England v New Zealand 1st ODI – Warm-up Wobble? What Warm-up Wobble?

After Syd and I both said on Sunday’s vodcast that we thought this would be a close-fought series, New Zealand seem intent on proving us wrong. This was another disappointing display by them in the 50-over format – bowled out for 178 in 45.1 overs, before England chased down the target with 98 balls to spare.

There really wasn’t a lot wrong with this Hagley Oval pitch. Bar a little bit of swing up top, the England bowlers never got much movement. Wickets fell when they stuck to a middle-stump line, and adjusted their length to account for the fact that the Kiwis were doing all their scoring off the back-foot. Suzie Bates said on commentary that she felt New Zealand should have been aiming for a total of 250+ – after they fell nearly 100 runs short of that “par score”, the result was all but a foregone conclusion.

England firmly dispelled any notion of off-season “rustiness” with a thoroughly convincing showing in the field. But New Zealand’s “big names” largely did for themselves – Amy Satterthwaite and Amelia Kerr in particular falling to irresponsible, half-hearted shots. I wonder whether leaving Satterthwaite, Kerr and Sophie Devine out of the warm-ups (which were effectively contested against a NZ “B” team) was such a good idea?

The Kiwi commentators seemed surprised that the New Zealand batters didn’t push things along a bit more in the middle overs, but the problem with being 94 for 4 is that it leaves you with a lot of rebuilding to do. I’m also wondering whether New Zealand have got into their own heads a bit – they know they have a reputation as “the side that gets bowled out”, and that can’t be a very freeing thought. Of course, Sophie Ecclestone was also brilliant as ever, really piling on the pressure and making sure there were few easy runs to come by.

Despite all this, if I was a New Zealand selector, I might well be feeling pretty smug right now. 25 year old Brooke Halliday appears to be a real “find” (where has she been hiding?!) New Zealand’s big problem these last few years has been a lack of middle-order “backbone” – Halliday might just been the answer. The real question is what on earth she was doing coming in so low down the order, risking her being stranded? More of this GIF in the next few matches please:

I’ll admit that England’s team selection took me by surprise, but it was great seeing Tash Farrant grabbing her opportunity, when it finally came, with both hands. Heather Knight had been pretty clear in the pre-series press conference that she didn’t see a front-line role for Farrant, saying: “She’s there as cover. She’s got a chance in the nets to try and push for selection, and show her skills.” But now Farrant appears to have leapfrogged both Freya Davies and Kate Cross to play the role of Katherine Brunt’s new-ball partner. Clearly, she’s enjoyed some stonking net sessions since the team arrived in New Zealand!

There’s been much said about Farrant’s return being a vindication of the new regional contracts – I’ll add just one thing. To me it shows the value of players being available to play in every single round of the RHF. In doing so, Farrant got far more overs of competitive cricket under her belt than either Davies or Cross did in the England “bubble” at Derby / Loughborough. It’s going to be a real dilemma going forwards for the fringe contracted players, as coaches balance whether to release them to play for their regions or not, weighing up what is best for both the player concerned vs what is best for England as a team.

Tash Farrant: I’m Excited To Play For Kent Again

England bowler and South East Stars captain Tash Farrant has confirmed that she will be donning a Kent shirt again in 2021, despite what will be (Covid-permitting) a jam-packed summer.

“I absolutely love Kent,” Farrant said. “I’m still a Kent girl at heart and I’m looking forward to the Kent stuff this season.”

While the regional fixtures were announced yesterday, there remains uncertainty about the extent to which regional players will feature in the County T20 Cup. Farrant confirmed that some regions at least still see an important role for county cricket, even within the new set-up.

“Speaking for South East Stars, we have got a huge squad who are training, which is brilliant,” Farrant said. “Those county games will be where [Director of Cricket] Richard Bedbrook and [Head Coach] Johann Myburgh will be looking to see which girls perform, leading into the regional stuff and picking our XI from that.”

Assuming that government regulations allow, the T20 Cup will take place across four weekends in April and May, meaning that these fixtures will be the first chance for the Regional Directors and Regional Head Coaches to assess the match performances of key players, ahead of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and Women’s Regional T20 which will begin in May / June.

With July and September set aside for internationals, and August devoted to The Hundred, the season could be a very busy one for women cricketers. Nonetheless, Farrant also confirmed that she is keen to participate in the London Championship, the 50-over competition which was set up last summer after the ECB withdrew its support for the Women’s County Championship, and involves Kent, Surrey, Essex and Middlesex.

It was confirmed earlier this week that Sussex will be joining the competition this season, which will enable the revival of the old Kent-Sussex rivalry which was such a marked feature of the Women’s County Championship over many years. However, Farrant joked that there is a new contender for main “grudge match” this season:

“I’m very excited for the Kent v Surrey match, having trained with the Surrey girls who are obviously my teammates now. That will be a really good rivalry. There’s a bit of banter already going on in the team!”

Farrant, who is currently out in New Zealand with the England squad, paid tribute to the set-up at South East Stars in enabling her to break back into the England side, two years on from losing her central contract.

“There was only so much I could do by myself, so getting that regional contract was amazing and getting the support,” she said. “I think a lot of girls will stay in the game for a long time now. Aylish Cranstone at the Stars for example has worked so hard for the last however many years and players like her really deserve the support now.”

“Having the winter training, especially the five contracted players but even the wider squads, means that the performances are going to be a whole different level just with the support that we get throughout the winter now. I think that’s going to be a big change and I think the standard is going to go up so much.”

One thing that will be crucial to that development is the shape of this season, which still depends on the efforts of the UK government to reduce Covid-19 cases enough to ease the stringent lockdown regulations currently in place. However, should all go ahead as planned this is likely to be the busiest season ever for women’s domestic cricket.

“At the moment, lots of stuff is Covid-dependent,” Farrant said. “It’s going to be the first time that there’s a really long season, where you start in April and finish at the end of September. I think that’s really exciting and I think that will show regional teams’ depth in their squads.”

“Before, there hasn’t been enough cricket to be able to show your skills for a long period of time. Now we have a lot of cricket and there will be a lot of opportunities for a lot of different girls to show what they can do. I’m looking forward to a long season with a lot of cricket.”

We couldn’t agree more!

 

 

 

 

NEWS: ECB Confirms 41 Domestic Professional Contracts

The eight women’s regions have today confirmed the names of the players who have been allocated professional contracts, with five assigned to each region (with the exception of Western Storm, who have six).

In addition to the 20 players who signed regional retainers earlier in the year and the five England “Rookies”, who have all progressed onto full-time regional contracts, a further 16 players have been added to the list of contracted professionals.

CRICKETher understands that the new contracts are worth £18,000 annually (substantially less than the PCA’s mandated minimum wage of £27,500), with the ECB providing the funding for 40 of them.

However, the total number of contracts on offer has been increased to 41 (instead of the originally intended 40) thanks to an additional contract for the South West & Wales region, funded jointly by Western Storm and Glamorgan CCC. Georgia Hennessy, Nat Wraith and Alex Griffiths all shone for Storm in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, and with the player allocation process led by the Regional Directors it seems that Lisa Pagett was able to provide a convincing case that all three had done enough to earn a contract.

A number of players offered contracts have established careers outside of cricket (Central Sparks’ Gwenan Davies, for example, is Head of Girls Cricket at Shrewsbury School; while Northern Diamonds’ Phoebe Graham works in marketing for Sky), which strongly suggests that at least some of the new “professionals” will be continuing to do other paid employment outside of cricket.

Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is that of Jenny Gunn for Northern Diamonds. Gunn, who is 34 years old, announced her retirement from international cricket in October 2019, and had made the decision to retire from all cricket in March 2020, only playing in the RHF due to a last-minute phone call from Diamonds head coach Dani Hazell.

The full list of contracted players is now as follows (newly contracted players in italics):

Northern Diamonds:

  • Hollie Armitage
  • Beth Langston
  • Linsey Smith (EW Rookie)
  • Phoebe Graham
  • Jenny Gunn

North West Thunder:

  • Georgie Boyce
  • Alex Hartley
  • Emma Lamb (EW Rookie)
  • Ellie Threlkeld
  • Hannah Jones

Central Sparks:

  • Eve Jones
  • Marie Kelly
  • Issy Wong
  • Emily Arlott
  • Gwenan Davies

Lightning:

  • Kathryn Bryce
  • Sarah Bryce
  • Bethan Ellis
  • Lucy Higham
  • Abbey Freeborn

Western Storm:

  • Dani Gibson
  • Sophie Luff
  • Fi Morris
  • Georgia Hennessy
  • Nat Wraith
  • Alex Griffiths

Southern Vipers:

  • Georgia Adams
  • Tara Norris
  • Paige Scholfield
  • Lauren Bell
  • Maia Bouchier

South East Stars:

  • Alice Davidson-Richards (EW Rookie)
  • Sophia Dunkley (EW Rookie)
  • Tash Farrant
  • Bryony Smith (EW Rookie)
  • Aylish Cranstone

Sunrisers:

  • Amara Carr
  • Naomi Dattani
  • Cordelia Griffith
  • Jo Gardner
  • Kelly Castle

OPINION – Actually, The Best Women’s Cricket Team In History Aren’t Killing It

Yesterday, Syd wrote that the success of the current Australian team is “killing the game for everyone else, and fans – eventually even Australian ones – will start to respond by tuning out and turning off.” Others in the mainstream media have expressed similar concerns: Tim Wigmore suggests that: “For all the wonder of Australia’s achievement, there is a certain sadness too” – a sadness, he argues, stemming from the fact that other nations are falling so far behind due to lack of investment.

But while the run of success experienced by Meg Lanning’s side is undoubtedly a concern, I actually think there’s more cause for optimism than Syd thinks.

Firstly, cricket – unlike many other top sports – is played across multiple formats. Lanning & co’s astonishing run of 21 consecutive victories has come in the 50-over format alone. Their recent record in T20 cricket, as I’ve argued before, is actually not that convincing. They lost the last game of the Women’s Ashes last summer to a thoroughly demoralised England; more to the point, in the T20 World Cup earlier this year, they lost to India, almost lost to New Zealand, came within a hair’s breadth of losing their semi-final to South Africa, and only totally managed to overpower their opponents in the final – something I suspect had more to do with the overwhelming nature of the occasion for the Indians than anything else.

If Australia are so far ahead of the rest of the world, wouldn’t we expect them to also be consistently dominant in T20 cricket? They aren’t.

Perhaps that is due to the unpredictable nature of the 20-over format – but that unpredictability is here to stay. And in women’s cricket, as we all know, 20-over cricket is much more significant than ODIs, both in terms of growing the game and in terms of global TV audiences. So maybe we shouldn’t be quite so worried that fans will simply begin to “tune out”?

Similarly, Australia don’t experience the same dominance in multi-day cricket as they do in 50-over cricket. There’s a simple reason for that: they don’t get to play it very often! And nor does any other team in the world. Multi-day cricket provides a level playing field like no other.

At the moment, that’s somewhat irrelevant, but we are hearing positive noises from England and Australia that more Ashes Tests might just be on the cards – both Tom Harrison and Nick Hockley have come out in favour of the longer format in recent weeks. There’s also been some discussion about the possibility of the new domestic regional sides in England (Southern Vipers et al) playing multi-day cricket, now that they will have a bit more time on their hands to do so.

Back in 2014, the BCCI went through a brief period of supporting women’s Test cricket because – at a time when the Indian team were experienced little success elsewhere – they saw it as a format which they could win at. Lo and behold, India beat England at Wormsley, then annihilated South Africa by an innings three months later. Sadly, for whatever reason, it seems to have been a short-lived period of BCCI interest; however, it’s still significant: it shows that if a cricket board wants to be successful, a focus on the longest format is one way of achieving it.

Maybe Australia’s dominance in 50-over cricket can convince the ECB that the regions really DO need to be playing multi-day cricket, as the best possible preparation for the next Women’s Ashes? After all, what better way to pull ahead of Australia than to become dominant in Tests – widely heralded as the premier format in world cricket?

Cricket can work in mysterious ways!

A second point to counter Syd’s pessimism would be this: yes, Australia reign supreme in 50-over cricket at the moment, thanks to a huge amount of investment in their domestic set-up, but will they keep getting exponentially better, forever? It seems unlikely. The biggest leap in standards comes when you allow players to focus on cricket alone – they improve hugely, but there is a ceiling on how far that takes you.

Domestic professionalism is the biggest difference between Australia and elsewhere as it stands, but it won’t be a point of difference for very much longer. England should (fingers crossed) have 40 domestic professionals in place by the end of October, and Clare Connor has said (pre-Covid) that her aspiration is for a fully professional domestic structure by 2024. It might be a few years away, but England are advancing on Australia, and (in my view), we will catch up eventually – even if it takes longer than we’d like.

That doesn’t solve the problem for other countries. But in the same way that a domestic professional structure was unthinkable in England 5 years ago but is now where we are surely headed, I’d like to think that in 5 years time West Indies, South Africa, India and the rest will have reached the same conclusion as the ECB.

In fact, with the dominance of Australia hitting the headlines just a week after West Indies’ miserable 5-0 capitulation to England, is it just possible that for some boards, the contrast between those two news stories might just be the wake-up call they need, spurring them on to action sooner than might otherwise have been the case?

Maybe Australia’s winning streak might actually change women’s cricket for the better?

RHF TROPHY FINAL: Vipers Triumph In Taylz Of The Unexpected

In a week in which England’s young trio of Sophie Ecclestone, Sarah Glenn and Mady Villiers dominated the headlines, for one sunny September afternoon in Birmingham it was a 26-year-old  “unknown” spinner from Hampshire who stole the limelight, turning the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final on its head.

In a spell which utterly baffled the BBC and Sky commentators, who were scarcely aware of her name before today’s final, off-spinner Charlotte Taylor took six wickets for 34 runs across her 10 overs – the best return by any bowler across the entire competition.

Despite the early loss of Lauren Winfield-Hill, Northern Diamonds looked to be well in control of their chase at 74-1 after 14 overs, before Taylor’s decisive intervention knocked the stuffing right out of them – Holly Armitage, Alex MacDonald, Jenny Gunn and Bess Heath all deceived by her stock delivery (the arm-ball), with Diamonds reduced to 96-6.

MacDonald’s dismissal in particular will be one she won’t be keen to watch back on the Sky highlights reel – Taylor forced her back so late that she hit the top of off-stump with her own bat, and was out hit wicket for a golden duck: not something you see much at this level of cricket.

Then, with Diamonds threatening a last-ditch late surge, captain Georgia Adams brought Taylor back on in the 35th over and she worked her magic yet again, trapping Beth Langston LBW (21) attempting the sweep, and dislodging half-centurion Sterre Kalis, who sent a catch up to Adams at mid-on.

In a matter of minutes Taylor became the unexpected hero of the hour, as Vipers romped home by 38 runs. Adams, whose 80 with the bat had earlier set things up nicely for the Vipers and who might on any other day have expected to be crowned Player of the Match, had the grace to step back and let Taylor lead the team off the pitch.

As we reported last week, Taylor’s role in this competition came as a surprise to herself as much as anyone – she had lined up a commentary gig with BBC Radio Solent for the Vipers game against the Stars at Hove, which she had to pull out of when she was selected to play in the match!

“About 3 or 4 weeks ago now I got the call from Lottie,” Taylor told us after the final. “I’d made 77 in a club game the week before, and I thought that might have done it, but actually they wanted me for my bowling.”

“It was an amazing feeling to get the call. Within a week I was training with the guys!”

Taylor made her senior domestic debut for Hampshire back in May 2010, when the county side were still languishing in the depths of Division 3, and the following season was regularly opening the batting for them. In September 2015, she hit a memorable 165* against Northants, helping Hampshire secure promotion to Division 2 at the end of the season. (They of course then went on to reach Division 1 and win the Women’s County Championship in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018.)

Now, with today’s performance, she has fixed her name in the record books, but with the ball, not the bat – she finishes as leading overall wicket-taker in the RHF Trophy.

So how did the batter become a bowler?

“I was out for a while with an ACL injury,” Taylor explains. “That took me out of the game for 2 and a bit years. And then when I came back from that I just wanted a way to get in that Hampshire side, and I thought that they had a lot of good batting so I thought maybe working on my bowling might be a way to get in with something different. Lottie saw it and she was impressed, and I wouldn’t be here without her.”

“Now apparently I’m a bowling all-rounder who bats at 10!”

What is it about her bowling that has bamboozled so many? “I bowl genuine arm-balls,” she explains. “I turn one if the pitch is turning, but on a very good batting track like that I wouldn’t, I just get the ball to drift away. I back myself to bowl on a spot and it worked for me today.”

At age 26, Taylor exemplifies what the new regional structure is all about – she won’t be getting an England call-up any time soon; and she won’t ever earn her entire living from cricket. She works for an aerospace company, selling aeroplane parts, and is fortunate enough that her employers – Curtiss-Wright – allow her the flexibility to have time off to train and play cricket when she needs it.

But the opportunity to have access to a professional set-up, and train year-round, is nonetheless a transformative one for her. 

“It’s fantastic,” she says. “When I was growing up, playing professional cricket was such a long way off, and now to think that I’m actually playing professional cricket while I’m holding down a full time job elsewhere – it’s a struggle, but it’s a fantastic opportunity and long may it continue for a good few more years.”

A few weeks ago, after the first round of matches, I wrote that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy had thrown up a dilemma which was never quite resolved in the KSL: “are we trying to develop the next generation of England players, or are we trying to put on the best display possible?… As the matches in the RHF unfold over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see what answers – if any – emerge.”

Taylor’s performance today – done in front of the Sky cameras, for all to see – is that answer: this competition, and indeed this new regional structure, is about opportunities for all, regardless of age, and regardless of whether anyone has even ever heard your name before.

At the end of a strange and difficult season, that feels like something to celebrate.

NEWS: Tom Harrison Pledges Support For Women’s Test Cricket

ECB Chief Executive Tom Harrison has pledged his support for women’s Test cricket, stating that he sees it as “a key part of Ashes series” and that the ECB are keen to work to fit the multi-day format “into something that builds a narrative for the women’s game internationally”.

Speaking to promote the ECB’s Women’s Big Cricket Month, Harrison said:

“At the moment [women’s Test cricket] is a key part of Ashes series, and we’re trying to work out what is the right balance for international women’s Test cricket.”

“I think if you asked that question now you wouldn’t have too many international teams putting up their hands and saying ‘this makes sense for us’.”

“It certainly does for us, it certainly does for Australia. Outside of that, we’ve got to do a lot of work to work out how that fits into something that builds a narrative for the women’s game internationally.”

With Acting Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley having expressed his own support for more women’s Test cricket, Harrison said he would shortly be having a conversation with Hockley about the possibility of extending the next Women’s Ashes series – due to be played in Australia in 2022 – to incorporate two Test matches.

“If it’s something that both boards and both sets of fans want and demand, then it’s something we can look at,” he said. “I’m sure it will come up in our next conversation.”

Harrison was also keen to emphasise that discussions around Test cricket should be player-led, saying that the current group of England players “feel very passionately about playing Test cricket”. “We need to do a lot of work on listening to players,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that Test cricket represents a commercial challenge, saying that “it will be difficult to find the commercial support for [more] Test cricket”.

More broadly with regard to the future commercial direction of women’s cricket, he said that it was important to “enable women’s events to stand on their own” and to generate separate revenue for the women’s game:

“The next important staging post from an ICC perspective is all about the next media rights process, where we will need to generate revenue for the women’s game from the women’s events. instead of it just being part of a global set of events that are sold for a couple of billion dollars globally,” he said.

“We need to absolutely ringfence at ICC level the ability for that revenue to go into generating excitement around the women’s game specifically. And I think that starts to send the expectation to investors that what we want to see is proper investment into creating conditions under which the women’s game can grow.”

Q&A: Jonathan Finch – The RHF Trophy Is “On A Par” With The Hundred

With the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy now well underway, we spoke to ECB Director of Women’s Cricket Jonathan Finch about regional selection policies, the relationship between the ECB and the 8 regions, how the regions fit in with The Hundred (Women’s Competition) when it launches next season, and lots more besides. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: From the ECB’s perspective, what is the purpose and the role of the new regional teams?

A: We look at it from a number of different angles. From a competition perspective, the purpose is to try and get the best players playing against each other at the best possible grounds, on the best possible pitches, with the best possible coaches with the infrastructure to support that. So you’re exposing players to good, hard, competitive cricket. That is one element – exposing players to the various scenarios that they might later come up against in international cricket.

And then obviously, there is a big push to try and increase the number of players that can make a living out of the game, and we hope the number of professional players and the amount they earn continues to increase as we move forward. But if we can start to increase the number of players that are professional and get to focus on their cricket 12 months a year – that’s the most exciting bit for me: getting players exposed to good quality coaching from full time head coaches, over a prolonged period of time.

Q: Would you describe the RHF Trophy and whatever replaces it as a “development competition”?

A: Certainly not. It is our top end domestic competition, that will hopefully be played across 50 and 20 over formats moving forward.

Q: If we were looking at it as a hierarchy, do you see it as sitting on a par with The Hundred?

A: What you get with The Hundred is three overseas players. You get an opportunity then for our current international players and our future international players to learn pro ways and understand how to compete with those players. There is no doubt that in the period of time that The Hundred is taking place, that that would be our premier competition. There is a difference in that the regional structure is in place to support players 12 months of the year whereas The Hundred has a short sharp focus of attention during the season.

But from my position I see them as on a par. They’re both helping us develop cricketers to play for England, and helping us develop a plausible way to increase the number of females that make a living out of playing the game, but also developing the number of roles, coaches and support staff that are involved in the women’s game to help drive what we do forward.

Q: Will there be overseas players in next year’s regional teams?

A: Each region has the opportunity to bring one non-England qualified player in to play, whether that be for the 50-over or the T20 competition. That is very much up to the eight regions – is it going to add value for them? Is it going to add value to their environment and what they do?

Q: If the regions are intended to develop England players, was it a surprise that two Scotland players got regional retainers?

A: That’s a regional decision to make. We do have discussions, and there is that veto from the ECB if we needed to do that. However, one of the key things that we’ve got to develop is a level of collaboration and trust. And trust in those regions that they are making decisions a) based on what we as the ECB want to achieve from the competition, but also b) based on setting up a team in the way they want to set it up, based on seeing something in certain individuals. Some teams may identify key characteristics within individual players that will help develop others within the squad and therefore that player is deemed the right fit for that team.

We don’t want it to be ECB versus the eight regions – it’s about us working together as a team of nine to do what’s better for us. If we start going in and dictating decisions, based around those kinds of regulations, it becomes a bit Big Brother, and we don’t want to do that. We trust Lightning to make that decision for the betterment of English cricket, because that’s what they’ve signed up to do as being one of the regions.

There is no doubt that Kathryn and Sarah Bryce have added a lot to Lightning and the competition as a whole, and that in itself helps develop both their teammates and the opposition who come up against them.

Q: What were the selection criteria given from the ECB to regional directors, when choosing their squads?

A: There were three “steers”:

1. Is this player identified as high potential to go on and play for England?

2. Is there the perception that if this player is exposed to development for 12 months of the year, then they’ve got high potential to go on and play for England?

3. Is this individual going to add real value to the competition? Are they going to perform to a certain level that raises the standard of not only their peers, but the opposition that they play against?

We didn’t put a hierarchy on those three. We asked the regional teams to consider them in their selection.

Q: So there was no age criteria?

A: No, there was no age criteria.

Q: Were those selection criteria perhaps inconsistently applied, given that some players were explicitly not selected based on being “too old”?

A: Each region will have their principles of selection and what they’re trying to do, whether that be put a squad together for the here and now to try and win the competition in the next couple of years, because they think that gives them profile in the local area and then helps them build a brand or connection to that region – or whether someone’s taken a longer term view of, actually we’ll select a team that we think is going to be successful in four or five years.

That decision has to be led by the regions.

Q: What would your advice be to the players who were not selected based on being “too old”?

A: This is high level, high performance sport, and not everyone agrees all the time. After the first year of the competition, Regional Directors and Head Coaches will start looking at different options that are available out there on the market, and you are likely to see a migration of players from different parts of the country into different teams. 

That is exciting – we’ve now got an opportunity where there are retainer contracts and pay-as-you-play contracts, at eight different regions. So my direct advice is, try and continue in county cricket – performances are the currency of selection – and if for whatever reason that isn’t the right region for that individual then there are always seven others.

Q: Will women’s county cricket continue in 2021 and beyond? Will there be a T20 Cup for example?

A: That decision is yet to be made. There’s arguments for and against. Those discussions will be part of a wider end of season review. We will get feedback from the Regional Directors, from the Head Coaches and from the players about the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Competition this year. And that feedback inevitably will involve the role of [senior] county cricket and what that means for the set-up as a whole.

Q: Is it still the plan that the remaining 40 pro domestic contracts will be awarded in October, and if so, how much say does the ECB get in who gets those?

A: Yes, our intention is to do that.

The process will be similar to the process for awarding the current regional retainer contracts. The regions spoke to us about certain players, in order to gain insight into those that are on our pathway or from our scouting in the past. It wasn’t “have a think about this player”, it was, how do we help you create a better picture of that player because you’re going to invest in this player for the next 12 months. It was a general discussion, to help out some of those regional directors that have come from either outside the game or come from different parts of the game.

Q: The amount that players are paid has been set centrally by the ECB. Let’s say the Vipers win the RHF Trophy and they want to give their players a bonus, or pay them more next year, would they be allowed to do that?

A: That will be part of the review. One of the reasons to try and get a uniform approach initially, certainly with a young startup competition, is that you don’t want too many things complicating things early doors. So at least you know that if a player is involved in this, they’re going to get recompense, they’re going to get their expenses, and that’s a good step.

It would be a good step if the regions are able to offer different things that gives that region competitive advantages over others, whether that be salary or something else. What you want is people to start to come up with new ideas, and be quite enterprising in and around that.

Q: Has the RHF got more exposure because of The Hundred not happening, and will there be as much exposure next season? Will we still see live streams next year?

A: It’s a great question that we’ll never know the answer to!

To be able to watch the live streams is amazing. If we can continue to hold the matches at those types of venues, the capability to stream is quite easy because the infrastructure is there. I would love it that we continue to be able to provide that as a service, not only for people following the game, but the intricacies it brings to us as a coaching team centrally, being able to watch the game live and have live conversations about it.

There’s no doubt that if we don’t continue with what we’ve done, it would be a backward step. The coverage on the first weekend, we had the ECB Reporters Network out there reporting on it, we had really good paper coverage and online coverage. And that in itself is a really positive thing for the players playing the game. So it’s important that we try and continue to do that.

Obviously we’ve got The Hundred coming on board next year, but they’re not mutually exclusive in the fact that a thriving domestic competition is going to help The Hundred, and a thriving Hundred is going to help the regional set-up. So I think working hand in hand around that type of stuff is important.

Q: Does the move away from the traditional county identities to new regional brands concern you, in that it makes building a fanbase harder?

A: You’re always going to have a battle between protecting a current brand and trying to build something new. But there’s a very strong argument, performance wise, as to why we’ve gone to eight regions. I think what it does do is bring counties together in that region, to make decisions that are for the betterment of women’s cricket, and the players within the pathway. And you’re pooling resources, insight, knowledge and understanding of the women’s game. That’s a real positive.

NEWS: Player Pay & Contracts To Roll-Over For Women’s Hundred

The ECB have today confirmed that all players offered contracts to play in The Hundred (Women’s Competition) in 2020 can renew their deal on the same terms for next year – same team, same pay.

The decision has been made “to offer maximum security to the players who were denied the opportunity to play in The Hundred this year, after the competition was postponed due to COVID-19”.

Anya Shrubsole has already re-signed for Southern Brave, and many of the other contracted players for 2020 are expected to follow suit over the next few weeks. As of October, teams can begin to replace any players who choose not to roll-over their contracts.

The news is especially welcome given that the ECB announced in June that the salaries in the Men’s Hundred are being cut for 2021 by 20%. With the women’s salaries substantially less than the men’s to begin with, there were concerns that any cuts would have hit the women’s competition particularly hard – but the ECB have clearly recognised that, and have chosen (rightly) to protect the women players.

RHF TROPHY: Batting Long Is Batting Strong

In our vodcast today, we posed the question: how successful has the RHF Trophy been so far? “Very”, was our general conclusion, but there was one important aspect which we omitted to mention.

Sophie Luff summed it up in our post-match interview, after Storm – chasing 289 – ended up losing to Vipers by 32 runs.

“I love the fact that this is a 50-over competition because it genuinely shows people’s skills, and you have to do your skills over a long period of time,” the Storm captain said.

“With the bat, you have to take responsibility and you’re allowed to score big scores. The fact that Georgia Adams scored 150 today shows that – you wouldn’t get those scores in a T20.”

“It’s the right format, particularly given the opportunity for the young girls in the squad.”

It would have been easy for the ECB, given the constraints of this summer, to rejig the original plan and announce that the regions would actually play 20-over cricket this season.

It would have been cheaper, logistically easier and generally less of a strain on precious resources.

But ultimately it would have robbed us of one of the greatest domestic games we’ve ever seen live – when’s the last time a county side got within 30-odd of a 289-run target? – as well as one of the all-time great domestic innings – Georgia Adams finishing unbeaten on 154*.

It would have robbed us of seeing Nat Wraith, age 18, battling away to score 68 in 75 balls – the kind of innings that the England Training Squad player simply wouldn’t have the chance to accumulate in a 20-over match.

And it would have robbed us of seeing Sophie Luff playing her natural game, in her first ever season as a full professional. Luffy might be best known to most people as a key element of Western Storm’s double-win in the 20-over KSL, but she’s also been a prolific run-scorer for Somerset in the Women’s County Championship over the years; and if she had to pick a format, it’s pretty obvious which one she’s better suited to.* (Which explains why she’s currently second on the list of leading run-scorers in this competition, with 336, second only to [who else?] Georgia Adams, who has 379.)

Not making the KSL a 50-over competition, as was Clare Connor’s original intention back when it was launched in 2015, was a mistake – domestic players were never exposed to the high-profile of the KSL over the longer format, and our system fell further behind Australia’s in the meantime. So, credit to the ECB for not repeating that mistake this time around, and pushing ahead with their original plan for the regions to play in a 50-over competition this season, even in spite of COVID.

*Ed: She’d probably actually pick multi-day cricket, but let’s not try to run before we can walk.

RHF TROPHY: The Last Ten Wins It For Vipers

Southern Vipers maintained their 100% record in the RHF Trophy at the Ageas Bowl today, beating Sunrisers by 49 runs. They now look strong favourites to go on and win the South group, with 19 points on the board (5 more than nearest contenders Western Storm).

What has been the secret to their success? Well, just like in the KSL, a strong middle order seems to be key – and Charlotte Edwards knows how to pick ’em. Vipers’ batting line-up in the RHF Trophy includes England Academy duo 21-year-old Maia Bouchier and 19-year-old Charlie Dean; “seasoned pro” Paige Scholfield, who has been propping up the Sussex middle order since 2012; and Carla Rudd, who has kept wicket for Vipers since Day One and has always been a safe pair of gloves. It may be a cliche, but that mix of youth and experience is crucial: between them, these 4 have so far scored 345 runs in the competition – a substantial proportion of Vipers’ cumulative total of 910.

Running alongside this goes the ability to “finish big” – on the 3 occasions where Vipers have batted first (out of 4 games so far played in the RHF Trophy), they’ve amassed substantial runs in the final 10 overs of their allotted 50. Against Western Storm, they hit 58 runs off the last 10; against Stars, it was 50 runs; today, it was 48.

As it turned out, that 10 overs was the most crucial period of the entire game. At 184-7 with 10 overs to come, many sides at this level would have rolled over and lost their last 3 wickets with a whimper – it’s the kind of limp finish we often see in county cricket. Vipers, though, were able to consistently go at nearly 5 an over for the last 10, bowled out with just 1 ball going unused in their innings. Carla Rudd was particularly impressive, cleverly marshalling the tail and playing a few decent shots of her own, including a textbook reverse sweep for four.

As for those 48 runs added between overs 40 and 50? They were, quite literally, the difference between victory and defeat.

Carry on like this, and Vipers might just ensure that the KSL Trophy (which is being repurposed for the RHF) comes back home to Hampshire after all.