Thursday, 4 September 2014

Can we make Women's T20 cricket better?

England duly won the second of the three T20s against South Africa at Wantage Road last night by 42 runs, thanks once again to another fine knock of 75* by Charlotte Edwards, which allowed England to set the Saffers 142 to win.

To be fair to South Africa for the first half of their reply they were in the game thanks to the batting efforts of Dane van Niekerk (34), Marizanne Kapp (27) and skipper Mignon du Preez (15). They took a liking to the pace of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole hitting nine boundaries in the six over powerplay and taking South Africa to 46/1 (Lizelle Lee the only casualty). But once England could put five fielders out on the boundary South Africa could only get the ball over the rope on two more occasions, and their effort petered out once du Preez and van Niekerk had fallen to hoisted leg-side shots. In fact they lost their last eight wickets while scoring just 28 runs, to be bowled out in the 19th over for just 99 runs. It was a disappointing end for the crowd of around 1,000 and those watching on television.

Television coverage of the women's game is, of course, a two-edged sword. Good games encourage more to follow (and play) the sport, but one-sided games encourage derogatory and negative comments, usually from ill-informed male morons. Unfortunately India chose not to stay after the Test and ODI series and have a T20 series against England, perhaps for fear of their own shortcomings in this format of the game. Given that the T20s are the only format that Sky are willing to broadcast at the moment, the ECB decided that they had to fill the fixtures and keep the sport on the television. Unfortunately so far South Africa have not proved much of a challenge, so the coverage has attracted negative rather than positive reaction. But even two evenly-matched teams often fail to produce a decent viewing spectacle and therefore I think the rules for Women's T20s need to be reviewed.

Much criticism has been levelled at England for their failure to hit 6s (they have not hit one since 29th January 2014), and there was much discussion on Sky about the size of the boundaries at Chelmsford (too big it was thought). Personally I am not that bothered about the girls hitting 6s. What I think is far more important is the lack of boundaries outside of the powerplay overs. The reason is obvious. The girls do not have the power to muscle the ball over the rope when there are five fielders back on the boundary, usually all in front of the bat - three on the legside - deep square, deep midwicket (cow) and long-on, and two on the off-side at long-off and deep extra cover. With little pace on the ball from the spinners and the medium-pacers, if you bowl straight then it is very difficult to get the ball to the boundary. The first change I would suggest therefore is that the maximum number of players allowed outside the circle outside of the powerplay is four.

In addition I would also suggest that the batting team be allowed a second four over batting powerplay spell to be taken before the end of the 15th over. As in the first six overs of the game only 2 fielders would be allowed outside the circle during these overs.

The final suggestion, and this is a bit more radical, is that the number of players in the team be reduced to 10, so that a skipper only has eight fielders available to plug the gaps in the field, along with the bowler and wicket-keeper. I can hear sharp intakes of breath being taken all over the country, and especially at Lords and the headquarters of the Association of Cricket Statisticians & Historians. This would fundamentally change the game. Records would have to be "pre" and "post" the change. The chances of it being implemented are probably less than 1%, but it is at least worth thinking about, isn't it?

Cricket revenues are dictated by television and therefore women's cricket needs to have a product that it can sell to the television companies that will attract viewers. At the moment I am not sure that Women's T20 cricket fulfills that brief. Perhaps some of these changes could be considered by the first Board brave enough to stage their own international T20 tournament?



  1. Ironically the best T20 match I’ve ever seen was on the largest ground – the Oval, in the T20 World Cup semi-final when England chased down 160+ against Australia. Okay there was only one 6 (Rolton) but stacks of space for running 2 or 3s (and the minor point that Clare Taylor played the perfect innings).

    Much of lack of excitement in these recent T20s is due to the lack of parity between teams. Changing the number of players or ground size won’t change this most fundamental of points. I agree that fewer fielders would create higher scores but there must be a serious risk it would just cause batsmen to nurdle the ball around and we’ld have no real batting fireworks at all. Ironically the more fielders you have the more one is forced to clear the lot of them (and the ropes) to score.

    One can certainly argue that England’s inability (in the 2nd T20) to do any better than 71-2 in the 2nd 10 overs from a base of 70-1 is a big concern and not a new one. This has nothing to do with parity of teams and is perhaps the area that most concerns many of us. Whatever they’ve been practicing at Loughboro, it isn’t working and it really does undermine the product (for that’s what it is on TV). Remember those 10 overs involved Edwards, Taylor, Sciver and Greenway – our best of the best and they still hadn’t the technique for some fireworks. We had mostly push and prod and only twice in those last 10 overs did they go aerial. They managed only 7 boundaries in those 10 overs. Yawn.

    Possible solutions

    Play more international T20s – no brainer really. Nothing is going to change quickly unless the players are challenged in the heat of battle. We should have played at least 5 T20s against SA, even playing twice on one day (ironically the only time that’s happened was against SA at Northampton). The more you play the better you get at it.

    Slightly contrary to the above point - agree squad rotation. England and SA could have played a 5 match series and agreed to use all 14 players so every player plays 4 matches and one plays 3. Why – experience.

    Remove the scare factor. How many batsmen are worried that they’ll lose their place so that’s affects their playing ? Run rate is everything in T20, not averages. Wyatt opened against the WI at Arundel a couple of years ago and as out having scored 20 off 15 balls – that’s a brilliant T20 inning. Get 8 batsmen doing that and you get 160.

    Hitting 6s is about technique not power – Sri Lankan women have proved this. You don’t care whether there are 50 fielders on the field when you are hitting 6s. England have to face the fact that they have a serious technical, possibly even mindset, problem. Of course our best 6 hitter was Susie Rowe – so why is she not on the scene ? If they fail to hit a 6 on Sunday then 29th January 2015 will be embarrassing.

    Proceeding from the above point – nuture and select exciting T20 players. The women’s game has hardly any concept of ODI squad and T20 squad. We’re hoping that all our batsmen are going to be brilliant at both forms – it’s not true in the men’s game so why is it likely to be true in the women’s game. TV T20 coverage means we are in the entertainment business so let’s have some “bishbashbosh”, some flare, some slogs – not this mind-numbing nudge and nurdle.
    Get creative thinking into the batting order. Switch players around to suit the situation. 21 balls left yesterday and we sent Greenway in because she happened to be next on paper – whilst more explosive batsmen such as Wyatt or even Brunt didn’t even get in ….. or does this prove the point that we haven’t developed ‘death batsmen’ who can be shunted up the order when needed.

    Martin is raising a very important issue here. What been served up on TV in these first two T20s does little to promote the women’s game.

  2. Some slightly knee-jerk suggestions I think. Clearly there is an issue with these mismatches being all that is seen by a wide audience.
    Perhaps a slight tweak in the fielding restrictions is needed but any more extreme changes are really not a good idea IMO. Two games a day is a good idea.

    If there's one thing that turns off many sports fans (OK me) more than a mismatch it's an overly contrived "spectacle".
    Have to be very careful going down the "tweaking the format" route as once you start it can often be hard to stop if your first tweak hasn't had the desired effect.
    A microcosm of this is seen in powerplays in one day cricket. Introduced to enliven the lulls in play across an innings supposedly with hopes of enticing the casual viewer, they've never worked as intended. Constantly tweaked ever since to the point that only avid cricket nuts ever know what the current regulations are.

    There are established sports with good depth of competition (table tennis, badminton) that have introduced rule changes because it was apparently the answer to making them a successful TV product but with little to no effect on coverage or popularity.

    Instead of the desired upsurge in interest there's every chance changing the game could cause negligible uptake of interest from casual or non-cricket fans while causing loss of established cricket fans who find the new game less credible.

    Interest in sport IMO comes more from the quality of the contest rather than empty spectacle. It's more important to raise the competitive standard than worry too much about 6 hitting, which is more of an England problem than worldwide in any case.

    IMO the solution lies in the more humdrum area of playing more games of cricket and investing in and developing domestic structures.
    I felt much of SA (and Pakistan vs Australia) uncompetitiveness lay less in overwhelming difference in technique or physical prowess but more in a tactical naivety.
    Neither team is playing particularly smart cricket. The only way to improve this is to play more cricket against quality opposition.
    There needs to be more international cricket played and just as importantly, more and higher quality domestic cricket.

    The general perception of women's cricket certainly isn't helped when the most compelling match (the test in Perth) was only streamed online and the biggest hitting T20 tournament ever went largely untelevised.
    Also unfortunate that many competitive series (i.e. ones that don't involve pitching England or Australia against much lower ranked opposition) will not be televised.

    One obvious form of TV spectacle that could be a success without having gimmicky rule changes is of course a domestic T20 competition involving international stars akin to the IPL or Big Bash... Oh well.

    What I'm trying to get at with this rambling drivel is that I worry some in charge of cricket might have similar thoughts about introducing gimmicky changes that could be just as damaging to the future of women's cricket than a few of mismatches.

    Women's team sport at a professional level is in it's infancy. There are dull mismatches in all sports. Just look at the scorelines in qualifying for the women's football world cup. No-one is calling for smaller goals or more players on one side. Perhaps I'm overly optimistic but I think things can be improved with less extreme changes to the nature of the game.

    The real need is strong independent leadership at ICC and national level that makes decisions based on long term growth of the game world-wide rather than the petty short term self interest of few member boards. Pursuing Olympic status would undoubtedly result in more investment at domestic level. Oh bugger.

  3. Just to ramble a bit further :) I think the spectacular IPL style domestic T20 tournament would only be one element of raising competitive standards.
    The benefits of multi-day first class cricket seem underrated by a few in and around women's cricket some of whom even bizarrely see its absence as something to celebrate.
    The sheer amount of competitive cricket it allows all members of the team to play is hugely important in developing their all round game physically, mentally, tactically etc. Having a limited overs only structure to the sport can potentially mean some players will barely see any quality playing time in a whole season.

    Take a look at the last round of men's county championship matches.
    On average the 10th wicket partnership faced 28.27 balls (almost ¼ of a T20 innings) and the fifth choice bowler sent down 10.4 overs (more than any woman will bowl in a match unless she's one of the lucky few to play a test match).
    e.g. Worcestershire's Charlie Morris bowled 39.3 overs and batting #11 faced 22 balls. So in one game a tailender has faced just three fewer balls than Lydia Greenway has faced in her four limited overs internationals this summer whilst as a bowler he's virtually completed a full T20 on his own. Yes, I have far too much time on my hands.

    Should a board ever introduce professional (for it would have to be so, and therein lies the problem) multi-day cricket to their domestic system the improvement they'd make across all formats would be pretty spectacular IMO.

  4. When I was in my teens I though ODI s should be 40 overs. This would give us more intensity on the game, and improve par scores., although it would make it difficult for a bat to score a century. I thought this made sense just like women's tennis , which plays for a shorter duration.

    But gradually par scores went up as the standard of the game improved. I think that's the key, improving the standards, and this is a slow process and demands patience. It took men's cricket a while to improve par scores too.

    Still I kinda like Martin s 1st suggestion , except that I'm a bowler, and would like a rule that favours us too.:-P maybe a batter gets out if she plays 3consecutive dots?

  5. I think we need to promote T20 at junior level in women cricket. Last year ECB had fanfare of u15 & u17 T20 tournament. This year somehow they cut it down. I remember last year we 5 teams competing for Championship of u15 T20.And believe me I did see some strong hitters clearing boundaries regularly. But ECB is more keen on technical players and seems to be missing the point Martin is making. We need players like Page Schofield, Henessey, Hollie Armitage playing against teams like SA or Pakistan. And don't look at average while selecting but strike rate. A strike rate of 100 is a must to qualify...I think a more emphasis at Junior level would change it in couple of years. And please change the team or batting order. Why Jenny Gunn can't open in T20? Why cant we groom somebody as pinch hitter? Somebody needs to think out of the box