#WT20 – Five Reasons To Be Proud Of England (And Scotland)

So #WT20 2018 is done and dusted and we’re getting ready to fly back home, away from mosquitos and back to winter coats. But, while England couldn’t quite snatch the trophy away from Australia, we’re still proud to support them. Here’s why:

1. They Reached The Final Against All Odds

England did most of their preparation for this tournament in a tent at Loughborough, had their warm-up fixture against Australia rained off, and then spent days cooped up in hotel rooms in St Lucia while the rain came down. The rain even cost them points when their fixture against Sri Lanka was abandoned without a ball being bowled. Despite that they reached their second global final in 15 months.

“We’ve shown some brilliant heart and brilliant fight in this tournament,” Heather Knight said. She was spot on.

2. They Successfully Blooded New Players

In a surprise move, Mark Robinson chose to throw all 3 of his debutants (Linsey Smith, Kirstie Gordon and Sophia Dunkley) in at the deep end in the same match. It was sink or swim: and they all swum.

Dunkley had to wait until her third match to get her first opportunity with the bat, but it was worth the wait as she top-scored against West Indies to take England to a competitive total in a match that they only just lost. Smith bowled well in the powerplay and picked up her first international wicket in only her third over of the tournament.

Meanwhile Kirstie Gordon topped off her meteoric rise into international cricket by finishing as England’s leading wicket-taker. Gordon remains a proud Scot (Scottish readers, please note the title of this piece!) but is equally proud to wear the England colours. It’s been great to see young cricketers making their mark on the side so quickly.

3. They Overcame The Loss Of Sarah Taylor And Katherine Brunt

Taylor’s and Brunt’s were big shoes to fill, two senior players with over 400 caps between them. Cue Amy Jones and Nat Sciver stepping into the breach.

Not having a settled role in the side has made life difficult for Jones in the past but in this tournament she showed a new confidence and maturity with the bat, her innings in the semi-final in tricky conditions a case in point.

Her partner in that run chase, Nat Sciver, has been seen largely as a batsman in recent years, but having remodelled her action just prior to this tournament she showed off just what she can do with the ball, opening the bowling in all but one of England’s matches and taking 3-4 against South Africa.

4. They Showed They Are A Better, Fitter Side Than They Were In 2016

In 2016, in the wake of England’s loss to Australia in the World Twenty20 semi-final, Mark Robinson identified one key issue: fitness. During this tournament England showed that they have taken that critique to heart, working hard over the past 2 years to reach peak physical condition. Their running between the wickets has been lightning quick, creating singles that just wouldn’t have been there in 2016. On pitches where boundaries were hard to find, that was crucial.

5. They Have The Best Fans In The World

Of all the teams bar West Indies, who had the obvious advantage of a home crowd, England were far and away the best supported side in the tournament. Fans came from far and wide, some to their first ever international tournament, having watched the World Cup last year and become smitten with a brilliant team. We know how they feel: we’ve loved every minute of watching this team too.

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NEWS: England Announce Academy Squad And Restructure

The ECB have today confirmed the list of Academy players for 2018/19, as well as announcing another revamp of the pathway system, with the Junior and Senior Academy squads now once again merged into one.

The big news is that Lancashire Thunder wicketkeeper Ellie Threlkeld has been dropped from the squad, leaving England with no Academy keeper – Mark Robinson apparently confident that Sarah Taylor and Amy Jones will do the job for a number of years to come.

Several other players who were in the Academy last year have also been “promoted”, with Freya Davies, Alice Davidson-Richards and Linsey Smith all now on “Rookie” contracts.

A question mark remains over Bryony Smith, who is no longer in the Academy squad but who played for the full side earlier in the year in the India tri-series. We understand that she has been training with the full squad for several months, and the likelihood is that she is also now a contracted “Rookie”, though the ECB will not be announcing the full list of contracted players until after the World Twenty20.

An additional 13 players have also been named in a new “Winter Training Squad”, which looks like it will de facto replace the old Junior Academy, with the aim to offer support for players who are currently seen as having the potential to be part of the EWA in the future.

The full squads are below:

England Women’s Academy

  • Lauren Bell (Berkshire)
  • Hollie Armitage (Yorkshire)
  • Georgia Boyce (Nottinghamshire)
  • Emma Lamb (Lancashire)
  • Charlie Dean (Hampshire)
  • Sophia Dunkley (Middlesex)
  • Danielle Gibson (Gloucestershire)
  • Mady Villiers (Essex)
  • Kirstie Gordon (Nottinghamshire)
  • Ellie Mitchell (Cornwall)
  • Amy Gordon (Surrey)
  • Ella McCaughan (Sussex)

Training Squad

  • Eva Gray (Surrey)
  • Maia Bouchier (Middlesex)
  • Bess Heath (Derbyshire)
  • Sarah Glenn (Derbyshire)
  • Rhianna Southby (Surrey)
  • Issy Wong (Warwickshire)
  • Nat Wraith (Gloucestershire)
  • Leah Dobson (Yorkshire)
  • Ria Fackrell (Warwickshire)
  • Georgia Draper (Yorkshire)
  • Lucia Kendall (Hampshire)
  • Alice Capsey (Surrey)
  • Helen Fenby (Durham)

#WT20 – England v West Indies

This was the tournament thriller we’d all been waiting for – West Indies eventually winning with a mere 3 balls to spare. From England’s perspective, though, it should never have got that close.

Was this England’s worst batting performance of the Mark Robinson era? Of England’s top 6, only Tammy Beaumont made it into double figures, and it could have been even worse than that: Beaumont herself was dropped on 12, to a skier that the Windies keeper couldn’t quite cling onto.

At one stage it even looked like England could be dismissed for their record lowest score in T20Is – 87 v Australia at Hove in 2015 (a performance which this was reminiscent of at times).

Enter Sophia Dunkley for her first forage into international batting. She wouldn’t have been human if she hadn’t been nervous – and there were certainly some anxious swipes early on – but this is a player who, as I’ve written before, isn’t cowed easily. To finish as England’s top-scorer on debut, to stand firm as all around you lose their heads (Ed: do you mean wickets?), and to hit England’s first six of the tournament in the process – that takes a certain kind of temperament.

Captain Heather Knight summed it up afterwards:

“She has had to wait 3 games to get out there and get the bat in hand, and she has been itching at the bit to do that. The way she played, under that amount of pressure in front of 10,000 people – I’m really pleased for her.”

Dunkley was of course ably backed up by Anya Shrubsole, who after batting for 8 overs then came straight out to open the bowling. Her inswingers delivered two quick wickets in her first over, leaving West Indies 3-2 and England suddenly in with an unexpected shot at winning this match.

Had she taken a third, all might well have been different. Deandra Dottin could easily have been dismissed when still on 0* – Shrubsole inducing a miscue that fell only just safe of Sophie Ecclestone at mid-off. As it was, her 46 off 52 balls was crucial as West Indies wended their way towards the target.

“We held our nerve,” Dottin said afterwards, when asked about the difference between the two sides today. “We had a never die attitude.”

England, meanwhile, appeared to completely lose their heads in the field. It was as if, after Dottin began doing her thing, panic set in: there were all manner of fumbles, poor throws which could otherwise have been real run out opportunities, and just plain dropped catches. It was odd, too, that Knight chose to persist with Dani Hazell – who had gone at 9 an over in her first outing – when she could have turned to the leg-spin of Dunkley, or even bowled herself.

“It was very difficult conditions – the ball went very high, and fielding under the lights with the dark skies is something we haven’t done in this competition yet,” Knight said afterwards. “A little bit more skill and composure would have got us over the line.”

Skill and composure will be exactly what is required on Thursday, where they are now destined to meet India (not Australia as many expected) in their semi-final.

#WT20 – England v South Africa

I’ll admit to experiencing a fair few nerves ahead of today’s match. As a must-win game for England, I was worried.

That seems a long time ago now.

England absolutely trampled all over South Africa with the ball. Linsey Smith carried on from where she left off the other day, introduced in only the third over of the powerplay and claiming the wicket of Laura Wolvaardt with her fourth delivery. England did get somewhat overexcited early on – chucking away their DRS review on an Anya Shrubsole ball that was missing Lizelle Lee’s leg stump by a fair old whack – but with Lee the big South Africa wicket, perhaps that was understandable.

“It ended up being a terrible review really,” Shrubsole told CRICKETher afterwards. “I thought it was bit closer than it was, and then you watch a replay. It was one of those things – DRS is new to everyone and we are getting used to it.”

By the halfway stage England had already broken the backbone of the South African innings, reducing them from 27-1 to 30-4. Kirstie Gordon again bowled well, but it was Nat Sciver – with remarkable figures of 4-1-4-3 – who starred.

While it seemed incongruous for Mark Robinson to stick with an unchanged side, not bringing in Tash Farrant on this seamer’s wicket, the performance of Sciver today showed that she is quite capable of stepping up in Katherine Brunt’s stead, Farrant or no. After her good showing with the ball in this season’s KSL – 10 wickets at 28 – Sciver can now, I think, be considered a frontline T20 bowler, rather than a batter-who-bowls. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what has changed for her over the past few months, but something certainly has.

“She has worked really hard leading up to this – made a little bit of a technical change to her action, and the ball is coming out beautifully,” said Shrubsole of her new-ball partner. “We’ve always known that she is capable of this and she is a world class allrounder – she has shown it with the bat in the past, and she is showing it with the ball now in this tournament.”

Shrubsole then wrapped things up with a 20th over hat-trick. Easy pickings in one sense; but this was the clinical performance that we didn’t see against Bangladesh – England determined not to take their foot off the pedal until their opponents were ground into the dust.

By the time South Africa took the field, they were already thoroughly demoralised, as evidenced by some terrible pieces of fielding – new keeper Faye Tunnicliffe letting through 4 byes and Masabata Klaas failing to collect a straightforward pick-up at third man. It didn’t help that DRS was unavailable for much of the England innings due to a power outage. (Power cuts appear to be common here in St Lucia – we had one in our villa a few days back!)

Meanwhile the England openers, after such a disastrous start against Bangladesh on Monday, seem to have recovered their joie de vivre, presumably due to being able to train properly over the past 3 days thanks to some Caribbean sunshine. It was a shame they couldn’t finish the job, but to reach 55 without losing a wicket set the platform for the middle-order that was so non-existent on Monday.

So South Africa are out of it; while England are assured of a place in the semi-finals, after West Indies beat Sri Lanka.

From the South African perspective, after such a good showing in last year’s 50-over World Cup this tournament has been a huge disappointment. Their key problem is clearly their batting. Wednesday’s collapse against West Indies was pretty bad, but this was in some ways even worse: none of their top 4 could muster up a strike rate of more than 60. Their biggest asset with the bat, Lizelle Lee, seems to be stifling her natural game, holding back when she should be firing. While this might be assumed to be on the advice of her coaches, Hilton Moreeng categorically denied this in the post-match press conference.

England, meanwhile, face defending champions West Indies in their final group match on Sunday. Despite already being through to the next stage, England will want to win this to ensure they top the group and avoid a likely semi-final clash with Australia (dependent on the Aussies beating India tomorrow). It should be a cracker.

#WT20 NEWS: Linsey Smith Awarded Rookie Contract

Linsey Smith has been awarded a “Rookie” contract to enable her to continue to train full-time over the winter with the England squad.

The left-arm spinner, who made her international debut on Monday against Bangladesh and who had previously worked as a coach for Leicestershire, said that the decision had come as a relief.

“I came out of the KSL this year thinking, ‘right, I need to find a job away from cricket,’” she told ESPN Cricinfo in an interview published today. “For them to say, ‘you can focus on what you want to do, focus on being a cricketer for England’, it’s such a relief. I feel very lucky and privileged.”

Smith joins other “Rookies” Freya Davies, Alice Davidson-Richards and Katie George, with the 4 of them training alongside the 19 players with full contracts.

WWT20 Preview Part II – Group B: Australia’s Group

The Women’s World T20 is less than a week away now – we are flying out to the West Indies on Thursday, with England’s first match against Sri Lanka coming up on Saturday. The competition is initially divided into two groups of 5, with the winners and runners-up going through to the semi-finals and final. Here are Raf’s predictions for Australia’s group – Group B. (You can read Syd’s predictions for England’s group – Group A – here.)

Aus­tralia

It goes without saying that Australia are far and away the favourites for the trophy. That’s nothing new, but the gap between them and the rest seems to be growing, not narrowing, given the strides they’ve made with payment of state players recently.

The issues they faced in last year’s World Cup in England, including an underwhelming pace bowling attack, have not entirely gone away. Megan Schutt’s dad may think that no one is within a cooee of Australia, but their real problem is finding a quick bowler who is within a cooee of Schutt (currently the ICC’s number 1 ranked bowler in T20s). Is newbie 20-year-old Tayla Vlaeminck the answer? I’m not convinced.

Australia’s real strength, as ever, lies in their mouthwatering batting line-up, which just keeps coming at you, especially now they’ve opted to drop both Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry down the order, with Alyssa Healy and Ash Gardner doing the job of quick-hitting up top. With this likely to be a batsman’s tournament, it’s hard to see anyone standing in the way of Australia securing their fourth T20 title.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s performances in England this summer summed up their recent fortunes as a team: feast – breaking the world record with the bat on the first day of the tri-series – followed by famine, as they succumbed to England in both the T20 and ODI formats. Batting collapses are now their speciality, and they will need their middle-order to grow a backbone if they are to avoid the kind of disasters we saw in England, with youngsters Jess Watkin and Bernadine Bezuidenhout shouldering some responsibility. With Amy Satterthwaite facing her first World Cup at the helm, the hope is clearly that this will allow Suzie Bates (still the number 1 ranked T20 batsman in the world) to get back to her usual consistency with the bat. Ultimately, whatever their recent issues, there is just no discounting a team who possess (in Bates and Sophie Devine) the best opening partnership in world cricket, bar none.

In­dia

It’s been a difficult year for India since the excitement surrounding their appearance in the World Cup final at Lord’s, culminating in a revolt against their coach Tushar Arothe, who was recently replaced by Ramesh Powar. Unfortunately scapegoating your coach doesn’t tend to solve any underlying issues. For India the biggest of those is inconsistency, exemplified in the up-and-down showings of captain Harmanpreet Kaur, who suffered a poor KSL campaign though has recovered some recent form against Australia A. Much of their batting line-up, including Mithali Raj, are better suited to the longer formats; Smriti Mandhana, as Western Storm supporters will attest, is the key exception, and her performances will be crucial. Leg-spinner and number-2 ranked T20 bowler Poonav Yadav is also enjoying a good year. Overall, though, I can’t see them progressing beyond the group stages.

Pak­istan

Since taking home the “wooden spoon” at last year’s World Cup Pakistan have dusted themselves off and posted some historic results, including a maiden ODI win against New Zealand. They’ve undoubtedly got some good players and are fortunate to have Bismah Maroof, their best batsman, returning to the side after undergoing sinus surgery earlier in the year. Sana Mir, meanwhile, has recently been named as the number one ranked bowler in ODI cricket. Nonetheless their recent 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Australia shows just how far they have to go in the T20 format, and it seems unlikely that they’ll do well enough in a difficult group to reach the semi-finals.

Ire­land

Ireland’s chances of winning this tournament are best encapsulated in the bookies’ odds accompanying their campaign: currently 500-1. While the inclusion of Gaby Lewis and Lucy O’Reilly in the ICC’s Global Development Squad bodes well for the future, it’s telling that their best players – including WBBL “Rookie” Kim Garth – still rely on external opportunities to develop their game. While Ireland played in the 2014 and 2016 tournaments, they’ve never won a WWT20 match, and though it would be fitting for stalwarts Clare Shillington and Ciara Metcalfe (who have both announced they will be retiring at the end of the WWT20) to go out on a high, sadly it seems unlikely that they will break their losing streak this time around.

Predictions

Group A: England (winners); South Africa (runners up)

Group B: Australia (winners); New Zealand (runners up)

Eventual Winners: Australia

Outside Bet: West Indies

“MCC Is Changing”: MCC Members Saba Nasim And Danni Warren On 20 Year Anniversary Of Club’s Vote To Accept Women

This is a companion piece to Raf’s feature piece for The Cricket Monthly, ‘When women stormed the citadel’.

20 years ago this week, on 27 September 1998, MCC members took part in the most important vote in the club’s history. At last, after a campaign that had lasted a decade, the necessary two-thirds majority in favour of accepting women as members was achieved.

Two decades down the line, I spoke to two of the MCC’s female members to find out what has changed in the interim period: Saba Nasim, a Chance to Shine cricket coach from East London and currently a Probationary Member, and Danni Warren, MCC and Middlesex Head of Women’s Cricket.

Q: When and why did you decide to apply for MCC membership?

“I heard about being a member a few years ago, but just never got round to filling in the form. It wasn’t until about 2 years ago, I think it was 2016, I found out that one of the guys at my club [Wanstead] was actually a committee member. I asked him the process and he said ‘yeah I can nominate you if you want’. I’ve played at quite a lot of clubs anyway and I enjoy meeting new people, playing different levels of cricket.” [Saba Nasim]

“I’ve been a member for about 8 years. I first joined when I was playing a bit more cricket. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed playing MCC cricket. You get to play some very different cricket: I’ve played some two-day games against the Young Cricketers in the past, down to playing against a school who really hadn’t played much cricket up until 6 weeks before we played them. You get some very good experiences playing against different players. I spend a lot of my time now trying to convince other people trying to do the same!” [Danni Warren]

Q: Do you feel accepted as a woman within MCC?

“Yes, definitely. The matches I’ve played and the people I’ve met, they’ve always been for the idea that women should be part of MCC. Everyone’s been very welcoming and we had a lot of fun on the recent MCC Women Belgium tour – I can’t wait to go on the next one. MCC matches are really fun games, they’re competitive but they’re also all about the Spirit of Cricket which I really enjoy. I’m a coach as well so I always try to get that in the kids, you should play hard but you should play fair and enjoy yourself, so I really enjoy those games. They’re a little bit different to the club games and the county games I play, in that they’re a little more fun and there’s a social aspect to it as well.” [SN]

“I never really felt at all daunted, or as if it was something that was that big a deal when somebody gave me a form. It was just another opportunity to play more cricket. I knew a lot of members and therefore I wanted to play a bit more cricket with them. Part of my job now as MCC and Middlesex head of women’s cricket is about membership growth – trying to encourage more female members, especially playing members. The MCC men will play 500-odd matches a year, versus the 25 that the women play. Fewer people will find themselves on the receiving end of an MCC match than would do in the men’s game and therefore we’re trying to increase the exposure that we can get. The more members we get, the more games we can play.” [DW]

Q: Can more be done to promote female membership?

“At the moment MCC is quite a white club, but people are starting to realise it doesn’t have to be. If you have someone in each club that knows how to join, we’ll definitely get many more members from diverse backgrounds. It’s still quite a lot of white women playing, but it’s definitely changing. Women’s cricket as a whole has changed, we’re getting different communities involved in the sport now, we’re making women’s cricket accessible for them.” [SN]

“From what I’ve found, speaking to people in the last year or so, it’s awareness of the role that MCC play as a club. Women that play cricket aren’t necessarily aware of it, whereas men tend to grow up with it in the background, or they’ve been part of a game where MCC have played their club or played their county side or something that they’ve been able to see. In the women’s game there’s not that awareness – we’re trying to increase that.

Part of my job is running the new women’s Academy based at Lord’s – the idea is to bring talented players that are in or close to first team cricket through, and give them opportunities to progress up the pathway. It’s been really successful, with a large number of the players playing first team cricket or getting into KSL sides. They are encouraged to and have already played in some MCC matches. A number of them have signed off membership application already or have played as guests in matches. Very much a by-product of it is we want more players who are in the county system at present being able to play as playing members to join the club, to play our matches against schools and clubs and leagues, and to be able to help grow the game.” [DW]

NEWS: Sarah Taylor To Miss Forthcoming World Twenty20

Sarah Taylor will miss the forthcoming Women’s World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, the ECB have revealed.

A mutual decision was made by both the player and the management staff with the welfare of the player the top priority.

Taylor missed England’s tour of India earlier this year, as well as one Super League group-stage game for her side Surrey Stars, as the ECB have sought to manage her ongoing anxiety issues.

Coach Mark Robinson said: “Since the end of the summer Sarah hasn’t been able to train fully with the squad due to not being as fit as she would want to be from a psychological point of view.”

“At the moment she isn’t in a place where we would all be comfortable that the demanding training, playing and travel schedule wouldn’t potentially put her backwards and make her road to full recovery longer.”

“It’s important we see mental health in a similar way to a player with a physical injury. You wouldn’t risk a player if you felt that playing them with an injury would increase the chances of them being out for a long time or the issue even becoming career-threatening.”

Taylor will continue to train at Loughborough during the tournament.

The full England squad is due to be announced next Thursday at Lord’s. This news suggests that Amy Jones, as second choice keeper, will now definitely be in the side, with presumably Tammy Beaumont as back-up.

KSL: Stars v Storm – Sophia Dunkley Making Her Name In Super League

When I interviewed Sophia Dunkley 4 weeks ago, she said that she was keen to use this year’s Kia Super League to help stake her claim on an England place. In her words: “It’s about making a name for myself and getting a bit more noticed.”

Last night, in front of thousands of viewers live on Sky, she got noticed.

With 3 runs needed off the last 3 balls, and with Dunkley on strike to the world-class Anya Shrubsole, the pressure for most of those in the ground was almost unbearable. But Dunkley, cool as a cucumber, drove the ball through the covers for four to win the match for her side, and to take Surrey Stars through to Finals Day.

“Anya’s a world-class bowler, she can frustrate people,” Dunkley told CRICKETher after the match. “Kappie said that she was bowling into the pitch, taking some pace off, so I just tried to sit as deep as I could and hope that it was in my arc. Luckily it was.”

Coming to the crease with 19 runs still required, and with Stars’ Finals Day hopes hanging in the balance, yesterday’s 6-run cameo from Dunkley proved to be a crucial one. Even when her captain was dismissed at the other end with 9 runs still required she was able to regroup, running several hard singles between the wickets with Marizanne Kapp.

Then came that sweet shot for four and with it, relief.

Amazingly, despite those of us looking on from the sidelines being bags of nerves by that final over, Dunkley’s assessment was that: “Kapp and I were in control.”

And it’s those few words, really, that sum up the way in which Dunkley has approached this competition, and indeed approaches her cricket generally. She isn’t cowed easily. She doesn’t do “down and out”. Back on that very first day at Guildford, coming in at 18-4, it was Dunkley’s half-century which dug Stars out of a hole. Other players might have crumbled. Dunkley has the confidence to take on the world’s best bowlers, even in a sticky situation.

Captain Nat Sciver, reflecting on that innings at Guildford as well as yesterday’s performance, was full of praise for the 20-year-old: “It is hard in a T20 competition when you are batting down the order at 5 and 6 – you might not get that many balls in – but she has done brilliantly the times she has been in,” she said.

It wasn’t even Dunkley’s most crucial contribution of the day. That had come earlier in the match, when her 4 overs of leg-spin, bowled at an economy rate of 5.25, had proven critical in restricting Western Storm to a total that Stars could (just about) chase down.

Dunkley should, of course, have had the wicket of Heather Knight to her name – the England captain was dropped twice off her bowling – but even with nothing in the wickets column, the fact that Sciver trusted her to bowl a full complement of overs for the first time in the competition showed how vital her contribution was with the ball yesterday.

“She was brilliant,” said Sciver. “I wanted to keep the spin on at one end because the batters were finding it so difficult against them.”

The third edition of the Super League is not over yet, and Finals Day might well provide yet more opportunities for Sophia Dunkley, who lest we forget top-scored for Stars in last year’s semi-final.

But, whatever happens, she’s already stamped her mark firmly all over a competition that is, after all, designed as a stage for our best and brightest young talent.

England awaits.

FEATURE: CRICKETher Editor Raf Nicholson Plays Women’s Soft Ball Cricket

Writing about cricket is one thing; but sometimes there is nothing quite the same as getting out there and playing it. I do plenty of the former, but there are times when I miss picking up a bat.

Last summer, the ECB launched its first Women’s Soft Ball Cricket Festivals: an initiative designed to get more women of all abilities playing the sport in a fun, relaxed environment. This year the scheme has been expanded, with hundreds of Soft Ball Festivals taking place across the country.

I last played cricket years ago, at university; my late entrance into the game (years of Nicholson Beach Cricket, but no formal coaching) meant that I was never destined for greatness. The problem for women like me is finding a route in to club cricket: how do we work out where our nearest club side is? And would we find a welcome there if we did?

Soft Ball Cricket is the perfect initiative in that respect: “It’s a game for absolutely everybody, no matter your skill level, fitness, or age,” say the ECB.

The Festival I took part in was held at Loughborough University, right before Loughborough Lightning’s KSL match against Southern Vipers last weekend. It was a perfect representation of the all-abilities, all-ages mantra: a local club side formed one team; another team was made up of mums and daughters; and the third, my side, was formed of individuals. All three sides therefore got to play two 8-over matches.

The way in which Soft Ball Cricket works is incredibly inclusive. Everyone gets the chance to bowl an over (either underarm or overarm), and everyone bats for 2 overs, alongside a partner. If you get out, you switch ends with your partner, and wait for another opportunity in a few balls time.

Not only did we get free Loughborough Lightning t-shirts (I’ve been sporting mine ever since!) but we also got free Pimms, strawberries and cream, and free tickets to the Lightning v Vipers match afterwards, which most of us stayed on to watch, sitting in deckchairs around the boundary.

Chatting to participants on the day, motivations were varied. Some were already playing local club cricket; some had daughters who play regularly, and wanted to try it out for themselves; and some, like me, had played previously, but a long time ago, and want to try and get back into the sport. (It seems likely that some of them will get their wish, too, with several of my teammates recruited on the spot to sign up for a local Midlands-based club!)

What I loved most about the day was the supportive atmosphere. There was no embarrassment in putting down a catch, or swinging dramatically at a ball and missing it completely (guilty as charged!) My team won our first match but lost our second; but it didn’t much matter. It was just great to be out playing in the sunshine, and having fun.

The ECB should be hugely applauded for the whole initiative, which fills a big gap at the recreational levels of the game, and which I hope will lead to many more women (and girls) finding an accessible way into playing our sport.

If you want to sign up to play Soft Ball Cricket, it’s not too late! Find a list of festivals available in your area here.