England v West Indies – Bryony Smith Offered The Candle For England

When Laura Marsh played her hundredth ODI this week at Worcester, and in doing so joined the elite club of 9 players to have passed that mark for England, the much-deserved congratulations were accompanied by hopes that there would be “many more”.

It was the right thing to say at the time, but the truth is that there won’t be many more – Marsh is 32 years old, and though doctors have performed minor miracles on her troublesome shoulder to keep it turning for this long, her career won’t go on for ever, because nobody’s ever does.

Marsh was rested for the final match of the series, and replaced in the XI by… well… that’s actually an interesting question!

As well as Marsh, England rested Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver, bringing in Jenny Gunn, Fran Wilson and 21-year-old Bryony Smith for an ODI debut. So who replaced who? It isn’t really straightforward, and Mark Robinson probably wasn’t thinking “like for like” anyway, but if you say that batsman Wilson replaced mostly-batsman Sciver, and bowling allrounder Gunn replaced bowling-allrounder Brunt, that leaves Smith to replace Marsh.

And yet Smith has come to prominence in domestic cricket as a hard-hitting opening batsman – topping the Women’s County Championship Batting Rankings with 347 runs for Surrey this season; and while she does bowl tidily at county, she is often second or third change and doesn’t take a huge number of wickets.

Nonetheless, she came into the team on Thursday, didn’t bat, but bowled her full compliment of 8 rain-reduced overs, with a very nice economy rate of 2.5 – in other words, exactly what we would have expected Laura Marsh to do!

So it seems that Mark Robinson is (again) one step ahead of the rest of us in identifying a role for Smith that no one else foresaw – while we were all thinking “The Next Tammy Beaumont” he was thinking “The Next Laura Marsh” and it is a role she could be perfectly suited to, not least because there probably isn’t an opening for “The Next Tammy Beaumont” for several years!

Smith might not take millions of wickets, but that won’t be her job – it will be to dry-up the runs in the post-powerplay overs, which is where West Indies really lost it again yesterday (they were actually slightly ahead of England on runs at 10 overs) and smacking some sixes down the order at the death is just an added bonus.

This is the candle Mark Robinson has offered Bryony Smith – it is now up to her to seize it… and she has made a pretty good start.

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OPINION: Reading The Runes On England’s Warm-Up Win In Sri Lanka

England began their tour of Sri Lanka with a comfortable win in a “jumpers for goalposts” warm-up match against a relatively inexperienced “Emerging” Sri Lanka team in Colombo.

England fielded 13 players, with most of the squad getting a run-out with either bat or ball. Lauren Winfield top-scored with 82 (retired) as England posted 319, before bowling the Sri Lankans out in exactly 40 overs, with Heather Knight taking 4-13.

Reading the runes on England’s selections, it looks like Amy Jones, who scored 56 (also retired) will continue to open the batting in the ODIs with Tammy Beaumont; with Lauren Winfield maybe coming in at 3 ahead of Heather Knight and Nat Sciver, as she did in the 3rd ODI in India.

Bowling-wise, although Katherine Brunt has travelled to Sri Lanka, she was originally planned to be rested for this tour, and she didn’t play in the warm-up. Instead, Freya Davies opened the bowling with Anya Shrubsole – Davies finishing with 1-16 from 6 overs.

Does this mean Davies is nailed-on for the ODIs? It would be a bold statement of faith from the coach… but that’s exactly the sort of thing Mark Robinson likes to do! (Remember Linsey Smith, Sophia Dunkley and Kirstie Gordon all making their debuts together at the World Twenty20?)

England’s bowling is obviously a bit injury-ravaged at the moment, with Georgia Elwiss and Sophie Ecclestone both having flown home and straight into rehab, so other options are obviously on the table, but it looks like Sophia Dunkley is not one of them – she didn’t bowl in the warm-up, and it seems like England see her as a pure batsman at the moment.

Danni Wyatt however, did send down some overs – they were rather expensive (going at 7.8, compared to Freya Davies’ 2.3) but England clearly do have her in mind as an option.

OPINION: Disappointed England Still Have Everything To Play For

England will be bitterly disappointed to have lost the ODI series out in India, having gone 2-0 down with one match to play. Having spoken to a couple of the players shortly before they left for India, including Heather Knight, whilst they didn’t underestimate India, they genuinely believed this was a series they could win.

England were even handed a bonus “Get Out Of Jail Free” card via the absence of Harmanpreet Kaur through injury, but they haven’t been able to capitalise as their batting has failed on both occasions.

This is an experienced batting line-up – England’s top 6 in the 2nd ODI debuted (on average) in 2010, with the most recent debuts in 2013. There are a lot of caps on those heads, but only Nat Sciver has come out and batted like it. Sure, there have been glimpses of the class we know these players have – Tammy Beaumont played a couple of glorious strokes in the 2nd ODI, but the only one anyone will remember is the horrendous slog-sweep she got out to!

Heather Knight played a fighting innings in the 1st ODI, but was out carelessly in the 2nd, underestimating the weight of a delivery from Jhulan Goswami and bunting a catch to extra cover. Sarah Taylor also misjudged the same bowler – there’s nothing necessarily wrong with driving at a ball half a mile outside off stump without moving your feet… but you better make sure you middle it if you do – Taylor didn’t, and it came off a thick edge to take out her stumps!

Overall, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that England batted poorly, more than India bowled especially well – there should be no excuses for this, and you can be sure that in the dressing-room there won’t be – both Mark Robinson and Heather Knight will see to that.

So with one ODI to play the series is lost, but there are still two ICC Championship points to play for, so England need to pick themselves up and go again on Thursday. Although they are currently 7th in the points table, the schedule is to their advantage, with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies at home still to play, so there is no need to hit the panic button, especially remembering that 4 teams plus New Zealand qualify automatically for the World Cup. But nonetheless, a couple of points on Thursday would give them some extra breathing room during the run-in.

All England need to do in these conditions is take a lesson from their opponents – there are no demons in these pitches, but there aren’t that many runs either – just keep calm and try to get a 4-an-over total of around 200 on the board by playing sensible cricket – basically, exactly what they did (and India didn’t) in the World Twenty20 semi-final just a few short months ago!

POST-MATCH: England v South Africa T20 – New Who?

Twenty20 cricket… like life… comes at you fast!

Just 4 hours ago, we were reflecting on a world-record-breaking performance by New Zealand versus South Africa – a magnificent century by Suzie Bates setting up a total of 216 for the White Ferns at Taunton.

England were still back at their hotel while the Kiwis were batting – Anya Shrubsole telling us afterwards that she was watching on her laptop at the time:

“Half way through the New Zealand innings I thought: Should I shut the laptop and not watch it, because I’ve got to bowl on this later?”

“But it is good to watch and see how the teams are doing and how the pitch is playing, and it was pretty evident from the start it was an absolute belter.”

Belter or not, 216 was a clear statement of intent from New Zealand – they know they disappointed at the World Cup here in England last summer; and they are determined to go all the way at the World T20 this year.

So they laid down a marker.

216.

And then England happened!

Heather Knight won the toss and had no hesitation:

“It was always going to be a bat first pitch,” says Shrubsole.

But pitches don’t break records, batsmen do:

“Tammy [Beaumont] and Danni [Wyatt] up front batted amazing; and then Nat [Sciver] and Katherine [Brunt] as well.”

Indeed it is easy to overlook Brunt’s and Sciver’s contributions – after all, by the time Beaumont was out England already had 185 – more than enough to win the match – they could have relaxed a bit… fired up a chilled-out playlist on Spoitfy… made cocktails…

But Sciver’s 33 off 15 balls, and even more so Brunt’s 42 off 16 balls at a Strike Rate of 263, were what turned a big total into a record-breaking one of 250.

So how do you go out and bowl on a pitch where 600 runs have already been scored that day? And not just bowl, but bowl 2 maidens in the powerplay, finishing 3 powerplay overs with figures of 3-2-2-0?

“I don’t know if I approached [bowling] differently to the others,” says Shrubsole. “I just tried to bowl a heavy length and bowl it straight and hope that it swung, and the swing helps – it gives you a bit more margin for error.”

It is typically modest, but truth be told, she was magnificent – England might be a batting team these days, but there will be days when they need to be a bowling team too – when the batting doesn’t quite click, or the pitches aren’t quite the “belter” this was – and she showed today she is absolutely integral to that.

But today was about the batters, as Shrubsole admits:

“Some of the bowlers might have had their pride hurt a little bit, but I challenge anyone who came here today to go away and say that wasn’t a thoroughly entertaining day of cricket. If you ask people who watch the games they want to see high-scoring games – they want to see 4s, they want to see 6s.”

And that’s what England gave them!

New Zealand?

New Who?

OPINION: England Hope For Triumph of Experience In Busy Summer

Charlotte Edwards will be in the commentary box at Worcester, as England take on South Africa in the 1st of six ICC Championship matches to be played in England this summer.

But the former England captain could be forgiven for a certain sense of deja-vu as she looks out onto the ground at New Road – all bar one of the England’s 14-player squad made their debuts under her or (in two cases) her predecessor Clare Connor. The “average” England debut for this squad was in 2009 – almost 10 years ago.

It will soon be three years since Mark Robinson was appointed England coach, and just over two years since Edwards was metaphorically left alone in a room at Lords with a bottle of Scotch and a loaded revolver. In that time, Robinson has handed out five “proper” debuts, to Alex Hartley, Sophie Ecclestone, Alice Davidson-Richards, Katie George and Bryony Smith, one “re-debut” to Fran Wilson, and awarded a new “rookie” contract to the so-far uncapped Freya Davies; but of these only Ecclestone will take the field today.

Of course, there is plenty more cricket to be played this summer – a fast and furious T20 Tri-Series against South Africa and New Zealand will offer opportunities to bounce back, as England look to rotate with half an eye on the New Zealand ODI series to come.

But it does have to be a worry that while the Australians are bringing on the likes of Beth Mooney and Ash Gardner, the pathway doesn’t appear – Ecclestone aside – to be producing the players they trust to go out there and score runs and take wickets for England.

That being said, this is still a very strong England team – the problem areas are mostly of the “nice problem to have” variety. Do you play Dani Hazell and Laura Marsh? What about Georgia Elwiss, who had a good game against South Africa for the Academy last week? Where do you bat Tammy Beaumont if Amy Jones opens with Danni Wyatt, which England seem to think might be the answer to Jones’ issues (which are clearly 99% in her head)? And of course you’d ideally want to fit in the ever-reliable Jenny Gunn, but where?

My guess is that England might go with:

  1. Wyatt
  2. Jones
  3. Taylor
  4. Sciver
  5. Beaumont
  6. Knight
  7. Brunt
  8. Marsh
  9. Hazell
  10. Shrubsole
  11. Ecclestone

This year will see no repeat of Pakistan 2016 – South Africa will be no pushover – though they will have breathed a sigh of relief that Laura Wolvaardt has decided for the moment to try to juggle cricket and medical school, because their batting can be as brittle as it can sometimes be brilliant without her indefatigability at the top of the order.

New Zealand will similarly push England hard, as you’d expect from a team led by the best player in the world (Suzie Bates) who can afford to drop one of the most destructive batsmen in the world (Rachel Priest) for “reasons” because when you’ve got Amy Satterthwaite and Sophie Devine too, that’s the kind of crazy thing you can do and still pull off the highest ODI score of all time against Ireland!

So… predictions? I think England will win more games than they’ll lose this summer, but they won’t have it all their own way.

The one certainty – for the neutrals, it should be a good one!

OPINION: The Hidden Gem – Women’s County Cricket

By Richard Clark

There was no county cricket on Bank Holiday Monday.

Nothing.

Not a ball bowled anywhere in England or Wales.

We (that is, the wider public with an interest in cricket) know this because it has been discussed at some length in the cricketing press, blogs and social media. Beautiful weather, everybody off work, kids on half term… and yet no cricket to watch. It’s no wonder the ECB appear convinced that children don’t “engage” with the game if they can’t actually go and see it.

Yet we (and this is a much smaller “we” – those of us who cherish women’s cricket) also know that it’s bunkum.

For there was plenty of county cricket on Bank Holiday Monday – 18 matches, to be precise – in the Royal London Women’s One Day Cup (or County Championship if you prefer). Ample opportunity for those keen to spend a day in a deck-chair or on a bench absorbing the ebbs and flows of the game to get out and do so.

And not just in the “traditional” areas of the country. Monday’s matches stretched far beyond the confines of the 18 First Class counties, from Pontarddulais to Dumfries, and from Long Melford to Instow. They say you’re never more than six feet from a rat, but it’s quite possible that wherever you were in the country on Monday you would have been ever closer to a women’s county cricket match!

Yet there will have been few in attendance, beyond family and friends, at most of those fixtures. Why? Various reasons, but not least amongst them is the almost total lack of noticeable publicity.

The ECB doesn’t include fixtures on its own website and the mainstream media are not interested. “The Cricketer” only includes England and KSL matches on its pre-season poster (although, in fairness, the typeface is fairly small as it is!), and “The Cricket Paper” gives but scant coverage. These games might as well not exist.

Even “the Counties” (with exceptions) provide very little publicity for their women’s teams – perhaps not surprising given that the two are usually totally separate entities run by different bodies.

There is some cohesion, some element of “joined-up thinking”. In my own county (Worcestershire), for example, the women now wear the same kit with the same “Rapids” branding as the men, albeit with different sponsorship. That’s unarguably a step in the right direction, but there is very little publicity given to the women’s team via the County’s official website and social media.

County Boards largely do a good job – again to use my county as an example, they use social media well to publicise matches in advance, and, pleasingly, have been able to encourage the local press to run a few stories this season in particular, but for the most part they are very much preaching to those already within the tent. Their reach beyond their own existing sphere is limited at best.

Websites and blogs such as this one, and a handful of social media champions do a great job, but I’m sure Syd and Raf will acknowledge that by and large they too are preaching to the well-and-truly converted. Nothing wrong with that, and all praise to them for doing a great job, but it has a minimal impact in terms of spreading the gospel.

The question that needs to be asked is this. Do we want to keep the status quo, where England’s games are well marketed and well attended, the KSL (and whatever it morphs into in two years’ time) likewise, but the county game all but invisible? Or do we believe in the Championship and its T20 cousin? Are we happy to keep it as our own little secret, shared between a select group, or would we rather share it – as much as we can – with the larger cricketing family?

And this is the thing. There are, I’m convinced, people out there who would be interested in the women’s county game if only they knew about it, and who would be keen to sample one of their county’s fixtures. Some of them may well be aware that it exists, but have no idea how to go about finding out more. We (that’s the second “we”) know where to look, but if others don’t know where to look how do they find out where to look?!

At times I feel – wrongly, I’m sure – that there’s a fear amongst those of us “in the know” of shouting too loudly about the women’s county game. Is it because those of us who appreciate it want to keep it to ourselves, or because we worry about criticism from newcomers who compare it with the men’s game, or the sneering and knuckle-dragging responses from the “caveman element”? maybe we fear it turning into something that isn’t quite what we came to appreciate in the first place? I hope, and deep down believe, that I’m wrong about all that.

So what do we do?

Well, take this Sunday for example. There is another round of Women’s Championship fixtures – Divisions 1 and 2 only, of course. There are also a number of Men’s Royal London Cup games, but obviously not every county is at home, and two (Yorkshire and Somerset) don’t have a game at all.

In Yorkshire’s case, their women play Nottinghamshire at Harrogate, and the Yorkies are still in with a decent shout of the Division 1 Title. That’s a game worth shouting about, worth publicising, surely? Yet neither Yorkshire CCC’s website nor their social media platforms make any mention of the match. There is – to their credit – an impressive section on their website about the KSL Diamonds, but nothing on the actual county team.

Elsewhere on their website, however, a page on the women’s county team (which I eventually found after some time searching) includes a useful link to “Our Review of 2013”. Hmm…

Meanwhile, Hampshire’s men are away to Glamorgan, whilst their women host Middlesex at Andover. With Hampshire currently topping the table, surely some supporters would like to get along and potentially see them lift the trophy? And to Hampshire’s great credit as I write on Friday morning it is the lead story on their website, whilst they have also plugged the match through their social media. Top marks to them!

These two examples illustrate perfectly what can be done, and what is not being done. And we can play our part in making sure there are more Hampshires and fewer Yorkshires.

Those of us on social media can influence the way counties behave in this area. Badger them, tag them in when you’re mentioning matches, remind them, make it hard for them to bury their heads in the sand.

Similarly, use Facebook pages and forums to mention games at every turn. Irritate people. Learn to appreciate the boneheaded comments from those still dwelling in the 17th century, for the one thing they tell you is that you’re being seen and heard. Besides, you know the answers to every snark and snipe. Take those jibes at face value and argue them down. It may not make a difference to that particular individual’s view, but others reading will take it in.

Women’s county cricket has so much going for it. Free (or very cheap) admission – making it affordable for a family, and also meaning you don’t feel you’ve wasted a load of money if you can only pop in for an hour or so – a friendly “traditional cricket” atmosphere, usually a bar (this is very important!), a chance to mix with and talk to the players to an extent, more often than not space for the children to run around unhindered…

But you know all this. I’m off on a converted-preaching mission again. It’s time we started to be proud of this game, and began to tell the world about it.

Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

OPINION: The 100 Is English Cricket’s Vietnam

“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” an American general is reported to have said in the wake of the annihilation of the city of Ben Tre during the Vietnam War in 1968.

There were really two disclosures made yesterday by the ECB, as they revealed details of The 100 – the new City “T20”.

  1. The 100-ball format
  2. The disbanding of the Kia Super League

The second of these announcements had been widely expected – the news last September that Kia’s sponsorship of the competition would be extended only until 2019 was an omen which was effectively confirmed by a job description posted on the ECB’s web site in December. The suggestion that one of the KSL coaches didn’t know anything about it is frankly bizarre, considering that players in New Zealand did.

However, on a personal level, this official confirmation is still massively disappointing. We invested in the Super League – with our time, our hearts – and now it is being torn up in our faces.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

Did it?

Time will tell, but try saying that to the Western Storm fans and the Loughborough Lightning fans as you try to get them excited about teams that simply won’t exist any more in two years time.

If the KSL had been a failure – if it had gotten county-sized crowds and no wider coverage – we could understand.

But it wasn’t a failure – it was a fantastic success. The atmosphere at Hove for Finals Day last year was positively bubbling. With three-and-a-half thousand people packed into the county ground, the pressure was so great that it actually broke one of the players; and there were correspondents there from the BBC, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Times and more.

This is really something, I remember thinking – this is what top level sport is – not the sleepy village of county cricket, but the hustling and bustling of a city filled with life!

And now…?

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

But if we thought the the disbanding of the KSL was a kick in the guts, we were really not prepared for “The 100” – the 100-ball format, which doesn’t divide into any number of overs, and leaves 10 “mystery” balls to be distributed somehow, like baubles on a TV game-show.

The concept is so bizarre that when we first read the headline, we assumed it was about a new recreational format – some sort of Last Man Standing / Prosecco Cricket affair to try to get the grass-roots buzzing.

And then the reality sank in – this isn’t a late April Fool; they are actually serious. They want to literally break cricket – re-write the laws which require 6-ball overs; re-write the scoreboards; re-write the statistics; and re-write history… until it just isn’t cricket any more.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

Really?

Call me old-fashioned – the ECB will – but there are certain elements to cricket which are sacrosanct. Yes, we’ve had 4 ball overs in the distant past, and I actually remember 8 ball overs. [So… the distant past too? Ed.] But 6 has been the more general consensus for a long time now, and never have there been different lengths in the same game.

And what did cricket need saving from, anyway? The game itself isn’t the problem – look at the IPL and the BBL/WBBL for models of success, without changing one of the most fundamental rules.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

Well… the Americans did destroy the town… and then another town… and then another… to “save” them.

But they failed.

And this will too… possibly taking the whole game with it.

See also: 100-Ball Cricket A Nuclear Disaster For The Women’s Game