VIDEO: The CRICKETher Vodcast – Social Isolation Edition – Episode 2

Raf & Syd look forward to what may (or may not) happen in 2020.

PS – Thanks to the magic of “green screen”, we’re at Lord’s… but can you guess when we are?

NEWS: New East of England Women’s County Championship “Absolutely A Long Term Thing”

When the ECB first mooted the possibility of abolishing the Women’s County Championship last year, the Eastern Counties provided some of the loudest opposition to the plan – telling CRICKETher that: “Removing county cricket doesn’t make any sense when we are trying to grow the women’s game.”

Now, with the national County Championship consigned to history by the ECB, those same counties – Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Norfolk – have come together to launch their own East of England Women’s County Championship.

The competition has been conceived in response to a local demand to retain competitive 50 over Women’s County Cricket in the region, which has seen a resurgence in the last few years.

“With all 4 Counties, the players have a real passion to represent their County and look forward to the County season every year,” Phil Lewis, Women & Girls Development Officer for Huntingdonshire, told CRICKETher. “Not just the playing standard, but the matches we have played in the East have been good hard fought encounters – rarely do you see one-sided games.”

“The standard is getting better and better all the time – players in these sides have now gone through the entire CAG system of their representative counties – 5 or 10 years ago that wasn’t the case. Players in these women’s sides have longstanding rivalries with opposing players right from U11s.”

“I have known the guys at Norfolk and Hertfordshire for years now. We spent a lot of time in each others company during last season and had many a conversation about the impact [of abolishing the County Championship] on the Women’s game, and vowed there and then to do all we could to keep things going.”

The initiative resembles the new London Championship, which will see Surrey, Middlesex, Kent and Essex taking part in a similar 50-over competition, in spite of the ECB’s insistence that all 50-over cricket would as of the 2020 season rest with their 8 new “Centres of Excellence”.

However, an article by George Dobell on Cricinfo suggests that the ECB has “endorsed” the London Championship; by contrast, the East Championship is an entirely independent initiative. “The last word we as counties had received at one of the consultancy events last year was that it was up to individual counties if they did something, but there wouldn’t be any funding for it – which is why we have tried to approach it a little more commercially to help support the tremendous backing from the Counties,” Lewis says.

The Championship is receiving no financial support from the ECB; instead, it is being funded through the support of the representative county boards of Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Buckinghamshire, as well as Huntingdonshire CCC. They have also received backing from some independent sponsors, including Soroptomist International (specifically the Hertfordshire branch), who are providing a Championship Trophy and end of season awards for the teams and players. The trophy is likely to be named after former England player and Chairman of the Women’s Cricket Association 1983-1994 Audrey Collins, who passed away in 2010.

The ECB’s rationale for abolishing the Women’s County Championship last season was that county cricket was providing a “participation experience” for players, which needed to transfer down to local clubs. However, Lewis says that the weakness of club cricket in the East of England means that this is simply not a realistic option for the players he works with.

“Our competition is a clear statement that the removal of competitive county cricket by the ECB in the region is hugely damaging to a great number of women in the area who have very little to fall back on,” he told CRICKETher. “Women’s club cricket is not even remotely close to being an adequate substitute in the area.”

“The standard is very poor, and there are no genuine league options of any kind of standard. A good quality, competitive Women’s league is at least 5 if not 10 years away, depending on the efforts of the local boards.”

The aim, says Lewis, is to utilise the new Championship to help enhance club cricket, rather than act in competition with it. 

“The Championship is not there to be a substitute for Women’s Club Cricket and our fixture planning was all about scheduling outside of Women’s Club Sundays – inevitably there may be some clashes now [given the shortened season] but we are here to work with clubs and hopefully help enhance the club competition, not work against it.”

While there is now much uncertainty surrounding the cricket season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisers of the new Championship have agreed a contingency set of fixture dates. As it stands, 50-over fixtures will take place on 16th, 23rd and 30th August, and 13th, 20th and 27th September, with a T20 Cup Festival on 6th September. “There is a great deal of determination to make sure the competition happens,” says Lewis.

What of the future? Currently the Championship may be small-scale, but the hopes for its growth are big. “As a group we hope to bring other long adversaries into the fold to resume battle against, including Suffolk and Lincolnshire – it would also be awesome if we could somehow attract entries from Europe in time as I am sure the Netherlands will be hugely impacted,” says Lewis.

“We absolutely see this competition as a long term thing. No question.”

NEWS: England’s 2021 World Cup Fixtures Announced

The fixtures for the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand have been announced, with England starting their campaign against Australia at Eden Park, Auckland on Sunday 7th February.

Following a full “round robin” group stages – the same format as 2017 – the semi-finals will take place at Bay Oval, Tauranga and Seddon Park, Hamilton on Wednesday 3rd and Thursday 4th March, with the final at Hagley Oval, Christchurch on Sunday 7th March.

England’s 2021 World Cup Campaign

Sunday, 7 Feb – Australia v England (Eden Park, Auckland)
Wednesday, 10 Feb – England v QUALIFIER (Seddon Park, Hamilton)
Saturday, 13 Feb – QUALIFIER v England (University Oval, Dunedin)
Wednesday, 17 Feb – South Africa v England (Basin Reserve, Wellington)
Sunday, 21 Feb – England v QUALIFIER (Bay Oval, Tauranga)
Wednesday, 24 Feb – England v QUALIFIER (Hagley Oval, Christchurch)
Sunday, 28 Feb – New Zealand v England (Hagley Oval, Christchurch)
Wednesday, 3 March – Semi-Final 1 (1 v 4) (Bay Oval, Tauranga)
Thursday, 4 March – Semi-final 2 (2 v 3) (Seddon Park, Hamilton)
Sunday, 7 March – Final (Hagley Oval, Christchurch)

T20 WORLD CUP FINAL: History Made At The MCG – On The Shoulders of Giants

Six years ago – the last time I was at the MCG – an ODI took place in Melbourne, as part of the Women’s Ashes series. The match was due to get underway at 10am. When I arrived at the ground, I wandered around, trying to find a way in: none of the gates were open. You wouldn’t have known there was a game taking place.

MCG security, I later learned, had decided that they weren’t going to open up the gates to the ground until 9.30am – half an hour before play was due to start. Players’ families were queued up, trying to get in. And the couple of journalists who, like me, were trying to cover the match, were told we would be unable to enter until after the toss had already taken place. It took us a good while to work out who was batting first when we did get inside.

Skip forward six years, and here I am, back at the MCG for another women’s match. Only this time, every gate of this mammoth-sized ground is wide open, beckoning in the tens of thousands of fans who are gradually taking their seats. The place is crawling with photographers, journalists, ardent fans in “Australia” or “India” shirts. The ICC have advised that all fans should be seated by 5pm (an hour before the match is due to start).

It’s really quite the contrast.

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29 December 1997, Eden Gardens, Calcutta. Australia are playing New Zealand in a World Cup final. 80,000 people fill the ground: virtually all of them women and girls bussed in by the local Sports Minister. Before yesterday, it was the highest attendance ever at a women’s cricket match. Before yesterday, it was an anomaly.

Harmanpreet Kaur is asked about Eden Gardens 1997 in her press conference the day before the final. “I didn’t even know there was women’s cricket then,” she says. Last night’s match seems unlikely to go under the radar in the same kind of way.

It is not just about yet another Australian World Cup title. The world record for attendance at women’s sport may have remained intact, but this is women’s cricket’s big moment. When 86,000 people at the MCG paused during the 16th over of India’s chase to light up and wave their phones, you could almost hear the lyrics of Katy Perry’s “Firework” echoing through the ground:

“You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July
‘Cause baby you’re a firework
Come on show ’em what you’re worth
Make ’em go “Oh, oh, oh!”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y”

—————

During the second ever women’s match at the MCG – a Test in January 1949 between England and Australia – England batsman Molly Hide drove the ball down the ground. It passed through the fence, and disappeared into a drain: the cover was not big enough to stop the passage of the smaller, five-ounce women’s ball. 

Fortunately, nowadays, the drains are fully covered: else the sixes slammed over long on by Alyssa Healy (one of them, at 83 metres, clocks in as the biggest six of the tournament) would have significantly lengthened yesterday’s game.

“Women have no power”, they have been saying since time immemorial. “They don’t hit sixes.” 1899: WG Grace declares that cricket is “not a game for women”. 2011: The Sun’s John Etheridge tweets that “Women’s cricket is a joke. The standard is truly appalling”.

The 80,000 people who watched Healy rack up a 30-ball fifty yesterday – the fastest ever hit in an ICC final, men’s or women’s – might beg to differ with Grace and Etheridge.

—————

6 April 2014, Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur, Bangladesh. It’s just a few months after the farce at the MCG, when security didn’t even want to open the gates. England are playing against Australia in the final of the Women’s World Twenty20. It is Meg Lanning’s first tournament as captain; during the group stages she has racked up a record score of 126 against Ireland. Australia walk all over England in the final, winning by 6 wickets.

Six years later here we are on 8 March 2020, at the MCG, in Melbourne, Australia. The result is the same – Australia are triumphant – and the margin of victory is equally huge – 85 runs. The similarity between the two occasions, though, ends there. Beth Mooney’s unbeaten 78 in yesterday’s final took her officially past the record set by Lanning in 2014 for most runs made during a T20 World Cup: all 259 of Mooney’s were broadcast in glorious technicolour; Lanning’s went largely unnoticed. 

And in 2014 the official attendance at the final was 4,313. At the G, it’s 86,174. The roar around the ground when the final wicket falls and Australia are world champions once again is unimaginable in its volume.

How do the two occasions compare? Just ask Lanning: “They’re both special in their own ways, but this day today is incredible, and something we could only have dreamed of happening. It was something else. This day is the best of my career so far.”

How about 2020 vs 2018 in the Caribbean – in front of a crowd of 9,000? Here’s Alyssa Healy: “This is soooo much better. To sit here tonight with a medal around our neck at the MCG is going to be very hard to beat.”

—————

23 July 2017: Lord’s Cricket Ground. A full house watches England play India in the World Cup final. India, chasing just 228, collapse to 219 all out. “After the loss of two early wickets, we were cruising with two partnerships that Punam built with Harman and Veda [Krishnamurthy],” captain Mithali Raj says after the match. “But then we lost our way. I think it was the inexperience of playing on such a big stage on such a big occasion.”

2017 may have been big: 2020 is even bigger. 7 of that India team are playing again today. Once again, they are chasing; once again, they fall short. Same old story? Maybe, maybe not. “We enjoyed it,” says Harmanpreet Kaur after the match. “Winning and losing are a part of the game. You cannot convey your day with winning and losing because one team is going to win and one team is going to lose. I think, at the end of the day, it was a great tournament for us. Hopefully, in future, we’ll give our best and try to win for the country.”

Harmanpreet Kaur: the Captain of Hope.

—————

Shafali Verma doesn’t remember the loss in 2017. She is 16 years old: this is her first World Cup final. She has no real conception that this is the biggest match, ever, in the history of the women’s game.

Sometimes players drop catches. Shafali drops a big ‘un: putting down Healy in the very first over of the match. Sometimes players – especially those like Shafali, who live by the sword and die by the sword – get out cheaply: in this instance, she is out third ball, nicking it to Healy behind the stumps. She has been the mainstay of India’s batting all tournament: if anything, it’s surprising she hasn’t failed earlier. Was it nerves? I doubt it. To Shafali Verma, filled with the insouciance of youth, it’s just normal to play in front of a crowd of 80,000 people at the MCG. You might tell her that it isn’t, but since when did a teenager ever listen to anything someone tried to tell them?

My hopes for Shafali’s career are many, but here is one: that she retains that insouciance throughout her career. May 80,000 people never be just associated with a memory of the time she dropped a catch and got out in single figures. May it one day become the everyday occurrence that it seemed like to Shafali on 8 March 2020.

—————

Ever heard the expression: “On the shoulders of giants”? It means we couldn’t have done this without all those who went before. It means that every painful loss – at Lord’s for India in 2017 – and every glorious victory – for Australia in Bangladesh in 2014, or Antigua in 2018, or any of the others – was a precursor to this. It means that Meg Lanning and Harmanpreet Kaur couldn’t be playing in front of packed-out crowd at the MCG if Jill Powell, Betty Wilson, Belinda Clark and Betty Archdale hadn’t played in front of an empty one. It means that every day of international women’s cricket before 8 March 2020 – every day when no one showed up and the players and umpires weren’t paid a cent but they did it anyway – has all been leading up to yesterday.

Australia beat India by 85 runs on International Women’s Day, 2020. And it was all done on the shoulders of giants.

T20 WORLD CUP FINAL: Boom, Boom, Boom; Even Brighter Than The Moon, Moon, Mooney

In the 17th over of India’s innings, Richa Ghosh slogged a ball from Nicola Carey out towards Delissa Kimmince, patrolling the boundary at deep midwicket. If the game had been on the line, Kimmince might well have gone for the catch… and the way Australia were catching she would probably have made it too. But she didn’t bother – there was no point – the game was already won, and instead she hung back to take the ball on the bounce as the Indians ran an irrelevant single.

The play summed up the whole of the Indian reply to Australia’s mammoth 184, which was over almost as soon as it had begun, with Shafali Verma edging Megan Schutt to Alyssa Healy for 2 off the third ball. Without the Shafali “kick-start” the Indian innings quickly wilted. Taniya Bhatia retired hurt and Jemimah Rodrigues holed-out for a duck in the following over. While Harmanpreet remained, there was hope I guess, but her departure in the 6th over was not the beginning of the end… it was the end of the end.

From there, India played for survival, knocking out a steady 4 or 5-an-over when they needed 10… which quickly became 11… which quickly became the 25 they needed when Kimmince let that catch go by. Australia’s victory was a mere formality, as the crowd resorted to Mexican Waves to keep themselves entertained.

Proceedings at the MCG had begun a couple of hours previously with Katy Perry belting out the opening ceremony with her anthems to empowerment and inclusivity, Roar and Firework – two songs which could not have been more appropriate for this game on this International Women’s Day.

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

It felt like no one heard the lyrics to Firework as a call to arms more than Alyssa Healy, who smashed five 6s and seven 4s on her way to 75 off 39 balls, opening the innings with Beth Mooney. Mooney ended up scoring more runs (78 off 54) and was later elected Player of the Tournament by the distinguished panel of judges (which included CRICKETher editor Raf Nicholson) but today she was outshone by Healy nonetheless – she gave the Aussie’s the start that the Indians didn’t get from Shafali – boom, boom, boom; even brighter than the moon, moon, Moon…ey!

Could it have been any other way? Healy and Mooney were both dropped early on; but the thing with Australia’s batting line-up is that it is so long that even those two wickets might not have made any difference – those runs could just as easily have been scored by Lanning, Haynes and Gardner. Australia in this tournament have been a juggernaut with the bat, carrying a slightly weaker bowling lineup to yet another Twenty20 World Cup trophy.

Got a couple of bob to spare? Put it on the Aussies to win the next one too.

T20 WORLD CUP: 5 Gold Stars For England To Take Home

England won’t be taking any gold medals home from the T20 World Cup in Australia, but perhaps these gold stars will make up for them?

(I mean… they won’t… but I’m handing them out anyway – wear them with pride!)

They Achieved Their Goal

Going into the World Cup, England set themselves a goal of making the semi-finals. Realistically, that’s all you can do in these short, sharp tournaments – after that, it’s all a bit of a lottery, even if it doesn’t rain. And not only did England achieve their semi-final goal – they didn’t even lose their semi-final, technically, which means…

They Only Lost Once

Through the tournament, England only lost once – that’s exactly the same number of losses as the eventual champions Australia. (Because, let’s face it, they are going to win it, aren’t they?) Overall, they came away with three victories to one loss… and even that loss was a close one to eventual semi-finalists South Africa.

Ecclestone Soared

It was rather appropriate that it was during this tournament that Sophie Ecclestone clambered to the top of the greasy (and admittedly at times slightly unfathomable) pole of the ICC Rankings, because this was the tournament that confirmed that she is the best bowler in the world right now. Our own Bowling Rankings tell the story – 8 wickets at an economy rate of just 3.23 runs-per-over. The leading economy rate in these tournaments usually goes to the part-time spinner who bowls one over in a dead match; but Ecclestone bowled basically her full compliment of overs in four matches, and still had the best economy over everyone that bowled in the group stages.

Glenn Nailed It

Sarah Glenn came into the World Cup vying for a spot in the roster with seamer Freya Davies, with the expectation that England would pick one or the other according to tactics and conditions. But having been selected at the WACA on those terms, Glenn made herself impossible to drop with the consistency of her stump-to-stump leg-spin, consigning the unlucky Davies to the bench for the entire tournament. Glenn ended up 3rd in the Bowling Rankings, which for a twenty-year-old in her first big tournament under the spotlight of international scrutiny is very, very impressive.

Nat’s a Natural at 3

The retirement of Sarah Taylor last summer left a big hole at Number 3 in England’s batting order – the spot Taylor had made her own. Nat Sciver, who has spent 80-odd-percent of her career batting down the order at 4, 5 or 6, ended up landing in that role almost by default, but she has excelled in it during this tournament, scoring quickly and consistently, with a lowest score of a still-useful 36, so hopefully this is a major “problem position” solved for England going forwards.