CE CUP: Sparks v Lightning – Jones’s Polish Trumps Odedra’s Class… Just!

By Richard Clark

Sparks made it over the line in the end – just about – but this was nothing less than an enthralling cricket match, in which both sides might have felt they held the upper hand at various stages, albeit never for very long and never with any degree of conviction.

Maybe the shorter forms of the game do offer less room for ebbs and flows, twists and turns, but these two teams gave the lie to that notion in a tussle that went right down to the bone.

Ultimately Eve Jones played the pivotal role – her 71 off 55 balls contained three 6s and seven 4s, and as much fluent strokeplay as one can reasonably expect inside twenty overs. Coming on the back of her fine Hundred form and then another half-century in last week’s victory against Vipers, there can’t be any batter in the country in better form right now.

Jones’s innings was almost enough to see Sparks home, but when Sonia Odedra prised her out trying to flip the ball over short fine leg for a boundary that would have put the home side within two runs of victory with seven balls left to get them, only to find the grateful hands of Yvonne Graves, the complexion of the game changed once more.

A spearing yorker from Odedra cleaned up Emily Arlott next ball, leaving Issy Wong and new batter Chloe Hill to find a run a ball off Grace Ballinger’s final over. The pair traded singles from the first four balls, the sprawling Hill somehow escaping a vociferous run out appeal along the way, before Wong lifted the tension by fair clobbering the penultimate ball through mid-on for four.

Had things turned out differently, Odedra may well have been taking the plaudits. Her four overs brought figures of two for 14 and were a model of precision, conceding only one boundary and consistently giving the batters nothing to which they could free their arms. Lucy Higham’s off spin, too, was impressive, yielding just 19 runs.

The one-time England seamer had returned to the attack with Sparks needing 31 from 30 balls with seven wickets in hand, and conceded just two from the 16th over as Thea Brookes struggled to get her away. Kirstie Gordon’s next five balls brought just another two runs, and a game that Sparks had well within their grasp was suddenly sliding out of it.

One ball can so often change things, though, and Jones lofted Gordon’s sixth over long off. Shackles broken, nerves calmed. Despite the loss of Brookes, Jones and Wong collected 11 from the next over, leaving just enough breathing space to collect 10 off the final two overs.

Earlier on, Odedra (22) and Beth Harmer (26) had built what seemed an imposing platform as 53 runs came from the power play. Essex’s Harmer took a particular liking to Wong, driving her through the off side for back-to-back fours, before seizing on a short ball next up and pulling it some way beyond the rope at deep midwicket.

But both went quickly and although Abbey Freeborn (33), Higham (22), and Theresa Graves (14) all made useful contributions, none could maintain that initial scoring rate as wickets began to fall. A total of 136 for 8 wasn’t quite one thing or the other, but certainly wasn’t what Lightning would have been hoping for from 72 for 2 at the mid-way point.

Sparks’ reply began in harem scarem style, Sophie Munro’s opening over containing a boundary each for Jones and Marie Kelly, four leg byes down to fine leg, a couple of wides (one legside, one off), a scampered two, and finally the wicket of Kelly who, unable to repeat her Hove heroics, hoicked one up in the air to Harmer rushing in from cover.

When Milly Home went three balls later, Sparks were 17 for 2 it was Lightning’s turn to have a spring in their steps. But Jones found solid company in Gwen Davies (15) and Brookes (17), and Sparks were always ahead of the DLS par until those see-saw final exchanges got them home.

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

THE HUNDRED: An Uncapped XI

By Richard Clark

Unsurprisingly, most of the big noises throughout the Hundred have come from established names, the usual suspects either from England or overseas. Most… but not all. And with the group stage complete, now felt like the right time to pick an ‘Uncapped’ Team of the Tournament, those players whose chances may sometimes have been limited but who managed to make their mark all the same.

The criteria? I’ve stuck strictly to the ‘uncapped’ rule, so no place for Abtaha Maqsood (a Scottish international), even though she has undoubtedly made an impact on and off the pitch. Ditto the Bryce sisters, and no spots either for the unrelated Smiths – Lynsey and Bryony – to an extent forgotten faces on the international stage, perhaps, but unarguably ‘capped’ all the same. That apart, I’ve gone on numbers and good old gut feel!

EVE JONES – Birmingham Phoenix (Runs 233, Ave 33.28, SR 118.87)

Third on the run charts, an absolute shoe-in for this team. Historically, not always the quickest of scorers, but invariably gave her side a base over the past three weeks. Her half-century against Fire was somewhat overshadowed by Verma’s fireworks at the other end, but she took centre stage in the winner-takes-all defeat of Superchargers, hitting three sixes in her 64 from 47 balls to set Phoenix on the road to the eliminator, and then took that stunning catch to dismiss Lauren Winfield-Hill just as it looked to be going the Leeds side’s way.

ALICE CAPSEY – Oval Invincibles (Runs 106, Ave 21.2, SR 121.83; W 7, Ave 11.85, RPB 0.87)

Might be a little disappointed that her 59 against Spirit at Lord’s was her only score of real note, but the impact of that innings alone is probably enough to seal her place. Throw in seven wickets at a miserly economy rate and she becomes one of this team’s lynchpins. Her victims with the ball included Laura Woolvaart, Danni Wyatt, Georgia Elwiss, Deandra Dottin, Heather Knight and Sarah Taylor. If any batter thought they might be able to take liberties against the 17-year-old, they will have thought again by now. Her eligibility for this team in 12 months’ time must be in severe doubt!

EMMA LAMB – Manchester Originals (Runs 135, Ave 19.28, SR 125; W 3, Ave 42, Econ 1.32)

Came good after a slow start, with scores of 32 (helping her team become the only side – so far – to beat Brave), 39 and 46 in three of her last four innings as Originals pushed their way up from the lower reaches of the table. Three for 16 against Phoenix were her only wickets, but she rarely got clobbered with the ball and always provides a steady bowling option for her team.

MAIA BOUCHIER – Southern Brave (Runs 85, Ave 42.5, SR 154.54)

85 runs may not seem like a big number, but look at that strike rate! Coming in at no. 5 behind a prolific top four, ‘the Mighty Bouch’ fulfilled her role as finisher to perfection. She may not have faced many balls, but she certainly made the most of them, and four not outs from her six innings – granted a couple were VERY brief – also point to a player with the mental wherewithal to see her job through, whether setting a target or polishing off a chase.

SOPHIE LUFF – Welsh Fire (Runs 79, Ave 13.16, SR 116.17)

Luff will probably be disappointed with her Hundred, but it’s a mark of her consistency at County and KSL level that her bar is set relatively high. Frequently coming in with her team in strife, the pressure to score quickly and not get out often told. 30 off 21 balls in a losing cause against Brave was her top score. But every team needs a skipper, and she brings more experience than most.

(Luff is the one change I’ve allowed myself from the team I original selected on Twitter, replacing Charlie Dean. Dean is a victim of my original pick being spinner-heavy, thanks to the presence of Capsey in particular, and can consider herself unlucky.)

DANI GIBSON – London Spirit (Runs 108, Ave 36, SR 180; W 3, Ave 42.33, RPB 1.33)

With the possible exception of Capsey, no uncapped player had as big a tournament as Gibson. Hard to believe now that she came in at no. 7 or below in the first four games, making a combined 58 from 30 balls across those knocks! Overdue elevation to no. 5 saw her help Dottin finish off the chase against Superchargers, before 34* off 19 balls against Fire hinted at what could have been had Spirit got their batting order right. Not the best return with the ball, perhaps, but her batting alone gets her in this team, and her fielding – notably the catch to dismiss Mignon Du Preez against Originals is an added bonus too.

EMILY ARLOTT – Birmingham Phoenix (Runs 39, Ave 13, SR 121.87; W 5, Ave 27.8, RPB 1.36)

In short form cricket where “pace can travel”, and in a tournament where spin has often been the way to go, picking a second seamer (see below for the spearhead!) wasn’t easy. Ultimately it came down to Phoenix team-mates Arlott and Issy Wong, whose numbers were spookily similar. Both took five wickets at 1.36 and 1.35 runs per ball respectively, and with the bat each played one significant cameo. Arlott gets the narrowest of nods by dint of her slightly better strike rate with the ball and the fact that her major contribution with the bat (22 off 14) got her team over the line against Rockets – crucially, as it turned out!

CARLA RUDD – Southern Brave (Runs 4, Ave n/a, SR 133.3; C 2, St 8)

In the end it was a 50/50 call between Rudd and Ellie Threlkeld, and I’m happy to take the flak from those who would have gone the other way! Rudd’s ten dismissals, including eight stumpings, ended up winning the tussle against Threlkeld’s seven. The Brave keeper faced only three balls in the entire competition, so squaring them off on their batting hardly seemed fair. For what it’s worth, Threlkeld’s 29 runs off 28 balls might be considered a little under-powered for an experienced batter, but perhaps that’s being harsh. Both were tidy, and it hardly seems fair to pick one over the other, but someone has to!

LAUREN BELL – SOUTHERN BRAVE (W 10, Ave 16.7, RPB 1.15)

The outstanding uncapped quick bowler, and another who walks – nay, strides! – into this team. Her best balls are nigh on unplayable, and her height gives her a point of difference from other bowlers that batters often struggle to get to grips with. Three for 22 against the Invincibles was her best return, but only conceding 16 runs from 20 balls against a Phoenix top four in full flow was probably her best performance. There’s still some rawness to her, and a few too many leg side drifters, but she’s another who may not be eligible for selection in next year’s team.

KATIE LEVICK – Northern Superchargers (W 7, Ave 21.42, RPB 1.15)

Only three uncapped bowlers boasted a better economy rate than Levick, who brought all her years of experience to bear. Consistency was key, never going for more than 24 runs in any game, even if there wasn’t one stand-out display. Two for 23 against Phoenix was a good effort as her team tried to rein in Eve Jones and co, but ultimately the Midlanders pinched that final qualification slot.

HANNAH JONES – Manchester Originals (W 4, Ave 19.75, RPB 1.05)

Competing with Sophie Ecclestone and Alex Hartley as fellow left arm spinners, Jones had her work cut out to make an impact, and only forced her way into the Originals team for the final four games. However, she arguably out-bowled both – a better economy rate than Hartley and only just shy of Ecclestone’s run-a-ball thrift, she bettered the latter’s strike rate by a fair margin. Her three for 17 – including the wickets of Wyatt and Smriti Mandhana – was pivotal in Originals’ win against finalists Brave.

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

Why?

By Richard Clark

There was much to celebrate at Bristol – Shafali & Sophia, Rana & Bhatia, Eccles (tone or cakes, take your pick), Brunt’s outswinger, Anya’s inswinger, THAT CATCH, the media positivity – social and mainstream – and plenty more besides.

But it’s not my intention to dwell on any of these because you will already have read and heard copious amounts on all of them. And because for all those stand-outs from a tremendous four days I came home with something else that will stick in my memory.

I don’t know whether they had just arrived, or perhaps had been sitting elsewhere up until then, but some time shortly before lunch on Saturday I became aware of people shuffling into their seats behind me. It turned out to be (one assumed) a father and two daughters, I’m guessing aged around 8 and 10, and for the next couple of hours the father – a patient chap, and clearly knowledgeable – took on the task of explaining to his girls what was happening.

We all know how difficult it is to describe cricket to the uninitiated. Where do you begin? And once you’ve begun, where do you end? The game is so utterly bonkers when you set about unravelling it all that even the most seasoned observer will readily admit to learning something new all the time.

But our man did his best, and his best was eminently passable, I assure you. Inevitably, though, the obvious question came soon enough from one of the girls. I can’t be sure – memory isn’t what it was these days – but I think it was after a few words centred on the square leg umpire being called “the square leg umpire.”

“Why?”

Every parent lives in dread of this question, the worst question your child can possibly ask. Worse even than “Are we nearly there yet?” Yes, that bad.

“Thank you for your explanation, father. However, I must inform you that, having given the matter due consideration, I consider it inadequate. Please try again, and do better this time.”

You have failed. In order to simplify things, maybe, you’ve tried to go for the lazy, half-cooked option and hoped to get away with it while she was distracted by that pigeon, or those clouds. But she saw you coming, and she’s not having it. Not only have you failed, but she has now pointed out to everyone around you that you have failed. Please try again, and do better this time. No pressure.

But at the same time it’s the BEST question you can be asked, because the alternative is a child who isn’t interested. And these girls WERE interested. So he did try better, and so the afternoon passed. There was never any hint of boredom, or mischief, just watching and chatting, chatting and watching. At one point even a tentative “Come on, Sophie,” was ventured by one of them, although it was in definite need of an exclamation mark that would have carried it across the Nevil Road ground and, who knows, might have sprung a much-needed wicket to spark an England victory march. Ah well…

Tellingly, when they all agreed to go home at the tea interval, it was the girls who were the more reluctant parties to the agreement. I suspect in the end there may have been bribery involved. We’ve all been there.

I tell this story apropos of nothing really. It’s not especially related to women’s cricket – after all, it could easily have been a couple of lads, and a men’s cricket match (and a mother, come to that). The scenario would have been the same. But the fact is, it wasn’t either of those things. It was two girls watching a women’s cricket match and learning about the game. And it was wonderful.

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

RHF TROPHY: Sparks v Storm – The Day Amy Jones Arrived

By Richard Clark

We’re less than fifteen overs into the game and Central Sparks are going along quite nicely. Already 75 on the board for the loss of just two wickets, with Amy Jones on 26 and just getting going, whilst Gwenan Davies is equally set at the other end. There’s time to spare and a big score on the cards.

The wily Katie Levick is on, but not causing too many issues until, with the final ball of her second over, she entices Jones down the pitch for a lofted on drive. Whether the ball isn’t really there for the shot, or whether Jones doesn’t quite get the connection she wants, it doesn’t come off. Alex MacDonald pouches the catch at mid-on and Jones is gone for 26. Sparks subside for 144, leaving almost twelve overs unused, and Northern Diamonds canter to a nine-wicket win.

It’s harsh to blame the defeat on Jones, but equally Sparks most experienced batter has got herself out with the proverbial “all day” to bat, and left her side in a precarious position, from which they don’t emerge well.

That was last August – the opening day of the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.

Fast forward to the new season.  Jones has already taken a century off the same Diamonds attack as her side pulled off an audacious opening day win at Headingley, and now she’s back on home turf for the first time since that costly misjudgement.

Sparks are not so well set now.  31 for two, and already into the eleventh over, the innings has started sluggishly, added a tinge of respectability only by Western Storm’s generosity with their ‘wides tally’.  Almost immediately she loses another partner in the cruellest of circumstances, slamming a straight drive back at Dani Gibson, which the bowler manages to divert onto the stumps to run out Davies.  41 for three.

For too long, perhaps, there was a tendency to think that England were lucky to have such a capable deputy to Sarah Taylor, when what we should have been thinking was that we were lucky to have such a capable Amy Jones.  Jones is too good, too talented, to be thought of as anybody’s deputy.  One wonders whether this mindset seeped into her own thinking – she’s always seemed to lack the ‘swagger’ of a player who knows she belongs on the international stage.

We are about to see Amy Jones swagger.

After 18 overs, at 60 for three, there’s still more splutter than spark about the home side’s innings, and with the inexperienced Milly Home for company much rests on Jones’s shoulders.  As if to emphasise the point, Gibson puts down a difficult caught and bowled chance when she is on 14, and the next ball sails over mid-on for four.  It’s not the start of the onslaught, not yet, but it is a turning point.

Two overs later Jones lofts Gibson for the first six of the match, then adds a boundary to rub it in.  Mollie Robbins replaces Gibson, and Jones puts her into the Hollies Stand for another six.  Before much longer she has her fifty, at exactly a run a ball, unperturbed by the loss of Home along the way.

This is the sort of innings Amy Jones has played more than once for England, the sort where she looks so good… and then gets herself out.  She nearly does exactly that here too, driving Hennessy into the hands of the diving Lauren Filer at mid-off.  But Filer spills what was, in fairness, an awkward chance.  Two balls later Jones does it again, this time finding the leaping Heather Knight at cover.  This one is not a difficult catch but the England skipper can’t hold on, nor can she at the second grab as the balls falls to the ground.  There’s a third drop soon after, but this one is by a gentleman in the Hollies Stand, and he’s excused by an understandable preoccupation with the pint in his other hand.  

There won’t be any more chances.

The hundred comes off 83 balls – perfect acceleration – and Storm have no answers.  The next fifty runs take just twenty deliveries, including three more sixes, ramps, scoops, drives, and a baffling – to us mere mortals – reverse sort-of-pull off Shrubsole, if you don’t mind, to bring up the 150.

Only now does she tire a little.  I kid you not that at one point I was seriously doing the maths to work out whether a double-hundred was within range, but in the end she ‘makes do’ with 163 not out.  A record for the competition, and one that somebody will need to bat very well to beat.  The ovation from the 250-strong crowd is warm and genuine, and to a man, woman and child it’s a standing one.

Sparks total of 295 for seven proves beyond Storm’s reach, although Knight does her best to atone with 59 in a century opening stand, and her opening partner Lauren Parfitt is unfortunate to fall for 91 – by some margin the highest score by a non-professional so far in this season’s competition – just as she and Sophie Luff are positioning their side well for the closing stages.

From 183 for one, Storm lose wickets regularly as Ria Fackrell in particular puts the squeeze on.  Fackrell was the sixth bowler used, having taken none for 50 off seven overs against Diamonds two days previously.  Here she picks up four for 34 at a time when Eve Jones might have been wondering who to turn to.

But this was Amy Jones’s day, one that she should remember every time she goes out to bat, because Jones is as naturally gifted a batter as England have in their ranks. If she needed proof of that herself, she has it now.

OPINION: The Wisden Five – An Alternative View

By Richard Clark

Syd’s piece yesterday on the non-selection of a woman among Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2021 raised some interesting points. However, I’m not entirely sure I agree with him.

It’s true that 2020 was a summer like no other, and that editor Lawrence Booth’s choices could quite reasonably have followed some ‘left-field’ thinking. In fact, even in normal circumstances, the selection of Georgia Adams (maybe less so Stafanie Taylor) might have been justifiable given her outstanding batting and leadership for Southern Vipers. Equally, though, I feel her non-selection can also be justified.

Like many, I’m sure, I felt that little pang of disappointment on Wednesday night, but this is not about Adams or Taylor. It’s about the wider question Syd asked yesterday – is the women’s game on a par with the men’s… or not?

The timeline of ‘The Five’ and Women’s cricket is an interesting one. No woman was chosen until 2009 (Claire Taylor) despite England having won World Cups in both 1973 and 1993. One wonders how long and hard the respective editors of the time pondered selections from those winning teams – I reckon I know exactly how long!

Bizarrely, from our vantage point now, even our 2009 Double World Champions saw nobody honoured – Taylor had been selected for her achievements in 2008.

Prior to the 2018 Almanack (that’s just three years ago!) only two women had EVER been chosen. Think about that for a moment – TWO! 2017 changed all that, of course.

The selection criteria have always been unique – influence on or excellence in the previous English summer, the fact that you can only be chosen once, and that it is in the editor’s gift. There is no other award in cricket – possibly in any sport – quite like it. Its mystique is precisely therein – as a Worcestershire supporter (apologies for digressing into ‘The Other Game’ briefly!), my fascination with ‘The Five’ was cemented by the selection of Alan Richardson in 2012, but you can’t tell me he was quantifiably one of the five best players in England the previous year.

Richardson’s selection is interesting, though, in the context that it was purely related to domestic cricket. Jamie Porter, Simon Harmer, and now Darren Stevens, have been picked on similar grounds more recently. Women’s domestic cricket in this country, contrastingly, had virtually no public profile until the advent of the KSL in 2016, less than five years ago.

In that context, the suggestion of someone like Georgia Adams even as a potential recipient is a sign of huge strides. In the longer term I hope that more players from the domestic game can force their way into the conversation, and onto the final list. Is this to say we should be grateful for what we get? No, but it is to emphasise the huge differences in profile historically between the men’s and women’s games. And although Wisden has been a very positive influence in shifting those sands, the differences – whilst shrinking – undoubtedly remain.

Despite the selection of women becoming a regular occurrence in recent years, I’m not so sure that this sets – or should set – an unbreakable precedent. The notion that there has to be a woman each year feels awkward. What if nobody genuinely merits the accolade, and the editor is left scrambling around for a name – any name – to fill the blank space?

Similarly, how would we have felt had Booth only been ‘allowed’ to pick one woman from England’s 2017 World Cup winning team? Three felt right, of course it did – anybody reading this probably wouldn’t have quibbled at all five – but being limited to just one?

Nor am I convinced by the idea of a separate ‘Women’s Five’. My own personal view is that anyone being chosen now is up there at the peak of the game, rather than being dismissed or ignored by many as a level (or more) below because they were ‘only’ on the women’s list. Let the dinosaurs rage, let the debate rumble, but at least let’s have that debate and use it as a tool to keep pushing.

I want any woman chosen to be there for absolutely the right reasons, rather than having the ‘token woman’ asterisk beside her name. And to repeat, this is not about Georgia Adams, Stafanie Taylor, or anybody else from the 2020 season.

If that means there isn’t one then so be it, and conversely should it mean all five are women, so be that too. 2022 – Ecclestone, Goswami, Jones, Levick & Raj – you read it here first!

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

DEEP DIVE: Women’s County Cricket In 2021

By Richard Clark

Good news arrived late last week with the announcement* of the ECB County T20 Cup fixtures for 2021, as devoted fans of the weekly CRICKETher Vodcast will doubtless have noted.

(* It should not go un-noted that describing it as an “announcement” is over-egging things hugely. The fixtures appeared on Play Cricket, much like Mr Benn’s shopkeeper, ‘as if by magic’, and it is hard to escape the feeling that enthusiasm at ECB Towers for women’s county cricket and the promotion thereof is thin on the ground. Be that as it may, however…)

Having been granted a stay of execution for 2020 and 2021, last summer’s competition was mothballed initially – and ultimately cancelled – as a result of the Covid pandemic, and there had been some concern that impetus for one last fling might be lacking after a two-year gap, so it’s pleasing to see those fears allayed. The virus still holds us in its grip, of course, but let’s be optimistic and assume for now that county cricket will be played – and watched – in 2021!

The schedule looks a little different from the last T20 Cup in 2019 (and the abandoned 2020 campaign), when the format mirrored the 50-over competition in being based on three Divisions, with the lowest level organised into three regions. This time around the structure is wholly regional, based around six Groups of six teams (five in one case), and with no suggestion of a play-off system or similar to decide an overall champion.

The reasons for this are not explicit, but it is probably safe to assume that minimising costs such as travelling and overnight stops is a major factor, whether by edict from the ECB or at the request of the counties themselves. Either way there is some sense behind the change, even if it is not quite ideal in other ways.

Matches will take place over four consecutive weekends – Sunday 25th April, Monday 3rd May, Sunday 9th May, and Sunday 16th May. Once again the format is based almost exclusively around the tried and tested ‘triangular’ fixtures with three counties meeting at a single venue – the home team playing first and last – although one fixture in the North Group each week will be a straight back-to-back double-header with that Group consisting of only five teams.

Whilst the set-up works in allowing as many matches to be played as possible, it does have flaws in being limited to the four-week window.

Not everyone will play everyone else twice. In fact, some counties will not meet others at all. In the South East Group for instance, Surrey play Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Sussex twice each… but won’t cross swords with Hampshire at all. One wonders whether an extra round of fixtures could have been a simple solution to that…?

There are also some geographical anomalies. As Syd noted on the Vodcast, his beloved Berkshire have relocated to the West Midlands. So have Somerset. And Wales. To make the journey from Berkshire to Wales along the M4 one travels south of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, yet those counties are in the South West Group. And Somerset will hike through Gloucestershire to reach parts of the West Midlands. Meanwhile, Shropshire is now in the East Midlands, despite being further West than four of the West Midlands counties.

Again the reasons for this can only be guessed at, but the suspicion must be that it’s an attempt to “level up” the competition. Somerset, for instance, might have proved too strong for a South West Division containing five counties which plied their trade in Division Three last time cricket was played. If you read this and feel tempted to shoot the messenger, by the way, (a) it IS only a guess, and (b) I didn’t compile the Groups!

Some Groups will be stronger than others – if this was a World Cup we would no doubt be talking the South East up as the proverbial “Group of Death”, whereas the East Group comprises traditional Division Three counties only. My advice would be not to let that fool you, however – if it turns out to be anything like 2020’s inaugural East of England Championship then some treats will be in store from those less heralded teams. The 50-over competition there took in six matches, and four of them were settled by one run, one wicket, two wickets and on a super over respectively!

One wonders about the North Group – Yorkshire and Lancashire up against North East Warriors (Durham and Northumberland combined), Cumbria and Scotland ‘A’. At the risk of encouraging more messenger-shooting that doesn’t necessarily look like the most level playing field for one or two teams, particularly if England players are available to the Roses pair.

And that brings us on to another unknown – will England players be involved? The timing of the competition is such that it would seem to provide an ideal warm-up opportunity ahead of the international summer, but the England hierarchy may feel there is more to be gained in ‘intensive’ training camps. We shall see.

On top of this, of course, we should see ‘unofficial’ 50-over competitions later in the season too. Surrey’s website confirmed the return of the London Championship for a second season at the same time as revealing their T20 fixtures, and the East of England Championship will also be back, with Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire joining Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire & Norfolk from last season in a ringing endorsement of its success.

Hopefully many other counties will look to play friendly matches, or maybe even follow the lead set by others and form their own regional competitions.

And finally – Women’s County Cricket Day will be back! No date set yet, but we can confirm that it will be one of those four ECB T20 days. Look out for further announcements in the New Year!

Full Fixture List here (select required Division from the drop-down menu):

ECB Women’s County Championship (play-cricket.com)

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

MATCH REPORT: Diamonds Do The Sparkling v Sparks

Richard Clark at Edgbaston

Diamonds dominated their clash with Central Sparks at Edgbaston, ultimately cruising home by nine wickets after Lauren Winfield-Hill (72) and Hollie Armitage’s (54*) opening stand of 139 had driven a coach and horses through the home side’s sub-par 144 all out, an innings holed below the waterline by a superb five for 20 from Katherine Brunt.

The Yorkshire pair got off to a confident start in their chase and were well ahead of the rate throughout, as Sparks strived for much-needed breakthroughs that never came. None of Sparks bowlers could stem the steady flow of runs and by the second sanitisation break after 12 overs, Diamonds were already almost halfway to their target on 61 without loss.

Issy Wong bowled with the sort of pace that earned her a call-up to England’s recent bio-bubble training camp, but there were seven wides in her five overs and England coach Lisa Keightley will want to find the key to ironing that out without compromising the sharpness that saw both Diamonds openers distinctly hurried now and then.

The spinners came in for particular treatment, Sarah Glenn and Anisha Patel conceding 71 between them in ten overs, but that was largely a consequence of the freedom afforded the batsmen by their dominance of the situation.

Winfield-Hill, especially, looked in good form, driving cleanly through the offside before cutting loose – adding to her nine boundaries with two lofted shots for six over mid-off once past her half-century – whilst Armitage played with intelligence in her supporting role. Even Nat Sciver hit the only ball she faced through cover-point for the crispest of fours, as if to emphasise the ease of the visitors’ win.

Edgbaston was an eerie place at the start of play with its vast, cavernous stands devoid of spectators, and the surreal feeling was added to by a distinctly off-centre pitch which meant a boundary of no more than 40-yards on the Western side of the ground, whilst the rope on the Eric Hollies side must have been close to twice that. Frankly it was not a good look for a tournament being marketed widely as important for the women’s game in this country, and a match being live-streamed. Perhaps this, then, was one occasion when we should be grateful for fixed cameras…

Sparks’ day started well enough. The Joneses – Eve and Amy – made steady progress to 30 without los after seven overs from Brunt and Beth Langston, but they perhaps lacked the fluency that Winfield-Hill and Armitage would later demonstrate, and Diamonds protected that shorter boundary well with disciplined line and length before Brunt had Eve Jones (15) caught behind from one that climbed a little off a good length, and then Langston enticed Marie Kelly (4) to drive loosely to Brunt at cover to leave the home side 41 for 2.

Gwenan Davies joined Amy Jones and would play Sparks’ best hand of the piece, with 33 from 42 balls. Sensibly aggressive against Katie Levick in particular, she mixed defence and attack well, and at 75 for 2 after fifteen overs the pair were setting a decent platform at a good rate until Jones tried to go over mid-on but could only pick out the safe hands of Alex MacDonald. A rash shot that didn’t need to be played at that time, it exposed the middle and lower order when another ten or more overs of accumulation were called for.

Thereafter Sparks… ahem… lost their spark as the scoring dried up. Tellingly, there were just three more boundaries in the remaining 23 overs, and when Brunt returned for her second spell she did so with positive relish. The four over burst yielded four for eight – three of them clean bowled – as Sparks slumped from 123 for 4 to 144 all out, which would prove to be nowhere near enough.

Sparks return to Edgbaston on Monday to take on a Thunder side buoyed by their opening day win against Lightning, whilst Diamonds host Lightning at Chester-le-Street. By Monday evening the North Group could already be a two-horse race, or it could be neck-and-neck between all four…

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

VIRTUAL MATCH REPORT: CRICKETish Cup Glory for Fenby & Co As Warriors Weave their Magic

By Richard Clark

With “real” county cricket in abeyance, we got together with @WomensCricDay, @WomensCricBlog and WomensCricket.net to run the CRICKETish Cup – a virtual women’s cricket competition played in cyberspace!

On a thrilling night at Lord’s, North East Warriors carried off the inaugural Cricketish Cup, defying the odds to defeat favourites Surrey by just two runs!

Division 1 newcomers Warriors had already taken the scalp of Sussex in the semi-final and repeated that underdog victory as Laura Ellison defended 7 off the last over in a nail-biting climax.

Surrey had looked in control as Sophia Dunkley (19) and Aylish Cranstone (18) took them within 25 runs of victory with more than four overs left, building on the foundation laid by Bryony Smith (29) and Nat Sciver (25), but both were dismissed in the space of five balls and the Surrey lower order couldn’t find a way over the line from there.

Skipper Hannah Jones took two off each of Ellison’s first two balls to leave her side needing four from four, but when she fell lbw two balls later it left Rhianna Southby to find a boundary off the final ball. She could only find Lizzie Scott at midwicket and the trophy was off to the North East amid huge celebrations.

Earlier, openers Laura Hockaday (21) and Layla Tipton (22) produced another solid opening partnership of 44, only to be dismissed off consecutive deliveries, and when Warriors subsided to 74 for 5 after the unfortunate run out of Ami Campbell for 13 they looked in danger of falling short of a challenging score.

However, youngster Ciara Boaden (30) more than made up for her part in Campbell’s departure as she marshalled the lower order expertly and helped set a target of 131 for Surrey to win.

Jones took three wickets for the Oval side, but the pick of the bowlers was undoubtedly Beth Kerins with 2 for 13 off four miserly overs.

Warriors backed up an excellent fielding display in the semi-final with similar vigour here as they threw themselves at everything to keep Smith and Sciver from cutting loose. There were two wickets each for skipper Helen Fenby, Bailey Wanless and Lizzie Scott who finished as leading wicket-taker for the competition with eight, whilst Tipton topped the run-scoring charts with 108 across the three games.

The Player of the Match Award, meanwhile, went to Boaden for her excellent innings and two fine catches to oust Sciver and Cranstone at critical moments.

So the Trophy travels up to the North East, and it may stay there permanently if rumoured plans to play real cricket again one day come to fruition…

Women’s County Cricket Day 2020 – Setting A Day?

By Richard Clark

With the 2020 Women’s County T20 fixtures now out there for human consumption, thoughts have been turning in this parish to next summer’s Women’s County Cricket Day.

Question one on the agenda – will there be one? The abolition (there really is no other word for it) of the 50-over Championship has reduced the County calendar to just four days of cricket. Slim pickings, by any yardstick, but still County cricket, and, as Syd was quick to emphasise, while there is Women’s County Cricket there should be a Women’s County Cricket Day. He is right, of course.

So we’ve had the calendars out and we’ve been poring over Google Maps trying to assess the best of the four days to choose. And the thing is, it’s not easy, because there isn’t an ideal date. And for that reason, I thought it was worth letting everyone in on the factors that come into play here.

For those who don’t know, there are four rounds of fixtures, across five Divisions, scheduled on Friday 8th May, Monday 25th May (both Bank Holidays) and Sundays 7th and 21st June. Thirty-four “Counties” are, as with previous seasons, split into National Divisions 1 and 2 and a regionalised Division 3 – very roughly speaking split into South West, Eastern Counties, and Midlands/North.

Some maths to begin with – whatever date we choose, there will only be eleven “fixtures”. Or, to put it more accurately, 34 matches but only eleven venues where cricket is being played. The triangular nature of the T20 competition – whilst an excellent format – means that only a third of counties, rather than half of them, are “at home”. That’s not ideal when you want to spread the net as wide as possible. Still, nothing we can do about it…

It’s also worth pointing out that no venues are known yet, so we can only think in terms of Counties rather than specific grounds at this stage.

With the benefit of last year’s campaign, I had a “wish list” of factors in mind that would make up a perfect reprise. I didn’t expect it all to fall into place, but honestly, I’m not sure there could conceivably have been a less favourable combination of fixtures over the four dates!

Some desirables remained unchanged from last year – for example, it would ideally be fairly early in the season, before international duties deprived us of the star attractions, and a day where there were minimal clashes with men’s county cricket so that we weren’t overshadowed or seen to be in conflict with “The Other Game” at all.

But two other things mattered to me. WCCD 2019 was very South-centric, as several in Yorkshire and Lancashire in particular were swift to mention. We didn’t plan it that way, it just happened that the optimum date fell when most of the Northern and Midlands counties were down South. But it did mean that the first thing I looked for this year were the days when there was a good deal of cricket north of Watford!

Friends, let me tell you, both Yorkshire and Lancashire have just ONE home fixture. In both cases it’s the final day of the season – Sunday 21st June – which you might think would make it a front runner for WCCD.

(Incidentally, if you’re wondering about a mouth-watering “Roses” clash, the teams are in different Divisions, so there isn’t one…)

Be that as it may, there are problems with 21st June. Firstly, whilst the international fixtures haven’t been announced yet, it’s highly likely to be in the midst of England’s series against New Zealand, meaning no England players on show.

It’s also a date when Division 3C has no scheduled fixtures at present. Now I strongly suspect, based on what happened last summer (which would take too much explaining to bore you with right now), that that will change, but I’m reluctant to gamble on it, and it doesn’t sit right with me to potentially exclude four of the less-heralded counties from WCCD altogether.

On top of that, Sunday 21st June sees seven matches in the men’s T20 Blast – just the sort of clash with the men’s game that we really want to avoid if at all possible.

And while we’re on that subject, Sunday 7th June (round three of fixtures) also suffers from a likely clash with the New Zealand series – or, at the very least, pre-series training camps – as well as coming up against another packed day of T20 Blast action.

The other “wish list” item was to have as many counties as possible who were away on WCCD 2019 playing at home on WCCD 2020, for what I hope would be obvious reasons. I won’t numb you with the numbers, but take it from me that the two June dates work out worst on this score as well.

So what about the brace of Bank Holidays in May?

I like the feel of a Bank Holiday, if I’m honest. It always strikes me as being a “spare” day. People often have their Saturday and Sunday routines planned out, but a Bank Holiday is a bonus, a day you can fill with something a little out of the ordinary, a day you can turn into an “occasion”.

Monday 25th May has distinct advantages. There are men’s County Championship matches scheduled that day – in fact all 18 Counties are down to play – but here’s the thing. It’s day four! Some, maybe many, perhaps even most, will be done and dusted. Others will be in the death throes. It feels like a day when the men’s game will be off the radar to an extent – in fact, there might be county supporters looking for matches to watch as their hoped-for fare has finished early!

But there’s also a snag. The furthest women’s cricket ventures North that day is Staffordshire. There is cricket to be seen elsewhere in the Midlands – Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Shropshire all host games – but nothing beyond that cluster. It’s almost exactly the situation I wanted to avoid!

Friday 8th May appeals more on that score. We may be out of luck with the Houses of York and Lancaster, but there are home fixtures for Durham (where Lancashire are one of the visiting teams), Cheshire and Nottinghamshire as well as Staffordshire. Looking at the “dots” on my maps it’s by far the best geographical spread of the four days. And only three counties are at home having been at home last year – it’s the best of the four possible days in that regard too.

However, it’s a Friday, and somehow a Friday doesn’t really seem like a Bank Holiday as much as a Monday does, especially this one, which is a new innovation (I wasn’t aware of it myself until I went looking for reasons why the ECB had been so utterly bonkers as to schedule women’s county cricket on a bog-standard Friday!). Might the unexpected and away-from-the-norm nature of the day work against us?

It’s also early May, and – let’s not beat about the bush – this is England. It could well be the proverbial scorcher, but equally I spent much of last summer’s WCCD (6th May, in case you’d forgotten) huddled against a chilly breeze at North Maidenhead, and with the T20 days timetabled to finish as late as 7.30 pm similar weather this year wouldn’t be appealing.

(Oh, and it’s my wife’s birthday… but I won’t tell her if you don’t!)

So there you have it. Not straight-forward at all. At this stage no decision has been made, and won’t be until the international dates are known at the very least, just to be certain of covering all the bases.

In the meantime, all comments and thoughts from the CRICKETher family are welcome and will be thrown into the mix – it’s not my day, it’s not Raf and Syd’s day, it belongs to all of us, so we’d love your input. You might come up with a compelling factor that none of us had considered!

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

MATCH REPORT: Diamonds v Vipers – Rodrigues’ Class Propels Diamonds To Last-Gasp Victory

Richard Clark at York Cricket Club

Yorkshire folk, given any opportunity, will tell you their county is special.  That may or may not be true.  If it’s not, though, there was certainly ‘something’ in the Yorkshire air on Sunday afternoon.

Whatever that ‘something’ was it carried Ben Stokes on its wings, and 30 miles or so away in York it carried Yorkshire Diamonds’ Jemima Rodrigues as well.

The prospects were as promising for the Indian youngster as they appeared to be for Stokes.  Propelled out of the blocks by Danni Wyatt (42 off 20 balls), kept going by Suzie Bates (47 off 39) and Tammy Beaumont (33 off 29), and finished off by Maia Bouchier (23* off 13) and Amanda Jade Wellington (24* off 12), Southern Vipers had just amassed 184-4 off their 20 overs.

This after being inserted by Lauren Winfield, who knew that it was her side’s only hope of claiming the bonus point win essential to any lingering hopes of reaching Finals Day.

Convention has it that you need a good start in a hefty chase.  What you definitely don’t need is to lose one of your openers to the second ball, Winfield skying Tash Farrant high to the inrushing Bates at cover.

Every cloud, however…

The early loss brought Rodrigues to the crease.  Her first KSL campaign had begun quietly, but 178 runs in her previous four innings – for just twice out – suggested a player in form, and she set about illustrating that.

With Alyssa Healy dominating both the strike and the scoreboard, Rodrigues settled quietly.  A dot, followed by a single, and then a boundary from her first three balls, and she was off and running almost without being noticed.

By the end of the fourth over she had still only faced those three balls, but now Healy was out, and Hollie Armitage was there for company.  Time to step up.

A boundary in the fifth over, two more in the sixth, another in the seventh.  But this was calculation and precision, rather than muscle.  The partnership with Armitage would garner 90 runs from 54 balls, only eleven of them dots and three of those from Armitage’s first four balls as she played herself in.  Orchestrated by Rodrigues, the pair found the gaps and pushed the ones and twos, always keeping the scoreboard moving.  An object lesson in T20 batting.

Armitage fell with the score on 118.  By that stage, Rodrigues had reached her half-century from 26 balls.  Nine fours had been hit, every one of them off the middle of the bat.

So far, so good, but could she deal with a crisis?  Bess Heath departed second ball, and the Alice Davidson-Richards in the next over.  Diamonds batting order has not been noted for its durability this season but in Leigh Kasperek, Rodrigues now found an able accomplice.

Five boundaries, including her only six, came off the next two overs.  Lofted effortlessly over mid-off it cleared the rope by a distance.  Four overs to go, and from nowhere only 36 required.

Now it began to get a bit tricky.  With Rodrigues visibly tiring in the 30-degree heat, Vipers returned to their pace bowlers in an attempt to give her the “hurry up”.  It worked to a point – after a boundary off Bell’s first ball, only seven runs came from the next eight balls.

Then, the shot of the day, and probably the only one Rodrigues played that could be considered in any way unconventional – an inadvertent head-high full toss from Farrant upper-cut over the keeper for four more.  Given that singles by this point were being run as if wading through treacle in boots of lead, the clarity of mind to deal with the delivery so adeptly was remarkable.  It took her to 96.

More singles, and perhaps a stroke of luck?  Another full toss – this time from Bell – perhaps did take her by surprise a little and was slapped/slogged high to Paige Scholfield at mid-off.  Already, though, the umpire’s arm was out for the no ball and instead of walking off Rodrigues ran through to move to 99.

Bell went on to complete a hat-trick of sorts, having Kasperek “stumped” off the subsequent free hit, and then legitimately caught next ball.  Rodrigues was still one short of her century and Diamonds needed 15 off ten balls as Linsey Smith strode to the middle.

Having crossed with Kasperek, Rodrigues reached her century with the simplest of pushes into the off side, calling Smith through for the single to spark a prolonged standing ovation from all corners.

The job was still there to be done, though.  Four more runs were taken from the remainder of the over and Diamonds needed ten off six, with Rodrigues on strike and Bates set to bring all her experience to bear with ball in hand.

It needed at least one boundary, not least because one doubted Rodrigues’ ability now to run up and down ten times, and she found it from the second ball of the over, turning the ball behind square and beating the fielder on the rope.  Not for the first time, awareness and perfect placement coming to the fore.

Still, a dot followed, and it was down to four from three.  Rodrigues manoeuvred the ball to long on and looked to be settling for the single until Smith, realising the need for her partner to get back on strike, virtually implored her to come back for the second.  Logic said the England spinner should have been going for the danger end, but Vipers were alert to Rodrigues’ exhaustion and threw to the keeper.  I don’t know how Rodrigues got there, it’s likely she doesn’t know either, but as she sprawled head-long for the crease the one man whose opinion mattered said she did.

It would have been appropriate – romantic, even – to finish with a boundary, but a single was all she could find, so it fell to Smith to push the final ball of the match up to mid-on where a fumble allowed the run that settled the game and brought more applause, and this time cheers too.

The numbers say that Rodrigues hit 112 not out off 58 balls, with 17 fours and a six.   She led her team to a four-wicket win, the highest successful chase in KSL records and the second highest chase in ANY Women’s T20 fixture.

Her score was the second-highest individual score in the KSL’s four seasons (behind Bates’s 119 for Vipers v Lightning in 2017), and at 51 balls it was the quickest of the six centuries scored in the competition (four balls faster than the previous record held by Lizelle Lee).

It was also the second highest individual score by any player in a Women’s T20 chase, behind Wyatt’s 124 for England in India 18 months ago, the only higher successful chase.

She played just ten dot balls, and not once did she play two consecutively.  She scored off 30 of the last 34 balls she faced.

But numbers alone never tell a story.

She didn’t hit the ball, she persuaded, cajoled and caressed it so that it did as she wished at every turn.   The way she seemed to move from 50 to 90 in particular, almost without hitting a shot in anger, yet still accumulating fours and scoring at close to two runs per ball, was akin to a conjuring trick.

Apart from the two no balls that produced the upper-cut and the ‘slap’ that saw her caught she didn’t play one shot that didn’t come straight from the coaching manual.  Her driving through the off-side was magisterial, her ability to pierce the in-field and bisect the boundary-riders on either side forensic, her knack of picking up a run almost every ball uncanny, her maturity and focus when patently running on fumes admirable.

Oh, and by the way, Jemima Rodrigues is 18 years old.

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

Thanks to @_hypocaust for the stats!