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…

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

RHF TROPHY: A New Dawn?

In some ways today’s RHF Trophy opener – Stars v Storm – felt like a typical women’s county match: it was held at Beckenham; we brought our own picnic; and as the first ball was bowled, we were the only written press at the match. It was freezing cold and I spent the day in a winter coat and woolly hat. Heather Knight trampled all over the opposition bowling, with Storm winning by 6 wickets. If it was the dawn of a new era, it didn’t feel much like one.

On the other hand, we were both temperature-checked and had to fill in health questionnaires on arrival. (Thanks, COVID.) There was a press tent and Wifi (glorious riches!) and we could hear the buzz of Mark Church doing commentary for the live stream in the next door tent. County cricket never had it so good.

The amount of investment which has gone into this year’s regional competition is impressive. The ECB are funding salaries for both the Regional Directors and Coaches (UK Sport have an advert up at the moment which suggests the annual salary for those head coaches will be £60,000.) The players are all being paid to participate, and by October, 40 of them will be professionals (albeit likely not earning the PCA’s mandated minimum wage).

And of course there is the fact that – as Sunrisers coach Trevor Griffin put it when I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago – “If we go back to March, there was real concern that we wouldn’t see any cricket at all. It’s a real bonus.” Getting this competition off the ground is an impressive achievement in the middle of a global pandemic.

On the other hand, there remains some confusion as to what exactly – aside from a lot of money – is the difference between this and last year’s 8-team Division 1 County Championship. The Stars today batted at a run rate of just over 3 for much of their innings. Rowe aside, they displayed the kind of attritional cricket which we are well used to seeing in the women’s county game.

That is not unexpected – these are players who have grown up playing county, and all the money in the world will not enable them to dispense with old habits overnight. The new set-up is part of a long-term strategy to professionalise the women’s game, which is very welcome. On the other hand, today’s showing does rather beg the question: in exchange for ditching the commercial advantage which comes with being able to align teams with existing men’s county brands, what has women’s cricket gained?

There’s another question, too, which I don’t think anyone has quite figured out the answer to yet. With the England players catapulted in at the last minute, but with rumours also circulating that some players were not selected for the RHF Trophy because they are considered “too old” to fit the bill, what exactly is the purpose of this competition? Is it purely a development competition – designed for 16-year-olds like Alice Capsey to strut her stuff – or is it about pitting the best against the best, to create the kind of high-level cricket which both looks good on live streams and which will provide the stiff competition which the England players need, in order to thrive at international level?

The ECB’s answer to this, I am sure, would be that in non-COVID years it is The Hundred which will be the high-profile competition, the one with all the glitz and the one where players really hone their skills. Perhaps, going forward, the England players will play only a minor role in regionals. Except… do you win a World Cup if at domestic level you are only playing at a high level in a non-World Cup format? Can we really afford for regionals to become “just a development competition”, and dismissed as unimportant accordingly?

At Beckenham today it was Stars’ top-scorer Susie Rowe (38 off 44 balls) who exemplified the development-vs-elite dilemma. At 33 years old, the former England player is unlikely to want one of the new domestic contracts, even if one were offered to her: she has a very good, very secure teaching job where she oversees both hockey and cricket; jacking it in to accept a short-term, not very well-paid regional cricket contract is (you’d think) an unattractive option. She hardly has a place in a “development competition”.

Nonetheless, she lit up today’s match – and you can bet she is a great person to have around when you’re 16 years old, lacking in big-match experience, and need a word in your ear or a clap on your shoulder. In any case, why on earth should players like Rowe be excluded on the basis of age, denied the chance to carry on playing at the highest level they can for as long as they want to do so?

It’s a dilemma that 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? – but with no overseas players in regionals, it seems all the more acute now. As the matches in the RHF unfold over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see what answers – if any – emerge.

NEWS: England Player Allocations Announced For Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy

The ECB have announced the England player allocations for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, with players mainly going to teams where they have existing connections. For example, Katherine Brunt and Lauren Winfield will be playing at Yorkshire for the Northern Diamonds, where they played both county and KSL, while Heather Knight and Anya Shrubsole are returning to Western Storm, which was also their KSL side.

It has also been announced that the final will take place at Edgbaston, and will be shown live on Sky Sports on Sunday September 27.

Northern Diamonds
Katherine Brunt, Nat Sciver, Lauren Winfield, Linsey Smith

Thunder
Kate Cross, Sophie Ecclestone, Emma Lamb

Central Sparks
Amy Jones, Sarah Glenn, Issy Wong

Western Storm
Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Katie George

Southern Vipers
Danni Wyatt, Georgia Elwiss, Lauren Bell

South East Stars
Freya Davies, Alice Davidson-Richards, Bryony Smith, Sophia Dunkley

Sunrisers
Fran Wilson, Mady Villiers

Lightning
Tammy Beaumont, Kirstie Gordon

BREAKING: England To Play West Indies In September

The ECB have announced that England will host a 5 match T20 series against the West Indies in late September.

All 5 games will be played behind closed doors at Derby, but will be broadcast live on Sky, with one match also being shown Free To Air on the BBC.

  • Monday September 21: 1st T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports)
  • Wednesday September 23: 2nd T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports)
  • Saturday September 26: 3rd T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports, BBC)
  • Monday September 28: 4th T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports)
  • Wednesday September 30: 5th T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports)

[Start times all “TBC”]

The confirmation of the schedule has necessitated a change in date for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Final, which will now be played on Sunday September 27.

England currently have 24 players in their training group, and all 24 will be made available for the first two rounds of the RHF on Saturday August 29 and Monday August 31. (So expect an announcement on teams very soon!)

Anyone not selected for the Windies series will be released to return to their regional team for the final round and final of the RHF.

NEWS: West Indies In Talks To Replace South Africa For September Tour

As is being reported by the BBC, England’s series against South Africa next month is now in serious doubt, with the ECB currently in talks with the West Indies Cricket Board in an attempt to arrange a replacement tour at short notice.

CRICKETher understands that the final, revised fixtures against South Africa were just days away from being formally announced, with all arrangements already in place, when Cricket South Africa communicated to the ECB that they were unlikely to be able to fulfil the fixtures.

The decision by CSA to pull out of the tour is reportedly due to “coronavirus restrictions in South Africa”, but may also be linked to the ICC’s decision – announced last Friday – to postpone the 2021 World Cup by a year, meaning there is more time for sides to organise fixtures ahead of the tournament.

If an agreement with West Indies cannot be reached, it will comes as a bitter disappointment to the England players, who have already spent two weeks in a biosecure training bubble in Derby, unable to participate in county or club fixtures or to leave their hotel when not training.

The likelihood is that should no internationals go ahead, the 24 England squad players will all be released to play for their new regions (yet to be allocated) in the forthcoming Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. It will come as scant consolation but will at least ensure they have the opportunity to participate in some competitive cricket before the season is over.