Is it really a year since WCB gave out our first set of Gongs? Apparently it is - see here for last year's winners. So here goes for this year. Congratulations to all the winners and commiserations to all the losers. We like to keep the categories fluid, so there are a few new awards this year and a few from last year that have not made the cut this.
Unluckiest Team of the Year
Well who would have thought that last year's winners, Somerset, would step up and win it again this year! Having only just secured (by 10 runs) the win they needed against Ireland in their final league game to finish runners-up in Div 2, Somerset brought out their big guns for the play-off game with Div 1's Warwickshire. Having won the toss Somerset elected to bat and with good contributions from Fran Wilson (53), Anya Shrubsole (49) and Sophie Luff (49) looked set to post beyond 250, but from 194/4 they ended up being bowled out for 220. Helen Shipman and Manahil Zahoor (25) set about steadily building the Warwickshire reply. After 14 overs they were 56/0; after 20 overs 75/0 and they brought up their 100 partnership in the 26th over, but then Zahoor went followed by the rest of the Warwickshire middle-order. Shipman was ploughing a lone furrow and the required run rate was increasing. She made it to 100 and then beyond, but when she was out for a magnificent 124, Warwickshire still needed 22 with less than three overs to go. With two to go they still needed 20 to win with three wickets in hand, As Syd tweeted "Somerset's to lose now". Numbers 8 and 9, Liz Russell and Isabelle Watson, could only manage five off the penultimate over - 15 needed then off the last over from England's Anya Shrubsole. Russell crashed the first ball straight for 4, and then again with the second; third ball single and then Watson hit the fourth for four more - unbelievably just two needed from two..and with two singles Warwickshire were home and dry and Somerset were consigned to another season in Division 2.
Best Idea of the Year
I guess you have to say that central contracts were the best idea in women's cricket this year. The media made much of this being the new "professional era" for women's cricket, but in fact little had changed from the previous year, apart from the top 18 players being paid something to train as they had done before. No-one knows the salaries involved but they are not life-changing. For those on Tier 3 contracts (the lowest awarded) they are probably not even enough to live on. Many of the England players still have Chance to Shine contracts, which presumably top-up their ECB contracts. In addition, those who wanted them, have also taken possession of a Kia Sportage. Current contracts are due for review in a year's time.
Runner-up in this category is the new ICC Women's Championship, which means the top eight women's international teams will play each other, home and away, over the next two years in series of three ODI games. It means more structured international cricket and better opposition for some of the lesser teams. The top four teams will automatically qualify for the 2017 World Cup. The bottom four will go into a ten team competition with regional qualifiers to try and qualify for the main event. Series coming up are:-
Sri Lanka v South Africa (October 2014)
Australia v West Indies (November 2014)
New Zealand v England (February 2015)
Worst Idea of the Year I was tempted to put central contracts in here again, but that would have been churlish. However it should be said that central contracts does create the gnarly problem of what to do with those just below contract-status, and what to do with those that lose their contracts, as, no doubt, some will this time next year. For the men who lose their ECB contracts there is the comfort of going back into county cricket, on the same terms as their previous ECB contract, for 12 months. A headache for the counties but reassuring for the players. In women's cricket there is no such luxury. There is nothing below contract status. Some form of semi-professional level (as exists in Australia) needs to be created here too.
But having said that I feel that the award is better thrown at whoever decided it was alright to say the County Championship season was over on 27th July when there were six cancelled games in Div 1 and two in Div 2, which could, and should (according to the rules), have been played, and which could have affected top and bottom places in both leagues. Berkshire, who finished third in Div 1, played just five games in the 2014 season. Scrap the play-offs and play more county cricket in August and September - with or without the England players.
Best Crowd of the Year
It has to be the Chelmsford Massive, again. They pitched up in their thousands again (paying a fiver each) to create a great atmosphere for the first of the England v South Africa T20s. Small grounds, good marketing, low entry fees (not free as this suggests it has no value) and no men's game in sight, has to be the way forward.
As a sub-category of this award I have to mention the Scarborough crowd for the two ODIs v India. It was "a bit parky" at North Marine Road, but they breed them tough up north and they stuck it out and were rewarded with a great century from Charlotte Edwards and some beautiful batting from Indian star of the future Smriti Mandhana.
Surprise Team of the Year
Runners-up in this category are India for their comfortable win over England in the Test Match at Wormsley. It was a bad few days for England (with the exception perhaps of Jenny Gunn), but India were worthy winners, with Mithali Raj leading her side over the line from the crease.
But the winners are Middlesex, who not only beat Sussex in the County Championship, but then did it again in the T20 qualifying competition and then went on to beat Kent in the Group A final before losing out on NRR to eventual winners Notts. All of this without a current England or England Academy player in their midst (although Alex Hartley has now been called back into the Academy squad). They have been brilliantly lead by ex-England player Beth Morgan and deserve their success. They also have some very talented youngsters in their squad, so they will be back next year too!!
Broadcaster of the Year
There can only be one winner and that is BBC Radio's Test Match Special Team. They covered every ball of the England Women's Summer Schedule with the verve, humour and enthusiasm that you expect from people who love their cricket. It was a pleasure to listen in to them and to chat with them off-air. Next summer is an Ashes Summer, so fingers-crossed we get the same great coverage.
Catch of the Year
Lydia Greenway takes the award this year for her tumbling effort at Chelmsford out at Cow Corner, to remove South African skipper Mignon du Preez in the first T20. I'd love to link to a video of the said catch, but there isn't one that I can find.
And so we march on into winter and then the 2015 season when the County Championship will become white ball and the Aussies will again be here for a beating! In between we have three mouth-watering ICC series (see above), plus we have Lottie, Squirt, and Trev out in Aus until Christmas with various state teams. The WNCL kicks off on 11th October and I will be blogging updates throughout their season. Winter well!!