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:

STATS: Women’s County Championship – Batting Rankings

Although Suzie Bates was arguably a bit less important to Hampshire this season than last – scoring 34% of their runs this year, compared with 38% in 2017 – she was still The Big Gear in the machine that clinched the County Championship last weekend. She was also the only player in Div 1 to score a century… and she scored two of them! Unsurprisingly, then, she tops our batting rankings.

At No. 2, Emma Lamb had another good season for Lancashire, opening the batting with Eve Jones who also makes the top 10. Lancashire’s problem is that they don’t have much else below them – between the two of them they scored almost half the county’s runs this season.

Middlesex’s Maia Bouchier had a breakthrough season – she spent last winter working hard in New Zealand, and seems to have come back with a little something extra about her – England really should be looking at her when they review the Academy squads this winter.

In Div 2, Kirstie White was the leading run scorer, but just pipped in the rankings by Nat Sciver after the England all-rounder’s crazy 180 off 98 balls against Derbyshire – doubtless not the most challenging bowling she’ll face this summer, but you can only play what they put in front of you, as the saying goes!

Div 1

Player Played Runs H/S S/R
1. Suzie Bates (Hampshire) 6 358 148 86.06
2. Emma Lamb (Lancashire) 7 339 91 81.69
3. Tammy Beaumont (Kent) 4 261 98 73.94
4. Amy Jones (Warwickshire) 5 193 68 99.48
5. Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire) 4 197 69 90.78
6. Maia Bouchier (Middlesex) 6 172 76 75.44
7. Alice Davidson-Richards (Kent) 7 223 61* 58.07
8. Leigh Kasperek (Yorkshire) 6 179 68 69.65
9. Thea Brookes (Warwickshire) 6 168 70* 66.93
10. Eve Jones (Lancashire) 7 193 61* 55.78

Div 2

Player Played Runs H/S S/R
1. Nat Sciver (Surrey) 4 273 180* 156
2. Kirstie White (Surrey) 7 331 94 70.28
3. Bryony Smith (Surrey) 7 256 119* 86.49
4. Gabby Basketter (Wales) 6 269 78 74.1
5. Sarah Taylor (Sussex) 3 200 88 93.46
6. Heather Knight (Berkshire) 3 190 105 89.62
7. Bess Heath (Derbyshire) 7 210 108 77.78
8. Georgia Adams (Sussex) 6 207 106 74.19
9. Rachel Priest (Wales) 6 174 88 86.57
10. Georgia Hennessy (Devon) 6 174 58 66.16

Batting Ranking = Runs * Strike Rate

STATS: Women’s County Championship – Bowling Rankings

Far and away the leading bowler in Division 1 of the County Championship was Notts’ Kirstie Gordon. In her 3rd season for Notts, since moving down from Scotland, she took 23 wickets, with a best of 5-18 against Warwickshire, which included Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the Warwickshire batting lineup.

The next highest wicket taker in Div 1 was Fi Morris, with 15. The former Berkshire player returned to county cricket with Hampshire after taking a break last summer, and her contributions with ball and bat were an important part of why Hampshire won the County Championship.

After ranking 2nd in 2016, but missing most of last season, Katie Thompson came back with 11 wickets at a very economical 1.7 for Yorkshire.

Meanwhile in Div 2, the standout performers were Devon’s Hazelle Garton with 22 wickets, and Sussex and England Academy’s Freya Davies, whose 6-10 to bowl Derbyshire out for 65 was the leading return in the County Championship this season.

Div 1

Player Played Wickets Best Economy
1. Kirstie Gordon (Nottinghamshire) 7 23 5-18 2.63
2. Katie Thompson (Yorkshire) 6 11 5-14 1.7
3. Anya Shrubsole (Somerset) 4 9 5-15 1.58
4. Fi Morris (Hampshire) 7 15 4-12 3
5. Leigh Kasperek (Yorkshire) 6 12 3-19 2.79
6. Katie George (Hampshire) 7 11 4-13 2.61
7. Sophie Ecclestone (Lancashire) 5 9 4-16 2.35
8. Suzie Bates (Hampshire) 6 10 3-24 2.95
9. Megan Belt (Kent) 7 11 3-15 3.39
10. Laura Marsh (Kent) 5 11 3-18 3.41

Div 2

Player Played Wickets Best Economy
1. Hazelle Garton (Devon) 7 22 5-18 1.98
2. Freya Davies (Sussex) 6 13 6-10 1.85
3. Georgia Elwiss (Sussex) 4 10 4-22 1.79
4. Bryony Smith (Surrey) 7 14 5-33 2.6
5. Steph Hutchins (Devon) 7 13 4-35 2.5
6. Tara Norris (Sussex) 6 10 3-17 2.18
7. Emma Walker (Berkshire) 6 10 3-16 2.33
8. Linsey Smith (Sussex) 5 7 3-28 1.75
9. Gabby Basketter (Wales) 6 11 3-13 3.05
10. Eva Gray (Surrey) 7 11 2-8 3.06

Bowling Ranking = Wickets / Economy

ANALYSIS: Should Keepers Stand In Front Of The Stumps For Run Outs?

There is a fascinating video on the ECB’s web site which asks (and attempts to answer) the question: Should keepers stand in front or behind the stumps for run outs? (HT Joe Ashdown)

The coaches at the ECB’s performance centre up in Loughborough set up their cameras and stopwatches, and with the help of Hawk-Eye and a reconfigured bowling machine acting as the fielder, attempted to get a definitive answer.

You can watch the whole thing at the link above, but the TLDW* is that standing in front of the stumps is… well… it depends!!

The key to it… and the video actually slightly talks-around this fairly simple point… is that you have to know exactly where your stumps are – not vaguely; not roughly; but exactly!

There are two reasons for this:

  1. You need to know if the ball is already going on to directly hit the stumps, in which case you need to basically leave it alone – nothing beats the speed of the ball through the air, and if you interrupt it then you lose all the benefit of those few milliseconds you bought from standing in front.
  2. If the ball is missing the stumps, you need to be perfectly positioned to guide it on in a single movement – if you can’t do this in one smooth, gliding arc, then it actually becomes two movements and again the advantage is lost as the batsman makes their ground.

What the video shows fairly conclusively is knowing exactly where your stumps are, and perfecting the art of guiding the missing ball back on in a single arc, is really hard – even for a seasoned pro, it takes years of practice. The video’s final conclusion is that, even in the professional game, “normal” fielders at the bowler’s end (typically the bowler himself) should always stand behind the stumps; but that the very best ‘keepers could indeed buy some advantage by standing in front.

This has some interesting implications for young ‘keepers in the women’s domestic game, as it touches on the slightly awkward question of what the Women’s County Championship and Kia Super League are for? Are they competitions in their own right, where winning is all? Or does that come secondary to their other role as nurseries for future England players?

England’s Academy and pathway coaches are clearly coaching players to stand in front – and rightly so, because one day England will need one of them to step into the gloves [Ed: err…?] of Sarah Taylor.

But for a young ‘keeper playing the County Championship or KSL, if the goal is to win “this” match right now, they should probably be standing behind, because this is the optimal choice unless you’ve had the years of professional practice to perfect the techniques required to stand in front… which the young (at best, semi-pro) ‘keepers in domestic cricket have not!

It isn’t only wicket keepers who face these dilemmas. Should a young fast bowler, hoping one day to be bowling out the Aussies in the Women’s Ashes, focus on pace, even if it means conceding a few wides or no balls? Her England pathway coach would no doubt say yes; but her county coach might well prefer her to take a foot off the gas and keep the runs down in “this” match going on right now!

To be fair, these same issues arise as well in The Other Game but that is what they have 2nd XI cricket for. We have no real equivalent, and so the County Champs and Super League play both roles – competition and nursery – and that means there is no easy answer.

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* TLDW – Too Long; Didn’t Watch

The 2017 CRICKETher Cricketmas Quiz

Twelve months; twelve questions; no Googling!!