Coverage Of World Cup Qualifiers Encouraging For Women’s Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she made scores of 4, 4 and 0.

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

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

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

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

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

OPINION: Camp Selections Point To England Ins And Outs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPINION: The Winner Takes It All?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Thoughts: West Indies v England 5th ODI

Selection

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

England’s Fielding

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

Alex Hartley

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

Nat Sciver

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

Random Thoughts: West Indies v England 4th ODI

England’s Bowling

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

* Thanks to @_hypocaust on Twitter for the tip!

England’s Batting

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

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

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

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

Random Thoughts: West Indies v England 3rd ODI

England’s Batting

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

West Indies’ Fielding

  • Dire!
  • (Enough said!)

England’s Bowling

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

England’s Fielding

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

The Live-Stream

  • Awesome!
  • (Enough said!)

Random Thoughts: West Indies v England 2nd ODI

England’s Batting

  • It’s not often that you win an ODI without one of your players making 50; England would have been very lucky to have pulled it off twice in the course of three days. Today, four of their batsmen – Beaumont, Elwiss, Knight and Sciver – all got starts but failed to push on. Ultimately that’s where the game was lost.
  • England’s mammoth collapse from 93-3 to 110 all out exposes the fact that they have a bit (a lot?) more of a tail than they had a year ago. It doesn’t help that this team’s success over the summer against Pakistan was built around the strength of their top-order batting, with everyone below that barely getting a look in. Inexperience can find you out in high-pressure situations.

The Pitch

  • Today’s was another low-scoring game, on what looked like another poor pitch. Robbo described it on TMS as “good attritional cricket” – we agree with the last two words, but aren’t quite so sure about the first! What’s baffling is that West Indies are a side of big hitters – surely they can’t be any happier with these pitches than England? Perhaps the WICB needs to step in? In any case, let’s hope for better wickets at Sabina Park.

England’s Fielding

  • A couple of chances went begging today – including Marsh putting Dottin down on 6 (she went on to make 21). You might get away with that against some teams, but when playing a side like West Indies, England really need to rediscover their ruthless streak.

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life… 

  • England might have lost today but – at the risk of sounding like a player in a post-match press conference – there are definitely some positives to take away. Alex Hartley already has 7 wickets this series and just missed out on a five-fer today. Over the summer it was Sophie Ecclestone who looked more of a natural in an England shirt; Hartley was at risk of playing second-fiddle left-armer this series, but she’s responded to that pressure brilliantly.
  • Amy Jones also deserves a mention. This is the first overseas tour in her career that she’s been the first choice keeper from the get-go, and it seems to have done wonders for her confidence. Today she spent a significant proportion of Katherine Brunt’s overs standing right up to the stumps a la Sarah Taylor – and pulled off a great stumping of Stacy-Ann King as a result.

Random Thoughts: West Indies v England 1st ODI

Selection

England went in with 7 batsmen, including Amy Jones – who got her first opportunity out in the middle in an ODI since South Africa last winter – and only 4 bowlers. They can get away with this because they know that between Nat Sciver, Heather Knight and Georgia Elwiss, they have plenty of options for the other 10 overs they need to find.

But where England are gambling a little bit though is in picking both Elwiss and Danni Wyatt – not because this doesn’t work on a game-by-game basis, but because if this is the strategy, it means that they don’t have any backup batsmen on this tour – if the plan is to play 7 batsmen, and someone gets injured, there is no cover and you’re bust! Fingers crossed then! (Especially as the really crucial “Championship” matches are at the end of the tour!)

Batting

Given that the pitch was clearly made of plasticine… and not new plasticine either, but plasticine that has been in the playbox for a year so all the colors have gotten mixed-up into a hazy shade of purply-brown… batting was never going to be easy. It was interesting that the one player that mastered it was Danni “Bish Bash Bosh” Wyatt, who neither bished, nor bashed, nor boshed; but played relatively patiently, hitting just one boundary in her 44. It goes without saying that if she had not knuckled-down as she did, England would not have won this game, and Wyatt was deservedly Man of the Match.

Bowling

It was definitely a “team performance” with the ball – 2 wickets each for Ecclestone and Marsh; and 3 each for Brunt and Hartley.

This was actually a huge game for Alex Hartley – she is six years older than Ecclestone (23 to 17) and had a couple of wobbles over the summer – the pressure was really on to show she could mix it with the big girls out there – and she did – the wicket of Taylor was obviously huge, but to stay focussed and pick up another next ball was just fantastic.

As for Brunt, Heather Knight really threw the dice bringing her back when she did – pace back on the ball could have been just what the doctor ordered for the West Indies, and even if she hadn’t gone for runs, she would have been bowled out with still LOTS of time for the Windies to nurdle their way to victory, which was all they needed to do. But the gamble paid off with the final two wickets; and for the second time in a day, after New Zealand v South Africa earlier, a team had successfully defended a tiny total with the main damage we suspect being to the coach’s fingernails!!

Stream If You Wanna Go Faster

Okay, so the stream was only one (fixed) camera, and the quality was so poor that it was often difficult to see the ball. A second (non-fixed) camera, as Ireland used in the summer, would have made a big difference; but this means having to pay two more people – a cameraman and a producer to flick between them – and here’s the thing: it was still sooooo much better than no stream at all, and together with the TMS commentary, it sure beats refreshing a scorecard on Cricinfo!

There is a lesson for the ECB to learn here – you sometimes get the impression that in terms of coverage it is all or nothing for them – if they can’t afford seventeen cameras, and a production booth the size of a battleship, they would rather not do it. And it is true that a stream like that probably won’t win any new fans; but for the fans you have it is a life-saver in terms of cementing their engagement!

OPINION: Counties Between Hope & Despair Thanks To KSL-50 Uncertainty

As another domestic season draws to a close in England, the counties prepare for their long winter hibernation… but what kind of a world will they wake up to next spring? The truth is that nobody – not even those “in the know” – actually knows.

What we do know is that the ECB are clearly determined to press ahead with the 50-Over Kia Super League; but where this leaves the counties – especially the Div 1 counties, who share a lot of players with KSL – nobody is quite sure: the ECB are currently conducting a review of this year’s KSL, from which will emerge a strategy for next year, but this means that at the moment there is quite simply no information.

Information, however, abhors a vacuum, and in its place, rumours fly uncontrollably. In the past few weeks we’ve heard speculation covering every base from: (a) the County Championship will be effectively abolished in its current “national” form, and replaced by a regional competition; to (z) the KSL-50 will be played on Wednesdays to allow all the players to continue to play the County Championship on Sundays.

Meanwhile the counties themselves are trying to draw up winter training programs, but the information vacuum has left them writing them up on a blackboard… in black chalk… in the dark!

Berkshire, for example, want to build over the winter, but they simply don’t know which players they will have – they have already lost 3 of the squad to “retirements” – Amanda Potgieter, off to start a new life in New Zealand; Alex Rogers, off to do the same in Australia; and Rachel Hardy, off to college in America on a football (soccer) scholarship. Now they face the possibility of maybe losing Heather Knight, Linsey Smith, Carla Rudd, Lissy Macleod, Fi Morris and Daisy Gardner too – all to KSL-50.

That’s pretty-much their entire 1st XI, which is sad, but ironically not actually the real point – it is that word “maybe” which is killing them. How can they even select their winter training squads, let alone book gyms and nets, when they don’t know which players they’ve got, or which competitions they will be competing in?

Sussex meanwhile are potentially in even more of a pickle – they have massively restructured and professionalised their women’s program, taking the “business” side of it fully into Sussex CCC, and building a new “Women’s Academy” – a huge investment, presumably based on the premise that county remains the seat of elite women’s cricket in this country. Are they now potentially about to have the rug pulled away from beneath their feet and discover that that is no longer the case, if the county championship is indeed effectively consigned to a regional development structure?

Again, we emphasise, these are all “ifs” – nobody knows – but to quote John Cleese’s character in the movie Clockwise – “I can take the despair – it’s the hope I can’t stand” – and that’s how the counties feel right now.

Answers are needed… and they are needed soon.