NEWS: Dunkley & George Recalled To England Squad For West Indies T20s

England have recalled batting allrounder Sophia Dunkley and fast bowler Katie George, as part of a squad of 16 to face West Indies in 5 T20 internationals later this month. Dunkley is selected off the back of an innings of 97 for the South East Stars, which was watched in person by England coach Lisa Keightley; whilst George has impressed in the intra-squad warm-up fixtures at Derby and Loughborough.

Apart from Georgia Elwiss, who is out with a back injury, the squad is otherwise unchanged from the one which contested the T20 World Cup in Australia earlier this year.

The other members of the training squad will return to their regions for the last round and the final of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, though Bryony Smith and Linsey Smith have both been placed on “standby” to re-join the England squad, should they be required.

Announcing the squad, Lisa Keightley said:

“We’re in a great place going in to the Vitality IT20s against West Indies. It’s been a challenging summer for everyone and we are privileged to be in a position to play an international series, and to get the chance to showcase the women’s game.”

Full Squad

  • Heather Knight (Western Storm)
  • Tammy Beaumont (Lightning)
  • Katherine Brunt (Northern Diamonds)
  • Kate Cross (Thunder)
  • Freya Davies (South East Stars)
  • Sophia Dunkley (South East Stars)
  • Sophie Ecclestone (Thunder)
  • Katie George (Western Storm)
  • Sarah Glenn (Central Sparks)
  • Amy Jones (Central Sparks)
  • Nat Sciver (Northern Diamonds)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Western Storm)
  • Mady Villiers (Sunrisers)
  • Fran Wilson (Sunrisers)
  • Lauren Winfield-Hill (Northern Diamonds)
  • Danni Wyatt (Southern Vipers)

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

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

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

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

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

RHF TROPHY: Gads-zooks! Adams On The Path To Domestic Greatness

Georgia “Gads” Adams’ 154 not out for the Vipers yesterday against the Storm, was one of the great innings in the history of domestic women’s cricket. It was the highest score ever made in top-level domestic cricket in England by an uncapped player, and although it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Gads will go on to play for England, she’ll be 27 next month, so it does look as though her appearances for England Academy will be as close as she’ll come to wearing an England shirt.

Gads’ father – Chris – did have an international career, but it was a brief and not particularly successful one: he played 5 tests and 5 ODIs between 1998-2000, averaging 15. Nonetheless, he could have left it there – many have dined-out for the rest of their lives on less! But he went on to become something perhaps even rarer than a great international player – a great domestic player, captaining Sussex to the Men’s County Championship 3 times in the 2000s, finally retiring in 2008 with 69 First Class and List A centuries to his name.

Now, thanks to the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the growing professionalisation of domestic women’s cricket, there is the chance for his daughter to follow the same road to becoming a domestic “great”.

Adams Jnr. always “looked” like a good cricketer – playing her strokes with a flourish – but for a long time her numbers never quite backed that up. She became a Sussex regular in 2012, and scored her first hundred in 2014, but didn’t make another one until 2018, which starts to look like a pivotal year, as it was also the year she moved KSL teams – ironically from Vipers, where she had averaged just 11 in 2016-17, to Loughborough Lightning where she doubled that average to 24 in 2018-19.

Vipers coach Charlotte Edwards obviously agrees that something has changed, because not only did she bring her back to the Ageas Bowl this year as one of her 3 initial “pros” – she made her captain! And it has proved to be an astute appointment – Gads has led from the front, with not only yesterday’s 154* but two other half-centuries, averaging over 90 at a Strike Rate of 84. She has been the pivotal player as the Vipers have won 5 from 5, and qualified for the final at Edgbaston with a round to spare.

Of course, the real test is yet to come – there are no prizes in the RHF for winning your first 5 matches – only for winning the last one! But if Gads does go on to lead the Vipers to victory in the final, and if she continues to pursue the ethos of hard work and graft for which her father became legendary, then she too will genuinely have set herself on the path to emulate him as one of domestic cricket’s greats.

RHF TROPHY: Batting Long Is Batting Strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RHF TROPHY: Vipers Pro Batters Step Up As Sun Sets On Sunrisers

The Vipers win over the Sunrisers yesterday formally ended the Sunrisers chances of travelling to Edgbaston for the RHF Trophy Final at the end of the month. With four rounds completed, the Sunrisers are the only winless team in the competition, while the Vipers have (as our American cousins say) gone “four for four”. So what’s been the difference between the two sides?

They are very similar in age-profile – the two XIs which took the field yesterday both had an average age of 22. And they have both had their three “pros” for the whole competition, unlike the Stars who lost Alice Davidson-Richards, Bryony Smith and Sophia Dunkley back to the England bubble for rounds 3 and 4.

The key difference between the Vipers and the Sunrisers has been with the bat – Vipers batters have scored 831 runs, to the Sunrisers 680; and most of that difference has come from the Vipers pros.

Runs Off The Bat Vipers Sunrisers
Pros 449 210
Amateurs 263 354
England 119 116

The Vipers pros collectively have hit more than twice as many runs as the Sunrisers’ – 449 to 210 – and although Sunrisers’ Cordelia Griffith was injured for the opening weekend, this is balanced out by the fact that one of the Vipers pros (Tara Norris) is an out-and-out bowler, whereas the Sunrisers’ pros are two batters (Griffith and Amara Carr) and a batting allrounder (Naomi Dattani).

Meanwhile the Sunrisers’ “amateurs” can hold their heads up high – especially Jo Gardner, who is their top scorer with 131 runs.

Another difference evident on the pitch yesterday was the fielding. The Sunrisers were poor in the field – it was quite a short rope at the Ageas, and the quick outfield there means you have to run hard to cut off those boundaries, which the Vipers showed them how to do, conceding just 15 fours to the Sunrisers 27. Fielding drills will need to be a priority for them over the winter – they won’t enjoy it, but it can make a big difference, as coach Trevor Griffin will undoubtedly be telling them!

All this being said, however, it is important not to be too hard on the Sunrisers. They haven’t totally fallen apart – they’ve hit two scores over 200 and their lowest score with the bat is a respectable 179, which would still have got them 3 (out of 4) bonus points in the old County Championship. And with the ball, they did actually bowl out the Vipers yesterday, albeit only just, off the penultimate delivery.

The Sunrisers have still got 2 matches left this summer to get a win on the board, starting with the Stars, who also slipped out of the reckoning yesterday, at Chelmsford on Sunday. This season may be over for them in terms of silverware, but they have to put that behind them – next season is what counts from here, and next season starts now!

RHF TROPHY: The Last Ten Wins It For Vipers

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEWS: Two Lightning Players In Self-Isolation After Breaching Covid Regulations

Two Lightning players are currently in a mandatory two-week isolation period, after breaching COVID regulations, CRICKETher has learned.

The pair – who were unavailable for selection in yesterday’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy fixture against Northern Diamonds – were found to be in breach of the UK government’s Stage Three guidelines relating to elite sport.

The ECB have confirmed that the players are now “self-isolating for a two week period following Public Health England advice”.

They will miss the next two rounds of Trophy fixtures before they can join back up with the rest of the Lightning squad.

The Stage Three guidelines, which all players were informed of before the competition got underway, have to be strictly enforced to ensure that the health of all players and officials is not put at risk.

RHF TROPHY: Don’t Stop Bel-EVE-ing

The journey from Shropshire to Sparks HQ in Worcester takes about an hour by car; 6 hours by bike; 20 hours to walk… or 13 years if you’re Eve Jones!

Jones made her senior debut for Shropshire as a 15-year-old in 2007 – scoring her first fifty that season against Leicestershire. In 2012 she moved to Staffordshire, where she scored 3 centuries and 5 half-centuries in 5 seasons, before making another move to Lancashire, where she won the County Championship and T20 Cup double in 2017.

Now aged 28 she’s finally arrived at Worcester, as captain of the Central Sparks – the Warwickshire-Worcestershire franchise in England’s new regional competition, the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.

Three matches in, and Jones is already making an impact on the bigger stage of the RHF. A week ago at Edgbaston, the Sparks almost made a pickle of chasing just 135 against the Thunder – losing 6 wickets in the process. This weekend, they made a chase of 166 look easy, mainly thanks to a classic “captain’s innings” from Jones, who scored a lovely 90 off 113 balls.

But don’t just take my word for it – take the words of Thunder coach and former England boss Paul Shaw, who told us post-match: “It’s wonderful to see Eve Jones play beautifully the way that she has today.”

Jones happened upon the captaincy of the Sparks this season via the slightly unusual process, at this level at least, of being democratically elected by her team-mates: “It was really nice to get the support of the team,” she tells us, “and I’m enjoying the captaincy.”

And after spending much of the early part of her career propping up sides at the unfashionable end of the County Championship, Jones is also obviously relishing being part of a more elite unit at the Sparks:

“I feel like we’ve got a good, strong side so everyone is contributing, which is really nice as a captain – you can just chuck the ball to somebody and they are going to perform.”

It’s typical of Jones that she shares the credit around, and she’s down to earth about her new status as a ‘pro’ cricketer too:

“I’m enjoying being the senior player in the team – it’s nice to help the others along,” she says. “But I don’t really think too much about the ‘professional’ bit – we just stick to our game and try to do what we need to do on the pitch.”

With the Northern Diamonds having pulled a rabbit out of the hat against Lightning yesterday, Sparks sit second in the North Group of the RHF behind Diamonds, with next weekend’s fixture between the two sides at Headingley looking like a pivotal match in the race to the final at Edgbaston.

But first for the Sparks, there’s the Lightning to overcome next Friday:

“We’ve got some good momentum now with two wins on the bounce – even without our England players I feel like we’ve got a good, strong side and everyone is contributing, but we’re just looking forward to the next game here at Worcester next week.”

But with Jones in fantastic form, Marie Kelly finally getting a real opportunity to show what she can do at this level, and players like Clare Boycott, who took a 4-fer yesterday, and Gwen Davies stepping bleary-eyed into the limelight, the Sparks are really starting to fly down at Worcester, and you wouldn’t bet against them finishing the tournament where they started it, at Edgbaston for the final on September 27th.

RHF TROPHY: Thunder Crash But Dyson Hoovers Up The Runs

With Thunder 123-7 against Sparks in today’s RHF Trophy encounter, the result of the match looked like being a foregone conclusion. Doing commentary on the live stream at the time, I suggested – based on long experience of county cricket – that it would be very unlikely that Thunder would from there go on to reach 150.

My calculation did not account for the swashbuckling heroics of 20-year-old Alice Dyson, who – batting at 9, and having not even been selected for the opening encounters of the competition last weekend – smashed 21 off 24 balls, at a strike rate of 87.5 – the highest of the match*.

It was exactly the impetus that the Thunder innings needed, and it saved the game from being even more one-sided than it ultimately was – Sparks winning by 8 wickets.

“I did have a little bit of a point to prove,” Dyson said afterwards. “But I wanted to go out there and do what was best for the team in that situation – it’s not a selfish sport.”

“I tried to go at at least a run a ball and if there was a bad ball there, get it away. I tried to keep it simple and play to my strengths, straight down the ground.”

“I just wanted to rotate the strike at the end and see if we could push [the total] up.”

140 miles away, down in Chelmsford, Alex Griffiths (batting at number 6) was creating similar fireworks for Western Storm – hitting 43 off 34 balls at a strike rate of 126 against the Sunrisers, and leading the Storm’s recovery from 109-4 to 189-5, to post a final total of 265-6.

How impressive are these kind of performances? To put this in context, let’s have a look at the leading strike rates so far across the first 3 rounds of the Trophy (excluding players who have faced less than 15 balls):

Player Strike Rate
1. Alex Griffiths 115.00
2. Linsey Smith 104.54
3. Lauren Winfield 97.33
4. Ami Campbell 93.47
5. Nat Sciver 92.30
6. Sophie Ecclestone 90.24
7. Danni Wyatt 89.47
8. Tara Norris 89.47
9. Fran Wilson 88.88
10. Heather Knight 88.26
11. Alice Dyson 87.50
12. Tash Farrant 85.22
13. Beth Langston 83.33
14. Sophia Dunkley 82.92
15. Rhianna Southby 82.35

You’ll notice a strong theme here – the England players tend, almost exclusively, to populate this kind of list. Years spent on professional contracts, with proper year-round coaching and S&C training, have put them head and shoulders above domestic players when it comes to hitting beyond the infield.

But there, topping the table, sits Alex Griffiths as one of only 2 players in the competition to currently have a strike rate of over 100.

And there at number 11 sits Alice Dyson, who (lest we forget) is in the Thunder squad as a specialist bowler.

One of the biggest differences between men’s and women’s domestic cricket is that when women’s county teams have lost 4 wickets, they have a tendency to collapse horribly, because their batting orders are very top-heavy. Dan Norcross has remarked that this was his key takeaway from commentating on the Surrey v Lancashire game at Guildford on Women’s County Cricket Day last season (when Surrey collapsed from 136-0 to lose by 1 run chasing Lancashire’s 242).

The strike rates of Dyson and Griffiths, batting at 9 and 6 respectively, are therefore particularly remarkable.

Last weekend we noted that the RHF Trophy looked to be producing the same kind of attritional cricket which we are used to seeing in the county game. And so it is, in many cases. But we should also celebrate the exceptions to that rule; and acknowledge that women’s domestic cricket needs more Alice Dysons.

And maybe this same table of leading strike rates might look a little bit different in 5 years time – when (we hope) domestic players will have the same opportunities as their England counterparts to access high-quality, year-round coaching, and bosh it around with the best of them.

*Discounting Alex Hartley’s strike rate of 166.66 (she only faced 3 balls).

MATCH REPORT: Diamonds Do The Sparkling v Sparks

Richard Clark at Edgbaston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————-

Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68