By Richard Clark with quotes from Worcestershire Vice-Captain & Wicketkeeper Chloe Hill
We didn’t get very much of the Bank Holiday sunshine that had been hinted at, but we did get a victory to celebrate, and with it promotion, and for Worcestershire’s Women’s Rapids that would do very nicely, thank you.
In the end it was comfortable – 97 runs the margin – although there were times during the afternoon when the odd doubt may have crept in, as Worcestershire did their best to undermine an excellent start with the bat.
There are many ways to reach a total of 227 for 9 off 50 overs, and this was probably among the more unlikely ones. Opting to bat after winning the toss, the Rapids could hardly have been better-placed at 147 without loss, and rattling along at five-an-over, only for a flurry of wickets to derail their progress and leave them a little way short of where they might have expected to be.
The innings was founded on half-centuries from Chloe Hill (78 from 86 balls) and Beth Ellis (69 from 118). As the numbers suggest, Hill played the aggressor with eight boundaries, whilst Ellis was happy in a largely supporting role, turning over the strike and collecting singles at every opportunity. The Rapids could hardly have wished for better.
And yet… attempting to turn the second ball of the match from Emily Geach to leg, Hill’s leading edge had looped up to midwicket where the fielder appeared to misjudge it, coming in a couple of steps before having to back-track in a vain attempt to take the catch. Fine margins…
* * *
“My heart was in my mouth. The biggest match of the year, all that build-up, so much at stake, and I’d stuffed it up right at the start! I can’t describe the relief when I saw she wasn’t going to get to it. But I guess it woke me up a lot!!”
* * *
The partnership wasn’t chanceless. Hill was perhaps fortunate to survive a huge stumping appeal, and rode her luck again when a fierce pull went straight through the hands of Kellie Williams, striking the Cornish skipper a blow on the eye that forced her off the field for a while and left her with a handsome black eye to remember Hill by.
More than once, a fumble at the stumps allowed the batters to escape a run-out and the edge of the bat was beaten a good few times. But Hill and Ellis ploughed on for the best part of 30 overs until Ellie Mitchell deceived and bowled Hill as she gave the leg-spinner the charge.
* * *
“Oh, there was a massive amount of frustration! Everyone who was there would have seen my face when I walked off! Who wouldn’t love a century on their home ground?! But from the team perspective we couldn’t have dreamed of a better position to be in. Runs on the board and plenty of batting to come. I thought, ‘I’ve done my job and the rest of the team can chip in nicely to reach a big score.’”
* * *
Mitchell waited politely for Ellis to collect the two runs she needed to complete her own half-century at the other end, and then took up the attack again to great effect. Within five balls she ripped out the “engine room” of the Worcestershire order, doing to the experienced Clare Boycott and Lauren Rowles exactly what she had done to Hill, but this time without either of them troubling the scorers. 147 for none had become 149 for 3. Not so comfortable now…
Ellis and Rachael Howells steadied things for a while, adding 27 for the fourth wicket before Howells was caught behind chasing a wide one, and thereafter arrivals and departures came and went at a rate that would have alarmed the Stationmaster at nearby Foregate Street. It wasn’t long before the Rapids found themselves 199 for 8, with Ellis among those to go, bowled by Charlotte Phillips.
* * *
“This 100% wasn’t in the plan! You always expect to have a sticky spell during an innings but we couldn’t get ourselves going – although the strip was the same one used two days earlier for the Men’s T20 Blast quarter-final, a low-scoring match itself. But with the positive start we thought we had a big total coming at the end of 50 overs.”
“I think we got caught between the need to push on and the need for new batters to just take an over or two.”
“But credit to Cornwall too. They kept at us, there was a lot of ‘pace off the ball’ and not much that was there to hit. They took the initiative away from us as much as we surrendered it. We definitely needed a few runs from the lower order as I know we can bat right through.”
* * *
Those few runs came – 28 of them in the last seven overs – with the relatively experienced Jess Humby marshalling youngsters Ellie Fleck (the only player other than Hill or Ellis to reach double-figures) and Philippa Bray though. It was “one of those” totals – a match that perhaps should have been out of reach… wasn’t.
Cornwall began with a flourish, Boycott’s opening over going for 14 with the help of five wides, but thereafter she and Issy Wong applied the brakes, albeit without being able to make inroads. Mitchell (if anybody should know about opening at New Road, it’s a Mitchell…) and Caitlin Burnett looked largely unhurried.
At 34 without loss after eight overs, neither team had put themselves in the ascendency until Emily Arlott rattled Burnett’s stumps in her first over, and almost immediately Wong did likewise to Mitchell from the other end next over.
Rapids on top, and more so when the same bowlers repeated the dose to Amber Cummins (LBW to Arlott) and Sophie Richards (bowled by Wong). Cornwall 44 for 4 and badly holed below the waterline…
* * *
“We didn’t start as well as we would have liked, but we knew a couple of wickets would change things. Em and Issy are both pretty quick and I would back their bowling to take wickets. For a 16-year old Issy gets some real pace, hits the gloves very hard which is pleasing to see at her age. Once Issy found her length and her rhythm she was on fire!”
“Em’s got so much experience now. She knows exactly what she’s doing. She trains extremely hard to hit her areas. Having seen Cornwall use their slower bowlers well we weren’t sure how pace would go. Everyone knows it can fly off the bat and runs can come quickly. But Em and Issy just didn’t give anything away in that spell. With hindsight, that was the period that won us the match.”
* * *
For a while, Rebecca Odgers and Joleigh Roberts defied the home side. Odgers in particular played beautifully, hitting 11 fours in her 56 from 57 balls, most of them textbook drives through the off side, and keeping Cornwall up with the rate.
They were undone by the curse of the drinks break, though, Roberts just failing to beat Boycott’s throw from backward point after an untimely mid-wicket “debate” about the possibility of pinching a single, and Charlotte Williams was snaffled by Rowles at midwicket soon afterwards, leaving the visitors 81 for 6.
Geach held firm in a stand of 40 as Odgers continued to carve away at the other end but the final nail came when Ellis had Odgers stumped by Hill. Odgers couldn’t have moved her foot very far, or for very long, but Hill’s hands were fast, and she knew…
* * *
“When someone’s batting like that there’s always something in the back of your mind that thinks she could do it all on her own. You know deep down it’s unlikely but it’s that little voice of doubt that nags away. You get anxious, you try a bit too hard for a wicket and it doesn’t come, so you get a bit more anxious, and so on. But as soon as I saw her foot lift and drag out slightly I knew I’d got her, and let’s just say it was definitely a massive relief when that finger went up!”
* * *
The final two wickets fell quickly – fittingly one each for Wong and Arlott, who finished with 4 for 22, and 3 for 21 respectively. Ellis deserves a mention too, her ten overs quietly yielding 1 for 29. Job done.
Cornwall will be disappointed but looking down their team sheet I recognised at least five names who have played age-group cricket against my 15-year old daughter. They include Odgers and Geach, who took 2 for 29 off her ten overs and – Odgers excepted – faced more balls than anybody else. There should be encouragement for them in the performances of those youngsters. They can only continue to improve.
For Worcestershire, Division 2 awaits after a single season away. It will be a challenge but one the Rapids will hope to meet head on.
* * *
“What a day! It’s always fun to play at New Road but to do so with something real at stake, and to win in front of your own supporters – not much beats that! And to be back in Division 2 where we knew we should have been last season is great!”
“There were celebrations and it was great that we could do that with our teammates, friends and families. And personally, I just want to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to all our supporters this season, and to our home ground Kidderminster CC and New Road. Hopefully all these positives can go into next season. As we all say, #UPTHERAPIDS!🍐🌊”
Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68