OPINION: England Actually Lost The Commonwealth Games Gold Medal A Year Ago

Just over a year ago, in June 2021, England announced that Nat Sciver would be replacing Anya Shrubsole as vice-captain. Sciver had done the role on a temporary basis during England’s tour of New Zealand earlier in the year; and the decision had been made that she should take on the role on a permanent basis.

Fast forward 13 months. It’s the eve of women’s cricket’s debut at the Commonwealth Games, and Heather Knight is receiving injections to try to relieve the nagging pain in her hip. She desperately wants to play… but it turns out that the pain is just too much. Sciver is called to a meeting with Heather and Lisa Keightley and told that she will be skippering the team. Not only will the anchor-batting role (in the absence of both Knight and Tammy Beaumont) rest on her shoulders, but so will leading a young side to the medal podium. Sciver is one of the world’s leading all-rounders, but even so… this is a LOT.

We all know what happens next. England’s first three matches are a walkover. Then they meet India in the semi-final, and fall just short in a desperate run-chase. The next day, they completely fail to turn up in the bronze medal match against New Zealand, seemingly deciding that if it isn’t a gold medal, it ain’t worth the bother. A picture of Heather Knight consoling a desolate Katherine Brunt after the match goes viral.

It could have been a very different story had England handled the situation with the captaincy-succession a little differently.

We thought at the time of the announcement that it was slightly strange that Sciver had been handed the vice-captaincy role – she is just two years younger than Knight, so it was clearly not a decision made with a long-term view in mind. Subsequent events have reinforced the view that Sciver is not seen by England as Knight’s long-term replacement. Last summer, with Knight out injured for the first two games against New Zealand, Sciver stepped in as captain. Afterwards, when I asked her about an on-field tactical decision, she made it very clear that all the key calls had been made by Knight before the game.

Then, during the Commonwealth Games, Knight was kept with the squad. “She’s been in all the meetings,” Issy Wong said after the New Zealand group-stage match, “and been pretty much 100% part of the group.” It seemed to be for the best, but for Sciver, trying to do the captain’s job on the pitch while (presumably) not feeling like the captain off the pitch must have been a challenge. She admitted as such in one of the mixed zones. “The first few games I was a bit like, ‘arghhh!'” she said, when asked about replacing Knight.

Arguably, the past few days for England have seen a real failure of leadership. As Syd put it in his piece yesterday:

England talk a lot about being role models, but after one player was given an official reprimand yesterday for swearing on the field of play, the overriding image of England today was another being shown live on TV, smashing over a chair with her bat on her way back to the dressing room after being dismissed.

I want to make it clear – I don’t blame Sciver for this failure. The real issue is that England have not been treating Sciver as a captain-in-waiting. They have been treating her as a captain-in-name-only, who simply executes decisions which seem to have already been made by Knight and Lisa Keightley before the match begins.

That can take you so far – but in crunch matches, like the semi-final against India, you need a captain who is equipped to think for themselves, who can come up with Plans C through to Z on the hoof, when Plans A and B fail. Has Sciver really been encouraged to develop that kind of independent thinking by England?

Imagine an alternative world, in which a year ago, England had decided that they were going to make a real effort to blood a proper successor for Knight. If you really want to think long-term, Sophia Dunkley is probably the most plausible candidate from the “next generation”. So appoint Dunkley as vice-captain. Allow her free rein to make some key decisions, even if you do that in “minor” matches against weaker opposition (e.g. those six white-ball games against South Africa). Give her the chance to captain the England Academy in warm-up games. Let her make mistakes. Allow her to be a real challenge to Knight’s authority.

Choose to do that a year ago, and losing your captain on the eve of a huge tournament is no longer a disaster. But they didn’t. And disaster it was.

Obviously, England can’t go back in time now – they’ve thrown away their chance to spend the past 12 months blooding Knight’s replacement, just like they threw away their chance at a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games on Sunday.

But this should be a salient lesson for captain and coach. If you care about the future of this team, you need to let a future leader develop – really, truly, properly develop – and you need to do it now.

NEWS: Alice Capsey, Freya Kemp And Bryony Smith In Commonwealth Games Squad As England Opt For Youth Over Experience

England have made the bold decision to opt for youthful “aggression” over experience in the selection of their squad for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, which includes 17-year-olds Alice Capsey and Freya Kemp, and a recall for Bryony Smith, but omits Tammy Beaumont.

“We feel like it’s our best squad,” Lisa Keightley said. “We want to be quite aggressive up top, and the players that we’ve picked we think give us options to do that.”

Kemp, who made her debut for Southern Vipers a matter of weeks ago, offers a left-arm pace option, but has also shown herself capable of being explosive with the bat, as she proved just last Saturday for Vipers against Stars at Hove.

Capsey, meanwhile, has been picked at a point when she is just starting to regain some form in domestic cricket, but Keightley said that she felt the teenager was now ready to make the step up to internationals.

“It’s always great to get on a bandwagon really early but I think she’s matured,” she said. “Going over to Australia and seeing her travel and play a little bit under the radar – her time is now. She gives us lots of options – she can float in the batting order and tends to be able to move quite freely with a good strike rate in doing that.”

Bryony Smith, Keightley suggested, could play a similar role – either as an opener or at no.6 or 7, “hitting boundaries at the back-end” – while both of course also offer England some further options in terms of their off-spin bowling.

Freya Davies, meanwhile, makes it back into the side after being omitted from the ODI squad against South Africa – so it’s possible that England have realised that having Nat Sciver open the bowling and go at 7 or 8 an over isn’t actually ideal! “T20 cricket, she’s really skilled,” Keightley said. “At the back end of an innings she generally is quite a good defensive bowler. We know what she can do when teams are coming at her, it’s being able to take those wickets up front.”

The omission of Beaumont, who has been one of England’s most successful players in recent years, comes as a big shock to everyone; but Keightley was firm in her belief that Beaumont is not, as it stands, one of England’s best players in the 20-over format:

“In 50-over cricket you can’t match Tammy’s record, it speaks for itself. In T20 I think there’s still some room for growth and improvement there, and now it’s up to her to go away and do it,” she said.

The full squad is below:

  • Heather Knight (Western Storm, captain)
  • Maia Bouchier (Southern Vipers)
  • Katherine Brunt (Northern Diamonds)
  • Alice Capsey (South East Stars)
  • Kate Cross (Thunder)
  • Freya Davies (South East Stars)
  • Sophia Dunkley (South East Stars)
  • Sophie Ecclestone (Thunder)
  • Sarah Glenn (Central Sparks)
  • Amy Jones (Central Sparks)
  • Freya Kemp (Southern Vipers)
  • Nat Sciver (Northern Diamonds)
  • Bryony Smith (South East Stars)
  • Issy Wong (Central Sparks)
  • Danni Wyatt (Southern Vipers)

MATCH REPORT: Capsey Shines In London Cup After Sunrisers Withdraw Pros

Surrey regained the London Cup from Middlesex in comprehensive fashion at the Kia Oval on Thursday, beating their North London rivals by 9 wickets after surrendering the trophy last year at Radlett.

Alice Capsey was the star of the show, recording remarkable figures of 3 for 6 before smashing 7* from 4 balls, including a beautiful drive for four lofted over extra cover, to wrap up the win for Surrey within 9 overs.

“It’s great to get the win and get the trophy back to us,” Capsey said. “We won it a couple of years ago here and then we lost it last year at Radlett, so it was a big thing to come back to the Oval and try and win it again.”

Middlesex had chosen to bat first on a glorious evening at the Kia Oval, and Bryony Smith made the somewhat unconventional decision to open the bowling with an over from Capsey – a decision that Capsey said was only communicated to her a minute or two before she walked out onto the pitch, in front of the smattering of spectators.

But she repaid her captain’s confidence, opening her account with a maiden, thus setting the tone for a Middlesex innings which did almost last for 20 overs, but saw just 68 runs put on the board.

After Charlotte Lambert and Danielle Gregory struck to leave Middlesex 28 for 2 at the end of the powerplay, Capsey – who had put down a catch at mid-off early doors – held onto another one in the same position to hand Gregory a second wicket.

From there, Middlesex were completely bogged down in the middle overs, largely lacking the power to reach what was a lengthy boundary. With wickets falling regularly, their young tail were caught between attack and defence, and Capsey struck three times – once in the 14th and twice in the 19th.

“This year I haven’t been bowling my best so it was really nice to take the new ball and get back to where I want with my bowling,” Capsey admitted.

In reply, Smith and Kira Chathli went after the runs at a canter, thumping fours around the ground and bringing up their fifty partnership within six overs.

Chathli was caught at short fine leg in the 8th over, but it took Capsey just six more balls to wrap up the win.

The contrast between the experienced Surrey side and the young Middlesex team was marked. Surrey fielded not just Capsey and Smith but Stars regulars Kira Chathli, Eva Gray and Danielle Gregory. Middlesex, on the other hand, were shorn of the Sunrisers best players, including all three of their eligible professionals. Neither fitness nor availability appear to have been the issue – both Naomi Dattani and Amara Carr were present at The Oval – so the conclusion that must be drawn is that Sunrisers management put their foot down ahead of the next round of the RHF Trophy on Saturday.

Sunrisers are, of course, perfectly within their rights; but if this is their way of achieving their illusive first win of the season, it seems an odd one. After the match, Capsey spoke of the way in which putting in an assured performance in the London Cup is helping her to regain the superb form she displayed last season:

“There was a conversation [with Stars], but I said I really wanted to play,” she said. “Even though it hasn’t gone my way this year, it’s starting to come, and the more games I play, the more confident I’m feeling.”

Denying Dattani, Carr and Cordelia Griffith that chance feels very much like an own goal.

It also feels like an own goal for women’s cricket as a whole. The London Cup was originally conceived by Ebony Rainford-Brent in 2015 as a way of giving the public a chance to celebrate one of cricket’s signature rivalries – the idea was for it to become a landmark fixture in the women’s calendar. Back in the early days, England-contracted players Fran Wilson (Middlesex) and Nat Sciver (Surrey) regularly featured – it was a true battle between the best players these counties could muster.

The fact that even with a staging ground like the Kia Oval, in the most beautiful cricket-playing weather imaginable, Sunrisers denied their players the chance to feature in this year’s London Cup is symptomatic of the broader decline in esteem which women’s county cricket has undergone across the past 7 years – a fact which left me with a rather sour taste in my mouth at the end of yesterday evening.

RHF TROPHY: Capsey Returns To Form As Stars Outshine Sunrisers

Alice Capsey hit her first half-century of the season, helping her side post 281-8 and beat Sunrisers by 80 runs in the opening round of the RHF Trophy at Beckenham.

The win came despite an outstanding individual effort from 18-year-old Grace Scrivens, who took 4-42 and hit a run-a-ball 74.

The fact that the star performers were two teenagers is an exciting indication that regional cricket is starting to successfully do its job of developing the next generation of England players.

Stars had got off to a flier after they won the toss and chose to bat, with Bryony Smith smashing fours around the ground on her way to a 41-ball half-century. Sharing a 50 partnership with Kira Chathli, who has today earned a call-up to the England A squad on the back of her performances this season, Smith helped her side bring up 67 runs inside the opening powerplay.

Mady Villiers helped slow things up and when Smith (66) tried to come down the wicket and take her on she ended up skying it; Cordelia Griffith ran forward from square leg to take a superb diving catch.

Bizarrely, despite the fact that the opening choice bowlers had leaked runs, Scrivens was not introduced into the attack until the 27th over. When Kelly Castle finally called on her, she struck with only her third ball of the day – Griffith taking another good catch at square leg to see off the dangerous Chathli (61 off 65).

Three more scalps would follow for Scrivens – including a sharp caught and bowled to get rid of in-form Aylish Cranstone – as she proved instrumental in a messy Stars collapse which saw them lose 6 wickets for 75 runs in 16 overs.

Admittedly Capsey – who finished on 64* – should have gone for 0, dropped at cover off Villiers, but the let-off allowed her to finally build the innings that has been lacking this season.

Taking Stars from 203-7 to 281-8 in the final 11 overs of their innings, Capsey gradually grew in confidence until she finally slog swept Castle for six, two balls after bringing up her fifty from 55 balls.

In reply, Scrivens initially found some support from Naomi Dattani as the pair shared a 43-run partnership for the second wicket, Dattani seizing on anything wide to score a quickfire 19 from 24 balls.

But Dattani was run out in the 11th over after Capsey’s direct hit ricocheted off the stumps and Scrivens attempted to run an overthrow.

Scrivens ploughed on, smashing Bryony Smith over her head for six to bring up a 48-ball fifty.

In fact she looked well on course for a hundred until she lost her head in the 28th over, slashing Smith straight to midwicket.

From there, her teammates struggled to keep up with the necessary rate and the game gradually fizzled out, with Smith (3-37) and Capsey (2-26) rattling though the tail to make sure Stars secured a bonus point win.

NEWS: Lisa Keightley Calls For England To “Lead The Way” In Playing More Women’s Tests

England coach Lisa Keightley has called for England to “lead the way” in playing more women’s Tests, ahead of her team’s one-off encounter against South Africa next week at Taunton.

Keightley labelled the recent remarks by ICC Chair Greg Barclay – who told BBC TMS earlier this month that he felt women’s Tests would not be “part of the landscape moving forward to any real extent” – as “disappointing”, and said that England would be looking to “challenge” Barclay’s vision in next week’s match.

“The last few Test matches has proven that it’s a format that is quite exciting,” she said. “We actually feel like we want to lead the way. The way to do that is to play more Test matches.”

“Realistically, I don’t think every country can play this format, but I do think we should stretch and challenge and still have the desire to improve women’s cricket and to grow it. There’s a few countries that are putting their hands up to play Test cricket for that purpose. The players want to play it, and the organisations are getting in and around it and behind it.”

She also strongly hinted that the ECB would be looking to include a multi-day component in the regional domestic structure going forwards. “You’ve got to learn the craft of Test cricket,” she said. “The countries that are playing Test matches have a pathway that they could slide along the format in. We’re looking to do that going forward, it’s just a matter of how you could put it in a domestic structure and what that may look like.”

After selecting a squad with five potential Test debutants ahead of next week’s match, Keightley was also keen to emphasise that this summer marked a “new cycle” for the England side, after their disappointing showing against Australia in the recent Ashes and World Cup. Spearheading that new cycle is Emma Lamb, who Keightley as good as confirmed would be opening the batting alongside Tammy Beaumont next week, saying: “It’s her time and it’s her chance to show us what she’s got.”

England’s bowling line-up is less decided, though Keightley talked up Lauren Bell, Freya Davies and Emily Arlott as being “exciting” possibilities to open the bowling: “We’ll see how they go throughout the week, and see who’s looking the best to see who gets the opportunity to play their first Test match.” Issy Wong, included in the squad as a travelling reserve only, will not feature in the longer format due to recent injury niggles; but is being looked at for possible inclusion in the white-ball squads later in the summer.

Keightley also shed some more light onto Katherine Brunt’s decision to retire from Test cricket, suggesting that after her recent bout of Covid and subsequent absence from the majority of the Charlotte Edwards Cup (she bowled just 4 overs in the competition), she had simply not bowled enough overs since the World Cup for the Test to be a realistic possibility.

“We knew after the World Cup we needed everything to go right with her prep and it didn’t. In the end she didn’t have the loads behind her to play in this Test match. It would have been high risk,” Keightley said. “Sitting down with Katherine and talking it through, it was pretty obvious that the Commonwealth Games was the focus and she wasn’t going to get up for this Test match.”

“With those conversations she’s gone away and thought about it, and thought the Ashes was too far next year so if she didn’t play in this one she probably wasn’t going to play a Test. It’s been an emotional few weeks for Katherine, coming to that decision… I think she’s made the smart call.”

INTERVIEW – Dia Nair: The 13-Year-Old Cricketer Breaking Barriers… And Stumps

Dia Nair is 13 years old and already knows what she wants to do when she finishes school: “I want to play cricket for England.” Judging by the collection of trophies she shows me during our interview, it’s an ambition that could well be within her grasp.

Dia with her trophies

Last year, Dia was named Colt of the Year by her club, Hampstead CC. It means that already, aged 13, she is considered to be the best cricketer under 16 – boy or girl – who plays at Hampstead. For a club which is one of the biggest in London and which, according to Play Cricket, fields 21 junior teams, that is quite some feat. In 156 years of the club’s history, Dia is also the first girl ever to win the award – “I was really proud of that,” she says.

Dia is an all-rounder, though she describes pace bowling as her “stronger point”; last season she hit her highest county score to date, 63 not out for Middlesex against Surrey, as well as taking “quite a few five-fors”. She nonchalantly drops into the conversation that: “I swing it both ways” (Anya Shrubsole eat your heart out!) She’s never been clocked on a speed gun, but at the age of 10, she bowled the ball so quickly in a match for Middlesex against Hampshire that she broke a stump clean in half. She still has the two pieces.

Dia with her broken stump

In some ways, Dia’s is a familiar story. She grew up playing cricket with her older brother in the garden at home, encouraged by two supportive parents – her mum also played as a girl growing up in India. Asked to name an inspirational coach, Dia immediately says: “My brother!” At the age of nine, she followed him to the local club (Hampstead); not long afterwards, she was sent to Middlesex trials, and made the Under-13s county side.

Dia and her brother
Dia Nair with her older brother, taken on the day she went to Middlesex trials

As a talented junior, she regularly plays for Hampstead’s boys teams, and just as Charlotte Edwards did three decades ago, she still sometimes encounters surprise when she turns up to open the batting or the bowling against an all-boys opposition. “They are always not expecting me or the other girls in my team to be quite as good as we are!” she says. Has she ever got one of them out? “Yeah, yeah,” she says, casually. “Most games!”

Has anything changed since the 1990s, then? Quite a lot, actually. For starters, there are enough other girls around to mean that Hampstead can turn out entire girls’ sides. The county structures in place for girls like Dia are also unrecognisable – she does a full programme of winter nets for Middlesex, and receives individual feedback every time. And she is benefitting from opportunities to play at school – she attends South Hampstead High School, who reintroduced cricket in 2018, and was recently named as a reserve in the Under-19s Girls’ Day School Trust team – one of the youngest players in the running for the squad.

“When I went to my GDST cricket trials all the girls there were really, really good, and it was a surprise – it was really nice to see,” she says. “And some of the older girls were saying how a couple of years ago when they trialled there were barely any people, and there were about 50 when I went and that was really cool.”

The interest is helped along by the fact that women’s cricket is regularly on TV these days. Dia watched the recent World Cup with her mum, cheering on England, and says she wants to bat like Heather Knight (although she also cites Ben Stokes, MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar as role models).

And of course there is now a regional structure in place – and with it, a real opportunity to go professional in just a few short years. Dia tells me, excitedly, that when she moves up to the Under-15s Middlesex team next year, “they start scouting for professionals, and our performances get recorded, so if we play really well we might get selected for this thing called Sunrisers!”

“I think that would be really cool,” she adds. She’s not wrong. There is not much that is cooler than hearing a girl like Dia talk about her ambitions to play cricket professionally, and knowing that the new domestic structure is providing the opportunities for her to do exactly that.

For now, she’d better keep hold of that broken stump – the pieces might be worth quite a lot of money one day!

Mamma Mia! Rogers Shines As Berkshire Have Fun At Falkland

Berkshire got their season off to a rollicking start with two convincing wins against Shropshire at Falkland CC.

The first match of the day was dominated by Mia Rogers, who made an early-season bid for inclusion in Sunrisers’ starting XI when regionals begin in four weeks time.

Shropshire had chosen to bat first after winning the toss, but Rogers’ sharp keeping allowed Berkshire to confine them to 88 for 7 in their 20 overs. Her contributions included whipping off the bails to assist in the run outs of Amy Griffiths and Alice Dixon, snaffling a skier sent up by Lauren Kenvyn (22) to break a 50-run partnership with Alexandra Hale, and two nifty stumpings to hand debutant Kali-Ann Doherty her first two wickets in senior county cricket.

Opening in conjunction with another of the Berkshire debutants, Abigail Avery (27* off 39), Rogers started in measured fashion but grew in confidence as her innings progressed, eventually smashing Kenvyn for six over deep midwicket.

As Berkshire raced along to their total, the only question was whether Rogers would be able to reach her half-century before they ran out of runs needed. It was touch and go but finally, having got back on strike in the 13th over with just a single needed for victory, Rogers pulled confidently for four to finish on 50 not out (from just 35 balls), handing Berkshire a 10-wicket win.

In the second match of the day, with Berkshire batting first this time, Rogers initially picked up where she had left off, but smacked it straight to cover in the fifth over when on 13. Instead Berkshire captain Ashleigh Muttitt did the heavy lifting, driving hard down the ground en route to a run-a-ball 34.

Emily Perrin (3 for 18) dented Berkshire’s efforts as they lost three wickets in the 13th and 14th overs with the score on 83, but Freya Johnson successfully defended the hat-trick ball and Berkshire added 23 runs in the final five overs to finish on 116 for 6.

Shropshire made a go of it in the run chase, reaching 37 for 1 in the powerplay as captain Lara Jones (24 off 27) gave off-spinner Hollie Summerfield some punishment.

But Jones was caught pulling Ava Lee to backward square leg in the 9th and Summerfield had the last laugh with a tidy spell at the death that strangled any last hopes of Shropshire getting across the line. Amanda “Steamer” Potgeiter helped things along with a direct-hit run out from mid-on to see off Hale for 0.

In a dramatic final over, with Shropshire needing an improbable 27 for the win, Freya Johnson finished things off in a style for the Beavers by taking four wickets – three of them bowled – as Shropshire were all out for 94 off the final ball of the match.

The double-win puts Berkshire top of Group 2 of the Women’s County T20 competition, ahead of rivals Worcestershire and Staffordshire.

BOOK REVIEW: Fair Game by Alex Blackwell with Megan Maurice

Alex Blackwell’s new book, Fair Game, is not your standard cricket autobiography. Yes, it tells the story of her journey in cricket – from growing up playing in the backyard of her grandparents’ place in Wagga Wagga, to breaking through into the New South Wales team while at university, to her Australian debut in 2003 against England under the great Belinda Clark, to winning multiple World Cups, captaining Australia to glory at the 2010 World Twenty20, and taking home the inaugural WBBL title in 2015/16. It’s also a first-hand insight into the ways in which professionalism transformed the lives of a generation of players overnight. But the most important contribution which this book makes is to lay bare the ways in which cricket has excluded and continues to exclude those who don’t quite fit the mould.

Alex Blackwell batting with Sarah Taylor keeping wicket
Photo courtesy of Don Miles

Blackwell is one such player. An outspoken advocate for increased diversity and equity in cricket, she made history in 2013 as the first international female cricketer ever to publicly come out. Here, it is made clear how much she agonised about that decision – unsurprising when she describes the constant background of casual homophobic remarks which went on, including from Cricket Australia employees and sponsors. “I was not viewed by Cricket Australia to be a good role model for young girls,” she writes. This kind of casualised homophobia did not come as a surprise to me – it is rife within English cricket, too, as my book Ladies and Lords shows – but it is still shocking to read about some of Blackwell’s experiences, and the way in which her experiences in cricket caused deep internal shame about her sexuality, which endured for years.

Relatedly, Blackwell emphasises how CA favoured a particular “image” for female cricketers, which forced gay players permanently into the closet but was equally damaging for non-gay women who did not conform to the favoured “type”. One of the most revealing lines in the book is when Blackwell relays how during her early years playing for Australia, she and her sister Kate toyed with the idea of growing their hair long, in order to market themselves as “the golden twins”. Another damning anecdote relates to the three women chosen by CA in 2013 to receive their first ever “marketing contracts”: Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning and Holly Ferling – all blonde, attractive and heterosexual. You would have to be blind not to have realised that this was going on – just look at which players were most visible in the marketing of the first WBBL – but Blackwell’s book lays bare the horrendous practice (which, if we’re honest, is still prevalent) of pushing forward players on the basis of their physical attractiveness rather than their cricketing abilities.

Why was Blackwell never chosen to captain Australia on a permanent basis? A convincing public explanation has never been given as to why she was passed over in favour of Lanning in 2014 – a player with no captaincy experience at any level of cricket – nor why Rachael Haynes (then not even an automatic pick in the XI) was handed the reins during the 2017 World Cup, when Lanning was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Blackwell says that she has never been given a reason, other than being told: “Meg had all the attributes they wanted in a captain and I didn’t”. She stops short of saying that those attributes included being heterosexual and taciturn, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots.

The irony of all this is that CA’s treatment of Blackwell may well have ultimately cost Australia their chance of winning the 2016 and 2017 World Cups. Blackwell’s most damning critique of an individual comes in the chapters which deal with these two tournaments, in which she describes how Australia’s coach Matthew Mott stuck to a limited, basic tactical approach – “bowl at the stumps” – leaving the players without any Plan B in the 2016 WT20 final against Hayley Matthews and Stafanie Taylor, and more famously against Harmanpreet Kaur at Derby in the 2017 semi-final. Blackwell relays how, as vice-captain, she continually tried to raise concerns; but others simply parroted the party line. It’s a brilliant example of why diversity is needed within organisations: somebody needs to tell you the thing you don’t want to hear, or it becomes all about group-think.

Meanwhile, Blackwell’s alternative views about tactics were “shut down” and she was publicly criticised by Mott in meetings, to the extent that she was left in tears. “That tournament was one of the toughest periods of my cricket career,” Blackwell writes. “Throughout every day of it I felt undervalued and insignificant.” It’s rare to read anything critical of Mott, but this is one of the worst examples of player mismanagement I’ve ever come across. Let’s hope things have changed behind the scenes since then.

It’s rare that we get this kind of book in women’s cricket – an honest, wide-ranging critique – and Blackwell should be awarded for her bravery in writing it (credit too to Megan Maurice, who has done a brilliant job of making this book very readable). The timing is perhaps explained by Blackwell’s recent decision to draw a line under her involvement in elite cricket in Australia:

“Maybe I would feel more inclined to keep holding on and continue volunteering in cricket if I was confident that we were setting a high standard and being bold with our ambitions around female representation, inclusion strategies and the environment. Instead I still feel like raising these issues makes a lot of people uncomfortable.”

This is worrying not just as an indictment of the current culture of cricket in Australia. Part of the problem has always been that those IN the game right now don’t feel they can be open about the ways in which things are going wrong – there is a culture of secrecy, whereby those on the inside close ranks.

It’s important that we remember that this isn’t a book about a dark and distant past – as Blackwell writes, “there are still some barriers to inclusion and equal opportunity that remain unconquered”. Her book is a great first step to exposing some of those issues. The next step is for those within CA (and the ECB, and the other boards around the world) to listen, acknowledge, and act as a result – but will they? That would be the best legacy of this brave and revealing book.

Buy the book.

WOMEN’S ASHES: 2ND ODI – England Up The Junction

Australia stomped all over England at the Junction Oval in Melbourne on Sunday, winning the match with 88 balls to spare after bowling England out for 129 in 45.2 overs.

England had talked up the remaining two matches of the Ashes with the suggestion that their aim was to repeat their 2017/18 comeback, and draw the series on points. Perhaps it was for that reason that they chose to stick with an almost-identical XI to the first ODI (Katherine Brunt was rested with a “niggle”), refusing to hand match-practice to Lauren Bell or Freya Davies ahead of the World Cup, or tinker with their batting line-up. It seems pretty certain that England will be sticking with Lauren Winfield-Hill at the top of the order for the World Cup, come what may.

England reached 40 for 1 after 10 overs but it was downhill from there, as Ellyse Perry (3 for 12) pulled out the kind of disciplined bowling performance which leaves England fans waking up in a cold sweat with flashbacks of July 2019. There were two phenomenal catches from Australia – Alyssa Healy diving to her right behind the stumps to see off Tammy Beaumont, before Meg Lanning topped it with a screamer taken full-stretch to HER right at first slip.

They fought hard with the ball – Kate Cross once again dispelling the bizarrely persistent claims that she is a “red ball specialist” with a brilliant couple of spells – but as so often in this series, the bowlers couldn’t make up for the fact that the batters let England down – badly.

Watching the top-order today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence of England’s pre-series “fighting fire with fire” strategy. Too often, they got stuck in the crease when they needed to be attacking the ball – five wickets fell LBW. England also, once again, used their DRS reviews poorly. Sophia Dunkley’s reluctance to make the “T” signal told a thousand stories; she really should have stood up to Amy Jones, who appeared to have talked her into the review. It probably didn’t make much difference in the end today – although Cross could have saved herself, with replays showing the LBW decision against her was actually missing leg-stump – but on another occasion (a World Cup semi-final, say) it could be crucial. England get far more practice with DRS than most other sides in the world, and need to get better at using it to their advantage.

So… what next? There are obvious parallels with the misery of the Canterbury ODI in July 2019, when Perry ran through England’s batters, finishing with 7 for 22, and effectively sealed England’s fate in the series. The media were unforgiving; and when England coach Mark Robinson was hastily dispatched at the end of the series, it seemed the blame for the humiliation of Canterbury was being laid square on his shoulders.

I think, ultimately, this defeat won’t “land” in quite the same way that one did. For one, England had already surrendered the Ashes this time around. For another, the fact that their World Cup defence will commence in a matter of weeks means that there is another immediate goal to focus on. There is no sense in beginning any post-mortems at this point.

But… that could simply be delaying the inevitable. Because if England play like they did today in New Zealand next month, their title is going to slip away quicker than you can say “Ellyse Perry”; and if there is one thing worse than losing the Ashes to Australia, it is losing the Ashes AND a World Cup crown to Australia in the space of two months.

WOMEN’S ASHES: TEST DAY FOUR – Lanning And Knight Lead The Test Revival

Well, it’s a fair cop. I called it wrong yesterday.

Sorry Meg.

In fact, the eventual declaration from Lanning set up the most exciting session of Test cricket I’ve ever seen “live” (edging aside TOG’s* Edgbaston 2005). In fact, it’s surely got to go down as one of the most exciting sessions there has EVER been in women’s cricket. There’s a certain amount of irony that all the talk before this Test was about the problematic lack of results in recent women’s Test matches; yet this one showed us how breathtaking a draw can actually be.

Initially, all the talk was that Lanning’s “carrot” – asking England to chase 257 in 48 overs at a RRR of 5.35 – was of microscopic size. But as England gradually ate away at the target, the tone of the commentary shifted. Could England actually do this? With 8 wickets in hand, needing 104 runs going into the final hour of play and with Nat Sciver and Heather Knight both set, Australia looked distinctly nervous… and Syd and I dared to hope.

Lanning freely admitted in the post-match presser that her early plan was the wrong one: “We were too wide and full with our bowling early on.” So they changed tack – or, as Lanning described it, “flipped our thinking” – and began to attack the stumps. After Sciver pulled Annabel Sutherland to square leg with 39 runs still needed, it quickly unravelled for England… until finally the roles reversed, and English supporters everywhere were breathing a sigh of relief that Kate Cross had managed to cling on for the draw. The whole session is a good example of the way in which Lanning’s captaincy has evolved since that World Cup semi-final in 2017, when Australia’s bowlers were Harmanpreet-ed and there was, seemingly, no Plan B.

It seems to me that the result in this Test is unlikely to have any eventual bearing on the Ashes series as a whole. England won’t now win all of the three ODIs, but even if they HAD won today, my money would still have been on Australia to come good and win two of the three 50-over matches, thus retaining the Ashes anyway.

Nonetheless, I’d argue that the result is still potentially very significant, for two reasons.

One, it will have dealt a severe psychological blow to England’s confidence. You have to feel for Heather Knight. She could hardly have given more, and she must be utterly shattered right now, after spending almost the entire four days of the Test on the field. Sciver also looked desperately disappointed during the post-match, admitting: “I feel more sad [at not winning] than I do happy [at not losing] at the minute.” In a few weeks time, England are facing a period of strict isolation in quarantine in New Zealand, followed by attempting to defend their World Cup title. It’s important to move on from this “defeat” (yes I know it was a draw, but it will feel like a loss) as quickly as possible.

Two, and more importantly, is what this match will have done for the future of the Test format as a whole. It may not be fair, but it is certainly true that whenever a (rare) women’s Test is played, the players are tasked with making the case that women’s Test cricket remains relevant and exciting. In recent times, we’ve witnessed the Taunton Test in 2019 labelled “the most boring game imaginable” by journalists, while prior to that, England’s final-day collapse at Canterbury in 2015 led The Guardian’s then-cricket correspondent to call for women’s Test cricket to be abolished altogether. Compare that with this tweet today from The Telegraph’s Scyld Berry:

There have been other exciting women’s Tests – Perth 2014; Hyderabad 1995; the list goes on – but the important point is that none of them were ever televised. I’d love to see viewing figures for the last two sessions of this match! It seems to me that its denouement will have done more in four hours to convince the administrators we should have more women’s Test cricket, than I have in four (+++) years of banging the drum. England will be hurting right now, but once the dust has settled, that is certainly something to celebrate.

Kudos to Lanning and Knight for their respective roles in setting it up.

*TOG = The Other Game (Men’s Cricket)