OPINION: Seedings Are Ruining The Group Stages of International T20 Tournaments

In the past 4 years, we’ve been treated to 3 brilliant international T20 tournaments: the 2018 World T20 in the West Indies; the 2020 Twenty20 (try saying that after a couple of jugs!) World Cup in Australia; and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

All three tournaments have had basically the same format: two seeded groups to decide the semi-finalists, with the winner of Group A playing the team finishing 2nd in Group B in the semis, and vice-versa.

As a system it works to produce a balanced competition, and it is infinitely preferable to some of the crazy formats we’ve had in the past (and which they still have in The Other Game™) with Super Sixes and whatnot!

But is it making all these tournaments too samey?

All of the past 3 tournaments have seen Australia and India in one group, with England and South Africa in the other. So England have played South Africa in the group stages in each of the past 3 “world” T20 comps (the Commonwealth Games being effectively a “world” competition) while never facing India or Australia; and ditto for India and Australia, who haven’t played England or South Africa in the groups stages for 4 years, but have faced-off against each other 3 times.

Furthermore, England have ended up facing India in the semi-final on all 3 occasions, albeit a) for slightly different reasons in 2018 and 2020 (when India won their group and England finished 2nd) to 2022 (when England won their group and India finished second); and b) England didn’t actually get to play India in 2020, due to the rain in Sydney.

And with another T20 World Cup coming along next year in South Africa, the same seeding system is likely to produce the same results on a 4th consecutive occasion too!

One answer is to draw the groups completely at random out of a hat. The argument against this is that it can produce a “Group of Death” which means that the best teams don’t all make it to the knockout stages; and can ultimately impact the quality of the final, which is the real “big deal” for TV.

But this could be avoided by having two hats: one for the top 4 seeds, and one for the rest. This would at least ensure some variety – each group would contain two top-seeds and 2-or-3 “others” – but we might see England get to play India or Australia in the group stages, rather than South Africa again.

Perhaps all of this is just really a symptom of the wider problem in women’s cricket, where the top teams are increasingly pulling away from the rest, making the group stages largely academic anyway? It certainly feels like there is less jeopardy in the group stages than there has been in quite some while, with England’s only real “worry” in Birmingham being whether they would face Australia or India in their semi-final. And with great crowds at Edgbaston, the evidence might suggest that the public doesn’t really care right now either. But ultimately, we do need to keep things interesting, and slightly more randomised groups could be a way of achieving that in South Africa next year.

OPINION: Throw The Kids Into The Commonwealths – It’s The Tournament We’ve Prepared Them For

In the aftermath of England’s World Cup final defeat, I provoked a fair bit of debate by arguing that England now face a difficult choice between prioritising the up-coming Commonwealth Games or the next World Cup in 2025.

Many of the responses suggested that we didn’t have to choose – we could give the old stalwarts a swansong at the Commonwealth Games and then look to the future going forwards from the India series in September. I understand the emotional pull here – it is a unique tournament, on home turf, which the players are desperate to be part of.

But the key issue for me is that if you choose do this, you really are still choosing: you are prioritising the Commonwealth Games over the next World Cup. There are 3 English summers remaining before the World Cup – if we want to be in with the best chance of winning that World Cup with a younger team, we can’t afford to throw most of one of those summers away.

More than that though, the Commonwealth Games is an opportunity to bring the youngsters into exactly the kind of tournament we’ve prepared them for via the Hundred – a high-profile, intense tournament, in a short, sharp format, played on a familiar, English pitches. (Well… “a” familiar English pitch, as it is all played at Edgbaston.)

I’m not suggesting that we debut 11 players at the Commonwealths though!

The South Africa series which kicks off the summer will be a long one, including a Test, and gives us the opportunity to build somewhat incrementally, if more rapidly than might be ideal. Importantly, the ODIs are not part of the ICC Championship, so there are no World Cup qualification points on the line.

One thing we don’t want however, is a repeat of what happened to Emma Lamb – given just one game to prove herself at the end of the Ashes series. If we give someone a shot in either the ODIs or the T20s against South Africa, it must be for all 3 games of that series.

None of this is an exact science, but an approach against South Africa could be to “re-debut” Freya Davies (as a proper opening bowler) and Emma Lamb (opening) in the Test, add Lauren Bell and Bess Heath (a bit of a wildcard, but we need to start thinking about cover for Amy Jones) for the ODIs, and then Alice Capsey, Bryony Smith and maybe Dani Gibson in the T20s.

This then gives you a bit of a platform to select an explicitly younger side for the Commonwealths, including up to 5 or 6 players who were not in the 2022 World Cup XI, but could be part of things in 2025.

Would this be our “best” side right now, to win the Commonwealth Games?

No, no, and thrice no! It’s not ideal, but we’ve got ourselves into a less than ideal situation by a total lack of succession planning with the batting and fast bowling.

So given where we are, would taking this opportunity give us a better chance to prepare players to win the next World Cup?

In the immortal words of Churchill: Oh yes!

OPINION: England Must Choose – The Commonwealth Games Or The Next World Cup

From an England perspective, how you see the outcome of the 2022 World Cup will very-much depend on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person.

On the half-full face of the coin, England came second… but on the half-empty side, they lost half their games, and were trounced by a rampant Australia in the final. Bake-in a humiliating Ashes defeat, where their only points came from washouts, and the glass starts to look rather dry indeed.

So, where to now?

There will obviously be reviews, and the one that Australia conducted after their disappointment in 2017 is being held up as a model, but I’m unconvinced this is the right approach. Australia were already on an upward trajectory at that point, and only the greatest individual performance of all time stopped them winning that year anyway (unpopular opinion: they would have trounced England in the final).

England are an ageing team in need of some kind of a rebuild, but before they can embark on that, they need to answer one very important question – what do they want to win: the Commonwealth Games, or the next World Cup? Because it is one or the other – they can’t win both.

If they decide to prioritise the Commonwealth Games, they’ll stick with the current generation this summer – it definitely gives them their best chance of a gold medal, albeit Australia remain rampant favourites.

But by then it will be too late for the next World Cup, which will only be a couple of years away (remember, because of the postponement of this tournament, there is only a 3 year gap this time) and that won’t be time for the next generation to have built up the experience they need to be ready for 2025 – they’ll be half-baked at best.

If the decision is to stick with the current generation, that’s fine – it is a decision! But you have to acknowledge that by doing that, you are sacrificing the opportunity to win the World Cup next time around. If you want to rebuild for 2025 you have to start now, or it is too late.

WOMEN’S ASHES: An England Team for the NEXT Ashes Down Under

The England team that visits Australia for the next Women’s Ashes “Down Under”, in around about 2026, is likely to be very different to the side that has just suffered a comprehensive defeat in 2022.

By 2026, most of the batters who started this series will have retired – Heather Knight and Lauren Winfield-Hill will be 35, Tammy Beaumont and Danni Wyatt 34, Nat Sciver 33 and Amy Jones 32. Of the bowlers, Katherine Brunt will be 40 and Anya Shrubsole 34.

So what might England look like in 2026?

In the spirit of seeking out a “Next Generation”, I’ve deliberately not included anyone who will be 30 (or older) in 4 years time. But this still leaves us with a team with an average age of 25, and plenty of experience behind them, bearing in mind that all of these players are already playing regional cricket and The Hundred.

  1. Emma Lamb (Age 28, in 2026)
  2. Bryony Smith (28)
  3. Grace Scrivens (22) (Vice Captain)
  4. Alice Capsey (21)
  5. Sophia Dunkley (27) (Captain)
  6. Dani Gibson (24)
  7. Bess Heath (24) (Wicket Keeper)
  8. Charlie Dean (25)
  9. Sophie Ecclestone (26)
  10. Emily Arlott (27)
  11. Lauren Bell (25)

Will this be the team in 2026? Almost certainly not – it’s a bit spin-heavy, for starters! And anything could happen. Maybe one of the regional pros currently in their mid-to-late-20s will have a late-career “burst” and step up to international cricket aged 30? Perhaps one of the players listed will be being kept out of the side by a then-18-year-old we’ve currently never head of – the next Alice Capsey, who breaks through in 2024/25? Or, who knows, Katherine Brunt could still be steaming in aged 40, dropping hints about her coming retirement… after one last hurrah at the 2029 World Cup!

But the core of the side is likely to look a lot like this, and the important point is that this isn’t just an academic question – this is where we should be focussing our resources and investment in regional cricket over the next 4 years. In particular, let’s make sure that all these players are given proper opportunities in The Hundred, batting up the order and bowling their full quota of balls; perhaps even by tweaking the playing conditions to prevent sides limiting the opportunities of young players, because they’ve got 3 international all-rounders who bat in the top 4 and bowl 60 balls between them?

Of course this doesn’t guarantee we’ll bring home the Ashes next time we’re over there, but it might help to make it a bit more competitive than it has been this time around.

OPINION: Will Omicron Jeopardise the Women’s Ashes & World Cup?

COVID is currently ripping through Australia, with record numbers of cases being identified and the highly contagious Omicron variant spreading in New South Wales. Meanwhile, New Zealand has reintroduced border restrictions this week until the end of February at the earliest. With both those things in mind, are the Women’s Ashes and World Cup in jeopardy?

The good news is that the short answer is no.

The final match of the Women’s Ashes is scheduled to take place on the 19th February; with the opening game of the World Cup due to take place on 4th March, and England playing Australia on the 5th.

As the regulations on entry to New Zealand currently stand, both Australia and England will be required to complete 10 days ‘Managed Isolation Quarantine’ (MIQ) between that final Ashes match and the start of their World Cup campaigns. Whilst MIQ is emphatically not prison, it is nonetheless strictly enforced ‘hard’ quarantine; but if it is the price of playing in the World Cup, it’s something that most players will take in their stride.

However, there is still a risk that players could be identified as COVID cases during MIQ, having brought it with them from Australia to New Zealand. Under these circumstances, they would (as things currently stand) be required to remain potentially considerably longer in MIQ, from 14 days after the positive test. In theory, this means that MIQ could last as long as 24 days. Though 16-18 would be more likely, this still means that the teams could be in danger of being unable to fulfil their opening fixtures if they brought 5 or 6 cases with them.

This is where the Ashes potentially becomes impacted – if the ICC want to minimize the risk, they need to ensure that all the players are in the country ideally 18-20 days before the tournament starts, which would mean that England and Australia will have two options – to either curtail the Ashes, or to play the final matches between the ‘A’ teams, while the main squads fly earlier to New Zealand.

It is extremely unlikely that the New Zealand government, committed as they are to a ‘Zero COVID’ strategy, will relax their rules earlier than currently anticipated. Worryingly, it is much more likely that the rules will actually become more strict. With the lag between infections and deaths in the first world currently running at 17-21 days, it is possible that we may see a significant increase in deaths in Australia in mid-to-late January, and pressure subsequently on the New Zealand government for a total border closure which they may find difficult to resist.

Whether they would make a special exception under these circumstances for hundreds of players, managers, analysts and other staff to enter the country for the World Cup is an open question. The New Zealand government have previously publicly stated that the World Cup is their top priority in terms of sporting events taking place in the country this summer, but their priority understandably remains the health of the New Zealand public, and that’s what would be worrying me if I was the ICC.

Of course, as fans we can pursue a strategy of keeping our fingers crossed and hoping it will all be okay, but that’s really not something we want the ICC to be doing. If they have contingency plans, I’d hope they’d be giving them serious consideration right now, because the idea of teams having to withdraw at the very last minute, or worse while the tournament is actually being played, is not one we want to contemplate. If there is one thing worse than no World Cup, it is half a World Cup.

OPINION: Where Does Alice Capsey Fit Into An England XI?

Having said that I think Surrey South East Stars allrounder Alice Capsey should be in the England XI, it’s not unreasonable to ask exactly where she fits in.

The case for Capsey is twofold. First that she is the best uncapped player in England. With Emma Lamb now ruled out of that particular race, after making her debut at Chelmsford last week, the only other player you might have an argument about is Eve Jones, who has been in sparkling (sorry!) form over the past couple of years.

I like Jones – she has grafted to adapt to the shorter forms of the game, which didn’t come quite so naturally to her; and given the number of first, second (and even third!) chances given to others over the years, Jones absolutely should have been given a opportunity for England when she was younger.

But what Capsey has over and above anyone else is a second thing: potential. She’s one of England’s best players now, at just-turned-17; so what could she be in a few years? Eve Jones herself is the role model here – if Capsey works as hard in the next few years, as Jones has in the past few, she will absolutely be the best player in the world, and that’s what she should be aiming at.

And that’s why it is so important that she gets into the England XI now. You can learn a lot from having a great coaching team around you, which Capsey has at Stars; but there is still no substitute for playing with and against the best in the world. The Hundred showed Capsey can mix with the Marizanne Kapps and the Heather Knights – she needs to be doing it every day, not waiting until next year’s Hundred to go again.

But how could England slot her into their current XI? Here’s the team I think England should have been sending out against New Zealand.

  1. Tammy Beaumont
  2. Lauren Winfield-Hill (ODI) / Danni Wyatt (T20)
  3. Alice Capsey
  4. Nat Sciver
  5. Heather Knight
  6. Sophia Dunkley
  7. Amy Jones
  8. Sophie Ecclestone
  9. Freya Davies
  10. Kirstie Gordon
  11. Lauren Bell

There are a couple of other radical choices in there, so let’s talk about them too!

I think it is time for Lauren Bell – I’ve been saying since she was 14 that she would play for England one day, but that day has come – she is the genuine “strike” bowler that England need to put a bit of fear into the opposition ranks. She’ll go for a few runs, and probably bowl a couple of wides, but that’s a price worth paying, and she’s a good complement for Freya Davies to open the bowling at the other end.

And… Kirstie Gordon? Didn’t she lose her England contract? Yup – but she’s the best attacking spinner in the domestic game, and the numbers back that up. It is true that England would then have two left-armers, but they’ve also now got two right-arm spin options as well – Heather Knight and… who else… Alice Capsey. With Nat Sciver able to also contribute with the ball, baking up the two front-line seamers, that’s absolutely plenty of bowling, in an XI which bats – really, properly bats – down to Amy Jones at 7.

This is definitely a line-up with the future partly in mind – particularly batting Capsey at 3, where she should be long-term, not down at 6 or 7. But it is also an XI for right now – a batting line-up that can hit bags of runs, and an exciting bowling quartet, with Bell and Gordon attacking from one end, while Ecclestone and Davies strangle them from the other. (Ecclestone could, you feel, definitely do with not having to be both England’s main attacking option and their main defensive one, which is what she is too often being asked to be at the moment.)

I’ve championed players in the past – Alex Hartley, once upon a time; and Lauren Bell for many years – though I think this is the first time I’ve said that Bell should be playing “now”, as opposed to some time in the future. And I wrote a piece a couple of years ago saying England should have picked Eve Jones for the 2019 Ashes Test.

But in all my years of watching and writing about this game, I’ve never felt there was quite so clear-cut a case as the one Capsey makes now for making her debut in England’s XI. Her performances in The Hundred are what everyone is talking about, but the final of the Charlotte Edwards Cup arguably told an even more significant story: coming in and ramping her first ball for 4; smashing Katie Levick – lest we forget, the all-time leading wicket taker in the history of the Women’s County Championship – back over her head for 6; then giving a master-class in game-management to see the Stars home, all the while looking like there was never any doubt whatsoever that she’d do so.

Stars captain Bryony Smith afterwards called her a “superstar”.

I’ve heard a lot of players called that by their captains, and it’s usually just hyperbole.

This time though it’s true, and England need to put a shirt on her now.

THE HUNDRED: An Uncapped XI

By Richard Clark

Unsurprisingly, most of the big noises throughout the Hundred have come from established names, the usual suspects either from England or overseas. Most… but not all. And with the group stage complete, now felt like the right time to pick an ‘Uncapped’ Team of the Tournament, those players whose chances may sometimes have been limited but who managed to make their mark all the same.

The criteria? I’ve stuck strictly to the ‘uncapped’ rule, so no place for Abtaha Maqsood (a Scottish international), even though she has undoubtedly made an impact on and off the pitch. Ditto the Bryce sisters, and no spots either for the unrelated Smiths – Lynsey and Bryony – to an extent forgotten faces on the international stage, perhaps, but unarguably ‘capped’ all the same. That apart, I’ve gone on numbers and good old gut feel!

EVE JONES – Birmingham Phoenix (Runs 233, Ave 33.28, SR 118.87)

Third on the run charts, an absolute shoe-in for this team. Historically, not always the quickest of scorers, but invariably gave her side a base over the past three weeks. Her half-century against Fire was somewhat overshadowed by Verma’s fireworks at the other end, but she took centre stage in the winner-takes-all defeat of Superchargers, hitting three sixes in her 64 from 47 balls to set Phoenix on the road to the eliminator, and then took that stunning catch to dismiss Lauren Winfield-Hill just as it looked to be going the Leeds side’s way.

ALICE CAPSEY – Oval Invincibles (Runs 106, Ave 21.2, SR 121.83; W 7, Ave 11.85, RPB 0.87)

Might be a little disappointed that her 59 against Spirit at Lord’s was her only score of real note, but the impact of that innings alone is probably enough to seal her place. Throw in seven wickets at a miserly economy rate and she becomes one of this team’s lynchpins. Her victims with the ball included Laura Woolvaart, Danni Wyatt, Georgia Elwiss, Deandra Dottin, Heather Knight and Sarah Taylor. If any batter thought they might be able to take liberties against the 17-year-old, they will have thought again by now. Her eligibility for this team in 12 months’ time must be in severe doubt!

EMMA LAMB – Manchester Originals (Runs 135, Ave 19.28, SR 125; W 3, Ave 42, Econ 1.32)

Came good after a slow start, with scores of 32 (helping her team become the only side – so far – to beat Brave), 39 and 46 in three of her last four innings as Originals pushed their way up from the lower reaches of the table. Three for 16 against Phoenix were her only wickets, but she rarely got clobbered with the ball and always provides a steady bowling option for her team.

MAIA BOUCHIER – Southern Brave (Runs 85, Ave 42.5, SR 154.54)

85 runs may not seem like a big number, but look at that strike rate! Coming in at no. 5 behind a prolific top four, ‘the Mighty Bouch’ fulfilled her role as finisher to perfection. She may not have faced many balls, but she certainly made the most of them, and four not outs from her six innings – granted a couple were VERY brief – also point to a player with the mental wherewithal to see her job through, whether setting a target or polishing off a chase.

SOPHIE LUFF – Welsh Fire (Runs 79, Ave 13.16, SR 116.17)

Luff will probably be disappointed with her Hundred, but it’s a mark of her consistency at County and KSL level that her bar is set relatively high. Frequently coming in with her team in strife, the pressure to score quickly and not get out often told. 30 off 21 balls in a losing cause against Brave was her top score. But every team needs a skipper, and she brings more experience than most.

(Luff is the one change I’ve allowed myself from the team I original selected on Twitter, replacing Charlie Dean. Dean is a victim of my original pick being spinner-heavy, thanks to the presence of Capsey in particular, and can consider herself unlucky.)

DANI GIBSON – London Spirit (Runs 108, Ave 36, SR 180; W 3, Ave 42.33, RPB 1.33)

With the possible exception of Capsey, no uncapped player had as big a tournament as Gibson. Hard to believe now that she came in at no. 7 or below in the first four games, making a combined 58 from 30 balls across those knocks! Overdue elevation to no. 5 saw her help Dottin finish off the chase against Superchargers, before 34* off 19 balls against Fire hinted at what could have been had Spirit got their batting order right. Not the best return with the ball, perhaps, but her batting alone gets her in this team, and her fielding – notably the catch to dismiss Mignon Du Preez against Originals is an added bonus too.

EMILY ARLOTT – Birmingham Phoenix (Runs 39, Ave 13, SR 121.87; W 5, Ave 27.8, RPB 1.36)

In short form cricket where “pace can travel”, and in a tournament where spin has often been the way to go, picking a second seamer (see below for the spearhead!) wasn’t easy. Ultimately it came down to Phoenix team-mates Arlott and Issy Wong, whose numbers were spookily similar. Both took five wickets at 1.36 and 1.35 runs per ball respectively, and with the bat each played one significant cameo. Arlott gets the narrowest of nods by dint of her slightly better strike rate with the ball and the fact that her major contribution with the bat (22 off 14) got her team over the line against Rockets – crucially, as it turned out!

CARLA RUDD – Southern Brave (Runs 4, Ave n/a, SR 133.3; C 2, St 8)

In the end it was a 50/50 call between Rudd and Ellie Threlkeld, and I’m happy to take the flak from those who would have gone the other way! Rudd’s ten dismissals, including eight stumpings, ended up winning the tussle against Threlkeld’s seven. The Brave keeper faced only three balls in the entire competition, so squaring them off on their batting hardly seemed fair. For what it’s worth, Threlkeld’s 29 runs off 28 balls might be considered a little under-powered for an experienced batter, but perhaps that’s being harsh. Both were tidy, and it hardly seems fair to pick one over the other, but someone has to!

LAUREN BELL – SOUTHERN BRAVE (W 10, Ave 16.7, RPB 1.15)

The outstanding uncapped quick bowler, and another who walks – nay, strides! – into this team. Her best balls are nigh on unplayable, and her height gives her a point of difference from other bowlers that batters often struggle to get to grips with. Three for 22 against the Invincibles was her best return, but only conceding 16 runs from 20 balls against a Phoenix top four in full flow was probably her best performance. There’s still some rawness to her, and a few too many leg side drifters, but she’s another who may not be eligible for selection in next year’s team.

KATIE LEVICK – Northern Superchargers (W 7, Ave 21.42, RPB 1.15)

Only three uncapped bowlers boasted a better economy rate than Levick, who brought all her years of experience to bear. Consistency was key, never going for more than 24 runs in any game, even if there wasn’t one stand-out display. Two for 23 against Phoenix was a good effort as her team tried to rein in Eve Jones and co, but ultimately the Midlanders pinched that final qualification slot.

HANNAH JONES – Manchester Originals (W 4, Ave 19.75, RPB 1.05)

Competing with Sophie Ecclestone and Alex Hartley as fellow left arm spinners, Jones had her work cut out to make an impact, and only forced her way into the Originals team for the final four games. However, she arguably out-bowled both – a better economy rate than Hartley and only just shy of Ecclestone’s run-a-ball thrift, she bettered the latter’s strike rate by a fair margin. Her three for 17 – including the wickets of Wyatt and Smriti Mandhana – was pivotal in Originals’ win against finalists Brave.

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

OPINION: The Summer Of Shafali

David Windram reflects on the emergence of a young Indian star

A Katherine Brunt send-off is hard to miss. This was no different as she charged down the pitch in celebration, raising her fingers to her lips. This one perhaps had a little extra on it. As Shafali Verma dragged herself off she knew the series was likely lost. On a personal level, Verma has only just begun. Eliciting such an animalistic send off from Brunt proved that she had been doing something right. It was the ultimate veiled compliment. A public service announcement that she had become England’s most desired wicket. Welcome to the summer of Shafali.

Image: Bahnfrend (Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes, all it needs is a name. The ring of those very specific syllables transporting you back to the summer they defined. Amla in 2012, Bell in 2013, Perry in 2015 or Smith in 2019. Throughout the summer they reveal themselves to be the face of a series. Shafali Verma became that face in 2021.

The road back to Test match cricket for India’s women has been arduous. By playing in just one, Shafali Verma has been involved in a seventh of Tests played during her short time on the planet. She was 10 the last time those particularly crisp whites were buttoned up. Bristol was the venue for the long-desired return; England the opponents.

For Verma, unfamiliarity did not breed uncertainty. Red, white, or pink, a cricket ball is a cricket ball after all. Still, this wasn’t a simple pressure-free introduction to the toughest form of the game. England had piled on runs before declaring and were in peak predatory mode, unashamedly hunting twenty wickets without the need to bat again. Verma shrugged and got on with it.

Accompanied by Smriti Mandhana, she blunted, drove and caressed her way to 96 runs in a partnership of 167. The disappointment in missing out on a debut ton testament to the expectations which now attach to her, all 1.3 billion of them. But the highest score on Test debut for an Indian woman was quite the expectation satisfier. Not that Verma seemed to care. Simply another day in the life of the kid from Rohtak.

T20 debut at 15. Followed by discarding you know who as India’s youngest half centurion for India; the little master in waiting. At 16, officially the world’s best T20I batter. Now 17, and India’s youngest cricketer to play all three formats. A next-generation cricketer, in the most literal sense.

It should have been job done at Bristol. A weather affected four-day test leaving minimal time for a result. But Verma’s teammates wanted more, and who can blame them? The remaining nine wickets falling promptly following the debutant’s demise.

Back for more to face a similarly ravenous, now reinvigorated, bowling line up, who were sniffing an unlikely victory. That prospect was quickly extinguished. Verma again frustrated the English bowlers, while still managing to show impressive attacking intent. A further 63 runs ensured a draw for her team and the Player of the Match award. An imperious and classy debut. Global eyes were now open.

Verma is a multi-format cricketer in the purest sense; she simply has to be. Format switching is the cricketer’s Rubik’s cube. The modern career is spent constantly tweaking and fiddling hoping that it clicks in time for the impending format. This elasticity is increasingly vital for the female cricketer, where multi-format series are now the norm. These series provide an extreme examination of patience, technique, skill and imagination; only the truly elite can thrive.

Luckily for India, Verma is elite. Her range of shots appears limitless. Come straight at her and she will blunt you; pitch it up and she will drive you; bang it in short and you’re swatted to the boundary. She will walk across her stumps to clip you away to leg, or give herself room and smash through the off side. The variety with which deliveries are dealt with is bold and brash. Pre-summer there remained an unanswered question. Was the temperament transferable to longer formats? The answer has been emphatic.

Verma made contributions in at least one game of every single format, including an epic 48 runs off 38 balls in the second T20I to keep India’s series hopes alive. If Brunt didn’t get her early, she made runs. This is the beauty of the multi-format series. It allows these mini battles to develop. Verma v Brunt became captivating viewing.

Yet, there remains a dichotomy at the heart of Verma’s success. Indian cricket has a generational talent on its hands – yes, another one. Her cricket is exciting, high quality and intensely enjoyable to watch. But without the requisite backing from her cricket board, it almost feels like it doesn’t matter what she does. She can be as good as she wants, but unless something changes, she will only be given a tokenistic glance.

Verma received a “Grade B” contract from the BCCI. It pays her approximately £29,000 to be one of the best in the world. Her male equivalents are paid around £485,000, with the lowest centrally contracted male player receiving roughly £97,000. There is also the well-documented caper in which the BCCI withheld prize money from the women’s inspirational run to the World Cup final in 2020. These “life-changing amounts” were only paid to the players once they had raised invoices and when the story was diligently reported in the mainstream press. The money had been paid to the BCCI fourteen months previously.

There appears a reluctance to conjure up a legitimate female equivalent of the IPL. The current tournament, The T20 Challenge, in which three teams play two games each is merely a box-ticking exercise. As the male tournament becomes unnecessarily bloated with repetitive game after repetitive game, the women’s competition couldn’t be trimmed any further. As sad as it is, money makes the game go round. The BCCI have copious amounts to throw at whatever they feel is worthy. At the moment there is a clear rejection of the women’s game.

It leaves Shafali Verma hunting for game time, o the extent that she spent time training with Haryana’s men’s team and facing Mohit Sharma in nets. She is reliant on the WBBL and The Hundred. For all the follies of The Hundred, and they are pretty much endless, the female version has become vital for the players. The salaries peak at £15,000 – the lowest male players being paid nearly double the highest women – but it is as much about game time. Opportunities remain scarce and need to be grabbed when available, regardless of what they look like. Sometimes it is simply about survival.

India was eventually in win or go home territory with two T20s to play. On ball twenty of the must-win match, Verma unleashed. Inevitably, it was Brunt on the receiving end. With a violent swipe of her bat, the ball was catapulted to the boundary. Next ball, same result, as Verma stepped away and launched back over Brunt’s head. Ball three was hung outside off, this time a feather- like touch clipped the ball past point to the rope. Two slightly more agricultural swipes, led to two more boundaries, off the final two balls of the over. It was carnage. Brunt was stunned; England were stunned. Five fours off five balls and India’s recovery was on.

It demonstrated every aspect in confirming she is destined for stardom. The temerity to rip apart a world-class bowler. The ability to play whatever shot the delivery required. Sometimes it wasn’t perhaps the perfect shot selection, yet she made whatever shot she played work. The concept of the 360-degree cricketer has become a cliche; for Verma, it is nothing less than reality.

Ultimately, Brunt would have the last laugh with her final match send-off, but Shafali Verma has arrived. Now the headliner of the coming generation, let’s make sure she is given the proper platform. Your move BCCI.

OPINION: The Wisden Five – An Alternative View

By Richard Clark

Syd’s piece yesterday on the non-selection of a woman among Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2021 raised some interesting points. However, I’m not entirely sure I agree with him.

It’s true that 2020 was a summer like no other, and that editor Lawrence Booth’s choices could quite reasonably have followed some ‘left-field’ thinking. In fact, even in normal circumstances, the selection of Georgia Adams (maybe less so Stafanie Taylor) might have been justifiable given her outstanding batting and leadership for Southern Vipers. Equally, though, I feel her non-selection can also be justified.

Like many, I’m sure, I felt that little pang of disappointment on Wednesday night, but this is not about Adams or Taylor. It’s about the wider question Syd asked yesterday – is the women’s game on a par with the men’s… or not?

The timeline of ‘The Five’ and Women’s cricket is an interesting one. No woman was chosen until 2009 (Claire Taylor) despite England having won World Cups in both 1973 and 1993. One wonders how long and hard the respective editors of the time pondered selections from those winning teams – I reckon I know exactly how long!

Bizarrely, from our vantage point now, even our 2009 Double World Champions saw nobody honoured – Taylor had been selected for her achievements in 2008.

Prior to the 2018 Almanack (that’s just three years ago!) only two women had EVER been chosen. Think about that for a moment – TWO! 2017 changed all that, of course.

The selection criteria have always been unique – influence on or excellence in the previous English summer, the fact that you can only be chosen once, and that it is in the editor’s gift. There is no other award in cricket – possibly in any sport – quite like it. Its mystique is precisely therein – as a Worcestershire supporter (apologies for digressing into ‘The Other Game’ briefly!), my fascination with ‘The Five’ was cemented by the selection of Alan Richardson in 2012, but you can’t tell me he was quantifiably one of the five best players in England the previous year.

Richardson’s selection is interesting, though, in the context that it was purely related to domestic cricket. Jamie Porter, Simon Harmer, and now Darren Stevens, have been picked on similar grounds more recently. Women’s domestic cricket in this country, contrastingly, had virtually no public profile until the advent of the KSL in 2016, less than five years ago.

In that context, the suggestion of someone like Georgia Adams even as a potential recipient is a sign of huge strides. In the longer term I hope that more players from the domestic game can force their way into the conversation, and onto the final list. Is this to say we should be grateful for what we get? No, but it is to emphasise the huge differences in profile historically between the men’s and women’s games. And although Wisden has been a very positive influence in shifting those sands, the differences – whilst shrinking – undoubtedly remain.

Despite the selection of women becoming a regular occurrence in recent years, I’m not so sure that this sets – or should set – an unbreakable precedent. The notion that there has to be a woman each year feels awkward. What if nobody genuinely merits the accolade, and the editor is left scrambling around for a name – any name – to fill the blank space?

Similarly, how would we have felt had Booth only been ‘allowed’ to pick one woman from England’s 2017 World Cup winning team? Three felt right, of course it did – anybody reading this probably wouldn’t have quibbled at all five – but being limited to just one?

Nor am I convinced by the idea of a separate ‘Women’s Five’. My own personal view is that anyone being chosen now is up there at the peak of the game, rather than being dismissed or ignored by many as a level (or more) below because they were ‘only’ on the women’s list. Let the dinosaurs rage, let the debate rumble, but at least let’s have that debate and use it as a tool to keep pushing.

I want any woman chosen to be there for absolutely the right reasons, rather than having the ‘token woman’ asterisk beside her name. And to repeat, this is not about Georgia Adams, Stafanie Taylor, or anybody else from the 2020 season.

If that means there isn’t one then so be it, and conversely should it mean all five are women, so be that too. 2022 – Ecclestone, Goswami, Jones, Levick & Raj – you read it here first!

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

OPINION: The Under-19 World Cup Should Not Be An Under-19 World Cup

The ICC have reaffirmed their commitment to holding an Under-19 Women’s World Cup, with the tournament now rescheduled from its original window at the tail-end of 2021, to January 2023.

As is always the case, you can argue that it should have been done sooner – the first men’s edition was held in 1988, and it has been a biennial feature of the calendar since 1998 – but we are where we are, and the important thing now is that it is being done!

With a firm(ish) date now agreed, thoughts immediately turned to who might play, with Indian journalist Snehal Pradhan tweeting:

Having Shafali on the team would clearly put India among the favourites to reach the final, alongside Australia, who will be able to field a squad full of seasoned WBBL pros, who will obviously be odds-on to win the tournament.

But we also need to remember that this is supposed to be a “development” competition. By January 2023, Shafali will likely have 50 caps, and be as automatic a pick in India’s full ODI team as she is currently in the T20 format, whence all of her 22 caps to date have come. She doesn’t need “developing” now… let alone in 18 months time!

The tournament regulations have yet to be firmed up, but in my view the “Under-19” label should be just that – a label,  not a law. The tournament should exclude anyone who has a full international cap regardless of age, and also allow space for a limited number of players over the age of 19, with perhaps one wildcard pick up to 21 and another up to 23.

It could then play out similarly to last year’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in England, where the unavailability of the England players for most of the tournament actually created the most exciting and competitive domestic season in recent memory.

If the Under-19 World Cup is serious about being a “development” competition, then that is what it needs to be… even if that makes it not technically an “Under 19” World Cup.