OPINION: Diamonds’ Davidson-Richards & Levick Shine As Journeymen Stand Up in #KSL17

When we talk about KSL, much of the focus tends to be on the big international names – the England players and the overseas stars that everyone recognises. Whether it’s Katherine Brunt steaming in at Headingley, or Suzie Bates carving up the Rose Bowl, they’re the ones they’re all here to see!

And perhaps they’ll also ask about the “Ones To Watch” – the next generation, who might be lifting a World Cup in 2021 or 2025. Will Freya Davies be the new Katherine Brunt? Could Emma Lamb be a future Suzie Bates?

But there is also a third group of players – the “journeymen” of county cricket – who are actually just as important. They won’t pull the crowds, and they probably won’t ever play for England, but they aren’t just here to make up the numbers either!

At yesterday’s “Roses” clash between Yorkshire Diamonds and Lancashire Thunder, Chamari Atapattu (41 off 38) and Lauren Winfield (41 off 43) laid down a solid platform for the Diamonds; but someone still needed to turn that platform into an intimidating total, and that job was done at the death of the innings by Katherine Brunt (31 off 16) and Alice Davidson-Richards (22 off 13).

Alice Whaty-What-Now? (As we could almost hear some people saying from our living room 200 miles away!)

Well… although she has been involved in the Academy recently, and has definitely improved as a player over the past couple of years, “ADR” (as she is known) will likely not ever pull on an England shirt; but she is in her 8th season playing county cricket for Kent, and is now their de-facto captain. (The “official” captain is Tammy Beaumont, but TB’s England commitments mean ADR does the job most of the time.) ADR has made 92 appearances for Kent, scoring nearly 1,000 runs (a big milestone when you play a maximum of 14, limited-overs, matches per season) and taking over 70 wickets.

And now ADR is doing it in KSL too – following up her cameo with the bat, she went on to take 3-20 with the ball, and scoop up the Player of the Match award – not bad for someone who is essentially an amateur playing in a league full of big name pros!

ADR had “competition” for Player of the Match however – a spinner! Perhaps it was Dani Hazell, still ranked one of the top international bowlers in the world despite having to “share” her spot in the England line-up with Laura Marsh? Or maybe Sophie Ecclestone, who made her England debut last summer? Nope – a leg-spinner! Ah – in that case, it must have been Sune Luus – the South African superstar, who at 21 already has over 100 international wickets? Wrong again! It was another “amateur” – Katie Levick – who took 3-30, including the big wickets of Emma Lamb and Amy Satterthwaite.

If ADR still might perhaps dream of circumstances coming together where she plays for England, self-described “Sheffield lass” Katie Lev realistically probably does not; but in county cricket she is actually something of a legend. The 26-year-old is the leading wicket-taker in this year’s County Championship, with 19 wickets; and currently lies 3rd in the “All Time” list, behind Alexia Walker and Holly Colvin. Given another couple of seasons, she will likely overtake them both; so she has some serious experience to bring to the KSL stage, and if yesterday is any indication, she is ready to bring it… as a certain American president might put it… bigly!!

Of course, KSL needs the international stars – they are the ones who bring the crowds to the stands and the TV audience to their sofas. Without them, it would just be a re-named County T20 Cup – a bit of fun for the hardcore fans like us… and a bit irrelevant to everyone else.

But long-term, it also needs the journeymen like ADR and Katie Lev – they might not be the face of the game, but they are its backbone.

And without a backbone… it’s a job to stand up!

OPINION: Women’s Cricket At The Olympics – The Devil Is In The Details

Following the commercial success of the recent Women’s World Cup, the idea of bringing cricket (back) to the Olympic Games appears to be back on the table.

The idea seems to be that it would be a T20 competition, and that one of the World T20s, currently held every 2 years, would be sacrificed to make space for it in the calendar.

The key advantage would be increased funding, especially for the “Associate” nations, which could see big increases in their budgets; but elsewhere the arguments seem less clear-cut.

The suggestion that this would be an 8-team tournament, with the Caribbean nations competing separately, is particularly problematic. Although various Caribbean nations have previously competed independently in Women’s World Cups, the strength in depth just isn’t there to support them being competitive, especially given that Great Britain (which would basically be England), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India would all be at full-strength – if you thought the West Indies v South Africa was a mismatch last month in Leicester, you ain’t seen nothing yet!!

One big winner, potentially, could be Ireland, who would on current form walk into a prospective second European qualifying spot. The increased profile it could give the game there would be fantastic; and obviously they would welcome the money; but what Ireland really need on the pitch is more regular international competition – i.e. a place in the Women’s International Championship – not a once-every-four-years chance to be smashed into smithereens by the big girls.

Even for the top sides there are potential issues – you don’t need to look further than this week’s furore over England’s women’s rugby contracts, as they struggle to balance the short-term priority of the 7-a-side Olympic game with the longer-term health of the nascent 15-a-side professional setup, to get a hint of some of the problems we might be facing down the line if this is a road we choose to go down.

Our suspicion is that this if remains a big one – although it is true that the Olympics gave a big recent fillip to women’s football in this country; the boost that it gave to women’s “soccer” after their triumph in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics proved somewhat illusory, followed as it was by a literal “bust” which left the game there basically bankrupt by 2003.

And of course all this is assuming that some of the more prosaic issues like sponsorship and TV rights, currently allocated globally and with all manner of exclusivity clauses could be sorted… though to be fair the fight between Pepsi and Coke over that one could be an Olympic sport all by itself!!

Cricket in the Olympics sounds like a nice idea – global and inclusive; but the devil is always in the details, and our guess is that once this becomes clear, it just ain’t gonna happen.

OPINION: Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Career Opportunities In The Women’s Game

In the past year or so, we’ve heard quite a lot about the new opportunities available in women’s cricket – players are paid to play and can now have a career in the game.

Some of the recent discussion has focused on a certain young South African – just finishing school – who has ambitions to be a doctor: cricket, it has been suggested, now offers her a real career choice… but does it?

That player could go to medical school now and have the guarantee of a settled, extremely well-paid job for the rest of her life.

On the other hand, she could choose cricket. She would have 10-12 years playing the game she loves, and she’d be earning a salary, but unless things take another dramatic turn for the better not a huge one, so she probably wouldn’t be able to save much over that time. She’d reach the age of 30 with very little in the bank, and the opportunities she once had at 18 long closed-off.

The problem is that what cricket currently offers women is really a “living” not a “career” – and whilst it is true that professional sport is always a bit of a roll of the dice, at least in the men’s game those who roll a three or a four will have several years of earning a substantial salary – not a fortune, but enough to buy a house outright and nurture a little nest-egg for their families; whilst those who roll a six and make it to their national teams or the IPL will never need to work again.

The women’s game is still an entire tier below that – of the current generation of players, you can count the number who will never need to work again on the fingers of one finger – it is literally one – whilst the rest, including all the other top internationals, will leave the field in their early 30s with very little but memories to pay the rent.

The opportunity to earn a living playing cricket is an amazing privilege; but it is still a choice – cricket or a career – it isn’t… yet… a career in cricket.

OPINION: Surrey’s Aylish Cranstone Turns Lanning’s Law On Its Head

Lanning’s Law asserts that:

It’s not a good shot if it goes straight to the fielder.

(I’m sure it isn’t a totally original thought; but Anna Lanning’s statement of it, attributed to her sister Meg, is the clearest expression of it that I’ve heard in 40 years of watching cricket.)

But in a 31-run cameo, off just 23 balls, in the Middlesex v Surrey London Cup at Radlett last night, Surrey’s left-handed No. 3 Aylish Cranstone set out to prove that the opposite might just also be true.

It started with a cut – chipped upishly into the area backward of square on the off-side, covered by two fielders. I gasped, waiting for the catch, but instead the ball found the gap between gully and point, and a single was chalked into the scorebook. Turning to my companion, I grimaced: “Lucky!”

A few balls later, Cranstone got fortunate again – a drive flew into the breeze between midwicket and mid on; but it wasn’t until the lightning struck a third time, through vacant extra cover, that it hit me: this wasn’t luck at all – Cranstone was perfectly comfortable playing the ball in the air, because she knew where it was going – into the gaps bisecting the fielders, wherever they were, off side or on!

In fact, Cranstone wasn’t really batting with her bat at all, but with her brain – and doing so quite exquisitely, running the Middlesex fielders all around the park, the ball dancing between them, sometimes just trickling to the boundary as they chased in vain. Even when Middlesex captain Natasha Miles reset the field, all it did was open up new spaces for Cranstone to play with.

I’ll be the first to admit that Cranstone’s shots don’t look “all that” – she doesn’t have the power of a Nat Sciver or the timing of a Sarah Taylor… though to be fair in the latter case, who does?

But if Lanning’s Law is right – it’s not a good shot if it goes straight to the fielder – then perhaps what Cranstone proved last night is that the opposite is also true:

If it finds the perfect gap… it is a good shot!

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.