KSL: Vipers v Stars – Danni Wyatt’s Effortless Ton Puts Vipers In Firm Contention

12 months ago, at Arundel, Southern Vipers suffered a 9-wicket defeat to Western Storm, having been bowled out for 91. Afterwards, Vipers looked in disarray: an exhausted group of players with no real sense of togetherness. It was without doubt the lowest ebb for a side who had gone unbeaten in the first year of the competition, and only just missed out on retaining their crown second time around.

Today, at that same ground – Arundel – it was Vipers handing out the thrashing: beating Surrey Stars by almost 100 runs. After the win they immediately, as one, withdrew to the pavilion to sing their team song – “WE ARE SOUTH-ERN VIPERS” to the tune of Queen’s We Will Rock You. The contrast with last year could hardly have been greater.

The shake-up in the Vipers squad – with 5 of last year’s first XI no longer featuring – appears to have done the trick. “Everyone’s enjoying themselves, great vibe, everyone’s really close which is nice,” Danni Wyatt said afterwards. “Everyone’s playing with a smile on their face.”

Wyatt was clearly the star of the show today, hitting a 56-ball century – the first ever by an English player in the Super League. It was an innings made all the more impressive by the fact that it was hit on a difficult, spongy pitch (following rain earlier in the day). In fact, Wyatt and fellow opener Bates hit just 29 runs in the powerplay.

“It was a tricky wicket,” Wyatt said. “Me and Suzie [Bates] struggled a bit in the first few overs. It was one of those wickets where you have to just back yourself and slog it really. I came off the pitch thinking ‘wow, how did I manage that?!’”

Stars, though, had gambled everything on bowling out Marizanne Kapp with 4 successive overs up top; but although she gave away just 11 runs, as soon as she went off Wyatt seemed to actively decide to go up a gear – dispatching the first ball of Laura Marsh’s over midwicket for the first six of the innings, and going onwards and upwards from there.

“Once I was in, I wasn’t thinking and just wanted to hit boundaries. Anything up there and full I tried to get my hands through,” she said. The amazing thing was that she made it look so effortless – the six that brought up her half-century, which sailed over the deep midwicket boundary, barely made a noise, despite being struck with the full face of the bat.

Vipers then backed up her effort with a convincing display in the field – Tash Farrant and Fi Morris demolishing the Stars top order between them, and Paige Scholfield claiming two good catches in the deep, before Stafanie Taylor chipped in with 3 wickets to wrap things up. That included a comedy stumping from Tammy Beaumont – taking the gloves after Carla Rudd was omitted from today’s XI – in which Beaumont fell over twice but still managed to remove the bails to see off Sarah Taylor, who presumably will have been making a mental note not to emulate her England teammate in that particular department.

For Wyatt, as she herself acknowledged, today was important in showing that – after a difficult summer – she is still England’s best T20 batsman: “I’ve not hit a 100 for about 15 months so it’s nice to get another one!”

For Vipers meanwhile, previously neck and neck with Stars but now out clear in second place by 5 points, it sent out a clear statement that they have every intention – after missing out last year – of being present at the last ever KSL Finals Day in a fortnight’s time.

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KSL: Mignon du Preez Keeps Lightning In With A Shout v Stars

Mignon du Preez’ 70 off 41 balls, including 13 fours, was the difference between Loughborough Lightning and Surrey Stars at Guildford.

160 looks to be a par score at Woodbridge Road – Surrey themselves chased 120 here last week against Lancashire Thunder in under 15 overs – so 120 off 20 overs felt somewhat light from Surrey.

Batting first, Surrey initially got off to a flyer, with Lizelle Lee smacking Tara Norris for 17 off the second over; but after the fall of Lee (25) and Bryony Smith (14) in quick succession, Surrey found progress harder.

Nat Sciver slapped her way to a slightly scrappy 23 off 27 balls before she became the second batsman after Lee to fall “st. Jones b. Matthews”; but it wasn’t until Mady Villiers (13 off 13) came in at the death, looking to score off every ball, that there was any real impetus to the innings, and by that point it was already a bit late.

Villiers still seems to be being treated more as a bowler than a batsman by Surrey, although England definitely see her as a batter primarily, and indeed she opened the bowling for the Stars, getting the early wicket of Hayley Matthews. With Amy Jones (5) and Chamari Atapattu (4) also falling cheaply, it felt like Surrey might actually be on course to defend their slightly meagre total.

That reckoned without Mignon du Preez.

The former South African captain has always seemed to be more suited to the longer formats of the game – she scored a century in her only Test against India a few years ago – but “Minx”, as she is known, has always been a bit of a “worker bee” and she was buzzing at Guildford today.

“I’ve been getting some starts but I haven’t converted, so today to finally get a conversion and help the team win is really special,” she told us after the game today.

“I’m not known as a person who clears the boundary, but I think in the shorter format there is also a place for somebody who can be busy in the middle and actually hit the pockets and run well.”

Du Preez seems to like Guildford – a year ago, playing for Southern Vipers, she took on the backup role to Tammy Beaumont, scoring 48 to Beaumont’s 62, as the Vipers beat the Stars here.

But this time she was tasked with playing the leading role, with Georgia Adams – who played very nicely, using her feet to get to the pitch of the ball and play some lovely Sarah Taylor-esque drives – riding shotgun on this occasion.

“It is enjoyable being the senior player,” du Preez reflected; “and it is nice when you can back it up with a performance.”

Du Preez’s 70 runs were scored at a Strike Rate of 170 – far in excess of her international “average” of 98.

“I think that is something that I needed to realise – there is space for my type of play within the game – if you place it well you can still get value for your shots.”

“Adding a bit of power to my game is something I’ve been working on – that’s how the game is evolving so I have to keep up! It’s still not where I’d want it to be but it came off nicely today and I’m happy with the result.”

And so she should be. The bonus point win for Loughborough opens up the middle of the table again; and though Western Storm may be soaring ahead – at time of writing they have TWICE as many points as second-placed Vipers – Surrey showed last year that all you need to do is qualify for Finals Day, by the skin of your teeth or not, to be in with a shout of walking off with that trophy. Du Preez is working hard to give the Lightning that shout with performances like today’s.

OPINION: New Zealand Contracts In Perspective – An Important Starting Point

The announcement of a new framework for international and domestic contracts in New Zealand has been widely reported this week, and hailed as a big step forward for the women’s game there.

New Zealand Cricket has set aside $1.3m per year – about £750,000 – to pay players over the next 3 years, with the centrally contracted international squad earning a minimum of $44,000 (£23,000) per year, up to a maximum of around $80,000 (£43,000) per year for the top tier, including match fees.

This is significantly less than the top Australian or Indian internationals, but only slightly less than England, and considerably more than anywhere else – it establishes New Zealand firmly in the top 4 for internationals, and will doubtless serve to keep players in the game who might have otherwise started to look at their options.

Equally significantly, New Zealand have pledged to introduce paid central contracts for the first time for an additional 60-or-so domestic players competing in the T20 Super Smash and 50-over Hallyburton Johnstone competitions, which were previously 100% amateur.

While this undoubtedly moves New Zealand cricket a significant step forwards, there has been some confusion about quite how far.

Although these players will be “contracted” most of them will initially be earning only $3,000 per year – approximately £1,800. So while the fact that these agreements will be called “contracts” is exciting, they are actually only worth about half the amount that English domestic players can currently earn from the Kia Super League – and considerably less than even the lower-end numbers which have been rumoured for next year with the new Hundred and CoEs competitions in England.

So this is not professionalism or even semi-professionalism. As Suzie Bates put it in Cricket New Zealand’s press release, it is “[a] starting point for the eventual semi-professionalisation of the women’s domestic game in New Zealand.” [Emphasis ours.]

It is still an important step though – women’s cricket needs New Zealand to be competitive and to to give us stars like Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine – and this new announcement hopefully means that they will continue to do so in the years to come.

KSL: One Ball from Lauren Bell

On August 14th 2018, the Southern Vipers, on their way to a last-placed finish in the Kia Super League, took on the Surrey Stars at Hove.

The Vipers had made a respectable 147, almost entirely due to Suzie Bates, who had hit 82 off 57 balls; and opening the batting for the Surrey Stars was Lizelle Lee – a fine batsman at the peak of her formidable powers, who would go on to make a blistering hundred in a player of the match performance at the same ground a week or so later in the final.

At the other end, seventeen-year-old fast bowler Lauren Bell – playing just her second professional match, having come into the Vipers 1st XI as an injury replacement.

Bell’s stock delivery is an inswinger, but with little assistance in the air she set herself to bowl quick and move it off the pitch, away from the right-handed Lee.

Dot… dot… dot… dot… dot… dot.

A maiden!

Lee had barely seen the ball, let alone had time to play it; and Bell had announced herself to the world – this was a player worth watching!

A year later, almost to the day, Bell is opening the bowling for the Vipers once again – this time against the Western Storm. At the crease is Rachel Priest, the veteran T20 specialist from New Zealand renowned for her dismissive power hitting. Priest knows what to expect – she played a season with Bell at Berkshire – and after seeing off two dots, she punches the third delivery through the covers for 4.

This one isn’t going to be a maiden!

Bell walks back to her mark, and prepares to bowl again.

This time she delivers the ball from a foot-and-a-half outside off stump. It is a straight delivery out of the hand, but it begins to swing in to the batsman. It is a good ball, not doubt – on the money – but Priest has it covered and swings to bash it over midwicket. She hears the sound of wood on leather and watches for the ball sailing towards the boundary for six… except… it soon becomes apparent that’s not quite what has happened.

The ball has swung… then swung some more… and then swung just that little bit more; and that sound you heard was not bat on ball, but the ball crashing through the gate into Priest’s leg stump.

Bell had just announced herself all over again – not just a player worth watching, but a player worth fearing.

Because anyone can bowl a maiden – even at Lizelle Lee – but no one else can bowl a ball like that.

Not Katherine Brunt.

Not Anya Shrubsole.

Not Marizanne Kapp or Megan Schutt.

They are all fantastic players; and overall, right now, I’d still pick any of them in my T20 dream team ahead of Bell, for consistency and economy.

But none of them could bowl a ball like that.

No one could.

No one, except Lauren Bell.

KSL: Vipers v Storm – Random Thoughts: Fearless Farrant, Brilliant Bates And Level Luff

Fearless Farrant

For almost the whole of their run chase against Southern Vipers, Western Storm looked to be cruising to their 142-run target. On the two occasions their momentum was disrupted, though, one bowler was responsible: Tash Farrant.

Firstly, coming on to bowl the 11th over, with both Smriti Mandhana and Heather Knight looking set, Farrant outsmarted both – Smriti top-edging her slower ball to short fine leg, before Knight was castled 4 balls later. Then, after Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson had taken Storm to the brink, and with just 8 needed from the last 2 overs, Farrant again intervened: having Luff caught at mid off trying to go over the top, which in turn unsettled Wilson enough to run out her new partner Deepti Sharma.

It wasn’t quite enough for Vipers in the end, but Farrant – who England have, arguably, badly missed this summer after she lost her contract in February – at least gave them a sniff when it looked like the match was dead in the water. Farrant might no longer count as an “international” but she is still one of Vipers’ biggest assets.

Brilliant Bates

Suzie Bates has taken on a different role at the Vipers this summer: having handed the captaincy reins over to Tammy Beaumont, she is now simply the senior pro; and she seems to be quite enjoying it: “I’m a lot more relaxed off the field!” she said at close of play today.

It’s given her time to focus more on her own game, and while her 38-ball 33 was less than fluent today – “I didn’t time it from ball 1, and then tried to overhit” – she was the player trusted by Beaumont to bowl the 20th over, with Storm needing just 2 runs from it. It seemed an impossible task, but Bates breathed life into a game that should have been done and dusted.

How did she approach it? “I’ve watched enough T20 cricket to know that you’ve just got to stay in the game,” she said afterwards. “I thought if I could bowl it full and straight – sometimes you get to that point and to finish the game as a batter is the hardest thing. I thought I had nothing to lose, and if I could hit the stumps I’d be in with a chance.”

First ball she had Wilson LBW: “I fell over with excitement that she’d missed a full and straight one! Then I knew it was going to be nervy for the batters coming in, so I had my back up and wanted to take it as deep as I could.”

Next ball was a dot, that hit incoming batsman Anya Shrubsole on the pad. Her third ball then sent Shrubsole packing, swinging and missing at yet another straight one.

Fortunately for Storm, Sonia Odedra and Naomi Dattani both kept their heads – each scoring singles, to see the visitors over the line with one ball to spare.

Interestingly, Bates has barely featured with the ball of late in T20 cricket. This was the first match in this year’s KSL in which she has been called on to bowl her full allocation. She did not bowl once for New Zealand in their T20 series against Indian in February this year, and in the World T20 in the Caribbean last November she bowled just 2 overs across 4 group stage matches.

Bates, though, wants to change that. “I want to be that bowler for the White Ferns that bowls to the death,” she said today, “so it helps to get those opportunities for the Vipers.”

New Zealand could do a lot worse.

Level Luff

Heather Knight and Fran Wilson have stolen the headlines on both occasions, but in Storm’s two recent run chases – against Thunder yesterday and Vipers today – Sophie Luff, coming in at number 5, has played a key role. Today, her 58-run partnership with Wilson steadied the ship at a crucial stage in the game, the pair running hard between the wickets to ensure the run rate continued to tick over.

Yesterday against Thunder, Wilson’s half-century was made with Knight at the other end: today, with Luff, she was the senior partner, which you’d think would have added more pressure. Not according to Wilson: “I didn’t feel like that really,” she said. “I’d probably say yesterday was harder.”

“I especially like batting with Luffy. She’s really good to bat with – complements our order really well, she can hit the boundaries, but I also don’t know how she gets the singles she gets – she sees the gaps that a lot of us don’t see.”

It helps that the pair have known each other since they were both playing under-12s age-group cricket for Somerset. “A bit of psychic powers there, maybe!” Wilson joked after play. “We’ve always batted well together. We both like to run well. We’re quite different as personalities as well – she keeps me quite level.”

Storm threw away the chance to reach last year’s final after they collapsed in the semi against Surrey Stars: a bit of Level Luff in this year’s competition is just what the doctor ordered.

KSL: Stars V Thunder – Middle Over Slump Stills Lancashire’s Thunder

In the Good Old Days™ – 5 or 6 years ago – the powerplay didn’t seem to matter much in women’s T20 cricket. When 120 was often a match-winning score, players brought up in a 50-over mindset eschewed the risks of going “over the top”, and looked instead to accumulate.

It would be easy to look at the scorecard from yesterday’s Stars v Thunder match-up at Guildford and think how everything has changed. Lizelle Lee opened the innings for the Stars, who were chasing a no-longer-par 120, and smashed 66 off 45 balls – surely an example of putting the “power” into powerplay?

Except… that’s not quite what happened.

It was actually the post-powerplay overs that were the difference between the two sides, as the (smoothed average) run rate chart shows.

Stars v Thunder Run Rates

Batting first, the Thunder didn’t have a great powerplay – Marizanne Kapp was exceptional, a she always is, going at just 3.5 runs per over, bowling all 4 overs up-top – but when the Stars came to reply, the Thunder were actually ahead for the first 4 overs; and it wasn’t until the “boring” middle overs that Lee and the Stars really took off.

In contrast, the Thunder had totally slumped in the middle overs – they really were “boring”, with the boundary barely troubled.

Harmanpreet Kaur was at the crease that whole time, and though she eventually got going in a final assault which brought 44 runs off the last 4 overs, prior to that she’d been batting at well under 100 – at the end of the 17th she was on just 25 off 36 balls.

Ellyse Perry’s T20 innings used to follow a similar pattern – she’d often be 10 off 20 balls; 15 off 30 – but then accelerate to finish 60 off 40. On the final scorecard, it looked respectable; but there were a lot of wasted deliveries along the way, and she obviously realised it was a problem, because she worked hard to change it, and she now typically goes at a strike rate of over 100 from the off.

Talking to Thunder captain Kate Cross after the game, she said: “Harmanpreet batted superbly and gave us an opportunity – when she flipped that switch and decided to go, she proved what you can do on a pitch like that.”

And there’s no arguing with that, but… yes… there’s a but!

As the senior player – the big overseas star – was it perhaps her responsibility to flip that switch a lot earlier? To make the most of those middle overs, instead of wasting them?

Having an “opportunity” is better than not having one; but that middle over slump left the Thunder relying on an “opportunity” when they could have used that period to take command, with plenty of batting still to come, right down to Eve Jones coming in at 9.

Those middle overs are where the Thunder could have won that game.

Instead, it was were they lost it.

NEWS: ECB Hint At Reduction in Contracted England Players

Emails seen by CRICKETher possibly suggest that the ECB may be planning to reduce the number of contracted England players by almost a quarter, from 20-odd to just 16.

Currently there are officially 21 contracted players (though rumour has it (and you know how we love a rumour) that there are actually 22) which includes 3 players on “rookie” contracts, who are expected to train with the fully contracted players but are not paid a full-time living wage.

But two separate emails seen by CRICKETher suggest that when it comes to The Hundred, coaches will be selecting from a pool of just 16 centrally contracted England players – implying a reduction of five.

If so, this would bring the women more into line with the men, where there are generally around 15 centrally contracted players, though the men’s setup is split between separate red and white ball contracts, with some players holding just one and others both.

A year ago, this would have been very bad news for the five players losing their central deals. Although the players are paid for playing in the Kia Super League, it isn’t enough to support training full time, with the rest of the domestic setup being entirely amateur, and the players let go last year had just a few weeks to find jobs or literally face the dole queue.

However, the forthcoming changes to the setup of domestic cricket allow some scope for the ECB to make this reduction, because The Hundred and the newly aligned elite 20 and 50-over competitions are expected to pay a (small) full time wage, which could mean that the rookie players at least may actually be better off next year as a result; though if any fully contracted players were let go, they would probably have to take a hit, and they would lose their Kia Sportages – the lovely, big, shiny cars they get as part of Kia’s sponsorship deal with the ECB.