” between Bates, Kapp and Ismail – too many captains spoiling the broth? – which certainly didn’t help matters.

In reply, Invincibles got off to a decent start, with Winfield-Hill and Bates adding 38 runs in the 25-ball powerplay. Kapp, too, did her best to jog things along, smashing 16 runs from Amanda-Jade Wellington’s second “set” of the day, including a slog-swept six.

But the “golden arm” of Georgia Adams, who bowled both Winfield-Hill and Kapp in the space of 14 balls, proved ruinous to their run-chase. There were some brave fireworks from Ryana Macdonald-Gay, but a lack of contributions from the Invincibles’ middle-order had essentially already cost them the game by that point.

If only they’d had the player who was the competition’s leading run-scorer in 2021 at their disposal – a specialist in the middle-order, if you will – to stabilise their chase…

One of the reasons why Invincibles were able to win the 2021 Women’s Hundred was their team culture. It makes this decision, which appears to have been imposed on the players with little to no notice, even more bizarre. Let’s hope it’s just a blip, or things could quickly get very difficult indeed for the Oval-based team.