Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes Test – Day 1

Gunn Fired

[That’s enough Jenny Gunn puns now Syd – Ed.]

We debated whether Fran Wilson would have to make way for Georgia Elwiss; but in the end it was Jenny Gunn who was left on the sidelines, with Mark Robinson clearly deciding that England needed Elwiss’s batting more than they needed Gunn’s bowling. Was this a good decision? Well… Elwiss didn’t exactly “fail” with the bat but it remains to be seen how we’ll feel if (when?) Australia are 300-3 this time tomorrow and all our front-line bowlers are exhausted!

Winfield Not Winning

Unlike Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Winfield has struggled to build on her 2016 purple patch – her numbers have reverted back to where they were pre-2016; and today she faced over 50 balls for just 4 runs, before getting out to a shot that she shouldn’t have gone near with a barge-pole, let alone her bat!

But… but.. but… who or what is the alternative? Heather Knight doesn’t want to open; Sarah Taylor shouldn’t open; and we’ve just got rid of all the “senior” batsmen in our Academy! If there was an easy answer, believe us, we’d be all over it – we are The Media™ – we love easy answers; but in this case there isn’t one – we just have to trust that Winfield will come good again in time.

A Way Back For England?

England just about edged the first session-and-a-half – Beaumont and Knight both played well for their 50s, but they couldn’t push on and Australia smashed the final session, as England melted in the darkness. 237-7 is not a good place to be, and you have to feel this is Australia’s game to lose now.

If there is a way back for England, it is to bat long enough tomorrow to prevent the Aussies piling on the runs during the day, and then hope that they too struggle under the lights in the evening session. In the last Test at Canterbury in 2015, Anya Shrubsole occupied the crease for over an hour for a 47-ball duck – it was widely derided at the time, but it would actually be quite a useful contribution here – the duck is intact, and she is 15 balls in already – maybe she can push on towards 50 (balls) tomorrow?

Advertisements

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 3rd ODI

Never Say Die

With England already 4-0 down on points in this series, today’s game really was do or die – fortunately one thing we know about Mark Robinson’s England is that they never say die! With Australia 159-2 after 30 overs, chasing 278 with 8 wickets in hand, it really seemed (to us at least!) like the end might be nigh; but a combination of economical bowling and, eventually, some key wickets paid dividends. If England can win the Test they are right back in this series.

England’s Batting

This was, overall, a much improved performance with the bat from England, helped by the fact that they reverted to playing to their strengths, and choosing to bat when they won the toss. With 3 players – Taylor, Beaumont and Knight – all making 50, England’s best batsmen are at last showing some form.

Of the 3, Heather Knight’s innings was probably the most important. Having lost 3 wickets for 9 runs in the middle overs, England really needed her both to weather the storm and remain in until the end, AND to ensure that she kept the strike rate up above 100, so that they had time to set a competitive total – she managed both, finishing 88 not out from 80 balls.

One concern for England is their incomprehensible zeal for the ramp shot. Taylor whipped it out when still on 0* and was lucky not to be dismissed – Beaumont later followed suit, missed it completely and promptly found herself stumped on 74. Either the England coaches are giving some quite unhelpful advice, or the England batsmen are ignoring the advice they’re getting – either way, it’s a shot that doesn’t come off nearly enough for it to be worth the risk!

Wickets Early Doors

Robinson’s England are not known for their ability to build early foundations. In 2017 they’ve had only one 1st wicket partnership of over 50, largely because Lauren Winfield hasn’t backed up her excellent 2016 summer with subsequent consistent performances. In the 3 ODIs this series England’s first wicket has fallen with 47, 2 and 2 runs on the board, respectively.

Meanwhile Australia have racked up opening stands of 14, 98 and 118. In fact during today’s game Channel 9 brought up the following stat, which is rather concerning for a side who have generally been stronger with the ball than the bat:

It’s a stat backed up by the fact that today, of the five 10-over periods in the game, Australia were ahead in only the first 10:

Fighting back is a hallmark of this England side – but perhaps some early consistency might negate some of that need to always be playing catch up.

It should certainly provide food for thought going into the Test match, which England need to win to ensure the series is kept alive.

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 2nd ODI

Game Set & Match?

With two games played, the Australians are already 4-0 up in this Women’s Ashes series, so (assuming all matches are completed) England now need to win the Test and three of the four remaining limited overs games to bring home the trophy which started life in a wok at Lords, back in 1998.

Can they do it? Yes, of course they can – England haven’t become a bad team overnight!

Will they? Um… let’s just say it doesn’t look as easy as it did this time last week!

England: Taking The Positives

  1. England didn’t bowl too badly; and Sophie Ecclestone looked “born to run”, bowling 10 overs and going at under 5 runs per over, the only England bowler to do so.
  2. Katherine Brunt passed 50 for only the second time in her long international career – fully 12 years after the first – an Ashes Test at Worcester, way back in 2005, when she came in at 10 and batted for over two hours, putting on 85 for England’s final 1st innings wicket in partnership with Isa Guha.
  3. Alex Hartley still hasn’t been dismissed in international cricket. And she took a very good catch to dismiss Tahlia McGrath, proving that she really isn’t a complete numpty! (Not pointing fingers, but it is telling that when Katherine Brunt dropped a pretty straightforward Caught & Bowled, it was all “There are no easy catches!” and “It happens – move on!”; whereas when Alex Hartley did it, it was more like “That was easy!” and “She’s rubbish – drop her!”)

England: Taking The … Not Quite So Positives

  1. If Hartley’s catch was good, Knight’s to dismiss Villani was even better, but Villani and McGrath were both dismissed on 1; and when it really mattered (Perry, on 41; and Haynes on 60) England dropped two relatively unexacting chances. Perry went on to make 67, and Haynes 89 – that’s 55 runs gone begging, which wouldn’t quite have won the game, but would have made it a damn sight closer!
  2. Brunt’s dismissalThat’s a paddlin’! Gunn’s dismissalThat’s a paddlin’! Wrap us up in woolly socks and call us Granddad, but sometimes the paddle-sweep isn’t the right shot to play… and those sometimes are ALL THE TIME when you are trying to save the game with only the tail still to come.
  3. Last time out, none of England’s batsmen exactly “failed” – they just didn’t “succeed” by going big or long. This time around, several of them failed, whilst none of them (the “recognised” batsmen) went big or long. We’re not calling for anyone to be dropped or anything at this stage in the series; but even with the best bowling in the world, if we don’t make the runs we won’t win too many matches.

Australia

Australia definitely “won” this game more than England “lost” it – 4 of their top 5 batsmen made 50s, and their innings was perfectly paced – building and building towards a total which was probably always going to be a bit too much for England, even without the dropped catches.

And then they finished England off with the ball, without Ellyse Perry, who it looks like didn’t deserve to be taken off – though she didn’t appear to realise this, as she didn’t even wait for the umpire’s say-so before reaching for her cap. But it seems that the playing conditions override the laws – so although the laws have changed to say that a delivery only has to be “high” for the bowler to be warned and then subsequently taken off; the playing conditions say that it also has to be “dangerous”, which the second of Perry’s deliveries really wasn’t.

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 1st ODI

A Close Game?

The scoreboard will tell you this was a close match, won with just 5 balls to spare; but on the pitch Australia’s margin of victory felt a lot more convincing than that – more like 5 overs than 5 balls! This is partly down to the completely unflappable nature of Alex Blackwell – most players would have pressed the panic button watching Tahlia McGrath make 7 off 26 balls at the other end; but Blackwell just kept playing like it was never in doubt… and in the end she was right – it wasn’t!

A Low Scoring Game?

On what all the experts reckoned was a good pitch, England’s 228 – a run rate of 4.6 – felt a little short; and indeed it was well short of the 5.7 an over England averaged at the World Cup. But Australia also fell well short of the 5.4 per over they averaged at WWC17, chasing England’s total at 4.7 an over, so by recent standards it was a fairly low-scoring game. Was this to do with all the rain they’ve had in Brisbane? Perhaps – both teams had their warm-up preparations severely disrupted; but the field of play itself looked okay – remarkably, given the pictures we saw of the rain falling and the super-soppers at work yesterday – so was there something else at work?

Two Balls Better?

This was the first time these teams have played an ODI under the new playing conditions, with two balls – one at either end – and you can tell the players aren’t used to it: more than once the bowler went to return the ball to the captain at the end of the over, only to be reminded by the umpire that he (as it was in both cases here) holds on to it now!

The men have been playing with two balls for a while now – since 2011 – and there is still debate about the effect, made all the more hazy by the pull-through of T20-style power-hitting into the 50-over game. But the change was designed to benefit the bowlers, and in the immediate short term, it does seem to have caused run-rates to fall a bit – from 5.23 an over in the year before the change, to 5.18 in the year after*.

Is that what we are seeing here? Certainly when you talk to the bowlers, the ball getting old quickly has been a constant complaint, so you’d guess they feel like it should benefit them; but obviously this is just one game, so who knows? But it is definitely something to add to the list of things to investigate in a year or so’s time!

Call The Plod!

From an England fan’s perspective, if you want to Take the Positives™ then they didn’t collapse – the top 6 all got starts, and all looked reasonably comfortable; but the problem was than none of them pushed on and they all plodded… with big, ploddy boots on!

Ideally you want players to score big runs, and if they can’t do that then you want them to score quick runs; but nobody quite did either – nobody got past 50, and the highest strike rate (of the batsmen) was Fran Wilson’s 84. Contrast Heather Knight’s innings with Alyssa Healy’s: they made similar runs (15 vs 18) but Healy made her 18 in 15 balls at a strike rate of 120; Knight made her 15 in 33 balls at a strike rate of 45 – that is a big, big difference at this (or I guess any other) level of cricket; and that’s where England really must do better.

———–

* Top 8 teams in men’s ODIs, the years before & after October 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lanning’s Law asserts that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BREAKING: The Women’s County Championship

At the launch event for the (Men’s) County Championship at Merchant Taylors School last week, Clare Connor stood on stage alongside the bigwigs of the men’s game to celebrate the inclusion of a fourth “major” trophy into the pantheon of English domestic cricket – alongside the (Men’s) County Championship, the (Men’s) One Day Cup and the (Men’s) T20 Blast, we now have the Women’s Kia Super League.

“It’s a visual reminder for the game that we now have four major trophies on offer in our domestic season.”

The following day, Scyld Berry reported to readers of the Telegraph:

“Clare Connor, the ECB’s director of women’s cricket, made the point that counties had ceased to produce a good national women’s team and had to be replaced by franchises.”

Replaced?

Replaced?

Well, no – we can assure you that on Sunday 30th April, players from Berkshire to Yorkshire, and all manner of shires in-between, will walk out onto the fields of England to embark upon the chase for the Women’s County Championship of 2017.

To be fair to Scyld Berry, he was only reporting what he heard… and to be equally fair to Clare Connor, we don’t doubt that what he heard probably wasn’t quite what she said.

But the impression is clear enough – as far as the ECB are concerned, the Women’s County Championship occupies the status of Mrs Rochester to the KSL’s Jane Eyre, and we all remember what happened to Mrs Rochester… right? (TLDR: madness, fire, suicide, blar, blar, blar.)

As if to emphasise the point, at the end of last week, the ECB sent out a press release detailing the international player rosters for KSL2, which (lest we forget) doesn’t even start until after the World Cup, in which the only mention of the word “county” was to confirm that Finals Day will be held at the “Central County Ground” in Hove.

But the fact of the matter is that it is county cricket, with the Women’s County Championship at its heart, which remains the bedrock of the elite women’s game in this country – Div 1 offering 3,920 overs of cricket (including the T2o Cup) compared to the KSL’s 680 overs. We should be shouting from the rooftops… not jumping from them! [Okay… that’s enough Jane Eyre references – Ed.]

But perhaps the real lesson here, however, isn’t for us at all – it is for the fans of the men’s game, who are being told that the coming City T20, designed around the same franchise model as the KSL, won’t downgrade the status of their County Championship.

Yer.

We were told that too.

OPINION: Women’s Salaries In Australia – The Story… And The REAL Story

Give them their due, Cricket Australia really are the masters of media management. This morning we’ve seen the mainstream newspapers, not to mention some of the cricket press who really should know better, fall over themselves to laud CA over a one-sided press release which in reality is just another battle in their war with the Australian (Men’s) Cricketers’ Association (ACA) over the future of men’s salaries.

The press release proclaims an amazing leap forwards for the women’s game:

“Women’s Pay Set To Double” is typical of the headlines in the mainstream press; and this would be big news if it was news… but unfortunately that isn’t quite what it is.

The small print begins even in that tweet from Cricket Australia – this isn’t a deal, it is an “offer” made by CA to the ACA – the latest bargaining chip in the protracted round of negotiations over a new deal for Australia’s men’s cricketers.

For a few years now, the men in Australia… in an agreement based on a “memorandum of understanding” which totally excludes the women… have been paid based on a revenue sharing agreement – when CA does well, the men do well; and when CA win the lottery (as they have with the BBL), the men win the lottery.

CA want to ditch this deal, for reasons both good and bad – they want to keep back more money for CA itself, but they would argue that this will allow them to invest in the future of the game, and put aside grain for the lean years which will inevitably roll around one day.

Unsurprisingly, the men aren’t terribly keen on this, and through their union – which is what the ACA is – they are fighting tooth and nail to keep revenue sharing.

Today’s offer is an attempt by CA to cut through the Gordian Knott of the ACA’s intransigence on this issue. By bringing the women into it, and aspiring to double their salaries, CA make themselves out to be the good guys, and challenge the ACA to look like sexist dinosaurs if they spurn this latest offer.

And by releasing it to the media the way they have, CA also clearly hope to create a fait accompli – to make the deal almost impossible for the ACA to reject, because the media have already painted it as “done”.

If it eventually happens, and if the small print lives up to the headlines, then sure – it would be a game-changer. But those are big “ifs”; and the media are doing the women, who are being used as cannon-fodder in a cynical game of “blink” between CA and the ACA, a disservice in writing those headlines based on where we really are at right now.