WOMEN’S ASHES: Come Back With Your Shield – Or On It!

By Andy Frombolton

As Sun Tzu notes in ‘The Art of War’: “A military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape. The ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius.”

Hence for England to have any chance in the forthcoming Women’s Ashes, team selection needs to take account of the very different skills required across the 3 formats.

Playing against a formidable opposition can bring out the best in some players; whilst for others it exposes their limits. Compare these 2 tables. (Green colouring indicates improved stats compared to performances against all other teams; red means the opposite.)

With the exception of Healy in T20s and McGrath in ODIs, the best Australian players maintain or improve their performances when playing their biggest rivals, England. (Perry’s ‘underperformance’ in ODIs means her performances against England have merely been ‘very good’, not ‘exceptional’.)

    T20 ODI
    Bat Bowl Bat Bowl
    Av SR Av SR Av SR Av ER
Healy vs England 16 103     37 96    
vs Others 28 134     37 75    
Mooney vs England 47 137     56 88    
vs Others 40 122     52 75    
Perry vs England 35 106 24 21 43 80 27 4.5
vs Others 29 115 17 19 53 57 24 4.3
McGrath vs England 186 11 10 20 63 23 4.5
vs Others 52 137 21 16 39 71 43 5.7
Schutt vs England     16 15     20 3.9
vs Others     16 16     25 4.3
    T20 ODI
    Bat Bowl Bat Bowl
    Av SR Av SR Av SR Av ER
Knight vs Australia 15 107     29 67    
vs Others 25 118     39 74    
Jones vs Australia 10 74     9 55    
vs Others 25 128     31 82    
Wyatt vs Australia 21 122     11 65    
vs Others 22 126     27 91    
Beaumont vs Australia 18 96     35 73    
vs Others 25 111     42 73    
Winfield-Hill vs Australia 15 98     12 52    
vs Others 22 110     25 61    
Sciver-Brunt vs Australia 24 106 24 19 52 87 41 5.7
vs Others 27 118 21 21 43 128 28 4.1
Cross vs Australia     53 39     57 5.2
vs Others     21 21     20 4.2
Ecclestone vs Australia     21 18     49 4.6
vs Others     14 15     18 3.4
Glenn vs Australia     17 13    
vs Others     17 17     23 4.1

Already however the England contracted players are being incrementally withdrawn from the CEC in order to prepare for the Women’s Ashes – notwithstanding that many have looked considerably undercooked in their outings and could benefit from more competitive match practice – indicating that England plans to select their various squads from this cohort over the coming contest.

Quite simply however, England cannot afford to field teams containing players whose limitations have been brutally exposed by this all-vanquishing opposition. To do so, and expect better results than last time, would be madness.

This isn’t to advocate a wholesale replacement of the centrally-contracted cohort, but – particularly in the T20 format – many lack the 360-degree batting skills, fielding agility or bowling variations which the modern game requires.

Instead, what could be achieved by a team comprising the best of the central cohort and an influx of players unburdened by past failures and inspired by an unexpected call up? (And if this team loses? There’s no more points of offer for the magnitude of a win or loss!)

This would necessitate some difficult conversations and some potentially-embarrassing outcomes if centrally-contracted players aren’t picked, but Jon Lewis has already demonstrated that he isn’t going to be bound by the decisions or selection choices of his predecessors. Nor should he feel uncomfortable if he has to go outside of the England contracted players to assemble what he deems to be his best team. This is about trying to win the Women’s Ashes, not individual egos.

Based on performances so far this year, Bess Heath, Bryony Smith, Katie Levick, Danni Gibson and Holly Armitage need to be told that if they continue to perform over the next few weeks then an England call-up awaits.

OPINION: What should a sportsperson be paid?

By Andy Frombolton

How much should Claire Fahey (the reigning and six-times Real Tennis Champion) be paid? Or a netball player in the UK Super League? Or a badminton player ranked #40 in the world?

Few readers would be surprised to learn that neither Fahey nor the netballers earn very much whilst a badminton player with a good global ranking (#33-#50) might typically make just £37k; probably rationalising that these are relatively ‘minor’ sports (in terms of popularity) and that the financial rewards available to players would obviously therefore be commensurately modest.

Which provides the starting point for this article; no one has the right to be paid for playing sport.

In life there are essential public roles like doctors, teachers, soldiers, etc. and Society determines how many of each role are needed and how ‘valuable’ each is (salary) whilst legislation enshrines equality in terms of reward for equivalent jobs.

However, for private sector roles (which includes professional sports) Society doesn’t determine how many people are engaged in any particular activity or their salaries (except a minimum salary for employees) and it’s self-evident that:

  1. a business can only employ people if it generates revenue, and
  2. the number of employees and their level of pay will be determined by the amount of revenue generated.

No one would seek to argue that the examples cited at the start of the article are ‘unfair’ – a sports body cannot distribute money it doesn’t have and players choose to participate in full knowledge of the likely rewards. Yet for more popular sports such as football, cricket and rugby much current debate about how much female sports players are (or ‘should be’) paid chooses to ignore these basic business principles and instead seeks to theorise ‘what constitutes a fair salary?’ as if this figure is independent of the revenue their sport generates.

Ignoring government grants, any sport has four possible revenue streams:

  1. fans who are willing to pay to watch the sport in person;
  2. media companies which are willing to pay for the broadcast and digital rights (the costs being recouped via subscriptions and/or advertising);
  3. sponsorship; and
  4. merchandise.

Hence the number of fans, their willingness to pay to watch the sport, and how attractive they are to advertisers and/or sponsors determines the amount of money coming into a sport and thereby establishes a cap on how much can be spent on sustaining and growing the sport (including wages for staff and players).

Premier League football is a pure manifestation of this model, albeit one which benefits massively from being an established product with a large fanbase which is attractive to certain advertisers / sponsors and whose willingness to pay is well-understood. The cricket WPL utilises the same model, although it differs in that the sums involved can only be justified on the expectation of a significant increase in the fan base and that this fan base can be monetised. The WPL investors and sponsors are thus taking significant risks regarding both the potential market and the willingness of fans to pay for a product which has hitherto been free (or very cheap). But in both cases the same fundamental business principle applies – (over time, in the case of the WPL) revenue must exceed outgoings.

Looking to examples in our everyday lives, no one would argue, for example, that a successful restaurant should cross-subsidise a less popular one and we readily accept that customers decide which establishments prosper and which fail. Similarly, we don’t expect all bands or comedians to be equally popular – fans will determine who does well. At the same time however, we might also recognise that some groups of people are over-represented in some sectors or that there are barriers to entry which means some groups are under-represented, and any just Society would want to ensure that under-represented or disadvantaged groups have the same chances to succeed. This isn’t only fair-minded, the consumer benefits too. Who wouldn’t want wider choice, more variety, new offerings? But critically the objective of any such targeted intervention cannot be ‘equality of outcome’ but ‘equality of opportunity’. Provided everyone has the same chance to be e.g., an actor or an entrepreneur then the market must ultimately be free to assign a value to people’s efforts; some restaurants will be more popular than others (not necessarily based on the quality of the food) and being a good actor doesn’t guarantee that your play will sell out if the audience prefer (based on criteria which they alone decide) to spend their money elsewhere.

Cricket is rightly concerned about ‘equality of opportunity’. If women (or e.g., some ethnic groups or people living in certain areas) haven’t previously felt that cricket was a game for them then all cricket fans should want to address this whether their motivation is acknowledging historical societal injustices, inclusion or simply wanting to maximise the number of people who enjoy the sport (playing or supporting). Regarding this final point, when there are so many activities competing for people’s time and money and the viability of many small clubs is in doubt, cricket’s survival (as both a spectator and player sport) depends in its ability to both maintain and expand its fan base.

Fans of women’s cricket, myself included, were genuinely excited by the recent WPL auctions and the potential for the best players in the world to earn serious amounts of money, but it also prompted me to question some of the arguments deployed regarding pay in the women’s game. Surely, it’s disingenuous to approve when the free market delivers an outcome I like (such as the WPL), but to argue that fundamental business principles (i.e., pay should be linked to revenue generated) aren’t relevant when they produce outcomes which I don’t?

I anticipate that some readers are ready to accuse me of positing that women players don’t deserve to be paid the same as the men or that the women’s game isn’t the ‘equal’ of the men’s game, but they should note that this article hasn’t made any reference to salaries in the men’s game or hypothesised what a fair salary might be. So far, this article has simply put forward 2 criteria for reward in any sport: firstly, that no one can expect to be paid for playing a sport unless there’s a fan base to fund them (whether directly or indirectly); and, secondly, provided that everyone has the same ‘equality of opportunity’, that the free market should subsequently determine their level of reward.

Whether you feel positive or negative at this point may well depend on the opportunities you see for the women’s game. If you view the potential fanbase for women’s cricket and the scope for revenue generation to be limited, regardless of how high the standard is or how well it’s marketed and sold, then you may not like the outcome of applying these two criteria. But, if you don’t accept that reward should be linked to popularity and revenue generation, then how do you rationalise (and accept) the differing rewards accruing to today’s top women cricketers compared to the Real Tennis world champion or a UK netballer or a top badminton player?

Alternatively, you might, like me (and, more importantly, people like the WPL franchise holders, media companies and sponsors), envisage a future where women’s cricket can develop a large fan base which is willing to pay to watch the support and which is attractive to advertisers and sponsors.

What would that take? Fundamentally it would require the women’s game to have complete financial and marketing independence – with all the associated risks and opportunities. Are the current administrators willing to accept autonomy with its corollary of accountability? At one stroke, this would serve to end all debate about how the women’s game is currently promoted and its share of co-mingled revenue. It would be for this women’s administrative body to decide the structure of the game, which formats were played, the scheduling of matches and how the game was promoted. It should also have the right to strike separate deals with broadcasters and sponsors. (The ICC is already committed to selling the rights to women’s tournaments separately, initially just in India.) The competence of this board and the quality of its decisions would solely determine the game’s ability to generate and maximise its revenue. (One point of clarification, I’m only talking about pay and reward in the professional game. Given the wider and indivisible benefits to cricket of having more people playing cricket identified earlier in this article, ‘the men’s game’ should continue funding all women’s age group and county cricket.)

Secondly, any cross reference to men’s pay would be rendered irrelevant. The women’s sport would be a stand-alone business and, within its budget, the various woman’s administrative bodies would have complete freedom to decide the structure of the game including the number of professionals and their salaries.

Instead of aping the format of the men’s competitions, they could experiment to find out what works for women’s cricket. Is there demand for weekends / festivals of women’s cricket e.g., with all 8 UK regional teams playing at one venue over the course of a weekend or a few days? What would be the market for playing two T20 internationals in a single day? Could an Anzac team or an International Development team be invited to play in the CEC or RHF (with reciprocation for player development)?

Similarly, it would a decision solely for the women’s board if, for instance, they wanted to play more Tests. Marketed differently these games might be extremely popular but, conversely, if these games needed to be subsidised (just as the men’s game subsidises their 50 over competition and even county cricket) this decision would have a direct and transparent impact on the funds available for other activities.

Perhaps a media outlet which doesn’t currently show cricket (e.g., Facebook or Amazon) might seek the rights? Or new sponsors and advertisers might emerge who value the potentially-different demographics of the fan base? One of the manufacturers of cricket equipment might see an opportunity to take a large share of the growing women’s market. Perhaps the women’s administrators or players might decide to take an ethical stand regarding e.g., betting sponsors? Could a co-operative structure work whereby players owned tournaments and kept all the profits?

Notwithstanding the day-to-day separation of the women’s and men’s games, there’d remain both a need and a benefit for men’s and women’s administrative bodies to work closely together on issues of synergistic or mutual concern. Arrangements like double-headers should still continue; the hosts benefitting from spectators spending more time at the ground and the women’s game enjoying the greater exposure (although there’d need to be data-driven discussions regarding sharing of ticket receipts – something which, to date, the ECB has shown no desire to empirically quantify).

Obviously, there’d need to be a transition period for the women’s game to prepare for the new arrangements (and for extant media deals to expire), but the fundamental question is ‘does the women’s game want to assume responsibility for its destiny?’

The opportunity exists to create a business model which provides excellent salaries for professional players and which can sustain the necessary pyramid of talent. Women’s sport shouldn’t be sold or marketed as an hors d’oeuvre for the ‘main’ (male) event or ‘double the airtime’ for a few dollars more. This devalues the sport and the players whilst entrenching the conditions for irritation and lingering resentment. (If budgets are squeezed in the future, the situation might arise where ‘the men’s game’ starts to question the equity of the current arrangements?) Surely, now is the time to devolve as much responsibility as possible to the male and female formats.

It is pure speculation what the end result would be. Done well, there is undoubtedly a scenario where regional professionals could be paid more and the top players considerably more. Conversely, it might transpire that the game cannot support the current structure and a different arrangement is required. But wouldn’t it better if the outcome was in the hands of a dedicated body whose only focus and ambition was for the success of women’s cricket?

OPINION: WPL Predictions – Expect A Lot Of Surprises!

By Andy Frombolton

When the men’s IPL launched, it was bringing a new product (T20) to a large existing (fanatical) market, whereas the WIPL is the complete opposite i.e. it’s bringing a recognised product to a small established fanbase (with the expectation that interest and demand can be grown). 

So, whilst launching the IPL wasn’t without risks (only KKR made money in the first few years), the IPL investors could look to other countries (the English and Australian T20 competitions) for reassurance that existing fans could be won over to the new format. As to finances, franchise owners were guaranteed their share of the central revenue (broadcast and tournament sponsorship) which could be supplemented by prize money and local revenue (share of ticket sales, merchandise and team sponsorship). Hence, there was a shared common objective to ensure the tournament’s success (thereby growing the shared revenue pool), and a franchise-level objective to assemble a successful team to both maximise your chances of securing prize money and also engender supporter loyalty for the new teams.

The WPL therefore faces slightly different challenges with its far-lower starting point in terms of fanbase, and considerably more uncertainty regarding the size of the future market. Data from the US, the UK and Europe shows steadily-building viewing figures as more women’s sport is broadcast, but extrapolating recent growth to make forecasts about future audiences is perilous. Will consumers of women’s sport be as dedicated / obsessive as many followers of men’s sport are? Will male viewers prove as willing to watch women’s sport as women are men’s (particularly if there’s an alternative men’s game to watch)? And most important of all, will the Asian market behave in the same way? 

In the UK, some reporting has adopted an almost romanticised view of the franchise owners’ motives – as though they’re driven by a deep love of women’s cricket. The reality, of course, is that they are business people, not philanthropists, who seek to monetise an under-exploited market. (If they thought they could make more money developing women’s football then that’s where they’d be investing all their money.)

So whilst it’s fun for we writers in the UK to draw up fantasy team lists comprising our favourite players and blithely assume that the same names will be on each owner’s ‘wish list’, their decisions won’t be driven by reputation or affection but solely by facts, data and risk/return analysis. 

We also need to recognise how unimportant we (English fans) are to the project’s success. Looking at viewing figures for the 2020 IPL, the domestic Indian TV audience for the opening game was 200 million, whilst the UK audience averaged 168,000 and peaked at 234,000. At approximately 1% of viewing figures, UK interest in the IPL is both a statistical and financial irrelevance (with Australian, South African and New Zealand viewing figures even less so), and there’s no rationale to believe that the WIPL will be any different. The only market which really matters is the Indian market. And next will be target markets which are perceived to offer far greater growth potential such as Bangladesh and Thailand, and beyond them South America, USA and eventually China.

Consequently, for these 2 reasons, we may be over-estimating how many international players are going to be involved. 

There are only 3 reasons to have overseas players in your domestic team: 

  1. Performance. An overseas player is considerably better than any domestic equivalent. These are your premium players. 

    However, having internationals plugging the gaps simply perpetuates current weaknesses and the BCCI will be keen that the WIPL develops talent for the national team. Any recruitment will come with an expectation that teams rapidly develop domestic replacements for future seasons.
  2. Star quality / totemic. A player whose star appeal / marketing impact goes beyond the objective value of their on-field performances.

    Although there are many players who current fans might deem ‘greats of the game’, they are largely unknown to the new target audience. However, starting from a low recognition point also brings benefits, as teams can shape who gets to become a new hero. Consequently, relatable players (“I want to be her” (cricket skills) or “I want to be like her” (image, life style)) might find themselves selected above players with better stats, simply because of their potential marketing appeal to the domestic (Indian) market.
  3. Strategic signings. Would the level of interest in any country increase in proportion to the number of players selected? On the one hand, it’s unlikely that UK interest would increase dramatically if there were e.g. 10 English players involved instead of 5, yet having e.g. 2 Thai players involved could mean the difference between ‘no interest’ and ‘significant interest’ in that market. Canny teams with an eye on the future may therefore pick more than one associate player.

Quite simply, the WIPL launch doesn’t need overseas players in the same way that the IPL did. Most of the new target audience doesn’t know much about women’s cricket and even less about most of the individual players. Also, the tournament is short and hence teams don’t need much contingency for injury or rotation.

Therefore, just because each franchise is allowed a maximum of 6 overseas players from the ‘established’ nations, my prediction is that the sensible ones won’t recruit that many. Why pay for 6 when you could instead pay a premium to guarantee getting your 4 priority international players, whilst also paying your domestic and associate players more (thereby engendering their loyalty)? Assuming they remain fit, these 4 will play every game – so why pay 2 internationals to carry drinks? And if a team really felt that it needed another international player they could still stick to this basic strategy and recruit a ‘cheap’ proven player (such as a Tess Flintoff or Tara Norris), who could ‘do a job’ if required but would recognise the career benefits of simply being ‘in and around’ the tournament. Moreover, having now seen the reserve prices for the shortlisted players, it’s reasonable to predict that many have simply priced themselves out of contention – especially if there’s a bidding war for some of the top players which leaves a smaller-than-planned budget to complete the squad.

Also, making money on the WIPL requires teams to build brand loyalty which is greatly facilitated by having the same international players return each year. Unfortunately, this might work against older players (however talented). 

So, what types of players are best placed to win contracts?

To win games, you need to put big scores on the board, but only 10 batters strike consistently at >120 at international level, of whom only 2 are Indian (Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma). There are then 11 batters who strike at 110-120, of whom only 1 (Jemimah Rodrigues) is Indian. So, any team would want 2 of the top 8 non-Indian strikers and might consider a third player from the second group if they also bring something with the ball, keep wicket or are a dynamic fielder.

Similarly, teams need bowlers with the proven capability to remove the best batters, since if you take out a team’s top 3-4 batters it becomes almost irrelevant who the next batters are (since none of them score at much more than SR100). 

In women’s cricket, slow bowlers are generally more economical than faster ones, but with respect to strike bowlers no single ‘type’ of bowling dominates – it’s all about the individual. And a quick deep dive quickly differentiates which bowlers routinely take out the best batters and whose figures are flattered by ‘cheap’ lower-order wickets. 

My ‘Top 20’ internationals (who gets picked after this depends which teams secure the services of these players): 

Premium Prestige

(I’m assuming Harmanpreet Kaur, Mandhana and Deepti Sharma will captain 3 of the franchises)

  • E. Perry (captain)
  • S. Devine (captain)


  • B. Mooney (wk)
  • A. Healy (wk)
  • D. Wyatt
  • G. Harris
  • A. Jones (wk)
  • S. Dunkley
  • A. Capsey


  • G. Wareham
  • M. Schutt
  • S. Ecclestone
  • S. Glenn
  • D. Brown


  • D. Dottin
  • A. Kerr
  • T. McGrath
  • A. Gardner
  • C. Tryon
  • H. Matthews

And if I was selecting a team …?

  • Wyatt (SR 125, no weakness against any type of bowling, great outfielder)
  • Mooney (SR 125, superb fielder but should keep wicket)
  • Dottin (batting SR 123, also ‘top 10’ strike bowler)
  • Ecclestone (superb bowling SR, equally effective at any stage of an innings, massively-undervalued batter)
  • (Associate) Chantham (Thailand) 

Auction day is going to be a fascinating day!

FROM THE FUTURE: 2023 T20 World Cup Final – Report

By our time-travelling contributor Andy Frombolton

The competition for the right to play Australia in the 2023 T20 World Cup Final went pretty much as predicted.

Most of the teams enjoyed some pre-tournament practice; although the quality varied significantly and didn’t test the stronger teams. England came into the series having defeated Hayley Matthews before Christmas, whilst NZ similarly dispatched Bangladesh; Australia saw off Pakistan and most recently South Africa played West Indies and India. The results of these various series seemed to merely confirm the obvious power hierarchy with the losing opposition probably gaining far more from these games than the largely-untested victors. Again, nothing in the friendlies or the warm-up games alluded to a shifting in the rankings and provided little scope for experimentation. As with all the various pre-tournament series, it was disappointing how often the weaker teams (whether by their choice or insertion) batted first in these games; meaning many batters started the tournament seriously short of match practice.

Beyond the actual results, observers may perhaps look back at this tournament for 3 reasons.

Firstly, it constituted the moment when (hopefully) the administrators of Australian, English and Indian women’s cricket finally realised that it’s not much fun (nor is it helpful for the development of the international game) playing countries who simply aren’t very good and, more to the point, which have little prospect of becoming much better in the near future unless ‘The Big 3’ seize the initiative to help them improve by funding player exchanges, loaning them coaches and giving them lots of quality match practice . including low key series against development squads. There were far too many mismatches – to the point where some opined that, having so long sought a wider audience for the women’s game, this tournament may have done as much harm as good with many fans left disappointed at the standard of cricket and the cynics feeling validated.

Secondly, it was also the last tournament played before the advent of the WIPL when the whole world was to change for a small number of players. With the potential for life-changing amounts to be earned, it was perhaps inevitable that this impacted some performances; often imperceptibly, always unconsciously. But who could blame a player in possible contention for a WIPL contract for not throwing themselves quite so vigorously around on the boundary to save a couple of runs (with the resultant risk of injury) if the result was not going to be impacted or if a batter chasing a low target was possibly more focussed on scoring runs for themselves than taking risks to win the game early? Some even suggested (without any proof) that this was why, contra to previous tournaments, so many of the major teams elected to bat first because inserting the opposition and dismissing them for a low score wouldn’t leave much opportunity for batters to impress the WIPL selectors.

Thirdly, there was a significant shift in the level of analysis and scrutiny which performances were subject to. Suddenly, there was a lot more data available and opposition teams were using it – with the consequence that life suddenly became much harder for many players. The truly good players serenely carried on being very good, but many others were found out. Who knew Player X simply couldn’t score once you cut off her 2 best shots? Now, every batter knows that bowler Y changes their run-up when they bowl their googly (and that it’s usually short). And “there’s always 2 to Player Z” because they have a weak throw. More was expected of players generically, in respect of general athleticism and skills, and the commentators were more willing to call out any instances which fell beneath the new higher benchmarks. Many players relished the chance to showcase their skills, but not all coped well under the new regime.

The group stages went very much as expected – a series of mismatched games between the Big 5 and the rest. (Or, to better recognise the relative status of the teams, … “between ‘The Big 1’, ‘The Next 2’, and ‘Numbers 4 and 5‘ and the rest”.) The other teams played with conviction, spirit and enjoyed moments which hinted at their potential, but unfortunately many games didn’t make for riveting viewing.

In Group A there was the question of whether South Africa or New Zealand would take second place; a question answered in their head-to-head when the Kiwis, several of their veterans seemingly inspired by the prospect of what might possibly be their last outing on the world stage, dispatched a spirited South African team desperately missing DvN’s captaincy nous, lacking the necessary spinning options and missing the batting power to chase down NZ’s impressive total built on the back of Devine’s brutal 80 at a SR of 150. In the wooden spoon game Bangladesh thrashed Sri Lanka to underpin how far standards have fallen there (and also how much Bangladesh had improved).

In Group B, whilst there was never any real doubt which teams would take the top 2 slots, both India and England still managed those moments of fallibility which so exasperates fans and commentators alike. Playing their first 2 games at Boland Park, several England batters took advantage of the ball travelling further in the thin air to clear the ropes, albeit against inexperienced and variable bowling attacks. Neither game did much to prepare the team for the challenges of facing a more skilful Indian attack.

India meanwhile ruthlessly dispatched Pakistan and West Indies, their batters similarly taking advantage of the small boundaries and poor fielding.

Come the India v England match at Gqeberha (formerly Port Elisabeth), England fielded a batting-heavy team, won the toss, chose to bat first and swiftly found themselves reduced to 25-4; three of the batters failing to clear the ropes at sea level as they’d done at Boland Park. It took some slow but skilful rebuilding by the middle order and some late bludgeoning by K Sciver-Brunt and Ecclestone to get England to what still looked like a severely below-par score. However, as everyone knows, it’s bowling attacks which win T20s, not batters, and fortunately all England’s bowlers utilised the conditions well with Amy Jones standing up to the stumps to everyone, inducing first frustration and then mistakes from Mandhana and Kaur. England scraped home by 8 runs.

England being England, they then nearly made a complete mess of chasing 110 in their final group match against Pakistan but still ended atop of Group B.

The 2 semi-finals – as is so often the case in global tournaments – constituted the best 2 games of the whole tournament.

England versus NZ was a probably the best game of all. The 2 teams had already met recently in 3 friendlies and 1 warm up, so each knew everything about the other’s strengths and weaknesses. With Knight forced to sit the game out following some inflammation to her hip, England found themselves unexpectedly captained, not by official vice captain Sciver-Brunt, but by Ecclestone – coach Jon Lewis demonstrating his willingness to move on from the previous regime. Denied their preference to bat first, England deployed surprise tactics and opened with spin at both ends and at the end of the powerplay NZ were just 30-2 with Bates and Kerr both back in the dugout. Excited pundits urged England to press home their advantage given NZ’s lack of batting depth, using Dunkley’s occasional part-time spin if necessary, but rather than continue with what had worked, Ecclestone seemed to lose her confidence in the tactic and brought on N. Sciver-Brunt and Bell in the middle overs. Pace on the ball was what Green and Devine had wanted with the small outfield and the following 10 overs was carnage as NZ reached 120-3 off 16. A couple of missed half-chances and some targeting of England’s 5th / 6th bowlers didn’t help and 150 or even 160 looked a distinct possibility. However, the (with hindsight) inspired decision to deploy the rarely-used Danni Wyatt to bowl the 17th over saw 2 wickets fall and Ecclestone and Cross closed out the innings with tight bowling which was too good for the NZ middle order.

141 was still a tough target though and things looked bleak when England lost 2 wickets in the first 3 overs (Wyatt again caught on the boundary and Capsey not making it home for a sharp second run). Thereafter Dunkley and N. Sciver-Brunt settled the nerves and kept up with the run rate until the 14th over whereafter 4 wickets fell for just 7 runs and it took Dean, seizing her chance in Knight’s absence, to smash 18 off 5 balls and see England home with 1 ball to spare.

In the other semi-final, India provided Australia with a huge scare. 3 wickets in the powerplay saw Australia’s middle order – so rarely tested in the past 2 years – required to deliver. Watched on by Grace Harris, cursed to have been born in the only country where she and her sister wouldn’t be permanent fixtures in the national squad, Mooney, Perry and Gardener delivered a masterclass in manoeuvring the bowling and sharp running. Australia’s 172-5 looked formidable, but fans who’d watched Australia’s pre-Christmas tour where India had twice scored more than 180 batting second knew that this Indian team wouldn’t think this total was beyond them especially if the Madhana-Kaur show came to town.

After 6 overs, India’s score stood at 72-0. Australia had already used 5 bowlers and looked bereft of ideas. They’d used 9 bowlers in the 3rd T20 against Pakistan and similarly-desperate tactics looked on the cards. However, as if written in the stars, Healey then took an incredible diving catch down the left to dimiss Mandhana, a riposte to those arguing that Mooney should have the gloves to make space for Harris, and thereafter Australia wrestled back control; India falling just 4 short when, after 2 warnings, Brown ran out Sharma for backing up too far off the final ball. (The English media loved this moment, accompanying the photo with the sub-editor’s witty caption ‘Karma for Sharma’.)

The Final saw Knight fit again and another sign that she and Jon Lewis were willing to make tough decisions with the dropping of Amy Jones whose keeping hadn’t been to her very-high standards for much of the tournament (which had seemingly impacted her confidence and thus her contributions with the bat ). Awarding the gloves to Winfield-Hill was the right decision for the moment and Jon Lewis tactfully declined to comment on anything to do with central contracts awarded before his appointment.

England won the toss and, having noted how the pitches got easier to play on in the SA20 as the day wore on, elected to field even though this would require them to chase, something they’d tended to avoid whenever possible in the previous few years.

Returning captain Knight chose not to replicate Ecclestone’s successful run-stifling-spin tactics and the openers started as Australia meant to go. 5 boundaries came from the first 2 overs – and no dot balls. Mooney (the ‘best player in the world’ if stats took proper account of fielding contributions) and Healey quickly induced several pieces of ragged fielding by alternating ‘walloping the ball’ with ‘tip and run’ and it took a great piece of fielding by Bouchier to run out Mooney. Luckily, England had picked 3 spinners for the final and this trio of England spinners, complemented by the routinely-(self)-under-deployed Knight, wrestled back a degree of control.

Still at the half way stage 167-6 looked a very good score on a wicket demonstrating variable bounce, and so it transpired to be.

168 equates to a SR of 140 and unfortunately England have only 1 batter with a proven ability to strike above 120 – Wyatt. To Wyatt, Brown came round the wicket, bowling full on her pads with the 6-3 offside field denied her any value for her shots again and again. For the other batters, Lanning revealed her ‘mind games’ masterstroke, bringing every fielder except 1 inside the inner circle to create a sneering ring of encroaching fielders. Denied the opportunity to take sharp singles and not able to go over the ring, runs dried up. After 10 overs, England were just 49-4; two skied shots, a terrible mix-up and a stumping (some maintained it should have been deemed ‘a run-out’ so far was the desperate batter down the wicket) accounting for the wickets. With the run rate over 12, the outcome was already decided but Lanning went for the kill bowling King and Gardner for 8 straight overs in tandem. The end, when it came, saw England all out for 112 with in the 18th over.

Australia thus retained the T20 world cup for the third time in a row whilst the 2nd, 3rd and 4th places broadly confirmed what everyone knew before the competition started. Australia are deserved and indisputable world champions (and their A side would have a good chance of being #2), India has leapt above England to warrant the #2 position, England are a potent side but lacking batting firepower, whilst South Africa and NZ have both peaked (for now).

So, ‘Well played Australia’, well done England and ‘Look out, world!’ for India’s star is in the ascendancy.

EXCLUSIVE: Inequitable Treatment of England U19s Revealed

With the inaugural Women’s U19 World Cup just weeks away, CRICKETher has learned of severe disparities in the treatment of the England Women’s and Men’s U19 squads over the winter.

The England Men’s U19s have just returned from two weeks together doing “warm weather” training in Abu Dhabi. In the new year they will travel to Australia for a month-long tour, playing Australia Men’s U19s in two Youth Tests, three Youth ODIs and one Youth IT20.

By contrast, the England Women’s U19 squad have spent the entire winter at Loughborough training indoors, with “warm weather” opportunities ahead of the World Cup quite literally non-existent.

In a recent piece on the ECB’s own website, new Men’s U19 Head Coach Michael Yardy says: “At this level it’s really important that we’re able to offer a range of experiences that can add value to a young player’s development.

It begs the question – why deny those experiences to a group of young women of the same age? Are they somehow less worthy of having their development enhanced?

It makes even less sense given that the women will have had far less opportunities so far in their careers than their male counterparts, who are almost all embedded in professional county structures by the time they are selected for the Young Lions. In addition, the U19 women are about to compete in a World Cup against sides who have been playing competitive cricket throughout the English winter.

If budgets were a concern, the money being spent on sending the men to Abu Dhabi presumably could have been split between the two squads and used to send both sides “short-haul” for warm weather training.

Can there really be any excuse for such enormous disparity in the treatment of the two junior set-ups?

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.