NEWS: Sarah Taylor Speaks Out Ahead Of World Cup Return

In her first interview since taking a break from cricket a year ago, Sarah Taylor has given the strongest indication yet that she will be back in England colours come the opening World Cup game on 24 June.

“To be back in time for the World Cup has been a hard journey but very worth it,” she said, in a video recorded by the ECB.

“It’s been a tough 12 months and lots has been learned in that time. In terms of where I am with my cricket, I’m incredibly comfortable to be back playing and the girls have been absolutely brilliant. It’s just nice to be back around them and the fact that the World Cup is at home as well makes it extra special.”

Speaking about her recent return to playing with her teammates in the UAE, she said: “In the UAE it felt like I was wearing that shirt for the first time. I’m almost looking back at my career and seeing this as a bit of a blank canvas.”

The real test for Taylor will come when she walks out in front of several thousand fans at Derby; she is confident, though, that she is ready for that:

“I feel like I’m probably mentally strong enough to deal with those pressures. I’m back and I’m ready to face the World Cup and the scrutiny that professional sport brings.”

She admits that she still suffers from social anxiety on a day to day basis, but says that she is “most comfortable out in the middle: batting, wicket-keeping and being around the girls.”

“Batting’s more fun now than it was back then! Once you eliminate all the things that are going on inside your head you’re able to just purely enjoy the game.”

Overall, she is cautiously optimistic about both her own comeback and England’s World Cup chances. “I’m proud that I’ve even put myself out there to do it,” she says. “I want to win as much as the next person – and I’m hoping that there’ll be success with my own mental health and we can see a trophy at the same time.”

INTERVIEW: Alex Hartley – “I Owe Middlesex My Career”

There aren’t many cricketers who have had a better year than England’s Alex Hartley. 12 months ago few people knew her name. Then she was called up to the England squad against Pakistan, went on to take 8 wickets in the inaugural KSL, and ended the year by breaking the record for the most number of wickets by any England player in a bilateral series (13 against the West Indies).

To what does she attribute her recent international success? She is pretty unequivocal about it: “I owe Middlesex my career.”

Until 2013, Hartley was based at her home county, Lancashire; but her resurgence, she feels, revolved around the difficult decision she made back then to commute from her home in Clitheroe down to London to represent Middlesex. Hartley had been selected for the England Academy aged 15, then dropped soon afterwards, but still harboured dreams of playing for England. At that point, back in 2013, Middlesex were in Division 1 and Lancashire were not. A move south seemed to be her best hope of reviving her international chances.

It turned out, though, that it was not just about the quality of cricket on offer at Middlesex. “It gave me a fresh start,” Hartley says. “I was always that person at Lancs that couldn’t bat, couldn’t field, but could bowl. Went down to Middlesex, didn’t tell them anything about me. They’d never seen me play before, and it just really kickstarted my career from there on in.”

“They gave me so much. They put me on the Academy, I was having one-to-ones with [former England coach] Mark Lane. It was just what I needed really.”

Slowly she clawed her way back into England contention – selected for the 2015 Academy tour to the UAE and then finally, under new coach Mark Robinson, given the chance to prove herself at international level. The support of Middlesex was key throughout.

Did that make it difficult, then, to come to the decision ahead of this season to head back to her home county, Lancashire, leaving North London behind?

“It was actually really heartbreaking. I didn’t want to leave. But the travelling, it’s just too far. Living back in Manchester it just made so much sense to move back to Lancashire.”

It doesn’t stop her feeling a certain sense of divided loyalty – even turning up to watch the London Cup match last week dressed in Middlesex colours. “I was like ‘come on girls!’ I felt like I was still part of that team. They’re just like family.”

Hartley is now firmly ensconced in the England set-up, awarded a central contract last December and having recently returned from Abu Dhabi on a training camp with the rest of the squad. She says that she has been working hard on her batting and fielding – as well as her bowling, of course. “It has been an intense six months. But hopefully I’ll peak at the right time and it will be worth it.”

It seems likely she will feature heavily in Robinson’s plans for the World Cup. Certainly when we sit down with her at Lords she has selection in the starting XI against India come June 24 firmly in her sights – and it is her success at county level on English pitches which has made it possible. “I’ve bowled well for a few years now, so knowing that I can bowl well on English wickets and knowing that I can take wickets on English wickets is a real confidence booster ahead of the World Cup,” she says.

So as someone who owes so much to county cricket, how does Hartley feel about the fact that she and her England teammates will be missing out on the vast majority of the county season this year?

“It’s hard, but we know it’s probably for the best. We want to be playing cricket, that’s what we do, it’s our job to play cricket. But the coaches assess our workload carefully and it’s important for us to get rest, which sometimes means missing matches.”

“It can get too much and you do need your time away. It is set up right, but it’s a shame our county season’s not any longer.”

The last point is a good one. This year’s county season is a mere 7 games long and the majority of those will have been played by the end of May. Indeed, with the introduction of the Super League, one does sometimes get the feeling that county cricket is considered somewhat of an irrelevance by those at the top.

But if the example of Alex Hartley is anything to go by, it seems pretty apparent that county cricket still has a vital role to play in nurturing the international stars of the future.

BREAKING: Sarah Taylor In England World Cup Squad

Sarah Taylor has been named in England’s 15-strong World Cup squad announced today. Taylor has only played one competitive match in over a year, scoring 61 for Sussex v Kent last weekend, but has continued to train with England throughout most of that period. If England ultimately decide she unable to play, they will be able to name an injury replacement.

Missing out are Tash Farrant, Kate Cross and Amy Jones – but all will presumably be on standby in case of injuries.

Full Squad:

  • Heather Knight (Berkshire)
  • Tammy Beaumont (Kent)
  • Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire)
  • Georgia Elwiss (Sussex)
  • Jenny Gunn (Warwickshire)
  • Alex Hartley (Lancashire)
  • Danielle Hazell (Yorkshire)
  • Beth Langston (Yorkshire)
  • Laura Marsh (Kent)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Somerset)
  • Nat Sciver (Surrey)
  • Sarah Taylor (Sussex)
  • Fran Wilson (Middlesex)
  • Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire)
  • Danni Wyatt (Sussex)

OPINION: Free-To-Air Super League Final Good News… But There’s A But

UPDATE (18/05/2017) – We’ve now seen some fuller details: 8 KSL matches will be part of the FTA package, plus 1 women’s T20 international – so basically… it is all good news – no but!!!

Today’s exclusive by Elizabeth Ammon in The Times – that the KSL Final will be broadcast free-to-air from 2020 – is welcome news for the women’s game.

The KSL Final will be one element in a package of matches, including two men’s T20 internationals, which the ECB will require whoever wins the next broadcasting contract to make available free-to-air.

It is worth noting that this doesn’t necessarily mean these games will be shown on traditional “TV” – for example, BT Sport will this year fulfil similar contractual requirements for men’s football by partnering with YouTube.

Nevertheless, it’s good news… right?

It is… but there’s a but!

By continuing the policy of folding the women’s broadcast deal in with the men’s, it seems that this one match will be the only women’s cricket which will be shown free-to-air – Pay TV (be it Sky or BT Sport) will therefore likely retain exclusivity for England women’s internationals and the rest of the Super League; dashing hopes that a stand-alone women’s free-to-air TV deal might have become the driver for a surge in interest in the sport, as we’ve seen with both women’s football in England and women’s cricket in Australia.

With all the good news we’ve had recently, from All Stars Cricket (which anecdotally really does seem to have hit a sweet spot) to live-streaming of the Women’s World Cup, there’s no doubt that we do seem to be moving in the right direction – but it will take more than one game on free-to-air to change the landscape.

MATCH REPORT: Middlesex Edge Thriller in Mill Hill-er

Middlesex ran out winners by a single run against Berkshire at Mill Hill School, but there was controversy aplenty which left Berkshire ruing not one but two unfortunate umpiring decisions – Fi Morris given out LBW to a ball that appeared to hit her very high on her pads; and then on what turned out to be the final ball of the day, a catch off a high full-toss from Middlesex quick Naomi Dattani, which arguably should have been called a No Ball.

At the start of the day, Dattani had won the toss and opted to bat first on a pitch which was expected to get harder to score on as the day progressed. In fact, it proved hard to score on from the first, as Middlesex made a plodding start, looking to see off openers Lauren Bell and Catherine Guppy. That they did, and it was the introduction of off-spinner Emma Walker in the 9th over which brought the breakthrough, trapping Dattani LBW.

Walker’s first spell also saw the fall of Tash Miles and Fran Wilson, both nicely taken C&Bs, before a middle-order recovery led by (who else?) Beth Morgan took Middlesex past the hundred mark to 116-4.

The return of Walker for a second spell brought the breakthrough once more, as the 18-year-old had Holly Huddleston caught by Millie Allerton, followed by Kathy Morley LBW, to bring up her maiden 5-fer in only her third ever match at this level. Meanwhile at the other end, Lauren Bell began a new over with 2 consecutive wides, but a quiet word from veteran Kiwi Rachel Priest obviously had the desired effect, as Bell sent down two rockets to trap Beth Morgan LBW for 37, and then Izzy Westbury, utterly flummoxed for pace, LBW for 1; with Middlesex finally closing at 152-8 from their 50 overs.

Berkshire’s reply got off to a lopsided start, as Priest hit out, whilst Annabel Flack played the blocking game at the other end – by the time Priest was out for a rollicking 47 off 37 balls, pulling Dattani to Cath Dalton at mid off, Flack was still only on 4! Flack made another 5, off 47 balls, before she became the second of Westbury’s 4 victims.

Victory appeared to be heading Middlesex’s way as they eyed up Berkshire’s long tail, but a stubborn stand between Bell (26) and Allerton (only 5, but lasting 31 balls in the process) looked to spoil the party, before Dattani took the decision to bring back Holly Huddleston early to try to finish things off. The “Hudd Missile” repaid the faith, bowling both Allerton and Bell – the latter perhaps slightly unfortunately off her pads – and then getting a bit of luck from the umpire to add Morris LBW.

But the end of Huddleston’s spell still left Middlesex with two wickets to find, and the target edged closer and closer as Ashleigh Muttitt dibbed and dabbed Berkshire to within one run of the Middlesex total, before the agonising finale ensued.

Afterwards, Middlesex captain Dattani admitted it was a close-run thing:

“We seem to put ourselves into positions like that: we were in control – we had them 7 wickets down – and we thought the 3 wickets should come relatively easy, but they did very well to dig in there at the end – they put up a good fight – it was a good competition.”

And on the final controversy?

“If it was a no ball, it’s the umpire’s call at the end of the day… It was a bad ball, but a wicket is a wicket.”

The result means that Middlesex can breathe a little easier in the Women’s County Championship, with a win under their belts at last; but leaves Berskhire bogged down in the “relegation zone” alongside Sussex, both with no wins from the first 3 rounds.

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!

MATCH REPORT: Tash Smash As Middlesex Put In The Miles To Beat Surrey

In the third annual London Cup fixture between Middlesex and Surrey, this year held at Radlett CC, Middlesex made it 3 from 3 after Natasha Miles hit a skilful half-century in her captaincy debut.

Having put 150 on the board Middlesex must have been reasonably confident of the win; but the game came right down to the wire, with Middlesex overseas star Holly Huddleston ultimately holding her nerve bowling the final over to see her side home by a mere 3 runs.

Surrey had won the toss and put Middlesex in but, after Naomi Dattani went early (caught behind for 0 in the third over), they let things slide in the field with some rather erratic bowling – including a total of 18 wides.

Beth Morgan (40 off 34 balls) and her captain took full advantage, sharing an 89-run partnership before Morgan was finally caught at cover in the 12th over. Cath Dalton then joined the party with a quickfire 21 off 13 balls. Miles herself was a mere two balls away from carrying her bat, but was stumped off the penultimate ball of the innings, finishing with 54 runs to her name (49 balls).

Surrey needed to bat at almost 8 an over to emerge victorious, which seemed unlikely until two particularly wayward overs from Dalton and Gayatri Gole, which went for 19 and 18 runs respectively, leaving Surrey 57-1 after 7 overs. From there on in they kept up there or thereabouts with the required rate, as Sophie Pout (29), Bryony Smith (16), Hannah Jones (27) and Aylish Cranstone (31) chipped in with vital runs – Smith, Jones and Cranstone all finishing with strike rates well above 100. Cranstone’s innings was particularly impressive as she deftly steered the ball into the gaps on both sides of the wicket.

Jones was the last of the four to fall, as Milly Pope took a good low catch at fine third man to send her off in the 17th over. By then Surrey required 28 runs off the last 20 balls – but the reintroduction of the fiery Huddleston to bowl out her remaining 2 overs just about prevented them from scrambling over the line.

Miles, who was named Player of the Match, told CRICKETher after the game that she had enjoyed both the match itself and the experience of captaining her side:

“It did get quite nerve racking but this is the cricket we train and play for. I loved every minute of it!

The captaincy is a challenge. I haven’t done it in a long time so I’m just trying to get my bearings again. The girls are just so great to work with, though – Beth batted brilliantly. Cath came in and threw her hands through the ball and really connected well.

It was really fun to see us be so positive after our start to the season [they lost both of their opening fixtures in the County Championship], and hopefully we’re going to take this success forward.”

CLUB OF THE MONTH: Quatt CC

Here at CRICKETher, we’re passionate about women’s cricket at all levels, including club cricket. It’s our mission to offer coverage of women’s (and girls’) club cricket wherever we can! Our ‘Club of the Month’ feature will focus on one women’s or girls’ club every month, giving you the lowdown on their highs, lows, and everything in between.

If you’d like to see your club featured here, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

Quatt Cricket Club’s (QCC) women’s team is currently in its fifteenth year and was formed in 2002. The women are an active part of QCC, a village club located in South Shropshire which was established in 1908.

The women’s section of the club was formed by Kelly Evans and Beth Evans in 2002. Kelly and Beth were the girlfriends of Quatt Men’s 1st XI players and brothers Adam and Ade Evans and were keen to not only play the game they loved watching but also grow participation in a sport that had no foothold in Shropshire at the time.

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Quatt CC, back in the day!

The women’s team played its inaugural game against Colwyn Bay in 2002, with future QCC captain Vicki Bale scoring a run-a-ball hundred on debut! In 2003 they joined the Women’s Midlands League, representing Quatt, and with it Shropshire, in Division 1.

QCC has been a mainstay club in the Midlands League ever since, taking the small Shropshire village to the heady heights of the Midlands Premier League in 2013. They currently play in Women’s Midlands Division 2 and the Shropshire Active Women’s League – a T20 development format played on weeknights to encourage new members and youngsters into the senior side.

They are coached by Louise Pugh, who has been a player and coach at Quatt since the mid-2000’s. “Pughy” is an ECB-qualified Level 3 coach and runs the Shropshire County Girls U11 side as well as supporting and playing in QCC Active Women’s and Midlands League fixtures.

QCC play at the Quatt Oval, a ground that has changed much since 2002 when the first women’s training session took place. Located on land owned by the National Trust’s Dudmaston Estate in the village of Quatt, QCC had a traditional village cricket feel about it until 2011 when the wooden and highly dilapidated cricket pavilion, complete with two small changing rooms, no electricity and no hot running water, was demolished and replaced with a state of the art cricket pavilion, delivered through a significant club fundraising effort alongside a package of grant funding from the ECB, Sport England, Shropshire Council, local charitable trusts and the parish council.

QCC now boasts some of the finest facilities in the county, having secured additional funding from Sport England and SITA Trust in 2014 to develop a second ground, two further changing rooms and new car parking provision adjacent to its existing pitch and main pavilion.

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The new pavilion

As the first Shropshire cricket club to form a women’s league team, Quatt has fielded many county representatives over the years, with its most famous member being Eve Jones, who has just returned from a tour to UAE with the full England Women’s team, having been part of the England Academy since 2014.

The club has a thriving junior section with over 120 members – not bad for a village with no feeder school and a population of only 219! Quatt juniors run mixed teams in U9, U10, U11, U13 and U15’s age groups. The club’s girls membership currently stands at 38.

The club has enjoyed welcoming a number of England women’s stars on domestic duty to its ground over the years including Amy Jones, Jenny Gunn, Danielle Wyatt and Georgia Elwiss. The highlight to date for Quatt, though, was reaching the Women’s Midlands Premier League in 2012 – an outstanding achievement for a small village club. For many of the girls, pulling up at Sheffield on a late summer’s day in 2012 a few days after England Women had won the Ashes to see half the Sheffield team being interviewed by Sky Sports in their England tracksuits was a daunting and intimidating highlight. Katherine Brunt, Lauren Winfield and Natalie Sciver were all in the Sheffield team that played Quatt that day and their wickets fell for 18, 11 and 14 respectively to Quatt’s Clare Pym (a serious career highlight!) This didn’t stop Sheffield racking up a massive score that Quatt failed to make a dent in, even if the fabulously gracious Katherine Brunt declared at tea that she wouldn’t be bowling at full pace and would bowl spin (collective sigh of relief all around from the Quatt girls to that announcement!)

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This year Quatt are looking forward to welcoming back a number of women into the team who have been absent over the last few years due to injury and pregnancy. Their aim for this season will be to finish in the top half of the league table. Overall they want to see Quatt continue to shine in the women’s game and be a beacon of all that is good about playing women’s and girls cricket.

Anyone interested in getting involved at Quatt, whether as player or in any other role, should contact captain Jenny Cotham on jcotham11@gmail.com.

INTERVIEW: Ashley Giles On His Vision For Warwickshire Women’s Cricket – “We’re All One Club”

You don’t see many county cricket directors in attendance at women’s county matches, but Ashley Giles isn’t just talking the talk when it comes to women’s cricket – in his new role at Warwickshire CCC as Sport Director, he’s walking the walk too. We meet him at the Edgbaston Foundation Ground, where he has turned up to watch Warwickshire’s first match of the Women’s County Championship, against reigning champions Kent.

“If we’re serious about women’s cricket – and we are – then I need to have an input, I need to come and watch, and see what’s going on,” he says. It’s great to see such commitment to the women’s game from someone so senior. What’s more, this isn’t just a one-off. “I was here the other day for one of the women’s pre-season days,” he tells us, “and presented to them my philosophies and my beliefs and explained what we’re doing at the top end. I need to be there to support [Warwickshire Women coach] Darren Franklin and his team and all the girls.”

What is his vision for Warwickshire women’s cricket? “Women’s cricket is in my job description, and that shouldn’t be a token gesture,” he says. “We need to be joined up – we’re all one club. I’d expect the behaviours and the culture to be similar, as similar as it can be, to what we do with the men. In Warwickshire these girls [the county team] are our ambassadors. They’ve got a big role to play.”

“We need to try and offer as much support as we can to our teams. And keep trying to improve the standard. If we can do that, it becomes a better spectacle, which becomes more marketable, which ultimately brings more money in.”

Giles freely admits that women’s cricket is “still very much the poor relation to the men”, but is already working to change that. This season he has overseen the introduction of meal money and travel expenses for the Warwickshire women’s side, something he says is long overdue. “It’s right. These girls are wearing the Bear. They’re playing for Warwickshire.”

He also highlights the importance of the provision of top-quality facilities, including new grass nets at Edgbaston and the new Foundation Ground at Portland Road, opened in 2015, where most of the women’s 1st XI home matches are now played. He makes clear that he wants to shore up the support on offer for coach Franklin and his team: “hopefully my experience as a player and a coach can be of benefit. And if we can in some way get other coaching support, or even some of our men’s players coming down from the first and second team, to support the ladies, then great.”

The benefits of the joined-up approach are already apparent: Warwickshire captain Marie Kelly sung Giles’ praises in a recent interview with CRICKETher. “We feel really part of the club,” she told us. “It is nice to be involved in the club and to know that we are fully supported.”

For Giles, a focus on the women’s game is important not just from a competitive point of view, but from a participation angle: “We want more girls playing cricket,” he says. He has personal experience of the difficulties involved in expanding opportunities: “My daughter played cricket at school, and went for Worcester trials. But I remember her going to a club to join in at nets and because she hadn’t realised there was practice on and she’d gone straight from school, she didn’t have her kit. She turned up in jeans and gets told to sit down, she can’t participate, because she’s not got the right kit.”

“Now that for me is just totally blocking playing cricket. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing – just play cricket! I hope most clubs aren’t like that, but we need to make sure that girls are getting opportunities.”

One important point he does highlight is the need to make women’s cricket more available to watch – “that’s the way you get interested in something: by saying ‘I want to be more like them’.” It follows, then, that a key part of Giles’ joined-up vision for the club is double-headers: the Bears hosted two county T20 double headers at Edgbaston last season and will be doing so again this year (on 16 July). He is also hopeful that Warwickshire – who were disappointed to miss out on being awarded one of the six Super League franchises – will have a major role to play in the new men’s city franchise competition, which will start in 2020, and that this can provide more double header opportunities for the club.

Ultimately, for Giles, it’s about working towards a level playing field in women’s cricket. When I ask if that will, at some stage, involve contracts for Marie Kelly and co., he is cautious but optimistic. “That would be a great end game if we could get to that point. That’s going to take a lot more investment, but it would be brilliant if, by the time I finish this role, we’d got contracted female cricketers at Warwickshire.” Until then? “It’s all about those small steps.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be revolution,” he concludes. “But evolution? Certainly.”

NEWS: Heather Knight Injured But Expected To Return Before World Cup

Captain Heather Knight has sustained a small metatarsal stress fracture to her left foot, and is expected to be out of action for up to 6 weeks.

She will need to wear a specially designed boot for the first 2-3 weeks of her recovery and will then spend 2-3 weeks building back up to full fitness.

While the injury will certainly be a concern for England as they prepare for their home World Cup campaign, Knight is at this stage expected to be fit in time for England’s World Cup warm-up matches, which begin against Sri Lanka on June 19.