Women’s Ashes Preview – England Hope!

The last time England took to the field against Australia, at the Twenty20 World Cup final in Antigua, there was hope.

True, England’s path to the final hadn’t been entirely  smooth – they had lost to the West Indies in the groups stages, in front of a fiercely partisan local crowd in St Lucia; but then nor had Australia’s – they had been thrashed by India, limping to 119 all out, after Smriti and Harmanpreet had smashed their bowlers for 167.

England certainly didn’t underestimate the Australians in that final, but having beaten India by 8 wickets in the semis, there was hope that they could go all the way.

But it wasn’t to be.

Having won the toss, England chose to bat, but only Danni Wyatt and Heather Knight reached double-figures as they were bowled out for 105 in the final over. In reply, the Aussies took England’s star bowlers to pieces – Kirstie Gordon and Anya Shrubsole went for 10 an over – as the Southern Stars romped home by 8 wickets with 5 overs to spare.

So much for hope.

And yet this week in Leicester, as England and Australia rejoin their rivalry in the 1st ODI of the multi-format Women’s Ashes series, the hope is there again.

England have put together an undefeated run of 14 matches since February, and in that time have whitewashed a T20 series against India, and both ODI and T20 series against Sri Lanka and the West Indies. It is a winning stretch that has become so talismanic for England that they turned down the chance to give some of their newer players – the likes of Sophia Dunkley and Freya Davies – opportunities in the T20 series versus the Windies, leaving them sitting on the sidelines in favour of the tried and trusted old hands who will be on the teamsheet once again in Leicester.

So is the hope justified this time?

Perhaps, yes.

England are a better team than they looked in that final last November, where they collapsed with exhaustion after an intense 3 weeks of sweltering tournament cricket, on pitches that didn’t really help a side who like to play their shots.

And while the Australians may have already built the strong domestic structures that England can currently only aspire to, at the top level the current cohort of contracted players are just as fit and just as well-drilled as the Aussies.

The returns of Katherine Brunt and Sarah Taylor, who both missed the World T20, will also make a difference. Taylor might not be the run machine she once was, but even as she has slightly struggled to adapt her batting game to the “Bish Bash Bosh ” era we all now live in, she has taken her wicket keeping to another level, and you can’t underestimate the extent to which her presence standing up to the stumps closes down the batsmans options and niggles at their confidence.

Katherine Brunt is arguably even more important, bowling with economy in all formats, even when she doesn’t take wickets; and while her batting can’t 100% be relied on – she still fails more often than not – she can be a match-winner with the bat too, coming in at 6 or 7, to halt a collapse or to give them that extra push over the cliff that turns a “10” innings up to “11”.

England’s settled batting line-up – Jones, Beaumont, Taylor, Sciver and Knight – all assured of their places for the entire series, will be full of confidence, playing on familiar pitches that will give them “value for their shots”, as Mark Robinson likes to say.

It is important to acknowledge that this is hope, not expectation – Australia are the better side, albeit probably not “win every game” better, as Alyssa Healy didn’t quite actually say.

But still, it really is hope.

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NEWS: England Announce Women’s Ashes Squad

England have announced a 14-player squad for the 1st Women’s Ashes ODI against Australia.

The squad contains no surprises, and is identical to the squad selected for the first two matches of the West Indies ODI series, save for the omission of Alex Hartley, who was “let go” during that series.

Heather Knight, who was due to miss the washed-out T20 at Derby last Tuesday as a precautionary measure, having twanged her hamstring in the game at Northampton, is included and is expected to lead the team out as usual.

With the England Academy playing games against Australia A during the week, England have the option to bring in other players later in the series, which might provide an opening for Bryony Smith, who impressed in her ODI debut versus the Windies and also hit a half century in the warm-ups against Australia last week.

The multi-format series begins next week with a pair of day-night ODIs at Leicester on Tuesday 2nd and Thursday 4th July, followed by the final ODI at Canterbury on Sunday 7th July. The teams then have 10 days preparation before the only Test, which begins in Taunton on Thursday 18th July.

Full Squad

Heather Knight (Berkshire)
Tammy Beaumont (Kent)
Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire)
Kate Cross (Lancashire)
Sophie Ecclestone (Lancashire)
Jenny Gunn (Nottinghamshire)
Amy Jones (Warwickshire)
Laura Marsh (Kent)
Nat Sciver (Surrey)
Anya Shrubsole (Berkshire)
Sarah Taylor (Sussex)
Fran Wilson (Kent)
Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire)
Danni Wyatt (Sussex)

NEWS: Professional Cricketers Association Agrees To Represent 100 Hundred Players

The Professional Cricketers Association has agreed with the ECB to represent an additional 100 female players participating in The Hundred from next season.

The Professional Cricketers Association [PCA] acts as a Trade Union for players, looking after their legal interests and their ongoing welfare both during their playing careers and post-retirement. Each player pays a small subscription, but the PCA is largely funded by the ECB.

In a Press Release, the PCA promised that “every male and female professional player” [emphasis ours] would benefit from the new agreement reached with the ECB and the 18 First Class counties.

One of the problems with the current setup is that although the Kia Super League players are “semi-professional” they have no formal representation within the system, because only the full time contracted England players are members of the PCA.

Bringing The Hundred players, whose interests do not necessarily align with those of the England contracted elite, into the PCA is therefore a huge step forwards.

The agreement also mandates a new minimum wage of £27,500 for full time professionals. It is unclear how (or even whether) this applies to The Hundred players, who will not be “full time”; however, this may mean a pay boost for those on the lowest tier of England contract.

There also remains potentially a gap for those players who play in the new “pro county” competition but not in The Hundred – though the suggestion that 100 additional players will be represented does actually imply that they might also be covered, because only about 80 “domestic” players are expected to be contracted for The Hundred, with the rest of the squads being made up by England and overseas players.

FEATURE: Brixworth Ladies Cricket Club – A Women’s Softball Cricket Success Story

Sometimes, journeys into women’s cricket start with the smallest of steps.

Last August, I participated in one of the ECB’s Softball Cricket Festivals, held at Loughborough University ahead of Lightning’s KSL match against Southern Vipers. Alongside me were Jules and Kate – both in their 50s. They have followed the England team for a number of years, but had rarely had the opportunity to play the sport themselves.

On the day of that festival, I interviewed Jules about why she had gone along that day. “To have a really good time,” she said, “and to get back into cricket, because I’ve not played for about 25 years.”

“I’d love to get back into it – if anybody wants me! It’s been really good fun.”

When I left Loughborough that day, I wondered: would she get her wish?

Unbeknown to me at the time, a year earlier – in August 2017 – a hockey player named Claire had sat at her club, Brixworth CC in Northampton, watching her son play cricket; and pondering how the girls playing alongside him at the club would fare as they grew up and encountered a lack of adult female role models.

“I felt they needed female coaches,” Claire tells me. “And the chap that I was saying this to, little did I know he was actually a committee member. So then he said, ‘well are you prepared to put your money where your mouth is and start coaching?’ So I had to. I became the club’s first lady coach.”

Three weeks later, the club chairman approached Claire at a Friday night training session and asked about the possibility of starting a ladies’ section at the club. By 10 o’clock that night, Claire had recruited 20 women – work colleagues, neighbours, teammates from her hockey club – who were interested in playing. Their first step was to enter a local Women’s Softball Festival.

“That was the last festival of the summer,” Claire says. “We entered that, one of our teams came second, and then we played a couple of indoor softball games through the winter. Then we played every softball festival going last summer – and we went from strength to strength. It gave us confidence to do the basics without getting hurt.”

Fellow club member Jane, aged 55, concurs: “It’s a good introduction into cricket, getting people involved, especially the mums. They’ve realised that actually it doesn’t hurt that much, I can do this, I can play cricket. It’s a good stepping stone into other cricket.”

The club now have 40 adult women playing regularly, as well as 30+ girls in a new, dedicated girls section. They are the biggest women’s club in Northamptonshire, and they have secured grants from the county that have helped fund women’s-specific kit – provided by SM Cricket.

This season, they have started playing Last (Wo)man Stands – a modified version of T20 cricket designed to be quick, exciting and less time-consuming than the real thing – in the first ever female version of the competition anywhere in the country.

“We were all terrified the first game,” laughs Jane, “but we’ve done alright! We’ve even won a match!”

So where do Jules and Kate come in?

I meet them again at Northampton to watch England play the West Indies. They are accompanied by Claire, Jane and Claire’s 10-year-old daughter, Poppy. And all are proudly sporting Brixworth women’s jumpers.

Brixworth Ladies Cricket Club

After I met Jules and Kate, they carried on playing in softball competitions; and at one of those competitions, they encountered Claire and Jane, who invited them along to play at Brixworth. Being local to Northampton, they decided to do just that. The rest, as they say, is history.

A few weeks ago the pair of them played in a men’s 4th XI fixture, and Jules took a wicket – removing the opposition captain after he had scored 86.

“I’m 54, and some people have said, ‘bit old to be playing cricket, isn’t she?’” Jules says. “Well, my ambitions of playing for England might have gone down the toilet a bit – although I’m still waiting for the call from Robbo – but if I’m fit and able, and if I can be the best that I can be, then why not?”

“We’re just generally a fun bunch of ladies who all get on,” Claire says. “None of us are too precious to laugh at ourselves. None of us are head and shoulders above the others. None of us are awful either. We just have a laugh basically and encourage each other.”

As Jane puts it: “We’ve all been involved in cricket – I scored for my son, did the teas and watched him for many years – but not many of us have played before. But I’ve always wanted to have a go. So that’s what we’re doing.”

And it all started with one Softball Cricket festival.

Brixworth Ladies Cricket Club

DEBRIEF: T20 Cup – Hampshire Hold On In Div 1

Team Played Won Lost N/R Points
Hampshire 6 4 1 1 17
Warwickshire 6 4 2 0 16
Lancashire 6 3 0 3 15
Kent 6 2 2 2 10
Surrey 6 2 3 1 9
Sussex 6 2 3 1 9
Nottinghamshire 6 1 3 2 6
Wales 6 1 3 2 6
Middlesex 6 1 3 2 6

Hampshire held on to top spot in Div 1 of the T20 Cup, but Warwickshire and Lancashire are hot on their heels with one round of matches to go next weekend.

Hampshire’s weekend began against Surrey at Widness CC, where Bryony Smith’s 85 off 64 balls set up a total of 155-7. In reply, a 68-run partnership between Maia Bouchier (56) and Fi Morris (25) put Hampshire on course, but it came down to some late heroics from Emily Windsor (31*) and Ella Chandler (11*) to get Hampshire over the line with 3 balls to spare.

Hampshire then took on Lancashire, with a chance to really put themselves in the driving seat going into the final weekend, but a half-century from Eve Jones (62) helped Lancashire post 135-6. Maia Bouchier (44) hit her second score of the day to keep Hampshire close to the rate… but not quite close enough, with Lancashire ahead by 6 runs on DLS when rain put an early end to proceedings.

It was enough to move Lancashire into third, and it is worth remembering that a more equitable allocation of points for cancelled games would mean Lancashire would actually be top on NRR; but the system is what it is – just 1 point for “No Result”, compared with 4 for a win – and Lancashire now need Hampshire to slip up next weekend if they are to have a shot at the title.

Elsewhere in Div 1, Warwickshire fought back into contention with wins over Middlesex and Kent, thanks to a cracking weekend with the bat from Gwen Davies, who hit two unbeaten half-centuries – full reports here!

Meanwhile Sussex finally got some proper points on the board – Hollie Young taking 2-8 as they beat Notts by 42 runs; and Georgia Elwis hitting 80*, then taking 4-16 with the ball, for a 12-run win against Wales.

In Div 2, Durham held on to top spot, strolling to easy wins over Derbyshire and Essex; with Somerset 4 points adrift in second place, after wins against Devon and Scotland.

MATCH REPORT: Warwickshire G-Wen Places As Davies Does The Double

Warwickshire got their T20 Cup campaign back on track at Beckenham today with two wins from their two matches, thanks to consecutive half-centuries from Gwenan Davies.

The opener carried her bat in both matches, finishing with 66* (50 balls) and 59* (49 balls) as the Bears secured both victories by big margins, beating Kent by 22 runs and Middlesex by 10 wickets with 6 overs to spare.

In the first match of the day, against Kent, Warwickshire accumulated an impressive 152 in their 20 overs, despite the early loss of captain Marie Kelly, who departed in Tash Farrant’s first over, sending up a top edge to long leg, leaving the Bears 2-1.

Davies, though, was uncowed and quickly took on the big-hitting role, punching one of Megan Belt’s first deliveries of the day for a mammoth six over long on – the ball hit the first floor of the flats which overlook the ground, and took several minutes to be retrieved by a friendly resident!

Kent did make breakthroughs at the other end – with Thea Brookes falling to a smart direct hit run-out from Alice Davidson-Richards at mid off – and Davies also rode her luck, dropped several times on the way to her half-century; but her positive approach ensured Warwickshire topped 150 by the end of their allotted overs.

It was a formidable total, though Fran Wilson (presumably released from England duty) gave Kent hope for a time with some beautiful crisp cuts through the off side. Nonetheless by the time Wilson was out, clean bowled by Bethan Ellis in the 10th over, they were already well behind the rate at 52-2; and despite a valiant rearguard effort from Davidson-Richards (42 from 34 balls) they fell well short of the required runs.

The day’s second match saw the “Battle of the Bullets”, as Warwickshire speedster Issy Wong went up against Middlesex’s T20 signing Lauren Bell.

Wong gained the early advantage, having Amara Carr caught at mid on in her second over of the day; and it only went downhill from there for Middlesex after Jess Couser took wickets with successive deliveries to leave them 37-3 after 7 overs.

Bethan Ellis then repeated the feat – her second wicket being the important one of Cordelia Griffith, who had looked in excellent touch but ended up chipping it to short third man for 17.

Middlesex subsequently slowed almost to a halt, amassing only 18 runs between overs 12 and 16, though some fumbled run-out attempts by Warwickshire allowed Beth Morgan to finish with a flourish, unbeaten on 23* as Middlesex just about managed 3 figures.

The Bears, though, made a mockery of their 101-run target, hurtling towards it at 1000 miles per hour thanks to Davies and fellow opener Marie Kelly (36*). Davies was hit on the leg early in the run chase and spent much of the ensuing overs limping; but solved the problem by hitting the ball hard enough and placing it well enough to enable her for the most part to simply stand and watch it sail over the boundary rope.

Middlesex’s miseries continued in the last match of the day, a thriller of a game in which Kent eventually did what they had failed to do against the Birmingham Bears and chased down an unlikely target of 150.

Middlesex’s total of 149 was set up by a 68-run opening partnership between Cordelia Griffith and Amara Carr, Carr eventually bringing up a half-century while Griffith continued her excellent season with some big striking down the ground.

In reply Kent looked dead and buried after losing two quick wickets in their second over – Grace Gibbs run out and Maxine Blythin caught behind.

Wilson, though, came together with Davidson-Richards in a 99-run partnership that saw a flurry of boundaries as both achieved half-centuries, with Middlesex burning through their first-change bowlers in a desperate attempt to stem the flow.

When Gaya Gole finally dismissed Wilson in the 13th over – stumped thanks to a smart piece of keeping from Carr – it looked like the scales had tipped in Middlesex’s favour, especially when Gole also bowled Tash Farrant two balls later with the perfect yorker.

But the match had one more sting in the tail: Lauren Griffiths joining the fray to finish things with a six and a four over midwicket – Kent eventually winning with an over to spare.

It means that reigning champions Middlesex are now bottom of Division 1; while Warwickshire have moved into second place behind Hampshire – with the winner of the last ever County T20 Cup to be decided by the final round of matches next weekend.

England v West Indies – 2nd T20 – Wyatt Makes Robinson’s Tough Call Tougher

Danni Wyatt’s cricket career has been a game of two halves. Between her debut in 2010 and 2016, hers was a tale of potential unfulfilled – probably the most gifted natural athlete of her era in the game, she was never able to translate that into runs (or wickets) in the international arena. Then… somehow… England coach Mark Robinson finally found her “on” switch, as he had done with Tammy Beaumont before, and would go on to do with Amy Jones after; and at last the runs came, including that career-defining, 57-ball T20 century out in Australia in the 2017 Ashes.

But looked at another way, since that “surgence” (sic – there’s no “re”!) her career has been a game of two games.

Danni Wyatt - International Career

The upward trend in her average has really only been in T20 cricket, and this summer against the West Indies has reflected that. In the ODI series, she made 8, 3 and 12 – just 23 runs – but back in a T20 shirt last night, she hit 81 off 55 balls, earning herself the Player of the Match award as England continued their long winning run.

It is true that she was lucky – she was dropped twice in the troublesome-teens – an absolute dolly at mid off that any park player would hope to pouch 9 times out of 10; and a tougher chance behind the stumps, but one which you’d expect an international wicket keeper to take. But there is a lot of luck in this game, and the best players learn to ride it as Wyatt did in that innings, leaving no room for doubt – she is one of the best T20 players in the world.

The dilemma for England now, almost regardless of what happens in the final T20 next week, is about Ashes selection.

If the Ashes began with the T20s, it would be obvious; but it doesn’t – it begins with the ODIs and then the Test; and on Wyatt’s ODI form, you’d probably have to pick Fran Wilson ahead of her for those one-dayers and more than likely for the Test too.

But can you really drop Wyatt after what she did last night?

It was always going to be a tough call for Mark Robinson… and with her innings at Northampton, Wyatt just made it tougher.