MATCH REPORT: Sunrisers Fail To Shine In Lord’s Debut

Sunrisers continued their winless start to the 2023 Charlotte Edwards Cup with a four-wicket defeat to local rivals South East Stars – a disappointing end to their first ever fixture at Lord’s.

Set a target of 133, Stars looked to be cruising along, adding 61 runs in the powerplay. Bryony Smith continued her form from Tuesday’s match against Vipers (when she struck 83), while Alice Capsey made an exhilarating return to the side, smashing 24 from 10 balls including some glorious aerial drives.

The pair added 30 runs in just 2 overs, but Capsey was out in the seventh, falling to a very good catch from Mady Villiers, diving forwards at long on.

Smith survived a couple of difficult caught-and-bowled chances from Villiers and Abtaha Maqsood to reach 38 from 27, finally holing out to deep midwicket in the 12th.

Stars continued to lose wickets at the back end, including two in the 16th over to Grace Scrivens, who appeared very much to be directing on-field proceedings, having regular conversations with Dane van Niekerk between balls.

But a calm innings from Phoebe Franklin (30 off 36), and a final boundary punched hard through point by Kira Chathli, finished the job with an over to spare.

Sunrisers had rejigged their batting line-up after defeat to Central Sparks at Chelmsford a week ago, with van Niekerk making her long-waited debut for the side, while Villiers was promoted to open alongside the South African.

The pair added 32 for the first wicket – though van Niekerk was put down twice in Phoebe Franklin’s opening over – but could not build enough of a platform to take Sunrisers to a winning total.

Paige Scholfield made the initial breakthrough in the fifth over, as van Niekerk’s wild swing found air and she was bowled, before Villiers bottom-edged onto her own stumps two overs later.

Sunrisers then sunk from 40 for 2 to 64 for 6, thanks partly to some atrocious running between the wickets. Scrivens was undone by a poor call from Cordelia Griffith and a piece of good fortune – Chathli fumbled the throw-in from Bryony Smith at midwicket, but the ball ricocheted off her foot and dislodged the bails anyway.

Griffith was then involved in an extraordinary mix-up with Amara Carr, which saw the two batters almost collide halfway down the wicket. Carr had to make an emergency diversion around Griffith, and was run out at the non-strikers end.

An unsettled-looking Griffith holed out to Tash Farrant at deep square leg two overs later.

It looked like humiliation for Sunrisers, until Jo Gardner and Eva Gray ensured their team at least made a decent fist of it, with a partnership of 48 for the seventh wicket, which lifted the home side above 100.

But Gardner ultimately became the third run-out victim of the innings, coming down the track from the non-strikers end while Gray remained firmly in her crease.

Sunrisers have work to do before their bottom-of-the-table clash against Thunder on Saturday.

MATCH REPORT: Vipers Win Falkland War

Southern Vipers triumphed over South East Stars by 6 wickets to get their Charlotte Edwards Cup title defence off to a flier, in spite of a record-breaking first-wicket partnership of 134 between Bryony Smith (83) and Sophia Dunkley (53).

Vipers made easy work of the 170-run target set for them by Stars, with Charlie Dean (20*) hitting back-to-back boundaries against Phoebe Franklin to take them over the line with 7 balls to spare.

The game was hosted by Falkland Cricket Club in Newbury, making it the first ever professional cricket match to be hosted in the county of Berkshire.

Vipers have always played their home games in either Hampshire (Ageas Bowl) or Sussex (Hove), so it was nice to have a reminder that the regional side also incorporates Berkshire. A crowd of roughly 400, including 150 local schoolchildren, enjoyed the match from the boundary edge; and after Vipers sealed the win, home-grown bowler Lauren Bell was mobbed for autographs.

Vipers won the toss and opted to bowl first, but looked to be ruing their decision after a mammoth, dual onslaught from Smith and Dunkley. Smith looked the most comfortable of the two, enjoying delicious helpings on the leg-side, pulling Georgia Adams for back-to-back sixes over midwicket, and forcing Anya Shrubsole out of the attack in her first competitive game of the season, after her two overs went at 13.5.

Smith was put down on 51* by Linsey Smith, who dropped a skier running in from cover. In the end, only a messy run out in the 15th over, courtesy of a throw-in from Alice Monaghan on the deep midwicket boundary, prevented her from progressing on to a century.

Dunkley fell in the next over, stepping across her stumps to cut but succeeding only in sending a thick edge through to the keeper, allowing Vipers to stifle their opponents in the final few overs. The crowd particularly enjoyed the spectacle of local hero Bell finishing the innings with two wickets in the final over – bowling both Alice Davidson-Richards and Tash Farrant – although they were denied the hat-trick by a whisker, as the ball whistled over the stumps of Kira Chathli.

In reply, Maia Bouchier (30 from 18) got things underway with a glorious drive down the ground for four, as part of a wayward, 18-run opening over from Ryana Macdonald-Gay. Bouchier shared a 50-run opening stand with Danni Wyatt, but was run out in the 5th over after Wyatt called for a second run, chancing the arm of Paige Scholfield in the deep.

Vipers overseas wicketkeeper Nicole Faltum was caught by a diving Dunkley at cover off Freya Davies, while Wyatt herself chipped one up to backward point 10 runs short of a half-century.

But the platform had been laid, and with the target in relatively easy reach, Georgia Adams (29), Georgia Elwiss (28*) and Dean simply had to place the ball well, run hard, and watch the scoreboard tick along.

MATCH REPORT: Blaze Enjoy The Boyce Of Summer At Beckenham

New kids on the block The Blaze continued their unbeaten 2023 season with a 5-wicket win against South East Stars in the opening round of the Charlotte Edwards Cup at Beckenham, thanks to a stolid 63 not out from no.4 Georgie Boyce.

Stars had scored an above-average 160, and when Nat Sciver-Brunt and Tammy Beaumont were dismissed in the 9th and 10th overs – sparking a Blaze collapse of four wickets for 22 runs – it looked like the home side were on course for a win.

Beaumont and Sciver-Brunt had both shown signs of brilliance: Sciver-Brunt’s six off Danielle Gregory thudded into the sight-screen, while Beaumont – perhaps as a signal of intent to the England selectors – chose to open up the innings, and pulled Ryana Macdonald-Gay for a maximum over midwicket in the third over.

But Sciver-Brunt was caught in the deep for 19. Eight balls later, and two runs short of her half-century, Beaumont fell to a brilliant diving catch by Bryony Smith at cover. Sarah Glenn, meanwhile, holed out to Alice Davidson-Richards in the deep for 4.

It was left to Boyce to bring home the bacon, hitting a series of well-placed boundaries and one sweet six smashed over the head of bowler Paige Scholfield, which gradually whittled the target down.

Boyce was dropped at cover in the 17th over, allowing her to bring up a 28-ball fifty. Meanwhile, her partner Nadine de Klerk (16* off 15) survived an edge through the hands of diving wicketkeeper Kira Chathli in the ante-penultimate over, as Stars felt the pressure.

With just two runs needed from the final over, bowled by Davidson-Richards, The Blaze reached their target with four balls to spare.

Earlier, on a blustery day at Beckenham, The Blaze had won the toss and chosen to bowl first. They were at full strength with Beaumont, Glenn and Sciver-Brunt – making her debut for the East Midlands region – all present and correct, while Stars did without Alice Capsey, sitting out as a precaution after a recent foot injury.

Bryony Smith played in customary fashion, smashing 14 runs off the first over from Grace Ballinger, before playing straight into the hands of Marie Kelly at long on in the second.

Tash Farrant, promoted to no.3, was trapped LBW trying to sweep left-armer Ballinger, while Scholfield was caught trying to go over the top, handing Sciver-Brunt her maiden Blaze wicket.

When Sophia Dunkley was bowled playing around a straight one from Glenn in the 7th, the Stars were 48 for 4 and looked in trouble.

But a 68-run partnership for the fifth wicket between Phoebe Franklin (53) and Kira Chathli (24) led the recovery, before a late flourish of 24 off 13 from Davidson-Richards propelled their total to 160 for 8.

It proved enough to make the game exciting, but not quite enough to seal a win.

NEWS: Blaze Defend Decision To Play At Welbeck

The Blaze have defended their decision to play at Welbeck Cricket Club, after their match against Thunder was abandoned on Monday despite no rain falling all day, due to an unsafe pitch.

CRICKETher understands that the pitch had been used for a men’s club match on Saturday, and that play continued despite falling rain, meaning that the bowler’s run-ups were churned up and unusable by the time Monday’s regional fixture came around.

The umpires were forced to call off the fixture at 2.00pm, meaning that the points on offer were split equally between the two teams.

James Cutt, The Blaze’s Director of Cricket, told CRICKETher:

“While any matchday where we are not able to get onto the field of play is clearly frustrating, this has been a challenging summer nationwide in terms of the sheer amount of wet weather we have suffered – an issue which was only exacerbated by some poor localised weather over the weekend.

“With areas of the ground then failing to improve sufficiently on the day, we recognised, alongside the match officials, that conditions weren’t appropriate for a professional game of cricket, and that the risk to injury remained too high if we were to go ahead and play the game.

“The John Fretwell Centre has a strong recent history of staging professional cricket, with nine Nottinghamshire men’s fixtures staged there over the past eight years, so it’s a setup which is used to the demands of that level of the game.

“We’re really keen to ensure we take The Blaze around the East Midlands this summer, to ensure that this is a team which people across the region can invest their support in, and that we can inspire girls and boys from around the region to pick up a bat and ball.”

The ECB would be within their rights to penalise The Blaze for the incident. The Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Playing Conditions state that the home team must ensure venues are suitable for play 72 hours prior to the scheduled fixture or arrange an alternative, and that “failure to comply with this… may result in the deduction of points from a Regional Host and the possible award of additional points to another Regional Host”.

Perhaps a greater concern is that this may not be a one-off. The expansion of the regional calendar this season means that a number of regional fixtures are now being played at club grounds. The Blaze are returning to Welbeck twice more this season; while Central Sparks played a “home” fixture against Southern Vipers at Wormsley Cricket Ground on Monday, despite this being within Buckinghamshire (home territory of the Vipers!) Is women’s regional cricket losing out in the battle for pitches to men’s club cricket, and is this acceptable in 2023?

MATCH REPORT: Vipers Bite Back Against Stars At Beckenham

Southern Vipers bounced back in style after their humiliation at the hands of Sunrisers last week, with an emphatic 158-run win against South East Stars at Beckenham.

On what felt like the first sunny day of the year, Georgia Adams chose to bat first; and Vipers vindicated that decision by putting 287 on the board.

After Maia Bouchier and Ella McCaughan shared a century opening stand, a run-a-ball half-century from Georgia Elwiss at no.4 helped them finish well.

However, Beckenham is renowned for being a decent batting wicket, and the boundary rope was (inexplicably) 10 yards shorter than usual for this game. Stars therefore emerged after the innings break audibly confident about their chances.

Nobody was more confident than Capsey, who looked (as ever) a cut above the rest. She helped Stars to 25 for 0 in the first four overs, and played the shot of the day – a beautiful cover drive.

But the next two overs from Lauren Bell decimated the Stars. Firstly, and most crucially, she bowled Capsey with one which nipped back in to take out her off stump. The next ball, Ryana MacDonald-Gay was adjudged LBW.

Bryony Smith saw off the first hat-trick ball; but then created a chance for a second, as Bell took another two-in-two in her following over. Smith fell to an excellent low catch by Charlie Dean at cover, before Alice Davidson-Richards wafted at one outside off stump and Bouchier snaffled it at slip.

Fresh from scoring her first century in a decade against Thunder last weekend, Paige Scholfield again looked the most assured of the Stars batters, striking the ball cleanly on the way to 31 off 63 balls.

But she was bowled going down on one knee trying to slog Adams in the 27th, and Stars gradually succumbed to their fate – all out for 129 in the 37th over.

Oddly, Stars had earlier chosen not to open the bowling with England’s Freya Davies, instead opting for the combination of Tash Farrant and Phoebe Franklin.

That allowed Bouchier and McCaughan to find their feet and build a platform, which Elwiss and Adams (31) built on with a 76-run partnership for the 4th wicket.

Stars ultimately used a mammoth 9 bowlers, mostly in vain, as Vipers enjoyed a day of regaining their mojo.

NEWS: Raf’s Evidence Published as part of UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Women’s Sport

In December, in response to the success of the Lionesses in the Women’s Euros, the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee set up an inquiry into women’s sport and invited the submission of written evidence.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are:

  1. How can the growth in domestic women’s football be accelerated?
  2. What should other sports be learning from the growth of women’s football leagues in the UK?
  3. What is needed for women’s sporting organisations to grow audiences and revenues?
  4. What action is needed to tackle sexism and misogyny in sport?
  5. What needs to change at a regulatory level to facilitate more parity between men’s and women’s sport?

In my evidence, I focused on Question 5. Those of you who follow The CRICKETher Weekly will be aware that I have quite strong views about how cricket (and other women’s sports) should be governed!

My current research project at Bournemouth University looks at the way in which women’s sporting organisations were forced into “mergers” with men’s sporting organisations in the 1990s – including the Women’s Cricket Association, which (having run women’s cricket since 1926) was absorbed by the newly-formed ECB in 1998.

My research shows that these mergers were not desired by those within women’s sport – they were, largely, government-mandated. The merger “negotiations” were dominated by male voices and priorities, and subsequently (in my view) the mergers stymied the growth and development of women’s sport.

In my evidence, I argue that merged governance (where women’s and men’s sport are run by the same governing bodies) is not always the best way to promote parity between men’s and women’s sport. I also recommend that the Government give serious consideration to the adoption of a model of devolved / separate governance of women’s sport.

That might sound extreme – but it’s important to think hard about why women’s sport hasn’t yet achieved parity with men’s sport. Maybe it’s time to get radical?

A number of National Governing Bodies also submitted evidence to the inquiry, including England Netball, the FA and the RFU. (The ECB didn’t, though – aside from a short joint submission with the FA, LTA, RFU and RFL calling for the Government to improve sport for girls in schools.)

You can read my evidence, as well as all other submissions, here – it’s worth a look!

So, what happens next? Usually, the Committee moves now to oral evidence sessions, so it’s possible I may get a summons to appear before the Committee and present my suggestions there.

After that, an overall report will be compiled with recommendations for the Government, based on all the evidence presented. I’ll keep you updated once that final report is published. The Government don’t have to act on it, of course, but it could make for very interesting reading!

PREVIEW: South Africa v England T20 World Cup Semi-Final – Calm Reigns In The England Camp

There have been a lot of words expended about what Jon Lewis has brought to the England camp which is different to his predecessors, but one word stood out to me from Danni Wyatt’s eve of semi-final press conference – “calmness”.

“We’re feeling really confident, and more importantly really chilled. We’re all ready for tomorrow,” she said. “Lewy [Jon Lewis] has brought this really calm aura into the team – everyone knows their plan.”

For me, it’s that word which has epitomised England’s approach this World Cup. It meant that they didn’t panic when they found themselves 29 for 3 against India. It meant that they were able to pick themselves up in the midst of a frenetic WPL auction on the day of their game against Ireland. And whenever Nat Sciver-Brunt gets to the crease, a zen-like focus seems to take over.

“She’s as cool as a cucumber, our Nat. Nothing fazes her,” Wyatt said of her teammate, who currently tops the run-scoring charts in this World Cup. “She’s very chilled, and everyone looks at that and it feeds around the team.”

Wyatt herself, fresh from making a half-century against Pakistan, seemed supremely relaxed, joking in the press conference about the team’s experience of getting stuck coming down Table Mountain thanks to load-shedding (periodic power-cuts that are an everyday fact of life in South Africa at the moment) – “I don’t think I’ll be going up that mountain again soon, unless I walk up! I’m not going up that cable-car ever again!” It’s rare to see someone so breezy and composed ahead of a knock-out game.

By contrast, South Africa have had a mad run-up to this semi-final – losing their first game against Sri Lanka after completely losing their heads in what should have been an easy run-chase; before finally inching their way to a nervy win against Bangladesh on Tuesday.

I’m no body language expert, but Sune Luus seemed the opposite of relaxed in her own pre-match press conference. To use a cricketing metaphor, she spent the entire 15 minutes playing defensive shots.

T20 cricket can be a crazy game. But maybe calmness is the way to win a World Cup?

EXCLUSIVE: Inequitable Treatment of England U19s Revealed

With the inaugural Women’s U19 World Cup just weeks away, CRICKETher has learned of severe disparities in the treatment of the England Women’s and Men’s U19 squads over the winter.

The England Men’s U19s have just returned from two weeks together doing “warm weather” training in Abu Dhabi. In the new year they will travel to Australia for a month-long tour, playing Australia Men’s U19s in two Youth Tests, three Youth ODIs and one Youth IT20.

By contrast, the England Women’s U19 squad have spent the entire winter at Loughborough training indoors, with “warm weather” opportunities ahead of the World Cup quite literally non-existent.

In a recent piece on the ECB’s own website, new Men’s U19 Head Coach Michael Yardy says: “At this level it’s really important that we’re able to offer a range of experiences that can add value to a young player’s development.

It begs the question – why deny those experiences to a group of young women of the same age? Are they somehow less worthy of having their development enhanced?

It makes even less sense given that the women will have had far less opportunities so far in their careers than their male counterparts, who are almost all embedded in professional county structures by the time they are selected for the Young Lions. In addition, the U19 women are about to compete in a World Cup against sides who have been playing competitive cricket throughout the English winter.

If budgets were a concern, the money being spent on sending the men to Abu Dhabi presumably could have been split between the two squads and used to send both sides “short-haul” for warm weather training.

Can there really be any excuse for such enormous disparity in the treatment of the two junior set-ups?

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.