MATCH REPORT: Diamonds Do The Sparkling v Sparks

Richard Clark at Edgbaston

Diamonds dominated their clash with Central Sparks at Edgbaston, ultimately cruising home by nine wickets after Lauren Winfield-Hill (72) and Hollie Armitage’s (54*) opening stand of 139 had driven a coach and horses through the home side’s sub-par 144 all out, an innings holed below the waterline by a superb five for 20 from Katherine Brunt.

The Yorkshire pair got off to a confident start in their chase and were well ahead of the rate throughout, as Sparks strived for much-needed breakthroughs that never came. None of Sparks bowlers could stem the steady flow of runs and by the second sanitisation break after 12 overs, Diamonds were already almost halfway to their target on 61 without loss.

Issy Wong bowled with the sort of pace that earned her a call-up to England’s recent bio-bubble training camp, but there were seven wides in her five overs and England coach Lisa Keightley will want to find the key to ironing that out without compromising the sharpness that saw both Diamonds openers distinctly hurried now and then.

The spinners came in for particular treatment, Sarah Glenn and Anisha Patel conceding 71 between them in ten overs, but that was largely a consequence of the freedom afforded the batsmen by their dominance of the situation.

Winfield-Hill, especially, looked in good form, driving cleanly through the offside before cutting loose – adding to her nine boundaries with two lofted shots for six over mid-off once past her half-century – whilst Armitage played with intelligence in her supporting role. Even Nat Sciver hit the only ball she faced through cover-point for the crispest of fours, as if to emphasise the ease of the visitors’ win.

Edgbaston was an eerie place at the start of play with its vast, cavernous stands devoid of spectators, and the surreal feeling was added to by a distinctly off-centre pitch which meant a boundary of no more than 40-yards on the Western side of the ground, whilst the rope on the Eric Hollies side must have been close to twice that. Frankly it was not a good look for a tournament being marketed widely as important for the women’s game in this country, and a match being live-streamed. Perhaps this, then, was one occasion when we should be grateful for fixed cameras…

Sparks’ day started well enough. The Joneses – Eve and Amy – made steady progress to 30 without los after seven overs from Brunt and Beth Langston, but they perhaps lacked the fluency that Winfield-Hill and Armitage would later demonstrate, and Diamonds protected that shorter boundary well with disciplined line and length before Brunt had Eve Jones (15) caught behind from one that climbed a little off a good length, and then Langston enticed Marie Kelly (4) to drive loosely to Brunt at cover to leave the home side 41 for 2.

Gwenan Davies joined Amy Jones and would play Sparks’ best hand of the piece, with 33 from 42 balls. Sensibly aggressive against Katie Levick in particular, she mixed defence and attack well, and at 75 for 2 after fifteen overs the pair were setting a decent platform at a good rate until Jones tried to go over mid-on but could only pick out the safe hands of Alex MacDonald. A rash shot that didn’t need to be played at that time, it exposed the middle and lower order when another ten or more overs of accumulation were called for.

Thereafter Sparks… ahem… lost their spark as the scoring dried up. Tellingly, there were just three more boundaries in the remaining 23 overs, and when Brunt returned for her second spell she did so with positive relish. The four over burst yielded four for eight – three of them clean bowled – as Sparks slumped from 123 for 4 to 144 all out, which would prove to be nowhere near enough.

Sparks return to Edgbaston on Monday to take on a Thunder side buoyed by their opening day win against Lightning, whilst Diamonds host Lightning at Chester-le-Street. By Monday evening the North Group could already be a two-horse race, or it could be neck-and-neck between all four…

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Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

RHF TROPHY: A New Dawn?

In some ways today’s RHF Trophy opener – Stars v Storm – felt like a typical women’s county match: it was held at Beckenham; we brought our own picnic; and as the first ball was bowled, we were the only written press at the match. It was freezing cold and I spent the day in a winter coat and woolly hat. Heather Knight trampled all over the opposition bowling, with Storm winning by 6 wickets. If it was the dawn of a new era, it didn’t feel much like one.

On the other hand, we were both temperature-checked and had to fill in health questionnaires on arrival. (Thanks, COVID.) There was a press tent and Wifi (glorious riches!) and we could hear the buzz of Mark Church doing commentary for the live stream in the next door tent. County cricket never had it so good.

The amount of investment which has gone into this year’s regional competition is impressive. The ECB are funding salaries for both the Regional Directors and Coaches (UK Sport have an advert up at the moment which suggests the annual salary for those head coaches will be £60,000.) The players are all being paid to participate, and by October, 40 of them will be professionals (albeit likely not earning the PCA’s mandated minimum wage).

And of course there is the fact that – as Sunrisers coach Trevor Griffin put it when I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago – “If we go back to March, there was real concern that we wouldn’t see any cricket at all. It’s a real bonus.” Getting this competition off the ground is an impressive achievement in the middle of a global pandemic.

On the other hand, there remains some confusion as to what exactly – aside from a lot of money – is the difference between this and last year’s 8-team Division 1 County Championship. The Stars today batted at a run rate of just over 3 for much of their innings. Rowe aside, they displayed the kind of attritional cricket which we are well used to seeing in the women’s county game.

That is not unexpected – these are players who have grown up playing county, and all the money in the world will not enable them to dispense with old habits overnight. The new set-up is part of a long-term strategy to professionalise the women’s game, which is very welcome. On the other hand, today’s showing does rather beg the question: in exchange for ditching the commercial advantage which comes with being able to align teams with existing men’s county brands, what has women’s cricket gained?

There’s another question, too, which I don’t think anyone has quite figured out the answer to yet. With the England players catapulted in at the last minute, but with rumours also circulating that some players were not selected for the RHF Trophy because they are considered “too old” to fit the bill, what exactly is the purpose of this competition? Is it purely a development competition – designed for 16-year-olds like Alice Capsey to strut her stuff – or is it about pitting the best against the best, to create the kind of high-level cricket which both looks good on live streams and which will provide the stiff competition which the England players need, in order to thrive at international level?

The ECB’s answer to this, I am sure, would be that in non-COVID years it is The Hundred which will be the high-profile competition, the one with all the glitz and the one where players really hone their skills. Perhaps, going forward, the England players will play only a minor role in regionals. Except… do you win a World Cup if at domestic level you are only playing at a high level in a non-World Cup format? Can we really afford for regionals to become “just a development competition”, and dismissed as unimportant accordingly?

At Beckenham today it was Stars’ top-scorer Susie Rowe (38 off 44 balls) who exemplified the development-vs-elite dilemma. At 33 years old, the former England player is unlikely to want one of the new domestic contracts, even if one were offered to her: she has a very good, very secure teaching job where she oversees both hockey and cricket; jacking it in to accept a short-term, not very well-paid regional cricket contract is (you’d think) an unattractive option. She hardly has a place in a “development competition”.

Nonetheless, she lit up today’s match – and you can bet she is a great person to have around when you’re 16 years old, lacking in big-match experience, and need a word in your ear or a clap on your shoulder. In any case, why on earth should players like Rowe be excluded on the basis of age, denied the chance to carry on playing at the highest level they can for as long as they want to do so?

It’s a dilemma that was never quite resolved in the KSL – are we trying to develop the next generation of England players, or are we trying to put on the best display possible? – but with no overseas players in regionals, it seems all the more acute now. As the matches in the RHF unfold over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see what answers – if any – emerge.

NEWS: England Player Allocations Announced For Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy

The ECB have announced the England player allocations for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, with players mainly going to teams where they have existing connections. For example, Katherine Brunt and Lauren Winfield will be playing at Yorkshire for the Northern Diamonds, where they played both county and KSL, while Heather Knight and Anya Shrubsole are returning to Western Storm, which was also their KSL side.

It has also been announced that the final will take place at Edgbaston, and will be shown live on Sky Sports on Sunday September 27.

Northern Diamonds
Katherine Brunt, Nat Sciver, Lauren Winfield, Linsey Smith

Thunder
Kate Cross, Sophie Ecclestone, Emma Lamb

Central Sparks
Amy Jones, Sarah Glenn, Issy Wong

Western Storm
Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Katie George

Southern Vipers
Danni Wyatt, Georgia Elwiss, Lauren Bell

South East Stars
Freya Davies, Alice Davidson-Richards, Bryony Smith, Sophia Dunkley

Sunrisers
Fran Wilson, Mady Villiers

Lightning
Tammy Beaumont, Kirstie Gordon

BREAKING: England To Play West Indies In September

The ECB have announced that England will host a 5 match T20 series against the West Indies in late September.

All 5 games will be played behind closed doors at Derby, but will be broadcast live on Sky, with one match also being shown Free To Air on the BBC.

  • Monday September 21: 1st T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports)
  • Wednesday September 23: 2nd T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports)
  • Saturday September 26: 3rd T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports, BBC)
  • Monday September 28: 4th T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports)
  • Wednesday September 30: 5th T20, England v West Indies (Sky Sports)

[Start times all “TBC”]

The confirmation of the schedule has necessitated a change in date for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Final, which will now be played on Sunday September 27.

England currently have 24 players in their training group, and all 24 will be made available for the first two rounds of the RHF on Saturday August 29 and Monday August 31. (So expect an announcement on teams very soon!)

Anyone not selected for the Windies series will be released to return to their regional team for the final round and final of the RHF.

VIDEO: The CRICKETher Weekly Vodcast – Episode 22

This week Raf & Syd discuss:

  • News on the likely cancellation of England’s internationals v South Africa
  • Fixtures and squad selections for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy
  • A Rae-ny Day at Guildford for Middlesex v Surrey
  • Should England select 15-year-old Alice Capsey to play in this summer’s fixtures?

Plus we relive happy memories of our adventure in Australia through the medium of the ICC’s Netflix documentary, Beyond the Boundary.

NEWS: West Indies In Talks To Replace South Africa For September Tour

As is being reported by the BBC, England’s series against South Africa next month is now in serious doubt, with the ECB currently in talks with the West Indies Cricket Board in an attempt to arrange a replacement tour at short notice.

CRICKETher understands that the final, revised fixtures against South Africa were just days away from being formally announced, with all arrangements already in place, when Cricket South Africa communicated to the ECB that they were unlikely to be able to fulfil the fixtures.

The decision by CSA to pull out of the tour is reportedly due to “coronavirus restrictions in South Africa”, but may also be linked to the ICC’s decision – announced last Friday – to postpone the 2021 World Cup by a year, meaning there is more time for sides to organise fixtures ahead of the tournament.

If an agreement with West Indies cannot be reached, it will comes as a bitter disappointment to the England players, who have already spent two weeks in a biosecure training bubble in Derby, unable to participate in county or club fixtures or to leave their hotel when not training.

The likelihood is that should no internationals go ahead, the 24 England squad players will all be released to play for their new regions (yet to be allocated) in the forthcoming Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. It will come as scant consolation but will at least ensure they have the opportunity to participate in some competitive cricket before the season is over.

NEWS: ECB Announce Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy

The ECB have announced that the 8 regional Centres of Excellence will compete in a 50-over competition for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy later this season, honouring one of England’s greatest former captains, as the men are doing with the Bob Willis Trophy.

It has also been confirmed that the 8 team names are:

  • Central Sparks (Warwickshire CCC & Worcestershire CCC, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire)
  • Lightning (Loughborough University, Derbyshire CCC, Leicestershire CCC, Nottinghamshire CCC, Lincolnshire)
  • Northern Diamonds (Yorkshire CCC, Durham CCC, Northumberland)
  • Thunder (Lancashire CCC, Cheshire, Cumbria)
  • South East Stars (Surrey CCC, Kent CCC)
  • Southern Vipers (Hampshire Cricket Ltd, Sussex CCC, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire)
  • Sunrisers (Middlesex CCC, Essex CCC, Northamptonshire CCC, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk)
  • Western Storm (Glamorgan CCC, Gloucestershire CCC, Somerset CCC, Cricket Wales, Cornwall, Devon, Wiltshire)

These teams will compete in 2 regional groups, playing each other twice, with Sparks, Lightning, Diamonds and Thunder contesting the “North” group; and Stars, Vipers, Sunrisers and Storm the “South”. The group winners will play off for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in the final on Saturday 26 September.

Squads will be confirmed shortly, and (quote) “the availability of England Women’s Centrally Contracted players will be known once the international schedule has been confirmed.”

MATCH REPORT: Sussex Hold The Front Paige In “El Classicoast” Against Hampshire

The second leg of the Sussex-Hampshire “El Classicoast” friendlies concluded under sunny skies at Falmer with a straightforward Sussex win, making it 2 from 2 for the host side.

Newly-appointed Southern Vipers professional Paige Scholfield, batting at 4, set up Sussex’s total of 237 with a measured 55 (from 73 balls); and emphasised her all-round talents with figures of 3-33 from 8 overs in the Hampshire reply.

Sussex eventually bowled Hampshire out for 196 in 45.5 overs, racking up a 41-run win despite a gutsy half-century from stand-in captain Emily Windsor, who was left stranded on 57*.

The home team had lost captain Georgia Adams early on in proceedings, trapped LBW to debutant seamer Gemma Lane; while last week’s top-scorer Ella McCaughan also departed early, falling LBW to Charlie Dean.

From 54-2, Scholfield guided Sussex to 129-4, offering up a couple of chances along the way, including a tricky catch to a diving Windsor at midwicket. Scholfield then added insult to injury by taking Windsor for 16 runs from the very next over, the first of Windsor’s spell.

Windsor eventually wrought some measure of revenge, having Scholfield bowled in the 32nd as she attempted one cut shot too many and dragged the ball onto her own stumps. The all-round effort from 23-year-old Windsor will no doubt have been noted by Vipers head coach Charlotte Edwards and represents a clear case for her selection in the forthcoming Regional Competition.

Sussex fought back courtesy of a feisty late flourish from Nancy “Harmanpreet” Harman, whose 42 came off just 22 balls, including a couple of huge sixes down the ground – an innings which ultimately represented the difference between the sides.

In reply, Sussex kept Hampshire quiet for the first 10 overs, eventually frustrating Ariana Dowse into sending the ball down the throat of Mary Taylor at midwicket to leave her side 29-1 at the 12-over “sanitisation break”.

With Hampshire’s regular captain and number 3 Maia Bouchier absent from proceedings, Ella Chandler attempted to hold things together but fell victim to a rare spell with the ball from Georgia Adams, who took a smart catch off her own bowling to see off Chandler in the 26th over.

From there Hampshire fell further behind the required rate, with the result looking to be a foregone conclusion until Windsor came to the party, assisted by a flurry of boundaries in the 42nd over from number 9 Providence Cowdrill (14 from 9 balls).

With Hampshire needing 71 off the final 7 overs, Scholfield ended Hampshire hopes by having Cowdrill bowled as she swung at one too many, and then removing Alex Avoth in the following over, caught in the deep.

Players from both sides will now wait nervously to hear the final Southern Vipers squad selection, due to be announced in the next couple of weeks.