OPINION: How Should We Build On The Success Of The Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy?

On a scale of 1-10, the summer of 2020 will probably not go down in history as a “Perfect 10”. In fact, a Big Fat Zero would probably be pushing it for most of us, to be fair!

So it is all the more impressive that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy was such a beacon of light in what was otherwise a pretty dark summer. With regionals being a new “thing” it would have been easy for the ECB to quietly postpone them until 2021; but instead they gave them their full support and they blossomed, with an unprecedented level of coverage and a fantastic final at Edgbaston shown live on Sky.

As the men debate the future of the Bob Willis Trophy, parallel conversations are currently ongoing about next year’s RHF, with some big decisions to be made at ECB Towers.

So what should the ECB be looking to do next year?

What’s In A Name?

That answer is… quite a lot! The name Rachael Heyhoe Flint has been synonymous with women’s cricket for 50 years now – and was once even a little too synonymous for the bigwigs at the Women’s Cricket Association back in the day, who resented the fact that RHF “transcended the genre”.

But now she’s more than a person – she’s a trophy, and in the couple of months that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy has existed, it has achieved an unprecedented level of brand recognition – in the newspapers, on social media, and on the front page of Cricinfo, which the Women’s County Championship (RIP) never was.

When the competition was first announced, the feeling was that, like the Bob Willis Trophy, it would be temporary – something to tide us over until the “proper” tournament was introduced next year.

But unlike the men, we know we aren’t going back to the County Championship; and having built the brand, throwing it away now would be crazy – so whatever we have next year, it has to still be called the “Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy”.

Flying First Class

Playing the tournament on proper, First Class grounds made a huge difference to the quality of the cricket, compared to the club pitches which were mainly used for the old County Championship. As Emily Windsor put it, you can “trust your shots” playing on decent pitches – something we heard from a number of players.

Could Georgia Adams have scored 150 on a club ground? We’ll never know, but she’s been playing for a while, and it is by far the highest score she’s ever made!

Sticking with First Class grounds won’t be cheap – the “budget” solution will be to revert to club grounds next year; but that would be a pity. As James once put it: “If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor!” But I’ve seen them now… and I’d kinda like to keep them!

The North-South Divide

This is a difficult one, and there are arguments on both sides; but I like the North-South Groups format – it creates local rivalries, which are always good for business; and makes it easier for “away” fans to attend all their team’s games.

It works across the board in American sports… it works for the men’s T20 Blast… I think it works for the RHF too.

Additionally, it provides a platform for re-introducing multi-day domestic cricket, via North v South matches, with amalgamated teams featuring the “pros” of the North v the “pros” of the South.

Lie Back And (Don’t) Think Of England

This is another tough call, but for me the lack of England players in the RHF was not a bug – it was a feature!

Imagine if England players had been involved all through – the Vipers would have had Danni Wyatt to send down a few overs of off-spin… Charlotte Taylor would never have got that call from Charlotte Edwards… and an aircraft parts salesperson from Hampshire wouldn’t have ever become the story of the summer by taking a 6fer in the final! And it was a similar tale with Diamonds bowler Phoebe Graham, who would probably otherwise have missed out to Katherine Brunt.

Obviously the other side of this coin is that the England players – particularly those on the fringes, who are required “just in case” but don’t actually see much England action – need to be playing these formats in domestic cricket, especially with The Hundred being… well… The Hundred, not a T20 comp.

But if we want to see new stars shine, and new talent come through, those players have to be given a proper chance – that’s how you find your Charlotte Taylors and your Phoebe Grahams. How to square this circle is probably the biggest challenge those reviewing the RHF have, but I think I’d (just) come down on the side of excluding the England squad for at least one of the formats going forwards.

And Finally…

The RHF Final at Edgbaston was a fantastic day, even played behind closed doors – it gave fans and the media an “event” to focus on; and with a crowd, it would have been even better.

In purely sporting terms, it is true that “the league never lies” – the winner of an All v All league will invariably be the best team; whilst a final (particularly if preceded by semis) will occasionally throw up a “winner” who lost half their group matches!

But still, you can’t beat a “Grand Final” for sheer spectacle, so whether or not we keep the North-South Groups, or go with an All v All league, we definitely need a final to crown the winner, hopefully in front of a few thousand fans!

OPINION – Actually, The Best Women’s Cricket Team In History Aren’t Killing It

Yesterday, Syd wrote that the success of the current Australian team is “killing the game for everyone else, and fans – eventually even Australian ones – will start to respond by tuning out and turning off.” Others in the mainstream media have expressed similar concerns: Tim Wigmore suggests that: “For all the wonder of Australia’s achievement, there is a certain sadness too” – a sadness, he argues, stemming from the fact that other nations are falling so far behind due to lack of investment.

But while the run of success experienced by Meg Lanning’s side is undoubtedly a concern, I actually think there’s more cause for optimism than Syd thinks.

Firstly, cricket – unlike many other top sports – is played across multiple formats. Lanning & co’s astonishing run of 21 consecutive victories has come in the 50-over format alone. Their recent record in T20 cricket, as I’ve argued before, is actually not that convincing. They lost the last game of the Women’s Ashes last summer to a thoroughly demoralised England; more to the point, in the T20 World Cup earlier this year, they lost to India, almost lost to New Zealand, came within a hair’s breadth of losing their semi-final to South Africa, and only totally managed to overpower their opponents in the final – something I suspect had more to do with the overwhelming nature of the occasion for the Indians than anything else.

If Australia are so far ahead of the rest of the world, wouldn’t we expect them to also be consistently dominant in T20 cricket? They aren’t.

Perhaps that is due to the unpredictable nature of the 20-over format – but that unpredictability is here to stay. And in women’s cricket, as we all know, 20-over cricket is much more significant than ODIs, both in terms of growing the game and in terms of global TV audiences. So maybe we shouldn’t be quite so worried that fans will simply begin to “tune out”?

Similarly, Australia don’t experience the same dominance in multi-day cricket as they do in 50-over cricket. There’s a simple reason for that: they don’t get to play it very often! And nor does any other team in the world. Multi-day cricket provides a level playing field like no other.

At the moment, that’s somewhat irrelevant, but we are hearing positive noises from England and Australia that more Ashes Tests might just be on the cards – both Tom Harrison and Nick Hockley have come out in favour of the longer format in recent weeks. There’s also been some discussion about the possibility of the new domestic regional sides in England (Southern Vipers et al) playing multi-day cricket, now that they will have a bit more time on their hands to do so.

Back in 2014, the BCCI went through a brief period of supporting women’s Test cricket because – at a time when the Indian team were experienced little success elsewhere – they saw it as a format which they could win at. Lo and behold, India beat England at Wormsley, then annihilated South Africa by an innings three months later. Sadly, for whatever reason, it seems to have been a short-lived period of BCCI interest; however, it’s still significant: it shows that if a cricket board wants to be successful, a focus on the longest format is one way of achieving it.

Maybe Australia’s dominance in 50-over cricket can convince the ECB that the regions really DO need to be playing multi-day cricket, as the best possible preparation for the next Women’s Ashes? After all, what better way to pull ahead of Australia than to become dominant in Tests – widely heralded as the premier format in world cricket?

Cricket can work in mysterious ways!

A second point to counter Syd’s pessimism would be this: yes, Australia reign supreme in 50-over cricket at the moment, thanks to a huge amount of investment in their domestic set-up, but will they keep getting exponentially better, forever? It seems unlikely. The biggest leap in standards comes when you allow players to focus on cricket alone – they improve hugely, but there is a ceiling on how far that takes you.

Domestic professionalism is the biggest difference between Australia and elsewhere as it stands, but it won’t be a point of difference for very much longer. England should (fingers crossed) have 40 domestic professionals in place by the end of October, and Clare Connor has said (pre-Covid) that her aspiration is for a fully professional domestic structure by 2024. It might be a few years away, but England are advancing on Australia, and (in my view), we will catch up eventually – even if it takes longer than we’d like.

That doesn’t solve the problem for other countries. But in the same way that a domestic professional structure was unthinkable in England 5 years ago but is now where we are surely headed, I’d like to think that in 5 years time West Indies, South Africa, India and the rest will have reached the same conclusion as the ECB.

In fact, with the dominance of Australia hitting the headlines just a week after West Indies’ miserable 5-0 capitulation to England, is it just possible that for some boards, the contrast between those two news stories might just be the wake-up call they need, spurring them on to action sooner than might otherwise have been the case?

Maybe Australia’s winning streak might actually change women’s cricket for the better?

OPINION – The Best Women’s Cricket Team In History Are Killing It… Literally!

Are Australia’s women’s cricket team the best sports team in history? The question comes to mind because lesser questions are rapidly becoming exhausted by their success. They haven’t lost an ODI for getting on for 3 years now; and during that period they’ve won the Women’s Ashes twice and the T20 World Cup twice. There is little doubt that they are the best women’s cricket team in history; and well on their way to becoming the best cricket team, full stop.

Jarrod Kimber has done a brilliant job summing up why, as he asks the question: ‘Will the Australian women ever lose an ODI?‘  The answer of course is yes, for exactly the reasons Kimber states – someone will eventually produce the performance of a lifetime against them, as Harmanpreet did at Derby in 2017 to knock them out of a World Cup they’d probably have won if they’d reached the final. (Let’s face it, they wouldn’t have mentally disintegrated and thrown away a near-certain victory the way India did at Lords that day.)

But that’s what it will take to beat them these days, at least in the less unpredictable ODI format – as Kimber concludes in his penultimate sentence: “Right now [Australia] aren’t just dominating cricket, they’re almost destroying it.”

I’d go a bit further even: this team are figuratively “killing it”.

But I worry there is a problem: they are also literally “killing it”.

Economic historians describe a problem called the “Tragedy of the Commons“, where a shared collective resource is ultimately destroyed by everyone acting in their individual, rational self-interest.

What we have in macrocosm, is perhaps most neatly described in microcosm with reference to the last Women’s Ashes Test at Taunton. Meg Lanning refused the opportunity to go for a win, because Australia only needed a draw, and going for the win would also have given England an opportunity to win. This was a totally rational decision in the context of the series, but it severely damaged the long-term credibility and viability of Women’s Tests, as the match ground itself out into a mindless bore-draw.

Australia’s recent series versus New Zealand was obviously not a draw, but it was a bore, because there was no contest. New Zealand were never even at the races – we all knew what was going to happen before a ball was bowled, and by the 3rd ODI New Zealand were so thoroughly demoralised they couldn’t even reach 3 figures on a pitch where the Aussies had made over 300.

This is obviously because Meg Lanning and her Australia team are just doing their job – exactly as they were in the Women’s Ashes. None of this is their “fault”; nor is it Cricket Australia’s. Putting in place a world-beating infrastructure, and winning cricket matches off the back of it, is what they are paid to do. But the consequence of this – the “tragedy of the commons – is that this is killing the game for everyone else, and fans – eventually even Australian ones – will start to respond by tuning out and turning off.

Is there a solution? I’m not sure there is. Tim Wigmore has floated the idea of a tax-and-redistribute system, where the ICC fund women’s central contracts across the globe; but even if this was a political starter, the problem with it is that it while it might level everyone up to where England currently are, it doesn’t bring anyone any closer to Australia, who will just pull further ahead as a result.

Kim Garth’s recent defection to Australia to play domestic cricket there, rather than international cricket for Ireland, is potentially where we end up here: with the world’s best players going to Australia full-time, while international cricket slips quietly into irrelevance. At some point Australia effectively stand back, maybe by fielding an Under-19s team at World Cups, leaving international cricket in the same sort of place as international baseball – a part-time, recreational pursuit, while the world’s best players ply their trade professionally in the WBBL “World Series”.

Maybe that would be a good thing; maybe it wouldn’t.

But if we don’t ask ourselves the question now, it’s where we are going to end up regardless.

England v West Indies 5th T20 – The 1st T5

Despite what appeared at times to be the valiant efforts of both teams to get a consolation win on the board for the West Indies, England pulled off a 3 wicket victory with 3 balls to spare, in what we are reliably informed was not just the 5th T20, but also the 1st ever women’s international T5!

England finally gave an outing to Freya Davies – her 9th cap, but her first in England – and with Danni Wyatt absent, had originally planned for Sarah Glenn to open the batting until the weather intervened. I’m not convinced generally about the role of the “pinch hitter” in cricket… and not just because it is another term we’ve borrowed wrongly from baseball! (In baseball, a pinch hitter is a super-sub who comes on late in the game.) And in this case it felt like it was more about who England didn’t want to open, than who they did. (Heather Knight didn’t want to… Nat Sciver didn’t want to… they didn’t want Amy Jones to, so… ah… Sarah Glenn: do we have a “volunteer”?)

Of course, due to the shortened match, Glenn opening didn’t happen anyway – Knight and Sciver ended up doing it – with Tammy Beaumont relegated down the order again, because… no… I don’t really know either! It strikes me that if you are the right batter to open in T20, which TB is, you’re probably the right batter to open in T5 too; but people who know a lot more about cricket than I do would appear to disagree!

England had obviously been told to run like their lives depended on it, which led to 3 run-outs, including two in the final over which should have meant the pressure was really on England; but in the end it was West Indies bowler Shakera Selman who cracked – sending down consecutive no balls to get England over the line.

Thoughts on the T5 format? Overall I can’t agree with Lydia Greenway, who argued on comms that T10 is the ideal format for players to “showcase their skills”. Apart from the fact that she’d barely have faced a ball in her career if she’d been playing T10, for me the real skills in this game are a batter building an innings or a bowler setting ’em up before she knocks ’em down, and there is barely time for that in T20, let alone anything shorter. But as a one-off, T5 was certainly fun, partly because there was some genuine jeopardy for the first time in the series – a game that could have gone either way in the final over.

Reflecting briefly on the series as a whole, there’s obviously huge credit to the ECB for making this, and the RHF, happen. In the face of COVID-19 it would have been so easy to just shrug and let the entire women’s season go. It would have been painful, and we’d have fallen even further behind Australia, who have somewhat lucked-out with the timing of the worst of the global lockdown coming in their off-season, but honestly it would have been difficult to complain if that’s what had happened in the face of the crisis of our lives.

We’ve been lucky with the weather too – every game in the RHF and the international T20 series was completed, albeit it got a tad cold at times… especially for reporters covering the games from outdoor press gazebos! (I know… I know… FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS! The truth is that we were so lucky to have been there, and we really do appreciate that very much!)

England’s next international cricket isn’t until February now, when they travel to New Zealand for what we are officially calling ‘Not The World Cup!’; but a number of players are jetting off to WBBL, including Sarah Glenn. We all know now what Glenn can do with the ball, but it will be interesting to see if she gets much of an opportunity with the bat over in Perth. She batted only 12 times in 26 matches for Loughborough Lightning in the KSL, as she faced the perennial problem for a young player of having to play second-fiddle to the international superstars; but now she is the international superstar, so it would be great to see her have the chance to really polish her credentials as an allrounder, rather than just being chucked in at the deep end to open in a one-off, dead-rubber international.

England v West Indies 4th T20 – England Keep Doing The Job

England doubled-down on their supremacy over the West Indies at home with another big win in Derby, thanks to a half-century from Amy Jones. England haven’t lost to the Windies at home now since they got Dottined at Arundel in 2012, and that winning streak looks unlikely to be broken this year unless Dottin can pull an ace out of the pack again on Wednesday.

Whilst Dottin has been ploughing a lonely furrow for the West Indies with the bat, scoring 42% of their runs thus far, England have shared things around. Tammy Beaumont, Nat Sciver, and now Amy Jones have all made one significant score, whilst Heather Knight has been the most consistent. It is Knight who leads England’s run-scorers (just!) with 19%, but Beaumont and Jones are only a whisker behind on 18%, whilst Sciver has 17%.

The only batters not to have made a significant contribution are Danni Wyatt (7%) and Fran Wilson (4%) and it was Wilson who missed out on selection yesterday to make room for Sophia Dunkley, pulling on an England shirt for the first time in 18 months.

Batting in the late middle-order is one of the toughest roles mentally for a young player in Twenty20 cricket – you either come in with your side in horrible trouble, or with only a handful of balls remaining; so yesterday’s opportunity for Dunkley – coming in at 6, with 6 overs left and with England having already established a good platform of 111 runs – was probably as good as it gets. But is there a sport crueller than this? You get one chance as a batter, and if you thump your first (legal) delivery straight back to the bowler… that’s it – Game Over! Dunks will get another go on Wednesday you’d imagine, so hopefully she can make that count and England will take her to New Zealand in February, which is looking like the next cricket they’ll play.

It is tough for Dunkley, but it has been even tougher for Freya Davies, Katie George and Kate Cross, none of whom have played at all. Will this change on Wednesday? Davies might get a game… maybe… because she has a clear role going forwards as Katherine Brunt’s replacement; but as for the other two, it seems unlikely. They’d be sentimental selections, and Heather Knight is just not a sentimental person on the cricket field – she wants to win – that’s her job, and England’s… and to be fair, they’re doing it.

RHF TROPHY FINAL: Shine On You Crazy Diamonds

Yorkshire Diamonds, as they were known then (and probably will be known again, along with Surrey Stars and Lancashire Thunder, as soon as they think the ECB’s backs are turned) didn’t have too much luck in the Kia Super League – they never qualified for Finals Day, and their best finish was 4th in 2019.

This always felt slightly incongruous, as Yorkshire had traditionally been one of the stronger sides in the Women’s County Championship, and indeed finished runners up 3 times during the KSL years, in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

So it was difficult to know how the “Northern” Diamonds would go in regionals this year – would we see Yorkshire CCC in the County Championship or Yorkshire Diamonds in the KSL?

The first two rounds of the RHF Trophy saw the Diamonds thump the Sparks by 9 wickets, with Katherine Brunt taking a 5fer and Lauren Winfield hitting 72 off 71 balls. The following day, they beat the Lightning by 9 runs, thanks to a century from Nat Sciver. This put the Diamonds firmly out on top of the North Group.

But there was a problem – all their big performances had come from England players, who were about to go back into their COVID-secure bubble and would play no further part in the group stages. As we wrote after that opening weekend, take out the England players and they were bottom of the table, not top. This wasn’t “southern bias” – it was just the numbers – and they didn’t look good for the Diamonds.

But the Diamonds defied those numbers, as other players stood up in the stead of the England stars – Jenny Gunn dug them out of a hole against Lightning; Sterre Kalis made 87 against the Sparks; Alex MacDonald hit 92 and Katie Levick took 3-22 versus the Thunder; while Beth Langston took 3-18 and Kalis again made runs in the final match, also against the Thunder. They finished the group stages with just 1 loss, to the Sparks, and 5 wins, to qualify for the final at Edgbaston.

In front of the TV cameras at Edgbaston, with Lauren Winfield opting to come back to play in the final ahead of the off-chance of a late-order knock against the Windies in Derby, they chose to bowl first, and put in a fantastic performance. It was normal in the old County Championship for a batting team to look to see off the opening bowlers and then make hay later; but the Diamonds gave no quarter – the Vipers saw off Beth Langston and Linsey Smith, but they were only replaced by the perfectly nagging lines and lengths of Phoebe Graham and the dangerous legspin of the leading wicket taker of all time in the County Championship, Katie Levick… and even when they’d seen them off, they had to contend with all the years of experience of Jenny Gunn!

The Diamonds were also fabulous in the field, keeping a tight circle and letting absolutely nothing through. Georgia Adams’ knock of 80 would surely have been a century against any other team in regionals this season, but she just couldn’t get it through the ring. Fielding is usually the biggest difference between the professional sides and the amateurs, even up to international level, but this Diamonds side of still mostly amateurs look every bit the pros in the field.

Keeping the best batting line-up in the RHF to 231, on one of the best pitches these players will ever get to play on, was an achievement that deserved a medal; but unfortunately it wasn’t to be for the Diamonds.

Despite a fielding performance from the Vipers that was as inexplicably inept as the Diamonds had been brilliant, their batters couldn’t keep their heads against Charlotte Taylor’s arm balls, and like the wives of Henry VIII they fell one by one.

But that’s professional sport – for someone to win, someone else has to lose. To return to our opening theme, it was the County Championship Yorkshire that turned up in the RHF… and they turned up so precisely that for the 4th year running they found themselves pipped at the post into second place.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride? No – not never – these Diamonds will be back next year, and I for one won’t be betting against them.

RHF TROPHY FINAL: Vipers Triumph In Taylz Of The Unexpected

In a week in which England’s young trio of Sophie Ecclestone, Sarah Glenn and Mady Villiers dominated the headlines, for one sunny September afternoon in Birmingham it was a 26-year-old  “unknown” spinner from Hampshire who stole the limelight, turning the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final on its head.

In a spell which utterly baffled the BBC and Sky commentators, who were scarcely aware of her name before today’s final, off-spinner Charlotte Taylor took six wickets for 34 runs across her 10 overs – the best return by any bowler across the entire competition.

Despite the early loss of Lauren Winfield-Hill, Northern Diamonds looked to be well in control of their chase at 74-1 after 14 overs, before Taylor’s decisive intervention knocked the stuffing right out of them – Holly Armitage, Alex MacDonald, Jenny Gunn and Bess Heath all deceived by her stock delivery (the arm-ball), with Diamonds reduced to 96-6.

MacDonald’s dismissal in particular will be one she won’t be keen to watch back on the Sky highlights reel – Taylor forced her back so late that she hit the top of off-stump with her own bat, and was out hit wicket for a golden duck: not something you see much at this level of cricket.

Then, with Diamonds threatening a last-ditch late surge, captain Georgia Adams brought Taylor back on in the 35th over and she worked her magic yet again, trapping Beth Langston LBW (21) attempting the sweep, and dislodging half-centurion Sterre Kalis, who sent a catch up to Adams at mid-on.

In a matter of minutes Taylor became the unexpected hero of the hour, as Vipers romped home by 38 runs. Adams, whose 80 with the bat had earlier set things up nicely for the Vipers and who might on any other day have expected to be crowned Player of the Match, had the grace to step back and let Taylor lead the team off the pitch.

As we reported last week, Taylor’s role in this competition came as a surprise to herself as much as anyone – she had lined up a commentary gig with BBC Radio Solent for the Vipers game against the Stars at Hove, which she had to pull out of when she was selected to play in the match!

“About 3 or 4 weeks ago now I got the call from Lottie,” Taylor told us after the final. “I’d made 77 in a club game the week before, and I thought that might have done it, but actually they wanted me for my bowling.”

“It was an amazing feeling to get the call. Within a week I was training with the guys!”

Taylor made her senior domestic debut for Hampshire back in May 2010, when the county side were still languishing in the depths of Division 3, and the following season was regularly opening the batting for them. In September 2015, she hit a memorable 165* against Northants, helping Hampshire secure promotion to Division 2 at the end of the season. (They of course then went on to reach Division 1 and win the Women’s County Championship in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018.)

Now, with today’s performance, she has fixed her name in the record books, but with the ball, not the bat – she finishes as leading overall wicket-taker in the RHF Trophy.

So how did the batter become a bowler?

“I was out for a while with an ACL injury,” Taylor explains. “That took me out of the game for 2 and a bit years. And then when I came back from that I just wanted a way to get in that Hampshire side, and I thought that they had a lot of good batting so I thought maybe working on my bowling might be a way to get in with something different. Lottie saw it and she was impressed, and I wouldn’t be here without her.”

“Now apparently I’m a bowling all-rounder who bats at 10!”

What is it about her bowling that has bamboozled so many? “I bowl genuine arm-balls,” she explains. “I turn one if the pitch is turning, but on a very good batting track like that I wouldn’t, I just get the ball to drift away. I back myself to bowl on a spot and it worked for me today.”

At age 26, Taylor exemplifies what the new regional structure is all about – she won’t be getting an England call-up any time soon; and she won’t ever earn her entire living from cricket. She works for an aerospace company, selling aeroplane parts, and is fortunate enough that her employers – Curtiss-Wright – allow her the flexibility to have time off to train and play cricket when she needs it.

But the opportunity to have access to a professional set-up, and train year-round, is nonetheless a transformative one for her. 

“It’s fantastic,” she says. “When I was growing up, playing professional cricket was such a long way off, and now to think that I’m actually playing professional cricket while I’m holding down a full time job elsewhere – it’s a struggle, but it’s a fantastic opportunity and long may it continue for a good few more years.”

A few weeks ago, after the first round of matches, I wrote that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy had thrown up a dilemma which was never quite resolved in the KSL: “are we trying to develop the next generation of England players, or are we trying to put on the best display possible?… As the matches in the RHF unfold over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see what answers – if any – emerge.”

Taylor’s performance today – done in front of the Sky cameras, for all to see – is that answer: this competition, and indeed this new regional structure, is about opportunities for all, regardless of age, and regardless of whether anyone has even ever heard your name before.

At the end of a strange and difficult season, that feels like something to celebrate.

NEWS: Tom Harrison Pledges Support For Women’s Test Cricket

ECB Chief Executive Tom Harrison has pledged his support for women’s Test cricket, stating that he sees it as “a key part of Ashes series” and that the ECB are keen to work to fit the multi-day format “into something that builds a narrative for the women’s game internationally”.

Speaking to promote the ECB’s Women’s Big Cricket Month, Harrison said:

“At the moment [women’s Test cricket] is a key part of Ashes series, and we’re trying to work out what is the right balance for international women’s Test cricket.”

“I think if you asked that question now you wouldn’t have too many international teams putting up their hands and saying ‘this makes sense for us’.”

“It certainly does for us, it certainly does for Australia. Outside of that, we’ve got to do a lot of work to work out how that fits into something that builds a narrative for the women’s game internationally.”

With Acting Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley having expressed his own support for more women’s Test cricket, Harrison said he would shortly be having a conversation with Hockley about the possibility of extending the next Women’s Ashes series – due to be played in Australia in 2022 – to incorporate two Test matches.

“If it’s something that both boards and both sets of fans want and demand, then it’s something we can look at,” he said. “I’m sure it will come up in our next conversation.”

Harrison was also keen to emphasise that discussions around Test cricket should be player-led, saying that the current group of England players “feel very passionately about playing Test cricket”. “We need to do a lot of work on listening to players,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that Test cricket represents a commercial challenge, saying that “it will be difficult to find the commercial support for [more] Test cricket”.

More broadly with regard to the future commercial direction of women’s cricket, he said that it was important to “enable women’s events to stand on their own” and to generate separate revenue for the women’s game:

“The next important staging post from an ICC perspective is all about the next media rights process, where we will need to generate revenue for the women’s game from the women’s events. instead of it just being part of a global set of events that are sold for a couple of billion dollars globally,” he said.

“We need to absolutely ringfence at ICC level the ability for that revenue to go into generating excitement around the women’s game specifically. And I think that starts to send the expectation to investors that what we want to see is proper investment into creating conditions under which the women’s game can grow.”

England v West Indies 3rd T20 – Professional England Seal Series

The West Indies produced their best performance of the tour, but it still wasn’t enough as England won the 3rd T20 by 20 runs to seal the series with 2 games to play.

It was the epitome of a “professional” performance from England – even Player of the Match Nat Sciver didn’t do anything spectacular for her 82 off 61 balls – she played the shots when they were they to be played, and otherwise she just ran hard. Tellingly, Deandra Dottin’s 63 contained exactly the same boundary counts as Sciver’s 82 – nine 4s and one 6 – so the difference between them was 19 “run” runs in Sciv’s favour – i.e. pretty-much all the margin of victory!

It was penultimate over of England’s innings was so costly for the West Indies – Stafanie Taylor, whose other 3 overs had gone at exactly her career Economy Rate of 5.6, gave up 17 runs to Nat Sciver.

Had that over gone for (say) 6, it could have all been a very different story – chasing 143 in that alternative reality, the West Indies might have had the self belief to smash those last 3 overs for 27 – win the game and get themselves back in the series.

But again it was the professionalism of England that told – they bowled tightly; and although when they didn’t the West Indies did have the power to punish them – Chinelle Henry walloping a Katherine Brunt full toss square for 6 towards the end – these gifts were few and far enough between to ensure that England’s worst over conceded just 11.

So with the series won… what now? Surely England have to give Freya Davies and Sophia Dunkley a chance? They are the future, and they need to be playing cricket, not running drinks. Personally, I’d rest Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver to bring them in, rather than “dropping” anyone else, because they are the like for likes, so you’d keep the balance of the team.

There is not much point in bringing Dunkley in and then her batting at 8 or 9, or Davies and having her only bowl a couple of the middle overs – they need to play “properly” which means a couple of the bigger names stepping aside, for just a couple of matches, in the interests of the team going forwards.

This series is in the bag now, so let’s start thinking about all the series to come – next year… the year after that… and the year after that.

England v West Indies 2nd T20 – Dott-in… Dott-out

England inflicted another heavy defeat on the West Indies in Derby, with a 47 run win – Sarah Glenn top-scoring with 26 off 19 balls, and then picking up 2-24 with the ball, to take home the Player of the Match champagne.

Having won the toss, Stafanie Taylor chose to put England in to bat and then chase – an “interesting” decision, after what happened last time out! Was it confidence? Or hubris? She’d say the former, of course, but the gods had other ideas!

To be fair, England didn’t get things entirely their own way with the bat – they lost 8 wickets (again!) and looked on course to make only around 130, until Glenn and Katherine Brunt pumped up the volume to give them a big fillip at the end.

Every team says they “bat long” – it’s a cliché well on the way to losing all meaning! But England definitely batted long today, with numbers 7, 8 and 9 combining for 53 off 37 balls at a Strike Rate of 143, that saw England finish on 151 – 20 runs ahead of where they’d looked like being.

Dottin was always going to be the key to the West Indies chase, and while she was Dott-in they stayed in with a shout.

As the worms show, they were slightly off the pace in the powerplay, but they built a platform that saw them come within touching-distance of England at the half-way mark, with only 1 wicket down, and both Dottin and Taylor set and going at a run a ball. They were still going to need a couple of big overs from somewhere, but that’s something we know both of those players are more than capable of.

However, it wasn’t to be – as soon as Dott-in became Dott-out, the strike rate fell away almost instantly, and a slow march of death ensued, as the game slumped towards its then inevitable conclusion.

Heather Knight finally gave Mady Villiers the chance to send down a couple of overs, and she didn’t disappoint, taking 2-10.

Meanwhile Sophie Ecclestone returned 2-19, though such are the standards that she sets herself these days, that she didn’t look at all happy with it, interestingly, which is probably the mark of a truly great player in the making – never quite satisfied and constantly striving to be better. (If you’re a young left-arm orthodox spinner, with ambitions to play for England in the next 10 years… have you considered hockey or netball? Because you’re not going to displace Ecclestone from this team in a hurry!)

So, on to The Big One on Saturday – the Free To Air showcase, live on the BBC, which the England players are obviously pretty hyped for, with the Beeb having done their best to turn it into an “Event” with a capital “E”.

But a good game of cricket really needs both sides to turn up. We know this West Indies side can turn up – we saw it on a hot night in front of a raucous crowd in St Lucia at the World Cup in 2018.

Now we just need them to do it behind closed doors on a cold day in Derby in 2020.

No? Me neither! But we live in hope!