CE CUP: Bedbrook’s Brand Brings It Home For Stars

The inaugural edition of the Charlotte Edwards Cup ended in a convincing win for South East Stars in the final on Sunday, who chased down their not-insubstantial target of 139 to win with 5 wickets and 2 overs to spare.

The most notable thing about the game was the convincing way in which they went about the chase – Bryony Smith and Aylish Cranstone putting on a 71-run partnership for the first wicket in the opening 8 overs, which set a platform that not even a middle-innings wobble could disrupt.

For Stars, their path to victory in the tournament was built on mammoth scores, three times hitting 160+ batting first at a level where totals of 120 are still the norm: 175 against Lightning, 167 against Vipers and 165 against Sparks.

This is the kind of attacking, confident batting which we have rarely seen before from homegrown players in women’s domestic T20 cricket. Speaking to captain Bryony Smith after Stars’ win in the final group stage match at Edgbaston, she labelled it “a positive brand of cricket”:

“We wanted to bowl first in all of those games but it just shows we’ve got the bowling to defend any score. We want to go out, go from ball 1. I’m trying to lead that myself and to see the young ones come in and play like that – I’m really proud of them.”

It seems apparent that coach Johann Myburgh has given his players license to play without fear, and they have responded to that.

The roots of this culture, though, go back further than the dawn of regional cricket in 2020 – they began in 2017 when Surrey CCC decided to appoint a full-time coach of their women’s team. Now Regional Director of the Stars, Richard Bedbrook has worked with many of these players for years, overseeing their development.

“There’s a bit of benefit when you’ve been around the game for a while, and you’ve been in the women’s cricket space in this region like I have,” Bedbrook admitted, speaking to CRICKETher after the final. “The regional development centre was operating during the KSL days – and now the likes of Emma Jones, Kalea [Moore], Alexa [Stonehouse] – so many of those players are still teenagers, and it’s a nice proud moment to see them graduating from being much younger players into being inspiring young women who are going to push the envelope of where the game is for the next few years.”

How did Bedbrook feel, watching his team playing in that final in the way that lived up so successfully to the Stars “brand” of cricket? “It was really good to watch. When you get to a final, you’re hoping that the players will stay true to what they’ve been working for for so long. When they’ve been playing the way they’ve been playing in the group games, you worry that they might regress or they might play safe, but the performance today is testament to the work that Mybs [Mybergh] has done and Tom [Lister] as well, our senior talent manager.”

“They’ve worked with the batters all winter and put them into a place where they’re like, this is the way we’re going to play, and we’re not going to avoid that. And this season it’s come off more times than it hasn’t! You need the players to commit to it.”

“We are really proud of just how many players have come forward this year and have contributed. It is very much a squad effort. Every one of them has contributed at certain times, and that’s very pleasing.”

Of course the breakthrough star of the season has been Alice Capsey, who shot to fame in The Hundred but has also turned it on in regional cricket exactly when it mattered: she finished as Stars’ top run-scorer with 203 runs, including an unbeaten 40* in the final, averaging 41 at a strike rate of 131.

Stars may therefore have a dilemma on their hands. It was noticeable just how much Southern Vipers missed Charlie Dean and Maia Bouchier in the semi-final on Sunday: creating players who are so successful that they disappear on England duty is certainly a double-edged sword. Bedbrook, though, seems unconcerned.

“There might be a little bit of time for that to happen – that next step into international cricket is a big one,” Bedbrook said. “The role she gets to play might not be the same as the role she’s playing for us and that takes a bit of adjustment as well. We’re just going to keep making sure that we’re supporting her in her ambitions, and clearly that’s to play for England and do what we can to support that.”

It’s a mark of how ambitious Bedbrook is for his players that he is also keen to emphasise that Capsey may be brilliant now – but in a few years time could be the best player in the world, if she keeps working for it. “She’s a big star in the making,” he says. “One thing we’ve got to make sure she continues to realise is that there’s still a long way for her to go, and that’s not necessarily in the structure and the programme of the game and the levels that she’s got in front of her, but actually getting into those levels above her and being better and better and better, and holding onto some key values to help support her there.”

“We’re enjoying this season that she’s having, and we’re proud of the work that she’s put in, because she’s a better player than she was last year, and that’s what we want to keep pushing for – keep improving.”

For Stars, the focus now comes back onto the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, where they are currently ranked fifth, with work to do if they are to come back into contention for the final on 25 September. The CE Cup medals hanging around their necks will do plenty to spur them on.

CE CUP FINALS DAY: 22 (Jenny) Gunn Salute

At the start of the 2020 season, Jenny Gunn picked up the phone for what she thought would be nothing more than a friendly chat with her old friend and ex-England teammate Dani Hazell. Gunn was looking forward to experiencing cricket from the sidelines, having announced her retirement from internationals in October 2019. And yet when Hazell asked if she would consider playing for the new regional side for which she was head coach, Gunn found the offer irresistible.

An inconsequential chitchat suddenly turned into a conversation with the biggest of consequences. Gunn was drafted into the Northern Diamonds side, and finished as their third highest run-scorer, with 149 runs including a half-century against Lightning, digging Diamonds out of a substantial hole to lead them to a 2-wicket win. She also picked up 8 wickets.

Gunn’s un-retirement was meant to last just one season, but after proving so instrumental in Diamond’s progress to the final of the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in September 2020, Hazell had yet another ace up her sleeve: the offer of a regional contract with the Diamonds. It proved enough to lure Gunn into another year playing for them.

Ironically, Gunn was initially intending to come out of retirement for one competition only: The Hundred. As it was, with Covid intervening to push back the tournament by a year, she did not even make it into the Northern Superchargers’ final squad. Instead, she has been able to focus her efforts purely on the regional competitions.

And those efforts have not gone to waste. In the 50-over Heyhoe Flint Trophy she has already hit a half-century, helping Diamonds overhaul Stars’ total of 250 at Leeds back in June. In the Charlotte Edwards Cup she was the key to Diamonds pulling off the squeakiest of narrow squeak wins against Western Storm, hitting a boundary off the final ball to see them home by 1 wicket.

On Sunday at the Ageas Bowl, she propelled Northern Diamonds through to the final of the Charlotte Edwards Cup, hitting 22* from 14 balls against Southern Vipers at the back-end of the innings, after they had been in some strife at 82 for 4 in the 15th over. Gunn wasn’t known for her big-hitting when she wore an England shirt, but no one would have known that watching her thump two sixes off Tara Norris in the final over, over long-on and deep midwicket.

With the ball she then took the key wicket of Georgia Adams, who pulled to short midwicket in the sixth over after looking in good touch for most of the powerplay, and she then returned to bowl two overs at the death and wrap up the Vipers tail. Her action is still distinctive as ever; it has served her well over the years, so why change it?

Adams spoke warmly of her nemesis in the post-match: “It’s brilliant. That’s the other bonus of the regional system…if you want a longer career, it’s there for you if you want it. Hopefully I’ll churn out a few runs when I’m as old as Jenny!”

In the final itself, Gunn followed up with an identical score: 22 not out, this time coming from 16 balls. Her fifty partnership with Diamonds captain Holly Armitage came in 38 balls, in the final 20 minutes of the innings, consisting largely of sprinted singles.

Of course, in the end it wasn’t enough: South East Stars won with a hop, skip and a jump, and nobody – not even Gunn – could stand in the way.

But I decided to write about Jenny Gunn anyway.

Why? Well, you could make a good argument that without Gunn’s contribution Diamonds wouldn’t have been in the final at all. Their eventual margin of victory in the semi was 18 runs: without Gunn’s 22*, Vipers would have progressed at their expense.

But the second and most important reason is that somewhere at home I have a signed Jenny Gunn England Test shirt and it will always be one of my most prized possessions; I still go in to bat for her on Twitter; and I still love watching her bowl. 

It remains to be seen what Jenny Gunn’s future looks like, beyond the summer of 2021. In some ways it was surprising that she took up the offer of a regional contract at all, given her protestations that she did not intend to stay playing cricket very long. I don’t know how many more times I’ll get to write a piece about Jenny Gunn, so what the heck, here I am.

What I will say is this: If I was Dani Hazell, whatever Gunn might or might not have said at the start of this season, I’d be making sure I picked up the phone sooner rather than later and, by hook or by crook, ensuring that she was signed on the dotted line for next year.

On the evidence of Finals Day in the inaugural Charlotte Edwards Cup, Jenny Gunn is simply too good to lose.

ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND: 2nd T20 – Devine, Women & Song

They’ll be singing on the streets of Wellington tonight… or today… or tomorrow… or whatever time it is in New Zealand… after Sophie Devine led New Zealand to victory in Hove, with an innings of 50 off 41 balls, with all-but half of those runs coming in just 4 shots for six.

The biggest of those sixes – onto the rooves of the hospitality boxes over deep midwicket – were vintage Devine – an effortless whip of the wrists sending the ball sailing through the starless black skies over the county ground at Hove.

Nonetheless, New Zealand almost blew it, partly thanks to some magic fielding from Mady Villiers, who brilliantly threw down the stumps to send Suzie Bates back to the pavilion for 8, and then produced a stunning running dive to catch Devine. There was also a smart Caught & Bowled to get rid of Maddy Green.

There remain doubts about exactly what Villiers’ role in this team is – she is batting below Sophie Ecclestone and Sarah Glenn, neither of whom are genuine allrounders – so she is batting in a bowling position, but she only bowled one over. That over did produce a wicket, but what England really needed at that stage in the game, with 23 required from 5 overs, was for an over not to go for 8 runs… which is what it went for. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Villiers is among the best fielders in the world… if not the best – and that’s pretty handy to have on-board.

Devine’s heroics overshadowed what was a strong debut for Maia Bouchier – her 25 off 24 balls was the highest score by an England player on T20 debut since the very first T20, played at this same ground in 2004. I wrote during The Hundred about how Bouchier seemed to have a new sense that she truly belongs at the highest levels of the game, and she showed that again today. One shot in particular – a cut through point off Amy Satterthwaite – was a stroke out of the very top draw.

Less than a year ago, Bouchier was heartbroken to be banned from bowling by the ECB for an illegal action; but she vowed to go away over the winter and rectify the issue with her action, which she did to the satisfaction of the board, who cleared her to bowl again earlier in the summer. It took real character to do that, not to mention hard work, and that was rewarded with an England cap tonight, and the chance to do what Emma Lamb didn’t have the chance to do on her debut last week: to actually make an impact on the game.

Coming in at 4-down with 10 overs to go though is a mixed blessing – you have time, but it is all on you! It was a real pressure situation for Bouchier, and some slightly crazy running between the wickets suggested she was feeling that pressure. But with luck and pluck she came through it, and it seems safe to say that although she is unlikely to play in the 3rd T20, assuming Heather Knight returns to the XI, we will see her in an England shirt many more times in years to come.

PREVIEW: All Eyes on Nunholm as the Scottish Women’s Season Reaches its Climax

Jake Perry looks ahead to the Beyond Boundaries Women’s Scottish Cup Finals Day

The most prestigious occasion of the women’s domestic calendar takes place in Dumfries this Sunday as Carlton, George Watson’s College, Grange and West of Scotland come together for the fourth Beyond Boundaries Women’s Scottish Cup Finals Day. The T20 competition has gone from strength to strength since the charity began its sponsorship back in 2017, and with another new team taking part this year, the continued growth of the Scottish women’s game has been underlined even further.

On the same day that Ben Stokes was performing his heroics at Headingley in 2019, Carlton was wrapping up an emphatic victory over West of Scotland in the last Finals Day at New Williamfield. After a equally impressive win over league runners-up Stewart’s Melville in last month’s quarter-final, the Women’s Premier League champions go into the weekend as hot favourites to both retain their trophy and complete an historic league and cup double, but while semi-final opponents George Watson’s College are very a different prospect to the Sarah Bryce-led outfit that beat them to the cup in 2017, Annette Aitken-Drummond’s side will be taking nothing for granted against the team that knocked out Royal High Corstorphine a couple of weeks ago.

The form book is certainly in the holders’ favour, though, after a WPL campaign that ended with only one defeat for the season. The Grange Loan side came out on top against each of their fellow semi-finalists, piling on the runs against Watsonians/Grange to win by 308 before beating GWC by 107 and West of Scotland by eight wickets. Charis Scott topped the final averages with both bat and ball, while Annette Aitken-Drummond and Scotland Under-15 Maisie Maceira finished only just behind her in what was a clean sweep of the top two in the respective tables. Carlton’s blend of youth and experience is testament to the behind-the-scenes work that has gone into the development of its women’s section: GWC has a fine record in that regard, too, but it will still take a monumental performance from its young side to keep the Arrows out of the final.

The first game of the day sees West take on Grange, who, after playing the WPL season in tandem with Watsonians, will be making their first appearance in the competition. It was West who were doing the same in 2019 in what was their first season of competitive action, and while they left Stirling with a runners-up medal that day, they will hope that the experience of Wildcats Abtaha Maqsood and Ellen Watson as well as fellow 2018 cup-winners Charlotte Dalton-Howells and Nayma Shaikh will see them go one better this time.

They will certainly fancy their chances of doing so after a COVID-delayed start ultimately scuppered their WPL ambitions. West’s victory over RHC at New Williamfield showed their solidity with the bat in pressure situations, and if they can find that same form again at Nunholm, they will provide a stern examination for their Edinburgh-based opponents.

After the frustrations of 2020, Scotland has seen an outstanding programme of women’s cricket this year, which began with the WPL and continued into the inaugural Women’s Super Series. Whoever is destined to succeed GWC, The West and Carlton as Scottish Cup winners this time around, Sunday is sure to put the icing onto what has been an unforgettable summer. 

Beyond Boundaries Women’s Scottish Cup Finals Day (at Nunholm)

Semi-final One: Grange v West of Scotland (10.30am)

Semi-final Two: Carlton v George Watson’s College   

The Finals Day will be streamed via Cricket Scotland Live.

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the men’s and women’s league and cup action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from our featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

And if you or your club has a story for us, please email jakeperrycricket@gmail.com and gary@gh-media.co.uk – we look forward to hearing from you!

ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND: 1st T20 – Beaumont Back To Her Best

139. That was the number of runs scored by Tammy Beaumont for London Spirit in The Hundred – 139 runs off 135 balls, leaving her 20th in the list for the competition. It wasn’t the worst return in the world, but for one of England’s biggest stars it wasn’t her at her best.

So this series was an important one for Beaumont. Not in an existential sense – she wasn’t going to be dropped, even if she didn’t score a run! But she definitely had a point to prove… and she proved it at Chelmsford this evening.

Beaumont’s 97 runs off 65 balls set up England for a huge win, despite another slightly iffy bowling performance. It wasn’t a flawless innings – she was dropped a couple of times – but T20 is a game where taking a few risks can be richly rewarded, and it was tonight.

She’ll be kicking herself she that didn’t get a second T20 hundred, caught off an attempted ramp for 97 from the penultimate ball of the innings. I continue to maintain that the premeditated ramp isn’t a productive shot for her – she used it (I think?) 4 times in this innings, and it came off just once – she made a mess of it twice; and was eventually caught off it when a century was within her grasp.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about exactly how many Tammy Beaumont scored – it’s about the runs the whole team put on the board. Sophia Dunkley in particular played a great little knock at the back-end of the innings – 23 not out off 17 balls. She didn’t score a single boundary until the 15th ball she faced, yet she still maintained a strike rate of 100, simply by turning the strike back over to Beaumont again and again – it was exactly what England needed from her.

With that many runs on the board, New Zealand were really up against it, and the early loss of both the “Smash Sisters” – Sophie Devine for 2 and Suzie Bates for 1 – left them reeling. They really need something from Amy Satterthwaite, and they got something… but it wasn’t quite something enough to make a real impact on the game. The difference between Satterthwaite and Beaumont – 54 runs – was pretty-much the difference between the two sides as a whole.

One caveat remains though. As happened against India earlier in the summer, you do feel that England got away with a fairly average performance with the ball. The scorecard will tell you that they took 10 wickets, but the Kiwis largely got themselves out, slogging as they chased the game.

England’s batters are all in great form – 5 of England’s top 6 ranked in the top 20 in The Hundred, with Beaumont the only exception; but the bowlers, frankly, are not where they should be, with only 2 of the 6 bowlers used today making their top 20. So it remains a concern that this attack are flattering themselves slightly at the moment – they will have to bowl a lot, lot better than they did tonight if they want to really challenge Australia in the Ashes and the World Cup this winter.

INVTERVIEW: Marie Kelly – The Hundred & The Hundred

Marie Kelly

Marie Kelly (c) Don Miles

August 25th 2021. I’m sitting on the boundary at Guildford, watching Stars v Lightning in the Charlotte Edwards T20 Cup, while keeping half an eye on the scorecard from Hove, where Vipers are playing Sparks. Vipers have made 162-4, but Sparks are going well in reply – after 10 overs, they are 103-0, with Eve Jones on 37 and Marie Kelly on 57, needing 6 an over from there.

By the end of the 15th over Sparks are cruising, despite the loss of Jones. They need 26 runs from 30 balls, with Kelly set on 77. It is technically possible for Kelly to hit her first T20 century, but she’d have to score all but 3 of the remaining runs required, so it doesn’t feel likely.

An over later, that’s all changed – Kelly has hit 13 of the 14 runs to come off Georgia Elwiss’s 3rd over, and she’s now on 90, with Sparks needing 12 off 24.

But is there a twist to come? Charlotte Taylor comes on, and dismisses both Milly Home and Gwen Davies, for the cost of only 1 run; then Lauren Bell sends down an over which goes for just 3.

The equation is now 8 off 12 balls, with Kelly 7 short of that hundred and wickets starting to fall around her.

With Stars in the meantime having closed out the win at Guildford, I tweet:

Five minutes, and a severe dent in my mobile data plan later, Sparks have won the game in the 19th over, with Kelly finishing on exactly 100 not out off 53 balls.

I tweet again:

You see, I’ve always felt cricket has been slightly unfair to Marie Kelly.

Admittedly this sounds like an odd thing to say about someone who became Warwickshire captain aged 20, just at the point where the men’s county club were starting to invest in the women’s game, leading them to their first (and ironically, with the demise of county cricket, last) ever silverware – winning the County T20 Cup in 2019.

But then there was the Kia Super League. With just six franchises to cover the whole of England and Wales, some teams were always going to miss out… and one of them was Warwickshire.

“We were definitely disappointed at the time,” says Kelly reflecting on the formation of the KSL. “Watching on, we felt that the West Midlands really needed that franchise; and it meant a few of us didn’t quite get the opportunities that we might have gotten.”

Kelly herself was a case in point. Despite being Warwickshire captain throughout the lifetime of the competition, she made just 6 appearances in 4 seasons: one with Lightning in 2017, then a further five in the final year of the competition with Vipers, even then batting well down the order. It can’t have been easy, but it is an experience she reflects on philosophically:

“We just tried to get what opportunities we could in those franchise teams – you learn different things in different environments, and you get to see how other teams operate; and then you bring that back into county cricket, which hopefully we did quite well.”

The disbanding of the KSL, and the reorganisation of elite women’s cricket into 8 regional teams in 2020, saw the creation of a new West Midlands franchise – the Central Sparks – with Kelly become one of the first domestic pros. In some senses, however, not much changed:

“We’ve all been training like professionals for a long time – especially the guys that have been to Loughborough University, or on the England program or the MCC [Young Cricketers]. So we were used to training like professionals… just without the pay!”

“Now, even though we’re professional, we still have to do other work because the salaries aren’t quite high enough yet; but it does give you that opportunity to train more and play more and practice more.”

The more intense level of competition in the 2020 RHF Trophy was quickly apparent however, as were its benefits:

“It was quite an interesting season – there was a lot of good cricket played and there were a lot of times where we knew we kind of needed to step up and be a bit more professional – I feel like it made us cleverer and smarter as cricketers.”

Kelly herself was going well – averaging 55 in the first season of the RHF for Central Sparks – but when it came to The Hundred this year it was deja-vu all over again, with Kelly sat on the side-lines just as she’d done for so much of the KSL.

“It was disappointing,” she admits. “I feel like I’ve learned as much as I can off the pitch – the next thing for me to progress as a batter was simply to just play in those environments and I didn’t quite get the opportunities I thought I should have had.”

Nonetheless, she did “go viral” when the official The Hundred Twitter account posted this clip of her and three other Phoenix players busting some moves during a strategic timeout.

Kelly looks faintly embarrassed.

“I didn’t actually know that that was going to be on Sky – if I’d known that I probably wouldn’t have suggested going in the box! But you know what? I thought: if I’m not gonna play I might as well enjoy as much as I can out of it; so I thought I’d entertain the crowd, and if my cricket career doesn’t pay off, I think I’ll become a dancer!”

After 8 matches running drinks, Kelly finally got her chance – thrown into the cauldron of The Eliminator at The Oval, replacing the departed Shafali Verma in the Phoenix XI. It was a baptism of fire, in front of a crowd of 12,000, and the game was already pretty-much lost when Kelly came in with 4 wickets down. She made 4, as Phoenix fell to defeat to the soon-to-be champions, Oval Invincibles.

“I just tried to stay positive – I was only playing that game, so there was nothing for me to lose. And I actually felt really comfortable at the crease, considering I hadn’t played for five weeks – it actually felt better playing in front of a bigger crowd because it felt a little bit more detached. So that was a good sign for me – that actually, yeah, this is what I want to do; and hopefully I can play a bit more next year.”

After the disappointment of The Hundred, a loss of personal momentum for Kelly on her return to Sparks would have been understandable; but instead she came out of the blocks flying to play the innings of her life at Hove.

Was this, I ask, a big “f- you” to the world in general, after the bitter pill of The Hundred?

“It was more like just ‘f- it‘,” she replies. “I wouldn’t say The Hundred was a write off… but it was from a personal point of view – there was nothing for me to lose, and it couldn’t really get any worse.”

“My performances before, in particular in T20, hadn’t been great. So I was just kind of like: well, what I’m doing currently isn’t working, so I was trying to switch up. I did a lot of analysis on their bowlers before I went in, so I knew exactly what my plans were for each bowler and just went out and tried to execute it.”

The availability of video analysis data is still fairly novel in the women’s game, and not every player makes use of it; but Kelly is one of those that has devoured it.

“A lot of coaches have said I overthink, but I say I don’t overthink: I just think! Having NV Play and things like that, where you can go back and watch videos, I think helps massively – especially for me – it helps create a plan. I’ve basically watched every dismissal that Charlotte Taylor’s got people out on; and every dismissal that I’ve got out to, so I don’t make the same mistake twice.”

One thing Kelly is consciously not thinking too much about, however, is the future.

“I think now’s the time to really commit to playing professionally – The Hundred will be bigger and better next year – I think it will open many doors in the future, so I feel like now’s the time to really, really commit to this. I’ve got my Level 3 [coaching badges] but Level 4 is quite time-consuming. All my life, I’ve juggled studies and cricket, or work and cricket. So I feel like now’s the time to just fully commit to being a professional cricketer and see what see what comes out of it.”

OPINION: How To Attract A New Audience To Regional Cricket

By Daniel Bingham

Sunrisers vs Thunder, at Northamptonshire on Saturday, was an excellent example of how to get more people watching live cricket.

First of all, tickets were just £2 – a price point which is accessible to everyone. (Of course, cheap tickets shouldn’t come at the expense of further professionalising the women’s game – but if you get people coming along now, you can hopefully persuade them to pay more next season.)

Secondly, tickets doubled up as tickets to “Bite Street” – a food festival being held at the Northamptonshire County Ground. This is a great way of bringing in people who previously thought that going to the cricket would be boring. There will have been some people there on Saturday who only went to the ground to grab some street food for lunch, but who stuck around on a gorgeous sunny day.

This isn’t to say that the day was perfectly organised: the food stalls were table service only – so it was unclear if you could take your food to the stands while the game happened. There also could have been more signage pointing people to where to go if they wanted to watch the cricket, and indicating that it was free to watch having already bought a ticket for Bite Street.

Ultimately, I think that grounds which rarely see international cricket should seriously consider organising something similar during the T20 Blast / Charlotte Edwards Cup. It is an excellent way to attract new people to the sport, as well as offering a bonus to the people who are going for the cricket already.

The Hundred was a good vehicle for children’s interest, with its DJs and in-ground activities, but other tournaments need to do more to attract that younger audience. If you can get more adults choosing to attend other matches outside of The Hundred, they’ll (hopefully) be excited to take their kids and grandkids in the future.

CE CUP: Diamonds Reach Finals Day With Emphatic Win Against Thunder

Martin Saxon reports from Cheshire

An emphatic victory for the Northern ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Yorkshire’ Diamonds over ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Lancashire’ Thunder not only restored some local bragging rights – after Thunder won the T20 clash earlier in the year and Manchester Originals won the Northern derby in the Hundred – but also took Diamonds to Finals Day as winners of the group, after other results went their way.

This was effectively the Roses clash in all but name and, while almost all of the Thunder eleven are drawn from the Red Rose county, this match, like all but one of the Thunder home matches in 2021, was played in Cheshire. Much has been made of how the women’s regional teams are making higher scores when they play on first-class county grounds, but the Chester Boughton Hall club ground – staging its fourth women’s regional match of the season today – is a batting paradise by any measure, and Diamonds certainly made hay as they strolled to their target of 91 with eight wickets and 46 balls in hand.

There was certainly nothing in the pitch to excuse a first innings score of 90-9, but the Diamonds bowlers never allowed Thunder to really build any momentum. There were brief promising signs, such as Georgie Boyce leading the way when 20 were scored in the first three overs, Laura Marshall hitting some good shots as 26 after five became 42 from seven, and Kate Cross taking ten from the 13th over.

However, once Cross had departed, Thunder managed just two boundaries and 23 runs from the remaining seven overs. The standout bowlers during this period were Linsey Smith, who conceded one from the 16th over and two from the last; Alex Macdonald, who ensured the score only advanced by three during the 18th over; and Jenny Gunn, who struck three times in four deliveries in the 19th.

Amongst a series of unT20-like statistics, eight Thunder batters had a strike rate of 64 or less, with Cross’s 127 the only one to better a run per ball. Danielle Collins was the top scorer with just 16. The bowling economy rates also looked very unusual for this format, with the relatively expensive Rachel Slater and Katie Levick still conceding less than six per over, while Macdonald’s 0-14, Smith’s 2-12 and Gunn’s 4-15 return literally speak for themselves.

Diamonds completed their massive win without a major contribution from their taliswoman Lauren Winfield-Hill – only 34 were needed when she faced her first delivery, and she ultimately scored just five. Instead, Bess Heath cut, drove and pulled her way to an unbeaten 58 from 40 deliveries, with her ten fours matching the entire boundary count from the Thunder innings.

On this wretched day for the North West team, Hannah Jones was at least able to cement her growing reputation, conceding just 12 runs from four overs and bagging the prize wicket of Winfield-Hill, all just two days after she saved Thunder from defeat to Sunrisers by only conceding four from the final over.

Sterner tests await the Diamonds in Sunday’s Finals Day, but this performance may have given them the confidence and momentum needed to challenge for the trophy.

——

Martin Saxon is the Vice Chair and Press Officer of the Cheshire Women’s Cricket League

CE CUP: Sparks v Lightning – Jones’s Polish Trumps Odedra’s Class… Just!

By Richard Clark

Sparks made it over the line in the end – just about – but this was nothing less than an enthralling cricket match, in which both sides might have felt they held the upper hand at various stages, albeit never for very long and never with any degree of conviction.

Maybe the shorter forms of the game do offer less room for ebbs and flows, twists and turns, but these two teams gave the lie to that notion in a tussle that went right down to the bone.

Ultimately Eve Jones played the pivotal role – her 71 off 55 balls contained three 6s and seven 4s, and as much fluent strokeplay as one can reasonably expect inside twenty overs. Coming on the back of her fine Hundred form and then another half-century in last week’s victory against Vipers, there can’t be any batter in the country in better form right now.

Jones’s innings was almost enough to see Sparks home, but when Sonia Odedra prised her out trying to flip the ball over short fine leg for a boundary that would have put the home side within two runs of victory with seven balls left to get them, only to find the grateful hands of Yvonne Graves, the complexion of the game changed once more.

A spearing yorker from Odedra cleaned up Emily Arlott next ball, leaving Issy Wong and new batter Chloe Hill to find a run a ball off Grace Ballinger’s final over. The pair traded singles from the first four balls, the sprawling Hill somehow escaping a vociferous run out appeal along the way, before Wong lifted the tension by fair clobbering the penultimate ball through mid-on for four.

Had things turned out differently, Odedra may well have been taking the plaudits. Her four overs brought figures of two for 14 and were a model of precision, conceding only one boundary and consistently giving the batters nothing to which they could free their arms. Lucy Higham’s off spin, too, was impressive, yielding just 19 runs.

The one-time England seamer had returned to the attack with Sparks needing 31 from 30 balls with seven wickets in hand, and conceded just two from the 16th over as Thea Brookes struggled to get her away. Kirstie Gordon’s next five balls brought just another two runs, and a game that Sparks had well within their grasp was suddenly sliding out of it.

One ball can so often change things, though, and Jones lofted Gordon’s sixth over long off. Shackles broken, nerves calmed. Despite the loss of Brookes, Jones and Wong collected 11 from the next over, leaving just enough breathing space to collect 10 off the final two overs.

Earlier on, Odedra (22) and Beth Harmer (26) had built what seemed an imposing platform as 53 runs came from the power play. Essex’s Harmer took a particular liking to Wong, driving her through the off side for back-to-back fours, before seizing on a short ball next up and pulling it some way beyond the rope at deep midwicket.

But both went quickly and although Abbey Freeborn (33), Higham (22), and Theresa Graves (14) all made useful contributions, none could maintain that initial scoring rate as wickets began to fall. A total of 136 for 8 wasn’t quite one thing or the other, but certainly wasn’t what Lightning would have been hoping for from 72 for 2 at the mid-way point.

Sparks’ reply began in harem scarem style, Sophie Munro’s opening over containing a boundary each for Jones and Marie Kelly, four leg byes down to fine leg, a couple of wides (one legside, one off), a scampered two, and finally the wicket of Kelly who, unable to repeat her Hove heroics, hoicked one up in the air to Harmer rushing in from cover.

When Milly Home went three balls later, Sparks were 17 for 2 it was Lightning’s turn to have a spring in their steps. But Jones found solid company in Gwen Davies (15) and Brookes (17), and Sparks were always ahead of the DLS par until those see-saw final exchanges got them home.

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

CE CUP: Vipers v Stars – Crazy Little Thing Called Capsey

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Alice Capsey really is quite good at this crazy little thing called cricket.

Going into this game, despite their midweek loss to Sparks, Vipers were still top of the combined table in the Charlotte Edwards Cup – on course to qualify directly for the final back at the Ageas Bowl next weekend. By the end of it, Stars had turned that around – now, if they win their last game versus Sparks, it’s them that will go straight through to the final… and it’s all thanks to Alice Capsey.

Capsey hit a cool 61 off 46 balls, took 2-9 from just two overs, and snatched a stonking catch, diving forward at midwicket, to dismiss Emily Windsor just at the point when it looked like Vipers might be able to pull off an improbable comeback win.

The only worry for Stars is that she walked off clutching her quad towards the end of the match, having initially injured it trying to turn sharply whilst bailing out of a second run off the penultimate ball of the innings. (Georgia Elwiss ran her out while she was down out of her ground, and clearly in pain, although it would have made no difference not to, as she wasn’t going to face the final ball – but I guess when someone has just done “that” to you, the spirit of cricket be damned!)

In contrast to her previous outing v Lightning, Capsey didn’t get off to the quickest of starts – after 8 overs, Bryony Smith was 42 off 24 balls, whilst Capsey was on just 5 off 13. Capsey didn’t score a single boundary in the powerplay, focussing instead on turning the strike over to Smith by running between the wickets. It wasn’t until Smith was out that Capsey really started to motor, scoring her next 56 runs off only 33 balls, at a Strike Rate of 170.

It is true that Vipers’ bowling was depleted, with Lauren Bell ruled out after coming into close contact with a COVID case, and Charlie Dean off with England… though ironically also having to isolate along with Maia Bouchier, after also coming into contact with presumably the same case. This meant a professional debut for 27-year-old Sussex veteran Chiara Green*, who did a tidy enough job in the circumstances, but was always unlikely to tear through the Stars batting. Vipers were poor in the field too, gifting several boundaries that will have had coach Charlotte Edwards rolling her eyes, in the way that she does!

Nonetheless, the runs still needed to be scored, and Stars scored them convincingly – every single one of their batters (apart from Kira Chathli, who technically batted but didn’t face a ball) reached double figures at a Strike Rate of over 100 – Capsey led the way, but it was a team performance.

With big runs required, Vipers needed to go for it, hence sending in Tara Norris to pinch-hit at the top of the order, alongside Georgia Adams. Capsey, opening the bowling as she did several times in The Hundred, did for them both in her second over – thanks to catches from Kirstie White and Alice Davidson-Richards – and that set the tone for the rest of the match. Despite overtures of a recovery led by Elwiss, no one could quite stick with her, and the Vipers went down to their second consecutive defeat following the resumption of regionals after The Hundred.

Vipers aren’t out of it, of course, and they could yet end up doing to the Stars what the Invincibles did to the Brave in The Hundred – coming through the eliminator and winning the final. But right now the momentum is very much with the Stars and with Alice Capsey in particular.

Six weeks ago, the sports editor of The Guardian asked the editor of this site to write a preview for The Hundred, based around an interview with a player of Raf’s choice. We debated long and hard – Capsey was an exciting prospect, but would she get a game, Raf asked me? I sat at my desk with the Invincibles squad in front of me, and wrote out a team-sheet. “I think so,” I replied, and though it felt like a bit of a gamble, Raf wrote the piece.

But note the caveat in the headline:

Meet Alice Capsey, the 16-year-old schoolgirl *hoping to* star in the Hundred

The past few weeks have changed Alice Capsey’s life for ever – she is no longer a prospect; she is no longer a “hoping to” – she’s a “did”. She’s one of the 11 best players in England – I know it; you know it; and it won’t be news to her either.

There is an argument that her education still has to come first for the next two years, over and above playing for England, but the equation isn’t the same as it was when Sophie Ecclestone was forced to miss the 2017 World Cup to focus on her A-Levels. Ecclestone at that point was still competing for her England spot with Alex Hartley; and furthermore, the future of the women’s game wasn’t quite so secure career-wise as it is now, five years down the line.

There is absolutely no doubt that Alice Capsey is one of the 11 best players in England.

And the 11 best players in England should be playing for England.

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* Serious men’s county cricket geeks may remember Chiara’s brother Matt, who was on the books at Sussex and Surrey as a youngster, around 10 years ago.