PREVIEW: County T20 Cup – Why County Cricket Still Matters (Plus Full Fixture List)

Across the next four weekends, the first “official” (i.e. ECB-supported) women’s county cricket since 2019 will take place. This year’s County T20 Cup has a different look to previous seasons – it’s being played on a purely regional basis, and there will be no overall winner. The T20 Cup seems destined, for now, to remain in the hands of Warwickshire’s trophy cabinet, after the Bears won it two years ago.

Since the last official county fixtures were played, the ECB has introduced an entirely new level of cricket between the counties and England – the regional “Centres of Excellence”, who competed in the successful Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy last season.

Where does that leave county cricket? We spoke to four figures who are integral to the current domestic structure to find out…

Richard Bedbrook (Regional Director, South East Stars):

“The two counties in our region [Surrey and Kent] are very proud of their women’s teams and the women’s cricket programmes that they can provide. The regional structure still only offers seven games of 50-over cricket and six games of 20-over cricket, with finals on top of that – so county cricket adds to the cricket our senior players get to play.

It’s all part of helping the Academy players too – they need to be playing more cricket. County cricket for them is a really, really big stage for them to move through. For a young academy girl to play with players like Tash [Farrant], ADR, Bryony [Smith], Sophia [Dunkley] and Aylish [Cranstone], there’s big learnings there.

The county games will certainly provide a massive opportunity for us to observe players. They’re going to be hugely significant for every region, to see players playing the game. Depending on the timing, it might influence narrowing down the squad for the start of the season, or it might be broader and help us see how players have progressed through training and help us identify those that we think are ready to to be in the starting Stars XI .”

Laura Macleod (Regional Director, Central Sparks):

“County cricket plays a really important part in the whole pathway. Within the West Midlands we view county cricket as really important, because it gives the players some competition. We’re going to see some of our players being pitted up against one another [for Worcestershire and Warwickshire], so that will be a real test of applying what they’ve been doing over the winter and where they want to get to.

It gives us the opportunity to have a look at them in a competitive environment. And because the club game is not quite perhaps where it is for the men’s game, the county game still plays an important part in the development of a player.”

Dave Hathrill (Kent Women’s Head Coach):

“Our role as Kent Cricket can fit alongside all of the new additions to the pathway. From a county perspective, the changes are really welcome. Myself, Johann Myburgh [SE Stars Head Coach] and Richard Bedbrook are in conversation regularly.

Having the girls have the ability to get away and train properly throughout the summer with the new regional centres has actually brought more cricketing opportunities around, which as a county we’re definitely benefiting from. The girls have been excellent, they’ve really embraced the challenge of a full professional winter.

We’re looking forward to seeing how the summer plays out, and the effect that the new structure will have [on county cricket] going forward.”

Aylish Cranstone (Professional Cricketer, South East Stars and Surrey):

“County cricket is massive. I’ve been fortunate enough to work within the county age group programme for the last 5 or 6 years, and it’s always been really tough stopping at under-17s. We lose so many girls at that age group who are really good cricketers but haven’t played enough or haven’t been fortunate enough to reach the senior side. Keeping a senior Surrey side is really important for them because they can keep playing.”

“It keeps that enthusiasm for the club cricketers as well. They’ll still be aiming to look to push into those county sides, and if you can be training in and around county stuff then obviously you will be getting the opportunity to be seen by the regional coaches and it can go from there. If you dropped county cricket, you’re focusing everything on the higher level players but you might not have as many players coming through, because they might just think it’s a bit of a difficult goal to achieve. So it’s important to keep county cricket going.”

“It’s also nice for regional players. The regional stuff is going to be very intense, so it will be nice to go back to our counties at different points in the season, regroup, play with a different team again. It’s got a bit of a different vibe, and different coaches.”

Full T20 Cup Fixtures (all teams to play each other twice, at 11am and 3pm):

Sunday 25th April

North Group: Cumbria v Yorkshire (Arnside CC), North Representative XI v Scotland A (TBC), North East Warriors v Lancashire (Burnopfield CC)

East Midlands Group: Derbyshire v Shropshire (Denby CC), Leicestershire v Lincolnshire (Barkby United CC), Nottinghamshire v Northamptonshire (Worksop College)

West Midlands Group: Berkshire v Worcestershire (Falkland CC), Warwickshire v Wales (Edgbaston Foundation Ground), Staffordshire v Somerset (Fordhouses CC)

East Group: Cambridgeshire v Buckinghamshire (Exning Park), Herfordshire v Norfolk (Harlow CC), Huntingdonshire v Suffolk (TBC)

South East Group: Middlesex v Hampshire (Mill Hill School), Surrey v Kent (Chipstead CC), Sussex v Essex (Sir Rod Aldridge Cricket Centre, Brighton) 

South West Group: Devon v Oxfordshire (Braunton CC), Dorset v Wiltshire (TBC), Gloucestershire v Cornwall (Cheltenham College)

Monday 3rd May

North Group: Cumbria v North Representative XI (tbc), Lancashire v Scotland ‘A’ (Carnforth CC), Yorkshire v North East Warriors (Harrogate CC) 

East Midlands Group: Derbyshire v Leicestershire (Spondon CC), Lincolnshire v Nottinghamshire (Sleaford CC), Shropshire v Northamptonshire (Worfield CC) 

West Midlands Group: Somerset v Wales (Weston-Super-Mare CC), Warwickshire v Berkshire (Edgbaston Foundation Ground), Worcestershire v Staffordshire (Bromsgrove CC) 

East Group: Buckinghamshire v Norfolk (Dinton CC), Huntingdonshire v Hertfordshire (Ramsey CC), Suffolk v Cambridgeshire (Woolpit CC) 

South East Group: Essex v Surrey (Old Southendian & Southchurch CC), Kent v Middlesex (Kent CCC, Beckenham), Sussex v Hampshire (Sir Rod Aldridge Cricket Centre, Brighton) 

South West Group: Cornwall v Dorset (Boconnoc CC), Gloucestershire v Oxfordshire (Cheltenham College), Wiltshire v Devon (Corsham CC)

Sunday 9th May

North Group: Cumbria v Scotland ‘A’ (Lanercost CC), North East Warriors v North Representative XI (tbc), Yorkshire v Lancashire (Harrogate CC) 

East Midlands Group: Leicestershire v Nottinghamshire (Market Overton CC), Lincolnshire v Shropshire (Spalding Town CC), Northamptonshire v Derbyshire (Desborough Town CC) 

West Midlands Group: Somerset v Berkshire (Bath CC), Wales v Staffordshire (Newport CC), Warwickshire v Worcestershire (Edgbaston Foundation Ground) 

East Group: Buckinghamshire v Huntingdonshire (tbc), Norfolk v Cambridgeshire (North Runcton CC), Suffolk v Hertfordshire (Woolpit CC) 

South East Group: Essex v Kent (tbc), Hampshire v Surrey (Totton & Eling CC), Middlesex v Sussex (Mill Hill School) 

South West Group: Devon v Gloucestershire (Sidmouth CC), Dorset v Oxfordshire (Sherborne CC), Wiltshire v Cornwall (Sherston Magna CC)

Sunday 16th May

North Group: Lancashire v Cumbria (Widnes CC), North East Warriors v Scotland ‘A’ (Alnmouth & Lesbury CC), Yorkshire v North Representative XI (Harrogate CC) 

East Midlands Group: Northamptonshire v Lincolnshire (tbc), Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire (Collingham CC), Shropshire v Leicestershire (Whitchurch CC) 

West Midlands Group: Berkshire v Wales (Falkland CC), Staffordshire v Warwickshire (Oulton CC), Worcestershire v Somerset (Bromsgrove CC) 

East Group: Cambridgeshire v Huntingdonshire (Exning Park), Hertfordshire v Buckinghamshire (Boxmoor CC), Norfolk v Suffolk (Cromer CC) 

South East Group: Hampshire v Essex (Totton & Eling CC), Kent v Sussex (The Mote CC), Surrey v Middlesex (Old Whitgiftians CC) 

South West Group: Cornwall v Devon (Launceston CC), Gloucestershire v Dorset (Cheltenham College), Oxfordshire v Wiltshire (Bicester & North Oxford CC).

VIDEO: The CRICKETher Weekly Vodcast – Episode 57

This week:

  • Why Raf interviewed Beth Mooney in a onesie
  • Should there be a separate Wisden 5 COTYs for women’s cricket?
  • England’s busy summer ahead
  • What does the Bristol Test mean for the future of women’s Test cricket?
  • Why Raf’s new book The Women in Whites should be on your Christmas list

OPINION: The Wisden Five – An Alternative View

By Richard Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————-

Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

OPINION: Wisden Cricketers Of The Year

Congratulations to Wisden’s 5 Cricketers of the Year for 2021: Zak Crawley, Darren Stevens, Jason Holder, Dom Sibley and Mohammad Rizwan. All five fulfilled the criteria of having had an outstanding impact on the English summer, and not having been chosen before; and all five awards were very much deserved.

It is notable however that the selection this year reverts to the traditional all-male list, after a run of 3 consecutive years where at least one woman was chosen, which we had hoped had set something of a precedent for always including a woman going forwards.

There are at least two women who could have been chosen.

One was Stafanie Taylor – a bona fide “all time great”, who faced-down coronavirus fears, at a time when England was seen as the basket-case of the world, to lead her West Indies side on a tour of England without which the women’s international summer would have been lost.

The other was Georgia Adams, who played one of the great innings in domestic women’s cricket history with her 150 versus Western Storm, scored three other 50s besides, and led her side from the front to victory in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Final at Edgbaston.

Of course, the award is not based on number or stats or votes, still less what I think! It is 100% in the gift of the editor of Wisden, Lawrence Booth – a writer for whom we have enormous respect, and who has done a lot to improve the profile of women’s cricket in Wisden during his term of office.

Yet it is unarguable that both Adams and Taylor had a huge impact on the women’s game last summer, so the question is: is the women’s game on a par with the men’s… or not?

Perhaps the RHF Trophy is worth less than the Bob Willis? Maybe a women’s international T20 series is worth less than a men’s Test series. And yes – both were much shorter; but this is a structural issue – it is hardly Georgia Adams’ fault that she “only” played 7 One Day matches; nor Stafanie Taylor’s that the Windies played just 5 T20s.

Wisden were in a position this year to really challenge the narrative that the women’s game is intrinsically worth less than the men’s.

They didn’t.

And that’s a pity.

INDIA TEST: England Look To Overturn History At Home

It is Saturday 27th August 2005 – Tony Blair is the Prime Minister, McFly are Top of The Pops [Yay! Ed.], and men’s Tests are still being shown live on free-to-air TV.

In the second Women’s Ashes Test at Worcester, England are looking decidedly shaky at 39-4, with Cathryn Fitzpatrick having removed both Charlotte Edwards and Clare Connor. But with Katherine Brunt having taking 9-111 across both Australian innings, England are still in the game – they need 75 to win the match, the series and the Women’s Ashes – the latter for the first time in nearly 50 years. There are no further alarms – Arran Brindle and Lydia Greenway take their time but they get there in the end and England regain the Ashes.

It was the start of a mini resurgence for England – they won the Ashes again in Australia in 2008, and retained them in 2009; but they could only hold the Aussies to a draw at Worcester in ’09; and 2005 remains the last time England won a Test at home.

Since ’05, England have played 7 home Tests, recording no wins, 4 draws and 3 losses – having lost to India in 2006 and 2014, and to Australia in 2015.

Of those, 2014 was the big shock result. England had just turned professional, and were playing a young, inexperienced and largely amateur India side. Everyone expected England to win easily at Wormsley; but pride comes before a fall, with Niranjana Nagarajan taking 4 wickets as England were bowled out for 92, then top-scoring as India posted a first-innings lead. England made a better job of their second innings, passing 200, but India chased the runs with 6 wickets to spare, with Mithali Raj and the then-unknown Smriti Mandhana making 50s.

Now, eight years on, both England and India will meet in the Test arena once again in 2021 – at Bristol this time. Both sides are fully professional now, and no one will be underestimating India on this occasion.

With India having just been handed some humble pie of their own, with a brace of white-ball series losses to South Africa (albeit losses that perhaps look worse on the scorecard than they actually were), the Indians will be pumped to show that they can still lay claim to being the second-best team in the world.

Meanwhile England are palpably excited at the prospect of this match, even if it is a bit of a one-off, with Heather Knight telling us in an interview late last week:

“I remember [the Test at Wormsley] being a real occasion and I think it’s going to be the same this time – playing Test match cricket feels very special and it’s definitely rated very highly amongst the players.”

“There’s been loads of chat about the Test match here at Loughborough this week – all the girls are trying to get their heads around how they’re going to prepare for that Test match – how they’re going to be ready, and what skills they need to work on.”

It should be a good game – there will be plenty of runs on offer at Bristol, but there will be chances for the bowlers too. Perhaps we’ll see one last great hurrah from Mithali Raj or Katherine Brunt? Or a stunning Test debut from Shafali Verma (who has yet to play an ODI, but surely has to be on the card?) or Freya Davies?

Whatever it will be… we can’t wait to find out!

NEWS: England To Play 1 Test, 8 ODIs and 6 T20s This Summer

In what will be a jam-packed summer of international cricket, England are set to meet India in June / July for three ODIs and three T20s, while New Zealand will provide a second opposition in September, playing three T20s followed by five ODIs.

The centrepiece of the summer, though, will be the much-trailed Test against India on 16 to 19 June, which will take place at Bristol. It will be the first non-Ashes Test since 2014.

There is no indication that the India series will be played for points, as is the case with the multi-format Women’s Ashes, so the one-off Test will be exactly that – a winner-takes-all occasion.

According to the current government roadmap, spectators will be allowed at Bristol at 50% capacity (approx 3,750 people per day), while the remaining fixtures – which if all goes to schedule will take place in Step 4 of the roadmap – will be allowed to be played in front of full houses.

The full fixtures are below:

INDIA

LV= Insurance Test Series

Wednesday June 16-Saturday June 19: LV= Insurance Test Match. England v India (Bristol County Ground)

Royal London Series (ODIs)

Sunday June 27: 1st match of the Royal London Series. England v India (Bristol County Ground)

Wednesday June 30: 2nd match of the Royal London Series. England v India (The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton)

Sunday July 3: 3rd match of the Royal London Series. England v India (New Road, Worcester)

Vitality IT20 Series

Friday July 9: 1st Vitality IT20. England v India (The County Ground, Northampton)

Sunday July 11: 2nd Vitality IT20: England v India (The 1st Central County Ground, Hove)

Thursday July 15: 3rd Vitality IT20: England v India (The Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford)

NEW ZEALAND

Vitality IT20 Series

Wednesday September 1. 1st Vitality IT20. England v New Zealand (The Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford)

Saturday September 4. 2nd Vitality IT20. England v New Zealand (The 1st Central County Ground, Hove)

Thursday September 9. 3rd Vitality IT20. England v New Zealand (The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton)

Royal London Series (ODIs)

Thursday September 16. 1st match of the Royal London Series. England v New Zealand (Bristol County Ground)

Sunday September 19. 2nd match of the Royal London Series. England v New Zealand (New Road, Worcester)

Tuesday September 21. 3rd match of the Royal London Series. England v New Zealand (The Uptonsteel County Ground, Leicester)

Thursday September 23. 4th match of the Royal London Series. England v New Zealand (The Incora County Ground, Derby)

Sunday September 26. 5th match of the Royal London Series. England v New Zealand (The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Canterbury)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEWS: 3AM Starts As Women’s Hundred Set To Conquer America

Key matches in the Women’s Hundred, including the semi-final and final, are set to start at 3am in the morning UK time, after the ECB agreed a ground-breaking deal with US TV network Stoat Sports to broadcast the games live on prime-time American TV.

Stoat Sports – sister company of fantasy-based “news” network Stoat News – is owned by reclusive Australian billionaire Bruce Murdoc, and has over a billion subscribers in the US alone, mainly on the west coast, where fans will be able to catch the action during the viewer-friendly early evening slot in the schedules.

Speaking from his mansion in Portland, Oregon, where he is currently under house arrest following unsubstantiated accusations of tax and accounting fraud, Murdoc said:

“Women’s cricket is a huge growth market, and we’re fair-dinkum stoked by this deal. I’ll personally be flying the Stoat Sports helicopter all the way to Lords to deliver the cash… just as soon as the FBI return my passport!”

A spokesperson for The Hundred said:

“Although 3am starts are not ideal for UK audiences, this deal brings in significant revenue, which we can hopefully use to restore salaries in the men’s competition to their pre-COVID levels, after they were cut by 20% due to the pandemic in 2021.”

CRICKETher understands that the women’s salaries will be unaffected.