BREAKING: The Women’s County Championship

At the launch event for the (Men’s) County Championship at Merchant Taylors School last week, Clare Connor stood on stage alongside the bigwigs of the men’s game to celebrate the inclusion of a fourth “major” trophy into the pantheon of English domestic cricket – alongside the (Men’s) County Championship, the (Men’s) One Day Cup and the (Men’s) T20 Blast, we now have the Women’s Kia Super League.

“It’s a visual reminder for the game that we now have four major trophies on offer in our domestic season.”

The following day, Scyld Berry reported to readers of the Telegraph:

“Clare Connor, the ECB’s director of women’s cricket, made the point that counties had ceased to produce a good national women’s team and had to be replaced by franchises.”

Replaced?

Replaced?

Well, no – we can assure you that on Sunday 30th April, players from Berkshire to Yorkshire, and all manner of shires in-between, will walk out onto the fields of England to embark upon the chase for the Women’s County Championship of 2017.

To be fair to Scyld Berry, he was only reporting what he heard… and to be equally fair to Clare Connor, we don’t doubt that what he heard probably wasn’t quite what she said.

But the impression is clear enough – as far as the ECB are concerned, the Women’s County Championship occupies the status of Mrs Rochester to the KSL’s Jane Eyre, and we all remember what happened to Mrs Rochester… right? (TLDR: madness, fire, suicide, blar, blar, blar.)

As if to emphasise the point, at the end of last week, the ECB sent out a press release detailing the international player rosters for KSL2, which (lest we forget) doesn’t even start until after the World Cup, in which the only mention of the word “county” was to confirm that Finals Day will be held at the “Central County Ground” in Hove.

But the fact of the matter is that it is county cricket, with the Women’s County Championship at its heart, which remains the bedrock of the elite women’s game in this country – Div 1 offering 3,920 overs of cricket (including the T2o Cup) compared to the KSL’s 680 overs. We should be shouting from the rooftops… not jumping from them! [Okay… that’s enough Jane Eyre references – Ed.]

But perhaps the real lesson here, however, isn’t for us at all – it is for the fans of the men’s game, who are being told that the coming City T20, designed around the same franchise model as the KSL, won’t downgrade the status of their County Championship.

Yer.

We were told that too.

OPINION: Women’s Salaries In Australia – The Story… And The REAL Story

Give them their due, Cricket Australia really are the masters of media management. This morning we’ve seen the mainstream newspapers, not to mention some of the cricket press who really should know better, fall over themselves to laud CA over a one-sided press release which in reality is just another battle in their war with the Australian (Men’s) Cricketers’ Association (ACA) over the future of men’s salaries.

The press release proclaims an amazing leap forwards for the women’s game:

“Women’s Pay Set To Double” is typical of the headlines in the mainstream press; and this would be big news if it was news… but unfortunately that isn’t quite what it is.

The small print begins even in that tweet from Cricket Australia – this isn’t a deal, it is an “offer” made by CA to the ACA – the latest bargaining chip in the protracted round of negotiations over a new deal for Australia’s men’s cricketers.

For a few years now, the men in Australia… in an agreement based on a “memorandum of understanding” which totally excludes the women… have been paid based on a revenue sharing agreement – when CA does well, the men do well; and when CA win the lottery (as they have with the BBL), the men win the lottery.

CA want to ditch this deal, for reasons both good and bad – they want to keep back more money for CA itself, but they would argue that this will allow them to invest in the future of the game, and put aside grain for the lean years which will inevitably roll around one day.

Unsurprisingly, the men aren’t terribly keen on this, and through their union – which is what the ACA is – they are fighting tooth and nail to keep revenue sharing.

Today’s offer is an attempt by CA to cut through the Gordian Knott of the ACA’s intransigence on this issue. By bringing the women into it, and aspiring to double their salaries, CA make themselves out to be the good guys, and challenge the ACA to look like sexist dinosaurs if they spurn this latest offer.

And by releasing it to the media the way they have, CA also clearly hope to create a fait accompli – to make the deal almost impossible for the ACA to reject, because the media have already painted it as “done”.

If it eventually happens, and if the small print lives up to the headlines, then sure – it would be a game-changer. But those are big “ifs”; and the media are doing the women, who are being used as cannon-fodder in a cynical game of “blink” between CA and the ACA, a disservice in writing those headlines based on where we really are at right now.

Coverage Of World Cup Qualifiers Encouraging For Women’s Game

As I write this, I’m watching the live stream of the final of the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers – India against South Africa – via the ICC’s website.

Not being able to be in Colombo myself, the ability to watch the action online is the next best thing – and the coverage has been both high-quality and multi-camera.

Of course not all the games have been shown, but with multiple matches taking place simultaneously, it would have been difficult to offer complete coverage. Importantly, too, the ICC have offered up daily highlights from the tournament.

I’m certainly not averse to giving the ICC some stick when they get things wrong. But it follows that, when they do a good job, we should give them some credit – and ultimately they’ve done a pretty good job with this tournament.

It’s also been encouraging to see such good coverage on Wisden India. Particularly in the early stages, the dedication of Sidhanta Patnaik and Karunya Keshav to offering up some really interesting stories has been fully apparent. I’ve certainly learned a lot from them about some of the lesser-seen teams.

Let’s hope that, when the World Cup itself begins on 24 June, we see a similar commitment to ensuring it receives the coverage it deserves.

Thoughts On The Batter / Batsman Debate

The first time my PhD supervisor read a draft of my thesis she highlighted the following quote, from Women’s Cricket magazine’s article on ‘Courtesies’ in 1954:

“If the backing-up batsman leaves his crease before you bowl, it is quite legal to run him out, but it is only sporting to warn him the first time.”

“Interesting choice of language,” she noted. “Why batsman?”

The debate over the choice of language in cricket has recently raised its head again on Twitter, after the commentators at the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in Colombo queried use of the term “batsman” in the women’s game:

Snehal Pradhan’s view, eloquently expressed in this piece for Wisden India, is that use of the term “batsman” might send a message to young girls that cricket is really a man’s sport, and ensure their continued exclusion.

I’m not convinced – and I’m as feminist as they come.

I, too, was initially surprised to find – when I started researching the history of the women’s game almost a decade ago – that the language used by the English Women’s Cricket Association, from its foundation in 1926, was riddled with references to “batsmen” (not to mention “third man”, “twelfth man” and “man of the match”). This was particularly interesting given that in so many other ways the WCA were the epitome of conservative femininity. They were obsessed with their appearance on the cricket field: there were rules about skirt length and sock colour, and caps were strictly forbidden. When there was a push for players to be able to wear trousers, as recently as the 1990s, there was enormous resistance to a move which would mean that female cricketers “no longer looked like women”.

And yet use of the word “batsman” did not bother them in the least.

Why? Because – just as with the terms “third man” and “twelfth man” – it was seen as part of the terminology of the game. Former international Megan Lear summed it up pretty well in Pete Davies’ book on the 1997 World Cup:

“You don’t call third man third woman, do you? It’s a fielding position, and it’s called third man, and a person with a bat in her hand’s a batsman.”

This was the approach adopted by the WCA in the 1920s; and since then female players have in almost all cases referred to themselves as “batsmen”, indiscriminately using words that – to the casual observer – might look rather gender-specific.

So where has this move towards using “batter” come from? The minutes of the International Women’s Cricket Council tell an interesting story. The issue was first tabled for discussion at the 1985 IWCC meeting, held in Melbourne, and was debated as follows:

“As the media is concerned with altering the cricketing terms for women’s cricket to ‘batters’ etc, a determination by IWCC was requested. After discussion it was agreed that the conventional cricketing terms be retained (eg batsman, manager, 12th man).”

This is extremely telling. The point is that it was the media who insisted on trying to alter the terminology of the women’s game from that of “batsman” to “batter”. It was the media (and still apparently is the media!) who seem determined to pigeon-hole female cricketers into the “batter” box, somehow uncomfortable with the idea of labelling them as “batsmen”. “The press,” the IWCC reported at their subsequent 1987 meeting in London, “still finds difficulty in coming to terms with the present terminology.”

And yet the players themselves rejected this pigeon-holing by the media. To them, “batsman” was the conventional cricketing term – so why should they not use it to describe themselves?

None of this is to deny that language matters. But, by taking up the term “batsman”, the WCA were attempting to ensure that the word (just like actor, waiter and author) would become gender-neutral. In fact the WCA rather anticipated the issues that we seem to be dogged with at the moment: they recognised that trying to insert a word like “batter” into the cricketing lexicon would simply mark the women’s game out as different and strange. Why overcomplicate things? Do we really want those commentating on the women’s game to have to stumble over odd and intrusive new terminology?

I’d rather just take my cue from the WCA founders and continue with the term we’ve got.

In any case, given that we’ve now been using the term “batsman” to describe female cricketers for nearly a hundred years, as far as I’m concerned the WCA have been successful: “batsman” doesn’t suggest a man to me, but any cricketer of either gender holding a bat. Perhaps what we really need to do is to educate the people who don’t know any better about the fact that our sport has its own long and interesting history – and that throughout that history, none of women’s cricket’s pioneers ever felt the need to call themselves “batters”. That’s what I always try and do, anyway, when asked – which I often am – whether it’s okay to use “batsman”.

I guess if people want to use “batter”, then I’m not going to try and stop them (although you will find short shrift with me if you try to use “batswoman” or “batsperson”, I’m afraid). But the people who seem determined to use it – often journalists who pay little attention to the women’s game generally – aren’t those who it really affects.

If the players are okay with it… if the founders of our sport were okay with it… then “batsman” is good enough for me.

OPINION: Operation Wyatt – Mark Robinson’s Biggest Challenge Yet

When Mark Robinson was appointed England coach, pretty-much exactly one year ago, Tammy Beaumont’s international career was in the doldrums. With 58 caps, and a (combined formats) batting average of just 12, the Kent opener freely admits that she had started contemplating what to do when she inevitably lost her England contract.

With the press (including us) calling for Beaumont’s head, one man still believed in her… and that man was Mark Robinson, who assured us that what he’d seen in the nets at Loughborough could be translated into success on the international field.

And how right he was. In the Robinson era, Beaumont has scored 917 runs in 23 matches, at an average of 44 – in ODIs she averages over 55 – only Suzie Bates and Amy Satterthwaite have scored more international runs in this calendar year. (Though Meg Lanning could insert herself into that list v South Africa in the next few days.) In simple terms, TB’s career hasn’t so much done a u-turn as a triple-back-flip-with-double-pike-and-a-cherry-on-top!

Another player in a similar boat to Beaumont this time last year was Danielle Wyatt – 92 caps and a batting average of 14. But here the stories diverge somewhat – Wyatt has played 26 internationals under Robinson (2 more than TB, though they have batted the same number of innings) and averages a miserable 12.

There are some extenuating circumstances for Wyatt – she has largely come in down the order, towards the end of the innings, facing pressure to score quick runs – and a Strike Rate of 92 isn’t terrible.

But on the recent tour to Sri Lanka this hasn’t been the case – she has had 3 golden opportunities, coming in with plenty of time and probably the least tension you could ever hope for in international cricket – facing a low-ranked side in an empty stadium.

And she made scores of 4, 4 and 0.

What is so puzzling is that Wyatt has all the talent – she is probably the most naturally gifted athlete in the current England squad – others have sweated blood to get where they are, but for Wyatt it all just came naturally. She has always been a brilliant fielder – always been able to score runs for fun in county cricket – because somehow, she understands the ball, and the ball understands her.

She isn’t all just “bish, bash, bosh” either – only a few weeks ago, we watched her score a masterfully patient hundred for Sussex on the County Ground at Hove.

There was even a hint recently in the West Indies, in the 1st ODI there, that she might finally be turning things around internationally, with a career high England knock of 44; but in 7 innings since, she has averaged just 6.

For all the problems though, it is clear that as with Tammy Beaumont, Mark Robinson still believes in Danni Wyatt – he has persisted with her, and despite Emma Lamb waiting in the wings, he gave her another chance in the final ODI in Sri Lanka.

Robinson is not a man who likes to be be beaten, and he will take it personally if he can’t turn Wyatt around. He’s done it before with Beaumont – he can do it again with Wyatt… but it may be his biggest challenge yet!

OPINION: Camp Selections Point To England Ins And Outs

The announcement yesterday of an almost completely uncontroversial England squad to tour Sri Lanka next month was accompanied by some rather more intriguing selections for the pre-tour camp in Abu Dhabi.

The 14-man squad to tour Sri Lanka will be accompanied to Abu Dhabi by 9 others – one of whom will also be the 15th player selected for Sri Lanka.

Coach Mark Robinson has hinted in the past at trying to almost ‘blur the line’ between the Academy and Performance (Contracted) squads, perhaps by subsuming the Academy into a larger “combined” squad. So, taking the 14… plus the 9… plus Anya Shrubsole, who is injured… do we have a hint of what a 25-man England squad might look like next summer? And if so… who is in, and who is out?

In addition to Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway, both of whom have retired, 4 members of last summer’s performance squad are not included for the Abu Dhabi camp.

Tash Farrant is playing WNCL in Australia, and (to be frank) probably getting a higher standard of cricket there than she would even if she played in Sri Lanka – she will undoubtedly be back.

Sarah Taylor is still working on her mental health, but given that there are no other wicket keepers in the squad, you have to imagine that England are still hoping she will be back too at some stage.

Jodie Dibble and Becky Grundy however, both look to be heading for the door.

Dibble was one of those in the unfortunate position of being expected to be part of the “contracted” performance squad, whilst not actually being “contracted” – i.e. paid – and unsurprisingly has not found it easy recently, and her exit was expected.

Grundy on the other hand, just seems to have slipped quietly out of form and favour – she’s 26, and has been overtaken by younger, “spinnie”r options in the tweak department – it will be a surprise if her central contract is renewed in January.

Also perhaps on the way out are several “older” batsmen the Academy squad – Eve Jones (24), Alex MacDonald (25), Steph Butler (22) and Sophie Luff (22). Of these perhaps Eve Jones can consider herself unlucky having had quite a good season in 2016, and all 4 might still make it; but the hint (based not just on these selections, but also on other conversations we’ve had) is that Robinson feels that this cohort overall just aren’t ever going to good enough, and he plans to almost ‘skip a generation’ over them.

In their place, a new gang of teenagers are knocking at the door, and the opportunity for them to come in and seize their chances has been presented to the likes of Surrey pair Bryony Smith (18) and Hannah Jones (17), Lancashire’s Emma Lamb (18) and Middlesex’s Sophia Dunkley (18). Alongside them, one “older” Academy batsman has retained her place – Sussex’s Georgia Adams, after a very good summer for Sussex and the Southern Vipers.

Finally, two big surprise selections – all-rounders Georgia Hennessy and Alice Davidson-Richards have both previously been part of the Academy, had subsequently dropped-off the program, but are now back! What have they done right?

Both had solid domestic seasons – the combative Hennessy was a key part of Warwickshire’s successful (albeit ultimately trophyless) season; whilst “ADR” (as she is known) is a new player recently – one look at her confirms that she has transformed herself fitness-wise over the past year. Both will have to continue to work hard if they are to progress; but Robinson has thrown them the big ball to run with – now it is up to them!

Professional sport is a tough old business – for every winner, there is a loser; and for every player selected, there is one who is dropped, not to mention countless others who never quite make the grade. There are always tough calls to be made, and it will be especially hard on those who go from contracted status to essentially “unemployed” at the stroke of a selector’s pen.

But like the Circle of Life, the game goes on, and Robinson’s determination to forge a long-term dynasty, by investing in new talent not just for next summer but for summers well beyond, is exciting and promising for the future of the women’s game in England.

OPINION: The Winner Takes It All?

The winner takes it all, so they say, and there is no doubt that England were the winners in the Caribbean this month, taking the series 3-2 and moving up to 2nd place in the Women’s International Championship, with a 4-2 points victory.

Meanwhile, Head Coach Mark Robinson was reportedly spotted at a flea-market in Kingston, selling his entire wardrobe to make space in his suitcase for all the “massive positives” he will be bringing home – two half-centuries apiece for Nat Sciver and Lauren Winfield, and one for Tammy Beaumont, in conditions that could hardly have been more unfriendly to the batsmen.

Then of course there were those 13 wickets at an Strike Economy Rate of 3.4 for Alex Hartley – a record for England in a bilateral series; plus also not to mention, 10 wickets for 31-year-old Katherine Brunt, proving that if age is a barrier, it is one she is determined to meet with a short pitched delivery and a long, lacerating stare!

Nevertheless, any impression that England “triumphed” has to be counterbalanced by a reading of the facts. They lost two matches, and lost them badly – collapsing to 110 all out in the 2nd ODI, having lost 7 wickets for 17 runs; and to 181 all out in the 4th ODI, having lost 6 wickets for 20 runs.

Even in the final ODI, with the West Indies visibly slumping in the field, they managed to make it look like hard work as they lost the late wickets of Wyatt and Elwiss – watch the reactions of Amy Jones and Nat Sciver in this clip as they win the series:

There are cheers from the boundary, sure; but out in the middle there are no arms aloft in celebration, nor bats raised in triumph – just a fist-bump and a sense of exhausted relief – Sciver and Jones were only too well aware of just how narrowly it felt like they’d squeaked it!

ABBA were right – in sport, the winner really does take it all, as they will in next year’s World Cup; but England will know that if that winner is going to be them, they are going to need to be more consistent than they have been here, because lose two games there, and you’re not going to win the World Cup.

Random Thoughts: West Indies v England 5th ODI

Selection

  • Both teams fielded unchanged teams again today – meaning that for England, the same 11 players contested all 3 of the Championship ODIs this series. Continuity of selection isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but all the same it’s rather baffling that, despite having been ruled fit, Beth Langston hasn’t played a single game on this tour. Why take a back-up quick bowler away on tour if, when your leading strike bowler gets injured, you aren’t going to select her? Odd.

England’s Fielding

  • It would have been easy for England to come out with their heads hanging after the disappointing display on Sunday. But in the field today they looked confident and together. Indeed it was England’s sharp fielding on the ring throughout the middle overs that kept the pressure firmly on the West Indies, and led to some rather questionable shot selection.

Alex Hartley

  • Here at CRICKETher we’ve been accused of having a pro-Hartley bias many times – right now that doesn’t feel like such a bad thing! No praise for Alex Hartley seems too high at the moment. Once again today she was bang on the money all the way through her 10 overs; someone needs to tell the West Indian batsmen that you can’t really get away with trying to slog sweep her.
  • While her record-breaking 13 wickets across the series – the most ever by an England player in a bilateral ODI series – needs to be tempered with the fact that 5-match ODI series are less common in recent years, it’s still an impressive achievement for someone who only made her international debut 4 months ago. What’s more, she’s taking crucial wickets at crucial times: she’s got Stafanie Taylor out twice this series, which is often tantamount to winning a game. We look forward to many more Hartley wickets!

Nat Sciver

  • It’s always nerve-racking to watch England chasing, even (perhaps especially?!) when it’s a low total. Today’s chase was no different – when Knight got out today, leaving England 112-3, you really did feel they were still capable of making a horlicks of it! That they didn’t was largely thanks to a calm and mature innings from Nat Sciver. She proved she was capable of changing up the tempo of her game – her natural inclination would be to play shots, but today it was all about taking it slowly, realising that the important thing was that she was still there at the end of the innings. Opening the bowling in tandem with Katherine Brunt this series has put a lot of pressure on Sciver but, with two half-centuries across the five games, she’s shown she can provide some much-needed backbone to England’s middle-order. Music to the ears of England fans ahead of next year’s home World Cup.

Random Thoughts: West Indies v England 4th ODI

England’s Bowling

  • Although Beth Langston was apparently fit and available, England chose not to change a winning team, meaning they went in with only one “strike” bowler, and Nat Sciver again opening the bowling. Although Sciver did get the early wicket of Hayley Matthews – a fantastic catch by Lauren Winfield – England just didn’t have any penetration, and it wasn’t until the 24th over that the next wicket fell, as Shaquana Quintyne went to an even better catch by Danni Wyatt.
  • It has to be said that England didn’t let the West Indies “get away” either – they kept them pegged-back to around 4/ over, and at the 40-over mark it could have gone either way for the hosts from 162-4; but in the end with wickets in hand, they knew they could start to push, and push they did – scoring at over 6/ over in the last 10, to finish on 223, leaving England facing the highest run-chase ever for victory in a women’s ODI in the Caribbean*.

* Thanks to @_hypocaust on Twitter for the tip!

England’s Batting

  • England’s reply began in fantastic fashion – this was arguably Tammy Beaumont’s best innings in an England shirt – 57 runs in a pressure-cooker situation (both literally and metaphorically) away from home, against a top, top team – she played positively, striking the ball with power and timing, and together with Lauren Winfield (51) drove England into a match-winning position.
  • At 90-odd for no wicket, we were waiting for the West Indies to mentally disintegrate, as they had in the 3rd ODI last week – Deandra Dottin bowled a ridiculous wide bouncer – a sure sign of frustration about to boil-over…
  • But… but…
  • West Indies are a “confidence” team – when they are down, they are very, very down; but when they are up, they can be very, very up, very, very quickly, and that is just what started to happen. England mentally disintegrated and the West Indies ran them through with a broadsword – Sciver 3; Wyatt 0; Elwiss 9; Jones 0; Brunt 1; Gunn 0; and Alex Hartley 0 Not Out at the end – only Heather Knight (36) and Laura Marsh (13) made it into double-figures after the openers.

Overall, this certainly feels like the worst performance of the Robinson era – worse than the loss to South Africa, where the Proteas chased down 262; worse than the World T20 semi-final defeat, where they collapsed, but not quite like this.

On the other hand, the West Indies are a smashing team on their day – Stafanie Taylor is a “Big Game” player, as anyone who saw her in the Super League will testify, and she was fantastic today – top-scoring with 85 and taking a brilliant caught & bowled to dismiss Knight… all despite clearly playing through an injury.

England can still go on to win this series on Wednesday – it is a new day and a new game of cricket – and one thing is for sure – Mark Robinson will have them up for it!

Random Thoughts: West Indies v England 3rd ODI

England’s Batting

  • It was a battling batting performance from Lauren Winfield (79) and Nat Sciver (58) which set England up for the win – it wasn’t easy out there, but they fought hard for their runs and England reaped the reward.
  • Having said that… from where England were at the 40-over mark, they should really have been looking at a score closer to 240. But once again they lost their last few wickets rapidly – going from 208-6 to 220 all out. While this wasn’t a disaster, it does reinforce our point from the other day that the fragility of England’s tail is being exposed for the first time under the Nouveau Régime.

West Indies’ Fielding

  • Dire!
  • (Enough said!)

England’s Bowling

  • It was confirmed today that Anya Shrubsole will be out for the rest of the tour. Are England missing her? Yes. There’s a reason why Nat Sciver (despite being originally selected by England as a bowler back in 2013) is these days a batsman-who-bowls rather than a bowler-who-bats – she looks a bit out of her depth opening the bowling at this level and England will be really hoping Beth Langston will be fit for the remaining ODIs.
  • Someone else England have been missing is Jenny Gunn. Just when her critics write her off… back she bounces, showing you exactly why she’s England’s leading wicket-taker in ODIs, finishing here with 2 wickets for just 8 runs off only 5 overs.

England’s Fielding

  • England were very professional in the field – the run out of Merissa Aguilleira by Danni Wyatt was a case in point – get to the ball… get it in… and you never know! Aguilleira was thinking about a second run, assuming she had plenty of time to change her mind, but Wyatt pushed and Aguilleira found herself well out of her ground when the throw whizzed in.

The Live-Stream

  • Awesome!
  • (Enough said!)