WOMEN’s ODIs: How Much Of An Advantage Is Winning The Toss? (The Answer May Surprise You!)

In yesterday’s ODI between England and India, India won the toss, and chose to bat second. This proved to be a good call on the day – they won the match with 5 overs to spare. But exactly how much of an advantage is winning the toss?

We looked at 100 ODIs between the “Top 5” (Australia, England, India, New Zealand & South Africa) since 2017 to find out what the data tells us*.

Intuitively, winning the toss feels like it ought to be A Good Thing™ – it’s called “winning” for a reason… right?

But surprisingly, the first thing that leaps out is that the team that wins the toss usually loses the match.

Match
Toss Won Lost
Won 45% 55%
Lost 55% 45%

If your instant reaction to this is that I must have got my numbers wrong… welcome to the club – that’s what I thought too!

So let’s take England. They played 45 of the matches in the dataset, winning 25 of them – i.e. a win percentage of 56%. Across those matches, England won the toss on 26 occasions, winning just 12 and losing 14 of those games – i.e. a win percentage of 46% when winning the toss.

So it’s true – England are 10% less likely to win the match when they win the toss.

What’s going on then?

The toss is obviously a binary choice between batting and bowling; but these choices aren’t equal.

WG Grace is alleged to have said: “When you win the toss – bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague then bat.”

But this definitely isn’t correct for modern women’s ODIs between the top sides, where the team batting second are much more likely to win the game.

Match
Bat Won Lost
1st 38% 62%
2nd 62% 38%

This only applies to women’s ODIs between the top sides. In the RHF Trophy for example, there is a small (54%/ 46%) advantage to batting first.

So the numbers tell you that in Women’s ODIs, if you win the toss you “should” bowl, as indeed most captains do – 63% of the time, the winner of the toss chooses to bowl.

Toss Bat Bowl
Won 63% 37%

What appears to be happening is a very human thing – captains know the data, but they frequently think they are smarter than the data.. and they aren’t: when they defy the data and chose to bat, they lose almost ¾ of the time!

Toss Won Lost
Bat 27% 73%
Bowl 56% 44%

Interestingly, there is another way of “proving” (in inverted commas) that this is correct. Australia are the most data-driven side, and Meg Lanning is the most data-driven captain, and they almost always choose to bowl when they win the toss. On the 16 occasions they won the toss, they chose to bat on all-bar-three occasions – opting to bowl 81% of the time – THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING! (And the only two matches they lost out of the 16 games where they won the toss were two of the three occasions where they chose to defy the data and bat!)

So the bottom line (literally in this case) is that winning the toss is only an advantage if you make a sensible choice… and that choice is: When you win the toss – bowl. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bowl. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague then bowl.

———-

* Data includes almost… but not quite “all”… of the matches played between the Top 5, 2017-22 – thanks, as always, to cricsheet.org for the data!

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

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

Dia with her trophies

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

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

Dia with her broken stump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here Comes the Sun! – County Cricket in 2022

With the World Cup but a fading memory, thoughts inexorably turn to the coming summer.  And not before time, as the opening round of fixtures in this season’s ECB County T20 is now less than two weeks away!

The fixtures have been out for some time, and details of all but one venue have now been confirmed (as always, check Play Cricket for info, plus of course @WomensCricDay on Twitter!).  The East of England Championship fixtures were also released a while back, and more recently we have had confirmation of two more Regional 50-over competitions based – loosely – around the Sparks and Vipers regions.

So what have we got on the horizon?

The ECB County T20 will take place over four consecutive weekends in April and May, with matches taking place on 18th April (Easter Monday), Sunday 24th April and Monday 2nd May, with a ‘Finals day’ for each group on Sunday 8th May, with a format broadly similar to last season.

There has, however, been some ‘tidying up’ as you might describe it, to iron out some of the less desirable aspects of last summer’s format.

There will be eight groups this time around, broadly organised on a regional basis again, but this time numbered from 1 to 8, rather than given regional titles – thus avoiding “Since when has Somerset been in the West Midlands” type queries.

Seven of the groups (Group 1 being the exception, which we will leave to one side for now) will consist of four teams, and each will play the other three in double-header fixtures over the first three dates, followed by a Finals Day with semi-finals and a final for each group.

Unlike last season, therefore, when some counties in each group didn’t meet, there will be integrity to the final tables, and also a bona fide group winner in each case.  It means an element of genuine competition compared to what felt very much like a bunch of ‘glorified friendlies’ last time round.

Group 1 (the ‘North’ Group), however, consists of seven teams, including North East Warriors (Durham and Northumberland combined, for the uninitiated), and the Northern ‘Rep’ XI (essentially Lancs and Yorks combined ‘Reserves’).  It’s not ideal, but unavoidable given an uneven number of teams.  I can’t help but wonder whether Cheshire might have been persuaded to re-enter, allowing that group to be split in two and create a perfect structure of ten groups.  Ah well… 

It also means that group will have one standard ‘triangular’ fixture each weekend, and one ‘quadrangular’ where four teams meet and play two fixtures each.  Depending on the layout of the venue, it offers the chance to watch two games at once! 

One final point on the fixtures, incidentally.   It’s worth noting that whilst almost all fixtures are scheduled to be played at club or village grounds, there is one very notable exception on Sunday 24th April when – assuming Play Cricket is correct – Somerset will entertain Warwickshire at the County Ground, Taunton.  A nod to all at Somerset for this one!

Elsewhere, I’m yet to see a formal announcement of the London Championship for this summer… but the fixtures are on Play Cricket so one assumes it is happening!  The same five counties are taking part – there had been a little conjecture over Sussex given their involvement in the new ‘Vipers’ Regional competition, but that appears to have been unfounded.

Incidentally, Surrey’s website also confirms a date of Thursday 23rd June for the annual London Cup T20 Challenge match against Middlesex, this year at the Kia Oval.

The East of England Championship has expanded again, from six teams to seven.  Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Suffolk have joined the party, whilst Buckinghamshire have departed ‘on good terms’ to join the ‘Vipers’ regional competition, and Cambridgeshire have withdrawn, hopefully to return at some later stage.

Fixtures are spread nicely through the season, from mid-May to mid-September, which I have to say I really like.  With seven teams competing it feels like the East of England has a real narrative thread through the entire summer.

And finally we have the two new Regional 50-over competitions – The South Central Regional Cup and the West Midlands Regional Cup.

The former will include Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Sussex, and whilst that may look a somewhat unbalanced group, the expectation is that Hampshire and Sussex in particular will use it as a ‘Development’ exercise alongside their London Championship commitments and the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy & Charlotte Edwards Cup.   Fixtures will all be played in midweek, on five days beginning on Monday 30th May and ending on Thursday 11th August.

The West Midlands Regional Cup is something of a misnomer, given that Wales will be competing alongside Staffordshire, Warwickshire & Worcestershire, but that’s a minor quibble.  Again, it will be a round robin, with fixtures on Sundays 17th July and 14th & 28th August.

With other counties likely to arrange friendly fixtures it adds up to a very busy summer, and a very positive one for the future of the county game.  With the demise of the Championship in 2019, and the successful introduction of the Regional structure, it was easy at that stage to foresee a bleak future with county cricket fading away.  In the event the reality has proved to be very different, thanks to the hard work of many at local levels up and down the country.

The addition of new competitions this season is yet more evidence of a growing realisation that the county system – alongside the regional academies – is an essential rung on the ladder between club and regional cricket.  Long may that be the case.

You may have seen the recent Twitter announcement that there will be no Women’s County Cricket Day this summer.  Life is such that over the past few months I haven’t had the capacity to take on a campaign ahead of the 2022 season, with all that entails.  However, @WomensCricDay will still be promoting county fixtures throughout the season, and we’re taking the view that EVERY DAY is Women’s County Cricket Day!  Choose your own WCCD, find a venue near to you – or not so near to you!  Have a day out, enjoy some cricket!

Play Cricket Links

ECB County T20 – https://ecbwcountychampionship.play-cricket.com/home

London Championship – https://womenslondonchampionship.play-cricket.com/home

East of England Championship – https://eastofenglandwcc.play-cricket.com/

South Central Regional Cup – https://scrcup.play-cricket.com/home

West Midlands Regional Cup – https://westmidlandsregionalcup.play-cricket.com/home

 

THE HUNDRED: Where Do Teams Need To Strengthen?

Yesterday’s look at the teams’ remaining budgets and key “free agents” begs the obvious question: where do the different sides need to strengthen?

The tables below map out some of the key metrics, with the colourisation indicating where teams are weak (red) and where they are strong (green). The tables are also ordered by an average of all the different indicators.

Stats aren’t everything, of course – in The Hundred, as with most cricket tournaments, it is also about handling the pressure to win big games, as the Invincibles did so convincingly in the semi-final and final in 2021. But the numbers always tell a tale nonetheless, and it is one the teams should be studying carefully.

The key story that stands out here is that as well as needing a wicket-keeper, the Invincibles desperately need to strengthen their batting – they are 100% a bowling side, topping the bowling table and coming flat-last in the batting table. With no overseas picks remaining, this is going to be tough – for obvious reasons, the other sides have mostly held onto their key local batters. Perhaps they will need to gamble and use the “wildcard” overseas pick? (But that would mean leaving one of Kapp, van Niekerk or Ismail on the bench!) Or is their bowling good enough that they can just rely on blowing everyone else away in key games once again? It is certainly a dilemma for their management to be pondering!

Last year’s group-stage winners, Southern Brave – first in batting, and second in bowling – probably just need to keep doing what they are doing, but get better at winning the big games. The 2021 final was a bitter pill for them, but as their coach Charlotte Edwards says: “There are good days and school days!” so hopefully it was a learning experience their 10 retained players can take into 2022.

Following the retentions announcement, there was some surprise that London Spirit let Tammy Beaumont, Deandra Dottin and Chloe Tryon all go; but the stats bear this out – their batting didn’t really click last season, and they’ve got all 3 overseas picks now to put that right.

A key metric which is not addressed directly by these numbers is fielding, but one possible proxy is the number of twos conceded when bowing. Southern Brave look good on that front, but Manchester Originals really need a gun fielder or two, and letting Mignon du Preez (who is a gun fielder) go unretained was an “interesting” move given that.

Finally, standing back to look more generally at these numbers, we do see clearly that T20 (which The Hundred basically is) is perhaps not the game of superstar batters that we always seem to think it is. It is something that Aussie commentator Chris Brooker (worth following on Twitter) has been saying about the women’s game in particular for some time, and it is one of those where the more you look at the actual numbers, the more it seems to stand out. Oval Invincibles won the trophy with their bowling, despite being the weakest batting side; and although Superchargers had by some distance the outstanding individual batter in the tournament – Jemimah Rodrigues – that wasn’t enough to carry their batting, or for them to reach the knockout stages. Perhaps it is time for a wider re-evaluation of the way we look at the game and select our teams?

Batting Balls Per… Avg Run Rate
Wicket Dot Single Two Four Six 1st Ins 2nd Ins PP
Brave 22 2.88 2.59 15 8 47 8.14 7.42 6.69
Originals 23 2.76 2.68 19 8 57 7.64 7.74 8.07
Phoenix 15 2.92 2.75 13 7 89 7.92 8.13 8.14
Rockets 17 2.72 2.60 23 7 40 8.23 6.98 7.52
Superchargers 18 2.89 2.63 15 6 112 7.51 8.80 6.48
Fire 15 2.88 2.47 16 9 91 6.76 8.10 7.21
Spirit 15 2.72 2.84 16 7 98 6.13 8.11 6.97
Invincibles 18 2.65 2.70 20 8 92 7.34 6.97 6.19
©CRICKETher.com/cricsheet.org
Bowling Balls Per… Avg Run Rate
Wicket Dot Single Two Four Six 1st Ins 2nd Ins PP
Invincibles 15 2.45 2.77 17 8 153 7.03 5.92 5.81
Brave 19 2.65 2.65 23 9 111 6.92 6.98 7.38
Spirit 23 2.60 2.80 22 7 54 7.59 7.03 6.55
Rockets 18 3.04 2.60 16 7 59 7.68 8.25 6.69
Originals 20 2.82 2.77 12 8 51 7.33 8.38 6.07
Phoenix 21 3.12 2.44 14 7 70 7.74 8.00 8.24
Superchargers 22 3.00 2.57 17 7 61 8.39 7.73 8.57
Fire 24 2.97 2.69 17 6 60 8.67 8.21 7.88
©CRICKETher.com/cricsheet.org

STATS: ODI Batting & Bowling Analysis 2018-2022

Batting Balls Per… Avg Run Rate
Wicket Dot Single Two Four Six 1st Ins 2nd Ins PP
Australia 46 1.98 3.21 23 10 113 5.59 5.27 4.80
England 39 1.91 3.24 23 12 203 5.10 4.56 4.51
South Africa 43 1.70 3.88 23 13 186 4.35 4.47 4.20
India 44 1.74 3.67 29 14 234 4.30 4.79 4.08
New Zealand 31 1.81 3.36 23 15 230 4.47 4.47 3.88
West Indies 34 1.63 4.15 23 17 202 4.06 3.97 3.34
Pakistan 32 1.65 4.01 27 16 282 3.96 4.12 3.75
Bangladesh 29 1.44 5.23 30 24 1599 2.59 3.35 2.42
©CRICKETher.com/cricsheet.org
 
Bowling Balls Per… Avg Run Rate
Wicket Dot Single Two Four Six 1st Ins 2nd Ins PP
South Africa 40 1.67 3.93 26 16 294 4.14 4.15 3.42
England 36 1.68 3.87 33 14 239 4.24 4.28 3.81
Australia 32 1.72 3.68 28 15 199 4.24 4.27 4.22
India 44 1.76 3.50 25 14 198 4.33 4.56 4.09
West Indies 43 1.83 3.45 19 16 229 4.74 4.28 4.15
Pakistan 45 1.78 3.67 23 13 162 4.89 4.40 4.03
New Zealand 44 1.88 3.41 22 12 155 5.01 5.05 4.54
Bangladesh 51 1.71 4.07 19 12 110 4.67 5.02 4.58
©CRICKETher.com/cricsheet.org

Notes

  • Based on matches between the World Cup sides, 2018-22
  • Derived from the Ball By Ball data at https://cricsheet.org

THE NUMBERS: Who Has Been England’s Most Impactful Player In Recent Years?

The last 5 years have been strange times for England. They won the World Cup at the start of that period, but were humiliated in the T20 World Cup final in the West Indies in 2018, and likely only avoided the same fate in 2020 because their semi-final was washed-out. They’ve won series against India, New Zealand and South Africa, and regularly thrash the likes of the West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but have twice failed to regain the Ashes. Not even the players’ doting grandmothers would argue that England have been the best side in the world over the past 5 years; but they’ve nonetheless pretty conclusively proved themselves to have been the second best.

We’ll all have our own ideas of who have been England’s most impactful players of this era, but can the numbers give us a more definitive answer?

We used our ranking algorithm to determine the top 5 batters and bowlers, combining the T20 and ODI stats over the past 5 years. (The metrics are pretty basic – Runs multiplied by Strike Rate for batters; and Wickets divided by Economy for the bowlers – and you can certainly create more nuanced ranking systems, but they tend to largely produce the same answers in the same order!) In addition, we’ve added a new measure: Impact Percentage – the player’s percentage of the team’s total batting and bowling ‘scores’.

Batters

In the past 5 years, England have played exactly 100 white ball matches – 47 ODIs and 53 T20s – and only one woman has played all 100 – Tammy Beaumont. So it won’t come as too much of a surprise that Beaumont is England’s leading batter in that period, with 3,318 runs – a fair way ahead of Nat Sciver in second place, over 700 runs behind with 2,557; and Heather Knight in 3rd with 2,657. (Knight has scored more runs than Sciver, but Sciver’s better Strike Rate lifts her ahead in the rankings.)

Player Matches Runs Strike Rate Impact %
1. Tammy Beaumont 100 3,318 87 18%
2. Nat Sciver 97 2,557 104 16%
3. Heather Knight 95 2,675 94 15%
4. Danni Wyatt 85 2,062 118 15%
5. Amy Jones 83 1,868 100 11%

Bowlers

The fact that bowlers have it harder than batters in terms of injuries is something of a “truism” in cricket, but it is sometimes hard to appreciate just how true it is until you see the numbers – Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole have each missed over a quarter of England’s matches in the past 5 years through injury and rotation. Sophie Ecclestone has missed a similar number over the 5 year period, but of course was not part of the squad for the 2017 World Cup, when she was still in full time education. In the past 4 years, she has played 87% of the team’s matches; and she is the only bowler to have registered over 100 wickets in that period – ranking her at No. 1, some distance ahead of Brunt and Shrubsole.

Perhaps the one surprise across the lists is Kate Cross – ranking 5th in bowling, just a smidgen ahead of Sarah Glenn who has taken a couple more wickets (45) but at a significantly inferior economy rate (5.06).

Player Matches Wickets Economy Impact %
1. Sophie Ecclestone 79 114 4.58 19%
2. Katherine Brunt 73 87 4.71 14%
3. Anya Shrubsole 70 81 4.90 12%
4. Nat Sciver 97 68 5.12 10%
5. Kate Cross 30 42 4.58 7%

Overall Impact

Sophie Ecclestone’s wickets and economy give her an impact score of 19% – a touch ahead of Tammy Beaumont, whose runs and strike rate give her an impact score of 18%. Then again, Nat Sciver makes it into the top 5 on both lists, giving her a combined impact score of 26% – some way ahead of the other allrounders on the team, with Katherine Brunt and Heather Knight both scoring 19% combined.

So does this definitively settle all the arguments? No – bartenders of the world can breathe a sigh of relief that Martin from Women’s Cricket Blog and I will still have plenty to argue about over drinks late into the night for many years to come! And perhaps that’s actually a big part of the reason for England’s relative consistency and success over the Heather Knight era, Australia dominance notwithstanding? The best teams aren’t dependent upon one or two players. Sophie Ecclestone might have had a fifth of the team’s bowling impact, but the rest of the squad have had the other four-fifths… and that’s maybe the real lesson here.

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

OPINION: The Summer Of Shafali

David Windram reflects on the emergence of a young Indian star

A Katherine Brunt send-off is hard to miss. This was no different as she charged down the pitch in celebration, raising her fingers to her lips. This one perhaps had a little extra on it. As Shafali Verma dragged herself off she knew the series was likely lost. On a personal level, Verma has only just begun. Eliciting such an animalistic send off from Brunt proved that she had been doing something right. It was the ultimate veiled compliment. A public service announcement that she had become England’s most desired wicket. Welcome to the summer of Shafali.

Image: Bahnfrend (Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes, all it needs is a name. The ring of those very specific syllables transporting you back to the summer they defined. Amla in 2012, Bell in 2013, Perry in 2015 or Smith in 2019. Throughout the summer they reveal themselves to be the face of a series. Shafali Verma became that face in 2021.

The road back to Test match cricket for India’s women has been arduous. By playing in just one, Shafali Verma has been involved in a seventh of Tests played during her short time on the planet. She was 10 the last time those particularly crisp whites were buttoned up. Bristol was the venue for the long-desired return; England the opponents.

For Verma, unfamiliarity did not breed uncertainty. Red, white, or pink, a cricket ball is a cricket ball after all. Still, this wasn’t a simple pressure-free introduction to the toughest form of the game. England had piled on runs before declaring and were in peak predatory mode, unashamedly hunting twenty wickets without the need to bat again. Verma shrugged and got on with it.

Accompanied by Smriti Mandhana, she blunted, drove and caressed her way to 96 runs in a partnership of 167. The disappointment in missing out on a debut ton testament to the expectations which now attach to her, all 1.3 billion of them. But the highest score on Test debut for an Indian woman was quite the expectation satisfier. Not that Verma seemed to care. Simply another day in the life of the kid from Rohtak.

T20 debut at 15. Followed by discarding you know who as India’s youngest half centurion for India; the little master in waiting. At 16, officially the world’s best T20I batter. Now 17, and India’s youngest cricketer to play all three formats. A next-generation cricketer, in the most literal sense.

It should have been job done at Bristol. A weather affected four-day test leaving minimal time for a result. But Verma’s teammates wanted more, and who can blame them? The remaining nine wickets falling promptly following the debutant’s demise.

Back for more to face a similarly ravenous, now reinvigorated, bowling line up, who were sniffing an unlikely victory. That prospect was quickly extinguished. Verma again frustrated the English bowlers, while still managing to show impressive attacking intent. A further 63 runs ensured a draw for her team and the Player of the Match award. An imperious and classy debut. Global eyes were now open.

Verma is a multi-format cricketer in the purest sense; she simply has to be. Format switching is the cricketer’s Rubik’s cube. The modern career is spent constantly tweaking and fiddling hoping that it clicks in time for the impending format. This elasticity is increasingly vital for the female cricketer, where multi-format series are now the norm. These series provide an extreme examination of patience, technique, skill and imagination; only the truly elite can thrive.

Luckily for India, Verma is elite. Her range of shots appears limitless. Come straight at her and she will blunt you; pitch it up and she will drive you; bang it in short and you’re swatted to the boundary. She will walk across her stumps to clip you away to leg, or give herself room and smash through the off side. The variety with which deliveries are dealt with is bold and brash. Pre-summer there remained an unanswered question. Was the temperament transferable to longer formats? The answer has been emphatic.

Verma made contributions in at least one game of every single format, including an epic 48 runs off 38 balls in the second T20I to keep India’s series hopes alive. If Brunt didn’t get her early, she made runs. This is the beauty of the multi-format series. It allows these mini battles to develop. Verma v Brunt became captivating viewing.

Yet, there remains a dichotomy at the heart of Verma’s success. Indian cricket has a generational talent on its hands – yes, another one. Her cricket is exciting, high quality and intensely enjoyable to watch. But without the requisite backing from her cricket board, it almost feels like it doesn’t matter what she does. She can be as good as she wants, but unless something changes, she will only be given a tokenistic glance.

Verma received a “Grade B” contract from the BCCI. It pays her approximately £29,000 to be one of the best in the world. Her male equivalents are paid around £485,000, with the lowest centrally contracted male player receiving roughly £97,000. There is also the well-documented caper in which the BCCI withheld prize money from the women’s inspirational run to the World Cup final in 2020. These “life-changing amounts” were only paid to the players once they had raised invoices and when the story was diligently reported in the mainstream press. The money had been paid to the BCCI fourteen months previously.

There appears a reluctance to conjure up a legitimate female equivalent of the IPL. The current tournament, The T20 Challenge, in which three teams play two games each is merely a box-ticking exercise. As the male tournament becomes unnecessarily bloated with repetitive game after repetitive game, the women’s competition couldn’t be trimmed any further. As sad as it is, money makes the game go round. The BCCI have copious amounts to throw at whatever they feel is worthy. At the moment there is a clear rejection of the women’s game.

It leaves Shafali Verma hunting for game time, o the extent that she spent time training with Haryana’s men’s team and facing Mohit Sharma in nets. She is reliant on the WBBL and The Hundred. For all the follies of The Hundred, and they are pretty much endless, the female version has become vital for the players. The salaries peak at £15,000 – the lowest male players being paid nearly double the highest women – but it is as much about game time. Opportunities remain scarce and need to be grabbed when available, regardless of what they look like. Sometimes it is simply about survival.

India was eventually in win or go home territory with two T20s to play. On ball twenty of the must-win match, Verma unleashed. Inevitably, it was Brunt on the receiving end. With a violent swipe of her bat, the ball was catapulted to the boundary. Next ball, same result, as Verma stepped away and launched back over Brunt’s head. Ball three was hung outside off, this time a feather- like touch clipped the ball past point to the rope. Two slightly more agricultural swipes, led to two more boundaries, off the final two balls of the over. It was carnage. Brunt was stunned; England were stunned. Five fours off five balls and India’s recovery was on.

It demonstrated every aspect in confirming she is destined for stardom. The temerity to rip apart a world-class bowler. The ability to play whatever shot the delivery required. Sometimes it wasn’t perhaps the perfect shot selection, yet she made whatever shot she played work. The concept of the 360-degree cricketer has become a cliche; for Verma, it is nothing less than reality.

Ultimately, Brunt would have the last laugh with her final match send-off, but Shafali Verma has arrived. Now the headliner of the coming generation, let’s make sure she is given the proper platform. Your move BCCI.

RHF TROPHY: The Race To Be England’s Next Top Wicket Keeper

When Heather Knight and Lisa Keightley sat down this weekend to pick England’s squad for the upcoming series versus India, the second name on the team sheet, after “Knight, H” was probably “Jones, A”. We can talk at length about who the “best” wicket keeper in the world is, but there is little argument that Amy Jones is in the top two, alongside Australia’s Alyssa Healy; and is currently an automatic pick for England.

For so long the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Sarah Taylor, Jones has blossomed since Taylor’s retirement, and has now amassed over 100 England caps. But she will be 28 next week and while her days certainly aren’t “numbered”, the question now needs to be asked as to who will succeed her in 4-6 years time when she retires?

This dilemma comes about particularly because there is currently no successor in the England squad – should Jones get injured, England would turn to Tammy Beaumont or Lauren Winfield-Hill to fill in. (Interestingly, Winfield-Hill has been keeping her eye in behind the stumps for the Diamonds in the first 3 rounds of the RHF.)

So, who are the key candidates in the RHF “Proving Ground”?

Three can be ruled out instantly: Carla Rudd (Vipers), Amara Carr (Sunrisers) and Gwenan Davies (Sparks) are all in their late 20s – however good they are, they aren’t going to succeed Jones. The remaining hopefuls are therefore: Sarah Bryce (Lightning), Ellie Threlkeld (Thunder), Nat Wraith (Storm), Rhianna Southby (Stars) and Bess Heath (Diamonds).

Below are their stats to date in the RHF, across both seasons.

Player Team Age Dismissals Runs
Sarah Bryce Lightning 21 5 419
Ellie Threlkeld Thunder 22 9 127
Nat Wraith Storm 19 8 140
Rhianna Southby Stars 20 4 42
Bess Heath Diamonds 19 8 37

Though we are talking about wicket keepers, perhaps the key column here is actually not Dismissals but Runs – all the top international sides these days will prefer a competent keeper who can bat over brilliant glove-work – that’s the reason England would turn to Beaumont or Winfield-Hill if Jones was injured.

This suggests that if she can maintain her form with the bat, Sarah Bryce is currently in pole position. Of course, her allegiance is currently with Scotland, but in a joint interview with her sister Kathryn by ESPNCricinfo’s Matt Roller, neither sister ruled out switching to England, which (because they both live in England) would not require a qualification period.

Bryce’s runs are the standard the others need to aspire to in order to get their names in the hat alongside her. Wraith and Threlkeld both have 50s in the bag in the RHF which prove they can bat, but they’ve both got to convert their starts more regularly. With so much regional cricket being played this season, they will have every opportunity to prove themselves and make that case, as will Southby and Heath, the latter of whom has yet to play this season.

Of course, the actual answer to the original question could be “None of the above”. It is not inconceivable that Amy Jones continues for another 8 years, and her eventual successor is someone who isn’t even on the regional radar yet.

Whoever it turns out to be, Amy Jones will inevitably be a hard act to follow, and the England selectors may need to kiss a few frogs before they find their new princess. Just one thing is certain: England need a wicket keeper – you can’t take to the field without one – so it will be fascinating to see who steps up in the RHF over the next couple of years.

PREVIEW: Carlton Plan For A Strong Start As Women’s Premier League Begins

Jake Perry looks ahead to the first round of matches in the Women’s Premier League this weekend. 

As Scotland take to the field for the first of their T20Is against Ireland today, the opening round of the Women’s Premier League will be getting underway back in Edinburgh. Ongoing Level 3 restrictions in Glasgow have forced the postponement of McCrea West of Scotland’s match with Dumfries and Galloway, but the two remaining fixtures are sure to provide an exciting start to the season nonetheless.

At Craiglockhart, Emily Tucker will be looking to continue the prolific form she has shown for the Eastern Knights Under-18s when George Watson’s College take on Royal High Corstorphine. After an innings of 34 against the Western Warriors a fortnight ago, the GWC opener scored a 67-ball 61 in the Knights’ victory over the Caledonian Highlanders last weekend, and her contribution will again be central as both teams look to end the season a place higher than the runners-up spot they shared with Carlton and WoS last time out.

Another player to enjoy a successful Sunday was Hannah Rainey, who continued her comeback from a patella injury with a hat-trick in Carlton’s pre-season win over Edinburgh University. It’s been a difficult few months for the Scotland seamer, but after a long winter of rehabilitation she is delighted to be finally moving in the right direction.

“I’ve been on and off injured for two years, which has been really frustrating, but I started on a new programme of tendon rehab with Sport Scotland about three months ago, and as I’ve been going through that I’ve been increasing what I’ve been doing and it’s been going all right,” she said. “About eight weeks ago I started running again, and over the last four or five weeks I’ve started to bowl, beginning with walk-throughs, then jump-throughs and then eventually on to jog-throughs. I’m now bowling at about seventy percent, I would say.”

“The hat-trick came in my first game back bowling,” she smiled. “I hadn’t bowled in a match for so long and I felt like I didn’t yet have enough overs under my belt, but it came out well and it was nice to be back in rhythm. It was a confidence boost that showed me I’m maybe not as far behind as I thought.”

Hannah’s Carlton team-mates travel to Myreside to face a newly-combined Watsonians/Grange eleven which will be keen to make an early statement against one of the more established names in the women’s game. But the Scottish Cup holders have ambitions of their own to fulfil, as skipper Annette Aitken-Drummond makes clear.

“We want to win the league this season,” she said. “We haven’t won it since [the year of its inception as a four-team competition in 2017], so that is our aim, definitely. We’ve been training pretty hard for it, and we can see the improvement in the squad already. [Scotland Assistant Coach] Peter Ross has joined us as Head Coach this year, and having his experience and that level of coaching has really helped us.”

Central to Carlton’s plans is a core of cricketers which blends both youth and experience.

“You could say that we’ve got three sets of players,” said Annette. “There are some really good youngsters like Maisie Maceira and Zaara Dancu, who are in the regional set-up as well. We also have some Wildcats, who we are hoping can play the majority of games this season – Abbi [Aitken-Drummond], Sammy [Haggo], Hannah and Charis [Scott] – which brings some really good experience to the squad.

“Some of the other players have mentioned how much having them around helps them, to see the level they’re at and the things they do that they’d maybe not thought about before.

“And watch out for a couple of the ‘old bats’, as they affectionately call themselves – Sarah Beith and Leanne Farmer, and also Amelia Beattie, who’s been a stalwart of the Carlton side for many years. So we’ve got the young, the old and the Wildcats!” she laughed. “It’s a good mix, and it’s been really good fun at training.”

“We’ve played a few friendly and intra-club matches and then we have another game against Edinburgh Uni this Friday, so we’ll have had a few games to get to know the new players and see what they can do.”

“We’re just excited to finally be able to play our first game of the season.”

Women’s Premier League – 25 May 2021:

West of Scotland v Dumfries and Galloway (at Hamilton Crescent) – Match Postponed 

Watsonians/Grange v Carlton (at Myreside)

George Watson’s College v Royal High Corstorphine (at Craiglockhart)

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Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the women’s (and men’s) league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.