SPONSORED FEATURE: SM Cricket UK Launch Expanded Women’s Range – Designed By Women For Women

SM Cricket UK have launched a range of new women’s cricket equipment as part of their signature Heather Knight Collection, including pads, gloves, bats, wicket-keeping gear, bags, balls and teamwear all designed specifically for women’s and girls’ bodies.

It makes them the only company in the country to offer a full range of kit that is designed especially for women and girls.

SM Kit

The range has been launched after extensive feedback from female cricketers spanning a whole range of abilities. As a result SM Cricket have produced a lighter, brighter, and more comfortable range of cricket equipment with zero compromise to the quality of their products.

The range is already in use by England players Heather Knight and Kirstie Gordon, as well as former Scotland captain Abbie Aitken and Academy players Danielle Gibson and Ria Fackrell.

SM Heather Knight

SM Cricket UK pride themselves on offering top quality kit that is made to last, be comfortable and have a great fit for girls and women who might otherwise struggle to find appropriate sized kit for them. Their women’s bats, for example, come as light as 2lb 6oz with a super shock absorbent handle and extra thick edges to enhance the sweet spot.

SM Bat

In addition to playing equipment, SM Cricket UK also offers a fantastic range of teamwear, again appropriately sized for women and girls’ bodies, with a variety of custom designs in as well as to the opportunity to create bespoke teamwear. They are also offering free delivery for the whole month of April, using the code FREEDELIVERY on all orders over £30.

The full range is available here.

Women’s and girls’ clubs can also sign up for SM’s Club Cash Builder Scheme, which is a great way to raise money for your club. Clubs can sign up for free to earn back 20% of all sales generated by club members on SM branded goods. You can find out more here.

The aim is to expand the Heather Knight Collection next season based on a survey of female cricketers in the UK, which will be launched in the coming months – look out for a link to this on the CRICKETher Twitter.

The Heather Knight Collection: Designed By Women, For Women.

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STATS: #ENGvIND – England Get ‘Em In Singles; India In Sixes

In the press conference following India’s loss to England in the 2nd T20 in Guwahati, Indian stand-in skipper Smriti Mandhana said:

“[A] major difference between other teams and our team is running between the wickets.”

Do the stats bear this out?

Looking at T20 cricket only, we can calculate Boundary and Non-Boundary Strike Rates for the “Big 4” teams over the past two years.

Team Runs Balls 4s 6s Boundary SR Non-Boundary SR
India 3734 3224 401 77 432 61
Australia 2685 2073 351 41 421 62
England 2672 2186 313 32 419 67
New Zealand 3227 2616 365 63 429 63

The numbers show that although India’s Non-Boundary Strike Rate is the lowest of the Big 4, at 61 runs per 100 balls, it is only just less than Australia’s at 62, whilst England have the best Non-Boundary Strike Rate at 67.

On the other side of the coin, India’s Boundary Strike Rate is the best of the Big 4 – basically, they hit a lot of 6s, giving them a Boundary Strike Rate of 432, just ahead of New Zealand’s 429. Conversely, England’s Boundary Strike Rate is the lowest of the Big 4, at 419 – they don’t hit so many 6s!

Overall we can see that whilst these differences aren’t huge, they are at their biggest when you compare India and England. England are seeing the benefits of the back-breaking fitness regime introduced by Mark Robinson 3 years ago, running like badgers between the wickets; whilst India have a more… shall we say… laid back attitude!

(A cynic might note at this point, that England might also be starting to see the drawbacks of their back-breaking fitness regime – it is literally breaking their backs, with no less than 3 players from the contracted squad currently out with stress fractures of the lower back!)

So perhaps what Smriti should have said is:

“[A] major difference between England and our team is running between the wickets.”

But overall though, she is right – this is an area India need to be working on – they’ve already got the hitting – add the running and they could be the world-beaters they long to be.

LONG READ: bODI-Language – #INDvENG – A Tragicomedy In Three Acts, With Prose Preamble

Ravi Nair Takes us on a journey to Mumbai for the India v England ODI series

Preamble: “Bombay? Hai!”

How old is this city? 66 million years ago the Indian continental plate was somewhere over where Mauritius is now, a volcanic hotspot that erupted through it in four or five waves over the course of a million years. It may or may not have been triggered, in part, by the famous meteor impact at Chicxulub, Mexico. Together, those two wiped out most of the non-avian dinosaurs. Also, incidentally, the lava from what are called the Deccan Traps, spilled over the ridge on the western coast of the India plate, creating both the Western Ghats (Sahyadris, Nilgiris and more) as well as, with the overspill, the series of north-south oriented mounds, land and hills, that is the skeleton of the present day city of Mumbai.

But it was not until 1666, as part of the dowry (Britain’s term) of Catherine of Braganza, or hostage payment (Portuguese view) that it was ceded to the British and began to take the form of the entrepot it became. In the 19th century and early 20th, land connecting its southernmost islands was reclaimed from the sea, joining them up with a series of causeways to make a single island from Colaba to Mahim. And the cotton trade turned it into a thriving city.

The England women’s team are staying at the Oberoi hotel complex in Nariman Point. The land there was only reclaimed in the late 1960s, over 300 years after the British gained Bombay, over 20 years after India gained Independence. It is some of the newest land in the city, and their hotel buildings still look modern, concrete and square. From their windows the players look out over the shallow bay that curves north and then northwest, past the famous Chowpatti (“beach”) and sharply round the base of Malabar hill on the horizon, a few kilometres away. Malabar Hill might remind them, if they were interested in geology, that Bombay was built on the overflow of the Deccan Traps, like a large, long (north-south), narrow shoal of volcanic rock rising from the sea. Were they to look along the curve of the bay, most of it reclaimed a 100 or more years ago, they will see one of the city’s architectural wonders, a kilometre or so of 1930s Art Deco buildings, all around the same height, all by the side of the road, Marine Drive, looking out across it to the sea. Some were built together and are clearly the effort of a single architect. Others have different imaginations at work. They aren’t maintained in pristine condition, but one can still the balconies, the roofs, the grills on the windows, all reflecting the elements of the era. Architects in the city claim that, after Miami, it is the best stretch of original Art Deco buildings in the world.

Behind those buildings, at the end of a short road leading from Marine Drive to the Western Railway line, is the entrance to Wankhede stadium. It too was built in the early 1970s, and your correspondent had the good fortune to watch a day of the West Indies sending the Indian bowlers to all parts in the first ever Test played there, during the 1974-75 tour of India, when Viv Richards was just beginning to make his mark on the game.

The city’s soil is based on the basaltic rock of the Deccan Traps, iron-rich and, inland in the main mass of the Deccan Plateau, a bright orange-red, matching the mountains from which they are eroded and brought down by the rivers that run from the Western Ghats eastward across the great peninsula to empty into the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. In Mumbai, though, there is sand as well, and the soil tends to be a bit yellower than that of the plateau, but it can still look pink a lot of the time. There is little or no clay naturally in this soil and so it can dry out into a very dusty surface.

England know all this, of course, since a similar squad played five T20s in Mumbai almost a year ago, in the Triseries whose Final they lost to Australia. That was at the Brabourne Stadium, half a kilometre closer to the Oberoi hotel than the Wankhede, itself no more than a 15 minute stroll from where they are staying. The two may be the two closest international grounds in cricket, but I do not know if that is an established fact.

England have, however, planned carefully for this series. While they do not have all their potential spinners, thanks to injuries to Marsh and Gordon, they are well equipped, with Ecclestone and Hartley to turn the ball away from India’s right-handed bats. Sarah “Fastest Hands in the West” Taylor is playing, which must give the bowlers a huge sense of security. Brunt and Shrubsole are fit and playing. So this is effectively a full strength squad, ready to use spin to good effect on these surfaces. They know that though the pitches may be slow, the ball is likely to grip and help both seam and spin. Swing, as always, will be in the laps of the gods.

England are also probably aware that Mumbai is a hot city. It sits approximately 19° north of the Equator. Even during the shortest day of the Winter Solstice, the sun at it highest is about about 42° South of vertical. London, by contrast, sits at 51° North. For eight months of the year or so the sun, at its highest, is more than 42° south of vertical. So though it has been a cold “winter”, by Mumbai standards, and the mornings are pleasantly cool, by 10:00 the sun is hot enough to be uncomfortable. The England team will know this and will prepare for it, hoping for some dew or moisture first thing, but in general planning for long, hot, sweaty days (since this city, on the sea, is always humid, even though the pitches may be dry).

Another subtlety England may not have noticed is that while Mumbai is on 72° East longitude, it uses IST (Indian Standard Time), 5-and-a-half hours ahead of GMT, that is based on the 82° East Meridian. So Mumbai’s official time is actually some 40 minutes ahead of the sun, which rises, reaches its peak, and sets, about 40 minutes after the “clock time” of the city. It is as though it is on permanent Daylight Saving Time. This means that though it is invariably hot by 10:00 in the morning, the heat lasts until quite late in the day and it is only when the sun has fully set that some of the evening cool may be available. Not much, though, and it means very long hard afternoons.

England should feel cautiously confident that they, World Cup holders, might finally win an ODI series in India. They have as good a squad as they can put together, they have plans, and they have experience.

India, on the other hand, may have some problems. There was a public row between Mithali Raj and the then coach during the WWT20 in the Caribbean. It is said to have been smoothed over. WV Raman has taken over as head coach. Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur are apparently friends again. In any case Kaur is ruled out of this series through injury. This leaves India with Smriti Mandhana, one of the world’s most charismatic bats, and Raj herself, as the established run scorers in the side. And though it does not matter as much in ODIs as in T20s, there are still mutterings about Raj’s slowness across the ground, her slow scoring, and more. On the plus side they have the world’s highest ranked bowler in right arm wrist spinner Poonam Yadav, the dangerous left arm finger spinner Ekta Bisht, and the all-rounder Deepti Sharma, a right arm finger spinner who rips the ball a lot. In addition, in the veteran Jhulan Goswami, and in Shikha Pandey, they have a very experienced and dangerous opening pace combination.

India have progressed in leaps and bounds over the last three or four years. No longer is their ground fielding hit-and-miss, or their fitness or temperament suspect. Even without Kaur, they should have enough batting to set decent targets on their home pitches. Jemimah Rodrigues, for instance, is the teenage hope who has been persisted with and, after a slow start, has come good.

Whatever happens, however well prepared England are, India will not easily be walked over. In this city the speakers in English who were born and brought up here still call it Bombay, but it is now Mumbai and that name, in its own way, represents a new, decolonialised India that is proud of its own identity and confident in its abilities. No, this team will not lie down and roll over.

Act 1: Confounded Cricket

Friday, 22nd February 2019. India 202 all out beat England 136 all out. England won the toss.

The ODI is the long form of women’s cricket, taking its toll on the player’s stamina, calling on both tactical and strategic nous, with changes of pace and twists and turns leading, if one is lucky, to a tense and exciting finale. Witness the first ODI in the bilateral series between India and England, at the Wankhede stadium in Bombay (oh alright, Mumbai): 80% of the match was over. England needed 95 runs in 20 overs with 7 wickets in hand. 11 overs and 28 runs later, India had won.

To make sense of this we need perhaps to start at the beginning. Heather Knight won the toss and asked Mithali Raj’s team to bat, determined that England would take advantage of any available moisture in the pitch. She seemed to have made the right decision, with the reassuring figure of Brunt returning to the team after a long absence and bowling tight at Jemimah Rodrigues’ stumps, while Shrubsole kept tempting Mandhana just outside off. And then, after six overs of discipline the English lost their radar, bowling on the legs instead of the stumps, floating up half-volleys, and more. The result, from a start featuring two LBW appeals, a lucky four over slips, plays and misses outside off for about three runs an over, India then reached their 50 in 10.3 overs.

Knight switched to England’s next cunning plan, her left arm finger spinners, but successively, not concurrently. More importantly, Mandhana, who had throughout looked as though she had all the time in the world, but none of the timing, chopped onto her stumps off Elwiss.

The pitch could be described as sticky, because the ball seemed literally to stick in it for a fraction of a second when it pitched, and then come on more slowly to the batter. Shots played with a straight bat were invariably too early, and throughout the game drives and nurdles to leg saw it looping into the air, either because the bat was already on the way up, or because the ball hit the leading edge. Apart from a few of the batters on the day, Raj, Knight and Sciver, nobody seemed to want to adjust for this and sweep instead of driving, even though the cross-batted shot was, in these circumstances, the percentage shot. Add to that the fact that the stickiness meant the ball gripped and seamed, and spun, and very occasionally kept low or looped up, and for anyone adopting traditional methods, it was a pitch on which every delivery endangered ones wicket.

Deepti Sharma followed Mandhana, thanks to a Taylor special off Ecclestone. Ecclestone is even taller than Sciver and bowls with an upright action, bringing the ball down from a high release point, with great control of her line and length, and made all the Indian batters cautious. Hartley is also a left-arm finger-spinner, but she has a very round-arm action and it may be because of that that her line wasn’t always quite as controlled as Ecclestone’s. But they both found the pitch conducive and controlled India’s batters well. With six bowlers she could afford to bowl them just at one end, and when Sciver and Elwiss got two each, India had lost their first five wickets between 69 and 95 runs.

Taniya Bhatia is a tiny player, shorter by about 5 cm than even Tammy Beaumont, England’s shortest player. But she is lithe and enthusiastic, tidy behind the stumps (even though not in the Sarah Taylor class), and an old-fashioned keeper-bat. She isn’t, or isn’t yet, in the Gilchrist or Dhoni mould, but more reminiscent of a Jack Russell or Syed Kirmani: when asked of it by her team she will bat to keep her wicket, nudge, nurdle and drive where possible, and sprint her singles. In a single word, she is feisty, in the best possible sense. She it was who kept Raj company for a 54 run partnership as India recovered, to England’s frustration.

And then, as so often happens in these cases, there was a run out.

Sciver, leaping athletically at mid-on, chucked in swiftly and accurately at the non-striker’s end and Bhatia was gone. Goswami carefully started to get her eye in. But Elwiss finally got Raj, after a patient, innings-saving, 44.

And then (as so often happens in these cases) there was run out.

Sciver again, still as athletic and accurate, threw in to Shrubsole at the non-striker’s end, and Shikha Pandey had to leave the field.

One run later Brunt gathered the ball while kneeling towards the stumps at the non-striker’s end and… Bisht was gone.

Goswami, meanwhile, had her eye in, and hit the ball (without timing it perfectly, given the pitch) hither and yon. It wasn’t the prettiest of innings but she ensured, even as wickets fell at the other end, that she took India to 202 before being the last batter out.

Yes the pitch was tricky and not suited to extravagant strokeplay, but 202 still seemed like a disappointing, not a defendable, total.

Throughout, the huge Wankhede Stadium looked like Hyde Park in winter, as though the spectators had turned red, yellow and brown, dried up, fallen off, and been blown away in the autumn. Only the bare bones showed, naked and beautiful in their own way, but with that cold feeling of life gone to sleep. In April, come the IPL and Mumbai Indians’ home matches, it will be more crowded and full of movement than a beehive, but to take off a full day’s work for a women’s cricket match was beyond the ability of most Mumbaikars.

Shikha Pandey, from India’s second over, showed herself to be the bowler of the match: as quick as Goswami, more accurately targetting a line just outside off, and angling the ball in, with the help of the seam, onto middle and leg. Jones was not perhaps expecting something quite so penetrative and was rightly adjudged LBW on Pandey’s fourth delivery.

Beaumont and Taylor did what England expected of them, defending, nudging to leg, driving cautiously and trying to accumulate runs. For a while. Then Pandey, who throughout her first spell that lasted the full Powerplay never lost her direction or pace, trapped Taylor in similar fashion. And when Beaumont got a leading edge, playing too early on the sticky pitch, and seeing the ball loop up to Yadav off Sharma, England could have been in trouble. Luckily Sciver and Knight realised that the sweep was a far safer shot to the spinners than any straight bat shots (which always ran the risk of sending the ball looping up), and deployed that, and stout defence, for the next 73 runs in 17 overs. Which brings us to where we started: 80% of the match was done, and England needed 98 in 20 overs with seven wickets in hand. More importantly, both bats were looking comfortable.

And then (as so often happens etc…) there was a run out.

Natalie Sciver is tall and broad of shoulder and, without a spare gram of fat on her, gives the impression of being as strong as an ox. She bowls at speed, when she hits the ball it stays hit, and in the field she is as athletic as anybody. But even she cannot overcome the laws of physics. When Knight drove Bisht, the ball went straight back to the bowler and Sciver, backing up, turned to ground her bat as Bisht threw it behind her onto the stumps. Sciver is a big unit and just could not reverse her momentum in time, being about 5 cm short of the crease when the zing bails lit up. This series has no DRS, but it has zing bails.

Even then, with Wyatt coming in, England had the opportunity to regroup, get set again, and chase down the target. Unfortunately Wyatt did not quite grasp the nature of the pitch and went for a lofted drive very early in her innings. She inevitably holed out to long on.

Brunt, when faced with the ball on or outside off that turns away from her, glares at it in the manner of Eve looking distrustfully at a serpent with an apple in its mouth. Bisht is a left-arm finger-spinner with an action as round-arm as Hartley’s, but with more rip and seemingly better control of flight and line than Hartley. Yadav, right arm, but a wrist spinner, is also not to Brunt’s liking. It was inevitable that she would succumb, missing one with her outside edge as she came down the track to negate the spin, and getting stumped before she could slide her foot back behing the crease.

From then on it was the Bisht show, with the England batters, bar the captain staring aghast from the other end, seeming to panic and losing their wickets without resistance. Knight had spoken of England’s depth and strength of batting before the series, but tiny Ekta Bisht, after Goswami had accounted for Elwiss, blew through the last three without giving away a run.

And it all started with the unfortunate run-out of Sciver. That’s why cricket is so confounding. We like to believe there is cause and effect in it, that we can trace the blame back to such and such action by so-and-so. But sometimes we have to accept that there are uncontrollables. India batted as best as they could in the face of England’s six-person attack, but set what should have been a sub-par score. England lost wickets to some excellent bowling, but had enough batters, and enough experience to overhaul that score. It went the wrong way for them.

For India, it is a matter of getting their middle order batters to be a bit more disciplined. For England, perhaps the same should apply to their top order bats. But no matter how hard they work, you cannot practice luck in the nets.

Act 2: Mithali’s Raj

Tuesday, 25th February 2019. England 161 all out were beaten by India 163 for 3. England won the toss.

There is much talk in the men’s game of players like Rangana Herath, Shoaib Malik and Chris Gayle, last of the cricketers who made their international debuts in the 20th century and are still playing (although Herath is now retired). Mithali Raj made her international debut on the 26th of June1999, and doesn’t look like retiring yet. She has scored more runs in ODI cricket than any other woman, and two years ago she charmed all the viewers of the World Cup by waiting near the boundary, padded up, and reading Rumi.

She also gave fans of the game one of the greatest quotes it has ever had: when asked by a reporter, at that 2017 World Cup, who her favourite male cricketer was, she responded:

“Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is? I have always been asked who’s your favourite cricketer but you should ask them who their favourite female cricketer is.”

In fact that might have proved the inspiration for England’s captain, Heather Knight who, before the ODIs began, was asked by a reporter, according to Snehal Pradhan:

“How much confidence do you take from the England men who chased down that total yesterday in Barbados?”

England captain, Heather Knight, with her most polite smile: “None at all. We’re here to answer questions about women’s cricket.”

Women’s cricket is more confident in its right to exist, and be respected, than ever before, particularly in India thanks to a legend called Mithali Raj.

On this day she marshalled India’s bowlers on the field, and then yet again India’s batters with her bat in hand, to make what should have been a tough contest seem almost like a sinecure.

For England, winning the toss and deciding this time to set a target first (and dropping Wyatt for Winfield in search of slightly more reliable runs) it still began predictably: with Shikha Pandey looking by far the best bowler this series had seen, Jhulan Goswami doing again what she has done for India for so many years, and England’s top order perishing playing around their pads or nicking off or chipping to fielders.

Except this time even Knight could not find the wherewithal to fight back along with Sciver, so Nat had to play a lone hand, scoring all the runs she could while wickets fell with regularity at the other end. She must have felt a bit like Knight at the end of the previous match.

Beaumont provided some support up front, and Winfield also tried to stick around. But the rest of the England batters could not stand up to the line and length that Goswami, and in particular Pandey, maintained.

When Sciver takes her stance she seems to slouch, to hunch her back as though otherwise her bat won’t reach the ground. Each delivery she faces with fierce concentration, giving her all for the team with each act. But she must have felt some frustration at the procession of wickets at the other end after the fall of Winfield. And then Hartley came in, and achieved the equal lowest score of the innings: no runs. But she faced 17 deliveries in doing so, and didn’t lose her wicket. This was what Sciver needed as she scored almost all the runs in England’s ODI record last wicket stand of 42. She finally succumbed to Goswami, but not before hitting 85 out of England’s final score of 162, 52.5% of its total. Knowing her, she would have gladly scored 50 less if only her team could have scored 50 more, but it was a wonderfully brave and determined innings. And she would have been disappointed too, because only if India succumbed the way England had in the first match, was there a chance of defending their total.

The pitch was almost emerald green except for the red patches near the wickets. India will have observed that the look of the thing did not matter, it was its behaviour that would count, and it was sticky.

Jemima Rodrigues, the 18 year old rising star who had done well in the first match, unfortunately forgot the lessons to be taken from it and, without scoring, sent a Shrubsole delivery off a mishit to Jones. But Raut, promoted to three in place of Sharma, was circumspect and more than capable of keeping Mandhana company. Particularly when the English bowlers seemed to hit their three over limit and begin to lose their direction.

Mandhana is probably the most watchable batter in women’s cricket today, with all the time in the world for her cuts, pulls and hooks. And when she gets her eye in and starts lofting the ball straight, there is nowhere else in the world you want to be than watching her. When she achieves that fluency, even her opponents must be glad to be present and getting beaten by her. On a pitch like this, though, with accurate timing nearly impossible, it was like watching Margot Fonteyn dancing in a straitjacket. And yet, she persisted. She defended whenever she needed to, refused to take chances with the ball on her stumps, but also never refused the chance to pull or hook a short straight ball, or one outside leg. On the off stump she can be as brutal, leaning back and carving the ball to almost any part of that half of the field. And this is when she is not at her most fluent.

With Raut keeping her company she took the score without any alarms to 74, and when Raut fell to another Sarah Taylor special stumping (standing up to the wicket for Elwiss), Raj simply joined her at the other end and again, calmly and solidly, helped her take the score to 140, by which time the match was effectively over. Raj and Sharma, without any heroics, drained it off any remaining interest as they unhurriedly knocked off the remaining runs needed.

None of the England bowlers was bad, but none was outstanding either. Against Mandhana and Raj, in particular, they just did not seem to have enough menace and, apart from Rodrigues, the Indians were not inclined to make mistakes.

One last word about Raj, since we started with her. It is the custom of most batters these days to shuffle across to off, or even to fourth or fifth stump line, to receive the ball. This may have been driven partly by the bowlers increasingly targetting the “corridor of uncertainty”, and partly by the modern feeling that turning the ball to leg is a safer way to start scoring than driving in the ‘v’. On a pitch like this, however, taking seam and encouraging the bowlers to cut it in from the off stump, and with bowlers of the calibre of Pandey and Goswami, and Brunt and Shrubsole, this natural movement frequently backfires, and a large number of the batters in these games have been trapped LBW or bowled through the gate. Raj, however, stays where she took her guard, and only moves to the ball when she has determined its line. In short, she moves late and is far less vulnerable to the deliveries that were taking the other wickets. Throughout, therefore, she has looked so solid that it is a surprise if she gets out. Yes this is old-fashioned batting and nearly superannuated in the T20 arena, but on slow pitches, in the 50 over game, it has made the difference between India and England: even more than Knight, Raj has twice provided the spine to the Indian innings, ensuring a score that wins. In the ODI format, at least, any reports of Raj’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

Act 3: A few dollars short

Friday, 28th February 2019. India 205 for 8 were beaten by England 208 for 8. India won the toss.

The players, and their captains in particular, always do their best to sound enthusiastic about a “dead rubber”. One says that they want a clean sweep, or to avoid the reputation for always losing the last match of the series. The other will say her team are better than they have performed so far, and it is a matter of pride to win at least one of the three to prove it. But the fact is that there is always a “last day of term” feel to it. They will do their duty, but the main prize has already been lost and won, and for all their enthusiastic words, it is really only their duty they seem, a bit grimly, to be doing.

At the end, this, the closest match of all three in this series, was nevertheless disappointing, precisely because of this sense that there was not that much to play for, despite ICC Ranking Points being on the line.

So when Raj finally won the toss and decided to set England a target, it didn’t seem significant: it was in some ways an experiment, and simply a challenge to the Indian bats to set a decent target. Bisht wasn’t playing, replaced by Rajeshwari Gayakwad a, you guessed it, left-arm finger-spinner. Wyatt was brought back into the England XI, since it was confirmed that the promising teenager, Ecclestone, had a broken bone in her right hand (and had actually played through the second match with it). Winfield, therefore, also stayed in the team, and this meant that if Knight wanted a sixth bowler, those overs would have to come from Wyatt and from her.

Raj’s claimed reason, with a bit of an enigmatic smile on her face, for choosing to bat first, was: “it is a fresh pitch, so…”

This may have been an in joke because, fresh or not, each Wankhede pitch has been a clone of the first: a bowler’s delight and a batter’s nemesis.

So it proved for Jemimah (pronounced Jem-ee-mah) Rodrigues, bowled through the gate by Brunt’s second ball. There is a pun there about Rodrigues having to bear the Brunt, she having taken first strike all three times this series with Mandhana at the non-striker’s end, but I will not make it.

Raut, who looked bedded in at three, joined Mandhana and the two of them, despite England’s openers doing some of their best bowling of the series, blunted the attack and put on 128 runs in 28 overs.

Knight, as before, rotated her bowlers, not just her four seamers, but bringing on herself and Wyatt for three overs each, to supplement Hartley, in Ecclestone’s absence.

Raut, however, was determined and Mandhana, having seen the same pitch, or pitch conditions, for a third successive game, was again not quite fluent, but not taking chances either. She therefore scored a mere eight fours and one six in her 66.

In fact it was to tempt Mandhana to break the shackles and perhaps buy her wicket that Knight set a fielder deep near cow corner, and got Brunt to bowl short at her. The trap worked immediately, with Mandhana, on another superb half century, holing out to Wyatt, who else, in the deep.

With that, even without the assistance of a run-out, but with the assistance of Sarah Taylor, there was a collapse of six wickets for 21 runs. Raut was bowled, Raj was caught behind and the hapless Meshram was LBW. All to Brunt, who eventually ended with her second best five-for in the format.

Katherine Brunt takes to the field as though she has a grievance against it, but it is that very combativeness and commitment, besides her talent and speed as a bowler, that make the English team look so much more relieved and confident when she is in the XI than when she isn’t. Throughout this series she had been 5 to 10 kph quicker than Goswami, Shrubsole or Pandey (with Sciver slightly slower, and Elwiss a further 10 kph slower still). Brunt even confessed after the end, when she had won Player of the Match that (and this despite the ball going like a banana from her hand a couple of times in her first few overs), she has been working on seam to the exclusion of swing. Goswami, at 36, is still steaming in for India like Bob Willis at Lord’s in 1981, and Brunt is built in the same mould: of complete commitment to the cause. If she stays fit, England could still celebrate having her around for another three or four years. Which can only be good news for them.

With Shrubsole and Sciver also taking a wicket each it was up to India’s admirable all-rounder Deepti Sharma (one of only two left-handed bats, along with Mandhana, to be seen on either side for the entire series) and the equally admirable bowler, Shikha Pandey, now resurgent and player of the series for this correspondent, to make a fist of the innings, which they did to the tune of a 47 run stand that took India within three runs of their 200. Yadav then joined Sharma and they managed to take India to the highest score of the series thus far, 205 in their allotted 50 overs, losing eight wickets along the way.

At the start of the series this would surely have been seen as a disappointing score that either of the teams should have been able to chase down without too many heroics or too much drama. By this endgame, however, it was clear that it was going to be difficult for the team batting second to win.

England’s openers, however, Beaumont and Jones, seemed initially to have learned the lesson of the pitch, and frequently defended when they might otherwise have driven the ball. They were helped by the fact that, for the first time in the series, India’s bowlers, Pandey in particular, seemed to have turned off their radar, and sent first one down leg and then one wide of off and so on. In between there were dangerous deliveries and seemed to be given the respect they deserved.

Then, Jones could not resist lofting one straight to Mandhana. Winfield attempted to slash one outside off to nick off to the keeper. Beaumont attempted a drive and skewed it to Meshram, and then, astonishingly, the usually disciplined Sciver came forward to drive and lobbed a catch back to that admirable all-rounder, Sharma. All England’s first four wickets went to attempts to force the pace, on a pitch that, along with its nearby clones, had done its best to put its arm around their shoulders and advise wiser, safer counsels and methods.

When Taylor, not so intrepid, but still shuffling across her stumps in the approved modern manner, was LBW to Pandey, England had lost five wickets for 24 runs.

So Wyatt, as she joined her self-denying captain, Knight, had a second opportunity to prove she could bat in ODIs, even in the sub-continent.

Reader, she took it.

When India’s men toured Australia in 2003-2004, the great Sachin Tendulkar decided he was getting out too often to the cover drive, despite its being a productive stroke for him and one of his favourites. As a consequence he cut it out of his repertoire for the Fourth Test and scored a slow, but assured, 241 in the first innings. (He added a 70 or so not out in the second innings just to make the point more firmly.) This, almost monk-like, discipline is still spoken about in awed tones wherever cricket is popular, and it is very popular in India.

Wyatt did something similar. In her T20 pomp she is one of the hardest hitters of the ball and her favourite shot is the lofted drive in the wide ‘v’ between midwicket and extra cover. She did not play it once in her 56 runs. She did not even sweep.

Instead she waited for the ball wide on off stump and cut it. She glanced the ball going down leg or tucked away the full ball on her legs. Sometimes she drove, softly and along the ground, for a single. And it was thus that she achieved her first ODI half century. For someone with two T20i centuries and three fifties, that is a remarkable statistic.

Knight (Knight I ask you!) had previously been out on another substantial score, 47, losing her patience outside off and flashing at a ball too wide to drive and too close to cut. Of course Bhatia took the catch.

But Wyatt, instead of losing her head, shepherded the innings, letting Elwiss show her ability with the bat as she slowly gained confidence, and took the innings up to 174. And then, for whatever reason, she decided to go back to habit and loft a drive. And yes, as if to hammer home the lesson, the first time she tried it she holed to Meshram in the deep. It might have been a disappointing end to her innings but it may just have convinced her that, on slower pitches, she has all the strokes and all the defensive technique she needs to play substantial ODI innings without bringing her all-action T20 style into play.

At 174-7, then, England’s chances were still very much in the balance. Elwiss had shown she could repel the bowlers and score when needed off the loose deliveries. For Brunt, however, this was a sort of purgatory. Both Yadav and Gayakwad turned the ball, serpent-with-an-apple-in-its-mouth style, away from her outside off stump, tempting her to play and miss, and look even more suspiciously at every delivery.

Eventually she settled on that modern standby, the stroke that has changed white ball batting as much as the Fosbury Flop changed high jumping: she began to employ the hoick.

Now the hoick is not a shot describable in terms of the orthodox coaching manuals, being neither a drive nor as pull, neither properly front foot nor properly back foot, neither played with a straight bat nor with a horizontal one. It is played as though one were cover driving in the manner of Joe Root or Virat Kohli, away from the body and using the eye to get bat to ball, standing upright having stepped forward but leaned backward. But then, to achieve the true hoick, one takes the ball outside off and, using the accepted golf swing, sends the ball in the direction of mid-on or midwicket.

Brunt employed the hoick, but sent it along the ground, safely, to achieve 18 runs with just one boundary in the lot. With Elwiss at the other end still batting as though she understood what was happening, Brunt effectively helped England, from a still parlous situation to within two runs of victory, using, as Kenneth Grahame might have said, matchless valour, consummate strategy, and a proper handling of sticks.

Shrubsole, in next, immediately hit a four to end the thus far closest game of the tour (not counting the practice match during which Heather Knight again proved her worth to England).

So the teams, or rather the chosen squads, head to Guwahati, still on IST, but about an hour and twenty minutes ahead in terms of sunrise, of Mumbai. Given the T20s are being played during the day, they are likely to be hot all the way through. It will be interesting but the mere fact that we are looking forward to that shows how anticlimactic, in some ways this match was.

India will be wondering about their often-fragile middle order. Knight will perhaps wonder what she can do about the headpiece-filled-with-straw attitude of her top order. And so the series ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.

LONG READ: Richard Clark – My Women’s Cricket Journey

By Richard Clark

I wasn’t always a women’s cricket follower.  In fact, for most of my life I can’t say I was aware that such a thing existed.

My father was – and still is – a Worcestershire season ticket holder, and huge swathes of my summers were consumed with the ups and downs of the Schweppes County Championship and John Player League.  I was one of those things that apparently doesn’t exist these days – a child with an attention span and a love of cricket.  But it was exclusively played by the male of the species, and the possibility that the other half of the population might ever pick up bats and balls rarely crossed my mind.

I say rarely – I know I was aware of the existence of somebody called Rachael Heyhoe-Flint who played the game (on her own presumably, bowling to herself ad infinitum…?), and I recall too that we sat down in front of the telly one afternoon to watch bits of the 1993 World Cup Final on Sunday Grandstand.  Not that the day’s events had any great effect on me, or us.  We were pleased that England won – ours was the sort of household that would happily watch and support England against Johnny or Jenny Foreigner, whatever the sport – but it had no real long-term impact on my “cricket life”.  As far as I was concerned the England Women’s cricket team appeared on the box one day and then ceased to exist again the next.

It was twelve more years before Holly Colvin gave me another little nudge in the direction of the women’s game, when her selection to play for England in the 2005 Women’s Ashes at the age of 15 attracted media attention, and I followed the two-Test Women’s Ashes series from afar with mild curiosity.  Not enough curiosity, mind you, to haul myself the short distance to New Road for the second and deciding match of the series.  It was another little drip of the tap, perhaps even a slight trickle, but not yet was it a gush…

Like a few people, I would imagine, 2009 was the year that opened my eyes wide enough to want to know more, and to see for myself.  Despite it taking place in the middle of the night, I was listening as England defeated New Zealand in that winter’s Women’s World Cup Final – once more the habit of jumping on every England-shaped bandwagon coming to the fore.  I decided I needed to know more about a team that had achieved something (and I hesitate to say this because I dislike such trite comparisons, but here goes anyway…) our men had never managed.

The inaugural Women’s World T20, to be held in England that summer, provided the opportunity, and at Taunton on Sunday 14th June 2009 I watched not only my first women’s cricket match, but my second too.  The double-header format of the group stages meant two for the price of one, and after Australia had dealt relatively easily with the West Indies, to the tune of 8 wickets, England did likewise with Sri Lanka by the comfortable margin of 71 runs.

By the standards England have set themselves in recent years, and even with due allowance for the subsequent strides made since the advent of full-time professionalism at the top level, it perhaps wasn’t vintage stuff. The classy Claire Taylor (75 of 54 balls) apart, England were a shade pedestrian in reaching 140 for 7 with the bat, but their fielding from ball one was a cut above the other three teams, Australia included.  There was a buzz about them that made this first-time spectator really sit up and take notice.  The batting may have been a touch below par, but this was a serious team I was watching, even without the injured Katherine Brunt, a player I had been especially keen to see.

Having “dipped my toe” I kept an eye on the tournament’s progress, but with the semi-finals and final televised – thanks to a slightly different double-header arrangement which saw both women’s and men’s knock-out stages run side-by-side on the same days at the same venues, which allowed for Sky to cover the women’s matches at limited additional expense – I could watch from the comfort of my armchair as England repeated their 50-over triumph of a few months earlier.

The semi-final of that tournament was a genuine epic – a distinct “staging post” not just in my appreciation of the game, but in the development of women’s cricket in this country.  After putting tournament favourites Australia in to bat, Charlotte Edwards must have been wondering whether she’d done the right thing as the Aussies ran up 163 for 5 in their 20 overs.  That actually represented a good outcome for England after Australia had been 138 for 2 with more than three overs left.

Solely on the basis of the Sri Lanka match I feared for Edwards’ team.  Claire Taylor apart, I couldn’t see where the necessary “oomph” would come from, even with the shortened (but not by too much) Oval boundaries, and by the time Sarah Taylor and then Edwards both departed England needed another 121 off 13 overs.

There followed a masterclass, not just from Claire Taylor, but from Beth Morgan too. Their composure was remarkable, picking off singles, running hard for twos and threes, taking the bad ball when it came along.  You see plenty of innovation these days in women’s T20 matches in particular, but back then the game was yet to fully evolve to that extent.  Taylor and Morgan simply played good cricket shots, that’s all there was to it. And twelve overs and three balls later, England had won.  Taylor (75 not out) and Morgan (46 not out) had made the Australians look something they most definitely weren’t – ordinary.

We can all point to the unlikely run chases we have witnessed, matches that were pulled from the fire by some Herculean slogging, or where victory was gained inch by inch, single by single, as the balls ticked down and the last wicket pair clung on.  This was neither.  It was clinical, it was methodical, it was proper cricket.

It deserved a bigger crowd, and a bigger TV audience, and it also deserves seeing again – there is no hint of it on YouTube, and I’ve never seen it repeated on Sky.  It exists only on the pages of Cricinfo, and in my mind’s eye, which is a pity because it was an outstanding chase.

Later that same summer, England met Australia again, this time in a one-off Test match to decide the Women’s Ashes.  With the match being played just down the road from me at Worcester, it would have been rude not to pop my head around the door, so Day 3 of the match saw my first experience of “long-form” Women’s cricket.

Test cricket is a strange format in the Women’s game, something of an anomaly even.  The domestic game, both here and in Australia, is strictly limited overs, meaning the longer version is only experienced in Ashes Test matches themselves (England and Australia are the only two countries who still entertain the notion of playing Women’s Tests), or occasional warm-up fixtures.  There is an element of learning on the hoof for all involved, and in that context I went along to watch with the feeling that maybe it wasn’t necessarily fair to expect too much.  Truth be told, I wasn’t sure exactly what I DID expect…

Australia had started poorly on day one (28 for 5 at one point) but had recovered to 271 for 7 by the close, and eventually reached 309 all out the next morning.  England then mirrored their opponents to an extent, slipping to 28 for 4 and then 59 for 5 before Morgan and Jenny Gunn steadied the ship on 116 for 5 at the close of the second day.  Only 154 runs had been scored from 68 overs during a rain-shortened day, England hanging on defiantly late on as the Aussies looked to tighten their grip.

With the home side needing only a draw to retain the Trophy they had won four years previously and then retained down under in 2006/07, the onus was on the visitors to winkle the English batters out on day three.  Morgan occupied the crease for what seemed an eternity, with Gunn, then Brunt and then Nicky Shaw all providing support for a while, but when Morgan went for 58 with England exactly 100 behind, it looked like Australia were in complete control.

Morgan’s runs had come off 262 balls and took more than five hours.  In those five hours she found the boundary just four times.  A grind?  Perhaps, but she was the main reason why England were not in deeper trouble.  I’m sure some people would decry it as “boring” but to me it was gripping cricket.  No fireworks, no twists and turns, just a batter giving her all to defy the bowlers at the other end.

Nobody at New Road knew it when Morgan departed, but this was to be a day when tenth-wicket partnerships would frustrate and infuriate those in the baggy green caps.  While Jimmy and Monty were defying Ricky Ponting and his troops at Cardiff, Colvin and Laura Marsh batted together here for even longer – more than 20 overs – putting on 59 runs, and in that time they probably saved England from defeat.  Much like that T20 partnership at the Oval that took England to Lord’s, they did it with a mixture of common sense and proper cricket, defence and attack – eight boundaries between them.

There was time for Australia to reach 128 for 1 by the close, a not insubstantial lead of 169, but it was difficult to see how they could win the game barring an England collapse.

I enjoyed the day.  Despite free admission the crowd was sparse, reflecting the minimal publicity afforded to the women’s game at that time.  To this callow observer it seemed hard to avoid the impression that the ECB were almost embarrassed to shout about the game, as if they felt there was no point as nobody would turn up anyway.

Yet the cricket had been good, compelling even, and if spectators had been subdued for much of the day as Australia squeezed England’s batting, they had come to life a little when Marsh and Colvin began to get into their stride.  In many ways, it was no different from watching a County Championship match.  I certainly didn’t feel I’d been watching anything “second rate.”

England gained their draw, unseen by me, the following day.  Going for quick runs, Australia were bowled out for 231, which they may not have seen as a bad thing, but England negotiated the necessary 53 overs with little alarm and retained their Ashes trophy to complete a triumphant year.

I now considered myself a supporter of this team, and yet, so enthralled was I that I went another four years without attending a single women’s match.  It was 2013 before I dabbled again, when the next Ashes series came around.  This time we headed for Lord’s for a One Day International forming part of the newly-instigated multi-format Women’s Ashes series.  But first (and bearing in mind I said “we”, not “I”), let’s rewind a little…

In the Autumn of 2012 my daughter – then just turned 10 – came home from school with a form that her games teacher had handed to her.  “Em, you’re good at rounders, why don’t you have a look at this?”

“This” was an invitation to any girls interested in cricket to attend trials for Worcestershire’s girls age group squads.  My daughter loved, and still loves, sport; she was already playing netball and hockey at school, as well as netball for a club, and had been captivated by the London Olympics that summer, Jess Ennis in particular.  Yet for some reason it had never occurred to this cricket-loving Dad – now very much aware that the female of the species could play the game and play it well – that his sport-loving daughter might be able to… erm… play cricket.

So trials it was, and despite never having held a bat or bowled a ball in her life she was accepted into the Under 11s squad.  Now, I like to think that she dazzled the selectors with her instant knack for the game, but I’ll be honest with you – they all got in.  We’re talking about a time when girls’ cricket was not as popular as it is now.  If a girl who essentially knew nothing about the game could get through County trials it suggests to me that talent was thin on the ground, but still…

The summer of 2011 saw her first games of cricket both for the local club she had joined and for the County squad, and cricket became even more a part of our lives in a way that we certainly hadn’t expected.  Six years later she’s about to embark on her first season at Under 17s level (success at trials permitting).  It’s been a journey and a half – some good seasons, some not so good – but either way it’s been tremendously enjoyable.  We’ve been to Cornwall and Cumbria, and numerous points in between, and the group of girls she plays with (and their parents) have become great friends.

There have been highlights of the cricketing variety – did I mention she once took five wickets in an over, and then hit the winning run in a one-wicket victory, all in the same match?  No?  Strange – I’ve mentioned it to everybody else!!  And highlights of the non-cricketing variety – the World Tour of Dorset and Cornwall in 2016 will live long in the memory, although never was truer the adage that “What happens on tour, stays on tour”!

We’ve also seen the team bowled out for 20 (nine runs from the bat, six scoring shots…), which wouldn’t have been quite so bad were we not chasing the small matter of 243 for 3.  Hey ho…

More pertinent to the story is that her involvement in the game made me more determined that we would follow and support women’s cricket at every opportunity, partly because I already had that interest, but also because I wanted her to see what she might be able to achieve, and to have role-models within the game.

Back to Lord’s… for me a return to the venue where I saw Worcestershire lift the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1991, but for the rest of our family their first “big” cricket match (the odd men’s T20 at New Road notwithstanding).  It didn’t go well – England lost, in fairly limp style.  But it was to be their only defeat to the Aussies that summer, and with all limited overs matches televised we got used to watching England’s women as routine for the first time.

Again, a hiatus, until another Ashes tour two years later in 2015 (remember that, when they were coming along like buses for a few years?).  This time we had an ODI scheduled on our doorstep at New Road, only for persistent rain to scupper the day – or to be more precise, it scuppered the cricket.

Despite the apocalyptic forecast we went along anyway, and it proved to be a very good decision, as photographs with, and autographs from, the entire England squad and a good few of the tourists, were collected in the Pavilion.  The players of both teams were exemplary on what must have been a very frustrating day, giving their time freely, always with smiles, and chatting to anybody and everybody.

It’s something I see at every women’s match – players willing to give their time after the close of play to meet particularly the youngsters who have come to see their idols.  It’s an area where women’s cricket, through its relative lack of a big following when compared to the men’s game, actually has an advantage.  Youngsters have that opportunity to get close to the players, and the players genuinely understand and appreciate the influence they can have.

It wasn’t just snaps and signatures, either.  Late in the afternoon, we were entertained by the somewhat bizarre sight of Brunt and Sarah Taylor clearing a space in the bar, corralling a group of slightly bewildered girls and boys, and playing an impromptu game with a couple of rolled up socks.  It emphasised to me the importance and the power of these players interacting with the next generation.

There is a saying that has been prominent in women’s sport in recent years – you can’t do what you can’t see.  Girls need access to their role models, they need to be able to see the footsteps they are following.  When my sister and I were young, the only women’s sport I can remember seeing on the TV was the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, and Wimbledon, all – significantly – events where women’s sport co-existed alongside (let’s not say “piggybacked on”) men’s sport.  Actually going to watch a “stand-alone” women’s sporting event was not, to all intents and purposes, “a thing”.  My sister was never especially into sport, but then why would she be?  Essentially it belonged to men and boys.

The explosion (relatively speaking) in the coverage of women’s sport in recent seasons has been phenomenal in more senses than one.  For my daughter – and my son too, come to that – women playing sport is genuinely normal.  It happens, it’s on the TV, it’s in the papers, and more pertinently it’s on Instagram and Snapchat.  I asked my lad one night to name his three favourite cricketers – his answers, Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt and Fran Wilson, and then as an afterthought he chucked in the name of Joe Root.

Because we take them to women’s matches – not just cricket, but football too occasionally – they see it as perfectly normal, nothing out of the ordinary, more of which in a bit…

Up to now, the one gap in my experience of watching the women’s game had been domestic stuff.  I’d come to consider myself fairly knowledgeable as far as England were concerned, but what about the County game that produced these players?  Despite being a life-long Worcestershire supporter, and having my daughter in the “pathway” I didn’t really know much about the County’s women’s team, beyond the odd occasion when their training sessions crossed paths with my daughter’s age group training.

Late in the summer of 2015, a little slice of history took place at New Road.  Nothing too noteworthy in the scheme of things, but significant nevertheless for those involved – the first domestic women’s cricket match to take place at County HQ.  The women’s team took on Devon in a 50-over Division 2 Championship match, ostensibly as part of the County’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, so I made that my (our) first experience of the Women’s County Championship.

Worcestershire won the game, in front of a smallish crowd, and a cracking day’s cricket it was.  Chasing the home side’s score of 236 for 6, Devon made decent headway, whilst Worcestershire chipped away at the wickets column.  For most of the chase the match was well-poised, and with ten overs to go a tight finish looked in prospect.  In the end Devon ran out of wickets and steam as their lower order struggled, and Worcestershire were eventually winners by 35 runs, a more comfortable margin than had seemed likely for much of the afternoon.

Once again, I enjoyed it, and had found the standard a little better than I perhaps expected for a second tier fixture.  There were half-centurions on both sides, and a number of players looked very easy on the eye with bat in hand, whilst the bowling and fielding was good.

It may just be me, but I find myself wrestling with my praise and criticism of the women’s game, and this match was a good illustration of that.  How good were the players, how good was the game I had watched?  Was I over-praising because I wanted it to be good stuff, or because I was “making allowances” for the part-time status of the players, the big (ish) stage that most probably weren’t used to, or simply the fact that they were women?  Or was I judging on merit?  A good shot is a good shot, after all, whether played by a man, a woman or a child.

I try to be honest in my critique, whilst – yes – making what I think is reasonable allowance for all factors.  If a fielder lets a simple ball through his or her legs, that’s rank bad fielding whether the player concerned is professional, amateur or junior, but if it’s a 30-yard run and a full-length dive on the boundary to prevent a four, then I think it’s entirely reasonable to differentiate between a full-time professional and someone who trains intermittently when the commitments of their day job and regular life allow.

In areas of physical strength and conditioning, why would anybody sensibly expect the same standards?  In much the same vein, the idea that women play a “less worthy” game because they don’t bowl as fast or hit the ball as far is surely spurious.  The physical differences between the average man and the average woman are self-evident, and in professional athletes are exaggerated even further.

But in questions of technique, there is no reason why a woman – given the same training and playing time – can’t cover drive the ball as elegantly as any man.  And I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen Heather Knight drive the ball through the off-side in a manner that could not be bettered, and I’ve seen Anya Shrubsole swing a white ball that many male bowlers can’t move off the straight.  And we haven’t talked about Sarah Taylor’s keeping yet…

Too many people fail to understand – or don’t want to understand, because it’s doesn’t suit their blinkered view – that professional women’s cricket is still in its infancy.  Full-time women cricketers only became “a thing” less than five years ago.  And yes, as a result of that we should expect – and are seeing – higher standards, but that can only ever be a gradual thing.  Nobody gets exponentially better at anything overnight, and certainly not just because you pay them more or allow them to give up the day job.  Improvement will come quicker than it might have done otherwise, but it still comes in incremental steps.

And making somebody full time doesn’t change their back story either.  Players like Jenny Gunn and Katherine Brunt have been full-time since the ECB introduced professional contracts, but they’ve been England players for much longer than that.  Both made their debuts in 2004, a full ten years before full-time cricket came along.  How do you make up for the lost years of practice, training, physiotherapy, rest?  You can’t.  Those players are as good as they are despite their backgrounds.

And what about the money?  For years England’s women had to pay their way, literally. It cost them money to play the game, whether through unpaid time off work, funding foreign tours, or the need for new kit.  And if that has changed now on the International scene then it certainly hasn’t lower down the ranks.

So when I watched Worcestershire and Devon that afternoon, I saw two things – firstly, cricketers playing for the love of the game, not for any kind of fame or reward; but secondly, players taking themselves and the contest utterly seriously.  The standards they set themselves were no lower than professional players might set, the pride in their performance no less.  It mattered.

If a catch was dropped or a poor shot played then nobody would be more critical than the culprit herself, so when it comes to those of us watching on, should we “make allowances”?  The complicated answer – to me – is yes and no.

Yes, because that’s how the players want it.  If you want to improve your game, whatever level you play at, then you have to be honest with yourself about the areas where you fall short.  If spectators adopt an approach that says, “never mind, you did your best” (or words to that effect) then that is selling the players short on what is expected of them, and ends up encouraging an attitude that excuses sloppiness.

And no, because when all that is said and done, we live in the Real World.  If full-time professional players can drop a catch or play all around a straight one then why expect a part-timer to be perfect?

A side-note to the match at New Road was that the minor historical nature of the occasion prompted me to make my first contribution to CRICKETher, a blog I had begun following some months previously.  It’s something I’ve continued to do from time to time, and I’m grateful to Syd and Raf for indulging my half-baked ramblings.  There are still not all that many places online to discuss women’s cricket but theirs is the leader in a fledgling field.

The summer of 2016 brought Pakistan to England for ODI and T20 series, in some ways a calm before the anticipated World Cup storm to follow in 2017.  Although there was a match scheduled for New Road, being a midweek date meant I was unable to attend due to work commitments.  The match was not without controversy, however, and watching highlights later it was easy to see why.  England coach Mark Robinson had requested that the boundaries be brought in to the minimum permitted distance, making the playing area look incongruously small.

The idea behind it was to encourage England’s batters to go for their shots, and aim to hit sixes, a facet of the game that hasn’t always been England’s strongest area.  It was, essentially, a means to an end.  With Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield both hitting centuries, and Nat Sciver a whirlwind 80 off 33 balls, England ran up a massive 378 for 6.

In some eyes it demeaned the women’s game, but that was just too simplistic a view – it was about more than just scoring easy runs as a one-off.  Robinson wanted to change the mindset of a team that had virtually strangled itself to death in the World T20 earlier that year, hitting just six sixes in five matches and stagnating in a welter of nudged singles.  He wanted to encourage them to think more expansively.

And it worked.  From that day on, whatever the boundary size, England have been a different team, with a different mentality, a classic example of what can be achieved when the shackles and the mental blocks are removed.  That match, although largely unheralded, and in some ways dismissed as an embarrassing misjudgement, was anything but.  It was the catalyst for the great leap forward.

Unable to be at Worcester that day, I wasn’t going to miss out altogether, so I settled on a trip down the M5 for a T20 fixture at Bristol.  “New” England dominated this game too, running up what was at the time their highest T20 total of 187 for 5, with both Beaumont and Winfield hitting 50s, but a Pakistan side that struggled all tour to mount a serious challenge to the home team put up a reasonable show of defiance with the bat despite falling well short on 119 for 7.

There was a distinct gap between the teams, though, one that had been evident all tour from what I saw of the televised games.  The far less experienced visitors lacked penetration with their bowling, were often shoddy in the field (albeit much improved that day in Bristol, despite England’s record score) and paled in comparison to England’s power with the bat.

None of that was surprising, given the disparity in resources.  Pakistan’s players remain amateur and come from a culture where, shall we say, the women’s game has not been nurtured with the enthusiasm it has here.  Hopefully with time and investment that will change, as the game needs more countries to drag themselves up towards the standard set by the top two or three, rather than seeing those better sides pulling further clear.

And so to 2017…

This was to be the summer that women’s cricket made its biggest mark yet, certainly in the UK.  The first Women’s World Cup to be held in England since that 1993 tournament, and the first global women’s competition here since 2009, would take the game to places it had not been before – the front page of many national newspapers for a start!

Frustratingly, my World Cup consisted of a mere two matches, not through any lack of interest, but thanks to a combination of work and other commitments – the clash between England and pre-tournament favourites Australia at Bristol, for instance, was red-inked in my diary the moment the schedule was announced, only for it to be usurped in those pages by my daughter’s County Under 15 commitment away to Herefordshire.  The Under 15s lost that match, but England had a more successful afternoon and listening to the commentary as we made our way home proved to be hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff, culminating in the relief of the final ball just as we were coming through Bromyard.

The highlights of the game backed up the sense of atmosphere that had come across on radio, with a crowd that approached raucousness in its support.  England’s players have since referenced that game as the day their cricket “got real”, with the crowd “getting stuck into the Aussies” (I believe that was the phrase Heather Knight used).  One particular moment stays with me – near the end Katherine Brunt caught Ash Gardner on the boundary – a crucial catch on the run, and not an easy one – and the roar as she took it and turned to the crowd, arms outstretched, came from the guts of the throng behind her.  There was nothing second-rate or inferior about that moment.

A week previously we were at Taunton for a slightly more gentle afternoon watching the hosts play Sri Lanka.  England gained the anticipated straightforward win, knocking off the 206 for 3 they needed to win with plenty of overs to spare, a workmanlike bowling and fielding display followed by a clinical century partnership between Knight and Sarah Taylor.  Knight’s innings was superb, Taylor’s something else.  A player who came into the tournament having been through her own personal struggles, and had begun with a couple of low scores, just came out and played.  And it was beautiful.

When Taylor bats with freedom there is nothing to touch her in the women’s game.  Meg Lanning is a machine, Sciver, Gardner, Lizelle Lee, Deandra Dottin and others can hit the ball a long way, but Taylor is a Picasso of a batter.  Three days later she peppered the Bristol boundary to the tun of 147, and in partnership with Beaumont they turned a much-vaunted South African attack to dust.  Even watching on Cricinfo it was gorgeous to behold.

We went to that Taunton game with a group of girls and parents from my daughter’s County squad – 23 of us altogether, I think.  An early start allowed time for a proper breakfast in “Stragglers” at the ground, and the sun shone all day.

It is said by some that “nobody cares” about women’s sport.  Tell that to the crowd at Taunton, who enjoyed that day no less than any men’s match on that ground.  Tell it to my daughter and her friends who supported England every bit as fervently as any boy watching the men’s team, especially when Fran Wilson measured her length on the turf in taking a stunning diving catch right in front of us, and became an instant legend!

The grown-up female sports fan of today didn’t have that when they were young.  Where were women’s team sports in the 1970s?  Cricket, football, rugby?  Nowhere, invisible, non-existent.  Hockey in the Olympics, perhaps, but that’s a couple of weeks every four years.  If women’s team sports don’t (yet) have the pull then right there is at least part of the reason.  It takes time, but hopefully when my daughter’s generation (both as mums and dads) start to bring up their children they will have that experience from their own childhood that they will want to instill.

It comes back again to that process of normalisation.  For the vast majority of the population, watching women’s sport – team sport in particular – is still “not normal.”  That’s not the same as saying that it’s “abnormal”, not the same at all, but even five years ago there was very little women’s team sport televised or written about in the newspapers.  We all grew up with no knowledge or interest in it because it was never part of our lives.  You only have to go back and re-read the first few paragraphs of this to illustrate that.

So when people attack women’s sport, when they say it’s boring, or rubbish, or that nobody cares, this is only a product of innate ignorance (in the literal sense), and it will take time and the passing of a generation or two to overcome that.  Of course, we want it quicker, we want it now, and we can all do our bit to accelerate the process, but we must temper that with a mixture of realism and patience.

England scraped their way to the Final courtesy of a 2-wicket semi-final win over the same South Africans, almost tying themselves in knots in a nerve-shredding chase.  The only problem was we didn’t have tickets for what was now announced as a sell-out.  There followed the best part of 36 hours virtually camped out on the ICC website, hoping that “four together” would come available – and they did.  Compton Upper, £50 the lot.  Lovely job!

There isn’t a lot to be said about this particular cricket match that hasn’t already been said or written.  However, what I will say is that it will take some usurping as the best day’s sport I have had the pleasure to be at, not just for the sport itself but for the occasion and the atmosphere.

Lord’s that day was different – the match was watched, dare I say, properly.  Everybody wanted their team to win, but not too much.  Everybody was out to have a good time, but not too much.  It was a World Cup Final, it mattered, but not too much.  I’ve been in full houses at men’s matches in all sorts of sports.  They aren’t always conducive to actually watching the match – whether it be excessive drink, a hostile atmosphere (in whatever sense), the procession of people disturbing you to make their way to the bar or the loo, or any number of things.  This was a completely different, and enriching, experience.

Over many years of watching sport, most of it played by men, I’ve grown tired of its importance being overplayed.  The media hype, the win-at-all-costs attitude and cheating from players, the scapegoating of officials, the aggression (and worse) from crowds, and – yes – the money involved in all sorts of ways (admission prices, TV subscriptions, players wages, gambling, and more).  They all point to sport being, in Bill Shankley’s adage, more important than life and death.  Well, it isn’t.

All that turns me off.  I want to care about the result, I want my team to win, but not to the point that it makes or breaks my weekend if they don’t.  I want to see my team strain ever sinew to beat the other lot, to leave nothing out there, as they say, but if that isn’t enough and if the opposition is just too good, too strong, then so be it, that is what sport boils down to – there isn’t always a winner and a loser, but I’ve yet to see a match where both teams won.

Much of men’s sport has gone too far in that respect, in my opinion.  The essence of competition has been lost in some sort of mad arms race, and it permeates everything.

Here’s another myth to bust.  Women’s cricket isn’t as good as men’s cricket.  Why not?  How are you even framing that question?  Because if it’s the quality of the contest, or the closeness of the finish, then let’s compare this Women’s World Cup with the Men’s Champions Trophy also held in England last summer.

The Women’s tournament boasted at least three matches that outdid any of the men’s games for sheer drama at the death – England’s group game against Australia, their semi-final victory over South Africa, and of course the Final itself.  That’s just one example, of course.  It “proves” nothing.  But it certainly gives the lie to any simplistic theories of what is “better” or “worse”.

My kids were shaking with nerves and excitement when Anya Shrubsole rattled Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s stumps.  Who am I kidding?  So was I!  I don’t care how long I live, nothing will ever top that – equal it, perhaps, but never top it.

And over the last few years, the most gripping sport I have watched, either in the flesh or on television, has involved women.  The Olympic Hockey Final of 2016, that cricket World Cup Final, and the Commonwealth Games Netball Final earlier this year.  All three have been utterly compelling.  That’s all you need to know about how good women’s sport can be.  The best sport is just sport – gender is irrelevant.

2018 has been quieter in some ways (how DO you follow a victorious World Cup on home soil?) but at the same time I watched more women’s cricket than ever.  One-day Internationals for England against South Africa at New Road – where Katherine Brunt played one of the best innings I’ve seen in a losing cause, gradually and defiantly dragging her team from a hopeless position up to a defendable target almost by sheer force of personality alone – and then New Zealand at Headingley were all we could manage on the International front, but that persistent itch brought on in 2015 by watching Worcestershire women’s first match at New Road has at last been scratched a bit.

Back in May I had been planning a rare day out watching Worcestershire’s men at New Road with my Dad, not something we get to do together very often these days.  But then I got word that one of my daughter’s County team-mates had been called up to the women’s squad, a “first” for her age group, so a quick change of plan saw me heading for Cropston, just north of Leicester, instead.

A good choice, too!  Leicestershire made 137 all out, which was considerably under par from 77 for 1, but Worcestershire looked bound for defeat when they slumped to 87 for 7.  It took a captain’s innings from Lauren Rowles and some staunch resistance at the other end for the visitors to squeeze home at 139 for 8.  I’ll be honest, not all of the cricket played that day was of the very highest quality, but not all of it wasn’t either.  There were a couple of truly outstanding catches, impressive innings from batters on both sides, and the guts shown by Worcestershire’s tail deserved the reward of a victory.  A day well spent.

It’s been enough to pique my interest further, and I’ve seen subsequent games against Shropshire (a big win), a T20 away to Warwickshire (a narrow loss), and then at the end of the season a winner-takes-all promotion play-off against Cornwall, once more back at New Road.  Another excellent day’s cricket saw the Rapids (in a positive move, the team shares the men’s branding) gain promotion with a 97-run win.  As it panned out, not necessarily the most exciting game in as much as the result was never in serious doubt, but a proper day’s cricket played by players giving their all and watched by spectators there for the love of the game.

Over the course of the summer, I’ve also become a little more involved in helping to publicise the women’s team, writing a couple of pieces for CRICKETher.  In turn that led to a conversation with one of the players, as a result of which I’ve ended up contributing articles to both the County Board and Worcestershire CCC websites.  It’s something I hope to be able to carry on doing and even expand on, if they’ll put up with me!

Around the same time, we did our first Kia Super League match, combining a weekend in London with a trip to the Oval to watch Surrey Stars and Western Storm.  With no team on our doorstep (Loughborough and Bristol are both a decent trek) it’s a shame  that we haven’t been able to support the KSL more, and it’s a shame also that the tournament is going after next summer because from what I have seen the intensity of the competition has advanced the women’s game in a way that the County system cannot.

Whether the Hundred will continue that good work, or whether it will be “lost” in the wash of the men’s competition, remains to be seen, and that is regardless of any fundamental doubts I may have (for the record, plenty) about the format.  My thoughts about the whole thing are too complex to go into here – suffice to say that I want whatever the future brings to drive the women’s game forward in this country as an entity in its own right, not to “keep it in its place” as an adjunct to the men’s game.

So here we are, nearly ten years on.  I started watching women’s cricket wondering how it would match up to the men’s game, because that was my only reference point, but I’ve grown to love it just for being “more cricket”.  And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  We call ourselves “cricket lovers” for a reason.  I wasn’t always a women’s cricket follower, and I’m still not now.  I’m a cricket lover.  It’s all just cricket, at the end of the day.

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

FEATURE: CRICKETher Editor Raf Nicholson Plays Women’s Soft Ball Cricket

Writing about cricket is one thing; but sometimes there is nothing quite the same as getting out there and playing it. I do plenty of the former, but there are times when I miss picking up a bat.

Last summer, the ECB launched its first Women’s Soft Ball Cricket Festivals: an initiative designed to get more women of all abilities playing the sport in a fun, relaxed environment. This year the scheme has been expanded, with hundreds of Soft Ball Festivals taking place across the country.

I last played cricket years ago, at university; my late entrance into the game (years of Nicholson Beach Cricket, but no formal coaching) meant that I was never destined for greatness. The problem for women like me is finding a route in to club cricket: how do we work out where our nearest club side is? And would we find a welcome there if we did?

Soft Ball Cricket is the perfect initiative in that respect: “It’s a game for absolutely everybody, no matter your skill level, fitness, or age,” say the ECB.

The Festival I took part in was held at Loughborough University, right before Loughborough Lightning’s KSL match against Southern Vipers last weekend. It was a perfect representation of the all-abilities, all-ages mantra: a local club side formed one team; another team was made up of mums and daughters; and the third, my side, was formed of individuals. All three sides therefore got to play two 8-over matches.

The way in which Soft Ball Cricket works is incredibly inclusive. Everyone gets the chance to bowl an over (either underarm or overarm), and everyone bats for 2 overs, alongside a partner. If you get out, you switch ends with your partner, and wait for another opportunity in a few balls time.

Not only did we get free Loughborough Lightning t-shirts (I’ve been sporting mine ever since!) but we also got free Pimms, strawberries and cream, and free tickets to the Lightning v Vipers match afterwards, which most of us stayed on to watch, sitting in deckchairs around the boundary.

Chatting to participants on the day, motivations were varied. Some were already playing local club cricket; some had daughters who play regularly, and wanted to try it out for themselves; and some, like me, had played previously, but a long time ago, and want to try and get back into the sport. (It seems likely that some of them will get their wish, too, with several of my teammates recruited on the spot to sign up for a local Midlands-based club!)

What I loved most about the day was the supportive atmosphere. There was no embarrassment in putting down a catch, or swinging dramatically at a ball and missing it completely (guilty as charged!) My team won our first match but lost our second; but it didn’t much matter. It was just great to be out playing in the sunshine, and having fun.

The ECB should be hugely applauded for the whole initiative, which fills a big gap at the recreational levels of the game, and which I hope will lead to many more women (and girls) finding an accessible way into playing our sport.

If you want to sign up to play Soft Ball Cricket, it’s not too late! Find a list of festivals available in your area here.

BOOK REVIEW: Enid Bakewell: Coalminer’s Daughter by Simon Sweetman

£15.00 (ACS Publications) – Click here to buy

There are few bigger characters in cricket than Enid Bakewell, so who better to feature as the first female subject in the ACS’s Lives in Cricket series? Still playing cricket in her mid-70s, this book is a welcome and long overdue biography of the “coalminer’s daughter” from Newstead, a (former) mining village in Nottinghamshire.

The book revolves around the words of Enid herself: “it is her recollections that have driven this book”, writes Sweetman. This is one of its strengths. Amusing anecdotes are interspersed throughout, like the time she was “bribed” for every five-fer she took on the 1968/9 tour of Australia and New Zealand with port and lemon: “Dad was a Methodist so I had no experience of drink. When you get port and lemon here it’s mostly lemonade but it’s wine growing country round Adelaide so it was the other way round. But I managed to realise when it was getting a wee bit over the top.” Whether you have had the pleasure of meeting the great lady or not, she will jump right off the page at you as you work your way through Sweetman’s text.

The title Coalminer’s Daughter is an apt one: some of the most interesting sections in the book are those which deal with Enid’s background. Born on December 16, 1940 to parents Thomas and Mabel, she grew up in somewhat constrained circumstances, sharing a bedroom with her parents in their small village house until she was 17. Forbidden from playing cricket at school, Sweetman relates how she fell into cricket rather by accident, introduced by a teacher to the lady who ran the Nottingham Women’s Club. Attending grammar school then led onto a place at Dartford College of Physical Education, and to Enid becoming a PE teacher, which enabled her to continue with cricket. This is one of the most intriguing parts of Enid’s story: amongst the sea of middle-class, wealthy female cricketers that populated the sport up until the 1980s, she was the exception to the rule.

Throughout the text, there runs the theme of barriers to Enid’s cricketing journey which she had to overcome.  At Dartford, we learn, she overcame serious injury – “wounds on her ankles that turned septic” – before being able to return and qualify as a PE teacher. Cricket in her world was “unladylike” and she tells of not being able to teach it at school after she qualified as a teacher for this very reason: unperturbed, she formed an after-school club to teach the girls in her own time.

Motherhood, too, failed to get in the way of Enid’s dreams of playing for England: according to Sweetman she was still playing cricket at 5 months pregnant with her first, a daughter, who she left behind while still a toddler to go on the 1968/9 tour of Australia and New Zealand. It was time well spent: that was the tour that made her name as an international cricketer, during which she became the first cricketer to score 1000 runs and take 100 wickets in the same tour.

Enid’s close relationship with her father shines throughout the text. Thomas Turton, we learn, “had studied midwifery in case of need” when his wife became pregnant with Enid – not something one might have expected from a miner in the 1940s! Clearly supportive of Enid’s journey to the top levels of women’s cricket, he was himself at one time the president of the East Midlands Women’s Cricket Association; and when Enid became involved in politics later in life, elected to Ashfield District Council, she makes it clear that she was following in her father’s footsteps.

At times there are frustrations, particularly for the historian. Sweetman is above all a statistician, and his high regard for numbers means the text is populated by long lists of scores that break up the flow of the text, sometimes without proper contextualisation. It’s mentioned, for example, that Enid played cricket for the “Green Circle”, without any explanation as to what this organisation might have been (I was already aware that it was a reunion club for WCA members who had travelled overseas: other readers might be somewhat puzzled).

This also means that any controversy is quickly glossed over: the 1977 affair whereby Rachael Heyhoe-Flint was dismissed as England captain and became embroiled in a huge falling-out with the Women’s Cricket Association is dismissed in a few lines. One feels that Enid is rather let off the hook in the chapters on the “rebel” women’s tours to South Africa in the 1980s in which she participated, in flagrant disregard of the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement. Sweetman quotes Enid unproblematically saying that conditions in Soweto were “not as bad as the press made out”, an interpretation that is somewhat hard to swallow.

There are a couple of glaring errors, too, that I’m surprised weren’t picked up pre-publication: Sweetman claims that the 1968/9 England Women tour to Australia and New Zealand was the first in 20 years, when in fact they had toured there in 1957/8. He also suggests that South Africa’s last women’s Test was staged in 1961 when in actuality they have played plenty more in the modern era, the most recent in India in November 2014.

But ultimately the book, which concludes with Enid’s induction to the ICC Hall of Fame in 2012 alongside Brian Lara, itself serves as another form of recognition for a woman who undoubtedly deserves it. As such, it’s well worth a read.

A BIT OF FUN: Our “Never Played For England” XIs

A comment on Twitter prompted us to ask ourselves who we’d have in our “Never Played For England” XI?

From those who will almost certainly play for England one day, to those who perhaps deserved to but never will, these are ours!

(And don’t forget to let us know who we’ve missed out, or even tell us your XI, in “Have Your Say” below!)

Raf’s XI

  1. Kirstie White +
  2. Eve Jones *
  3. Emma Lamb
  4. Naomi Dattani
  5. Sophia Dunkley
  6. Amanda Potgeiter
  7. Freya Davies
  8. Kirstie Gordon
  9. Katie Levick
  10. Katie Thompson
  11. Lauren Bell

Syd’s XI

  1. Emma Lamb
  2. Eve Jones
  3. Kirstie White +
  4. Georgia Adams
  5. Sophie Luff *
  6. Maia Bouchier
  7. Freya Davies
  8. Megan Belt
  9. Kirstie Gordon
  10. Katie Levick
  11. Lauren Bell

And now the $64,000 question: