Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Windies Blog - Part Four

So we have moved on from St Lucia, where it was raining again as we left, to Antigua, for Thursday's two semi-finals - West Indies v Australia and India v England, and then the final on Sunday.

Somewhat bleary-eyed we made it to the small George F L Charles Airport, just outside Castries, in the north of the island shortly after 6am to catch the Liat Airlines ATR 72 twin-propellered plane for the 55 minute north to Antigua. Joining us on the flight were Nasser Hussein, Charlotte Edwards, Natalie Germanos, Henry Moeran, and Ebony Rainford-Brent, amongst others, plus the tv production crew complete with cameras and other bulky equipment. If this plane went down then women's cricket coverage could have been set back several decades. Well we'd all like to think so anyway. The painful truth is few people would actually notice. As it was the plane obeyed the laws of physics and stayed in the air, until we touched down safely in Antigua, where it was sunny and hot.

We collected the people carrier at the airport and drove south across the island, following the detailed instructions we'd be given by Debbie to English Harbour and her luxury villa, our home for the next 7 days. Greeted by Charmaine we quickly made ourselves at home, before wandering out to the gorgeous Pigeon Beach and then into town to find somewhere to eat that evening.



On the way we had driven past the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, which looked a little forlorn whilst empty, but will be rocking on Thursday, with the Windies playing in the first game. Should they make it to the final there is likely to be bedlam in the stadium, and tickets for Saturday's game will become a prized commodity.

Tuesday at the villa was a quiet day with frequent heavy rain showers, but hot sunshine in between the showers. It was a pleasant day to wallow by the pool and watch a myriad of cream butterflies float up the hill and over the villa, and the yellow finch and hummingbird battle for sugared water from the feeder. Meanwhile in the harbour the Magnificent Frigatebirds (and they are well-named) splashed violently into the blue water close to the moored boats, fishing, not outside the off-stump, but for real.

Tomorrow the build-up to the semi-finals starts for real with the pre-match Press Conferences at the ground. I am not sure what you can usefully say before a game, apart from we'd really like to win and we'll be trying our hardest to do so. There will be idle speculation about the pitch, balance of the teams, and opposition players who are deemed to be threats. It all means very little. What matters is what happens on the field on Thursday. I am very fortunate to be able to say that I will be there.

Martin Davies
20/11/18

Sunday, 18 November 2018

The Windies Blog - Part Three

We have our semi-finalists - India, Australia, England and West Indies.

An unchanged England team beat an abject South Africa on Friday here in St Lucia to effectively secure their place in the semis, which was confirmed a few hours later when a rampaging West Indies pulverised the plucky Sri Lankans. The St Lucia crowd were in fine voice and there are rumours of a sell-out crowd of over 10,000 for the West Indies v England game on Sunday, which will decide who tops Group A and will play the Aussies in the semi-final.

Yes the Aussies, because they lost comfortably yesterday to India in their table-topping match. Smriti Mandhana finally found the form she had left in England after the KSL, smashing the Aussie attack for 83 off 55 balls. It allowed the Indians to put 167/8 on the board and the Aussies never looked like getting there, hampered as they were by Alyssa Healy not batting as she had "mild concussion" after colliding with Megan Schutt as they both attempted to take a catch. Denied her boundary-laden start the Aussies looked strangely inept. Beth Mooney has not really been timing the ball too well, and her new opening partner Elyse Villani also looked out of sorts. It meant a powerplay that elicited only 39 runs with both openers gone. Meg Lanning and Rachel Haynes tried to rebuild, but could not do so and then got out, to leave the lower middle order with far too much to do. The Aussies were bowled out for 119 in the last over.

The bookies still make the Aussies favourites to win the tournament, and by some margin, with England second favourites, followed by India and the West Indies. As for me, having nailed my colours to the Aussie mast before the tournament I will stick with them, but I have been pleasantly surprised by both the Indians and the West Indies. Both have played some great cricket and they will both believe they can win this tournament.

As for England they have not really been tested yet. This afternoon with 10,011 West Indians against them they will be. It is going to be a tough challenge, but a win for England will set them up mentally for a semi-final against the old enemy. A loss means a re-run of the 2017 World Cup final with the Indians, who might just have the self-belief to get over the line this time. It is going to be a tense afternoon.

Martin Davies
18/XI/18

Thursday, 15 November 2018

The Windies Blog - Part Two

Watch This is blaring out (as it does at very regular intervals throughout all the games), and Bangladesh have just taken a wicket with the first ball of the crucial Sri Lanka v Bangladesh game. Crucial - well the teams that finish in the top four of each group will automatically qualify for the next WWT20 in 18 months time in Australia. There is plenty to play for, even if neither of these teams has any real ambition of getting to the semi-finals.

It's Wednesday and Australia are already into the semi-finals after a comprehensive win over arch rivals New Zealand yesterday evening in Guyana. Yet another 50 from Alyssa Healy - her third in a row - which also gave her her third Player of the Match award, as Australia moved to three from three. But it was no walk in the park and if New Zealand had fielded better things could have been very different. As it is their tournament is all but over. India play Ireland tomorrow and if they should win (they are 1/80 to win with the bookies), then New Zealand will know their fate before they bowl a ball in their last group game immediately afterwards. A period of soul searching in New Zealand is almost certain. Yet another failure on the World stage and a very poor 2018 overall could mean changes.

Going back, England finally got their campaign underway with a workmanlike win over Bangladesh, with Mark Robinson taking the opportunity to blood all three newbies - Linsey Smith, Sophia Dunkley and Kirstie Gordon. Smith and Gordon took wickets, with Gordon finishing with 3/16 and the Player of the Match award. Dunkley took a catch, but was not needed with the bat. England restricted Bangladesh to 76/9 with Ayasha Rahman hitting 39 of the first 42 runs, and then lost Danni Wyatt first ball and Tammy Beaumont for 2. If Amy Jones had been caught early on then life could have got really tough, but Jones 28* and Nat Sciver 23 broke the back of the chase and Heather Knight finished it off, when the teams returned after a heavy shower of rain and England's target had been reduced to 64. Team selection for Friday's game with South Africa could be interesting. This is not a pitch which merits three spinners, let alone three spinners with the same left-arm action.

After this Sri Lanka v Bangladesh game happening in front of me, South Africa will take on the Windies. Both have a win and two points under their belts,  and another win will put them in a strong position, but even the team that loses can still qualify. Both still have England to play, who sit on three points from a win and an abandoned game. If England beat them both they will be through, but lose to one or the other and they could come unstuck.

For now the atmosphere is quite subdued at the Daren Sammy Stadium. I have a feeling it may get a little more raucous later on...

.....it did!

After Sri Lanka had duly beaten Bangladesh, who once again failed to get to 80 in 20 overs, it was time for the Windies v South Africa clash. The crowd had grown to about 3,000 and as Deandra Dottin carved Shabnim Ismail for 6 over third man they went bonkers. It was fabulous to be there. "That's the way man!" shouted the St Lucian gent in front of me. "Naah you mean woooman" his mate corrected. "Naah she de man!" They loved it.

They weren't quite so pleased as Windies batters came and went, but at least they took the total passed 100. It was something for their big quicks to get their teeth into. And they did, backed up by some great fielding and four wickets from off-spinning skipper Stafanie Taylor, as South Africa crumbled, losing their last five wickets for just one run, to lose by 31 runs chasing just 107.

With each falling wicket the crowd noise got louder, as the self-belief grew in the Windies players and their raucous supporters. It was a great atmosphere and wonderful to watch as a neutral. England's  encounter with the Windies on Sunday may be a more painful watch.

Before then they take on a cowed South Africa on Friday. On this lively wicket Ismail and Kapp look a handful, but with the ball coming onto the bat it might be a wicket to suit Danni Wyatt, Amy Jones and Heather Knight's  batting styles. It will be a contest. Whether England will have the right bowling attack for this pitch is perhaps more in question.

Mark Robinson only has one more seamer to call on in Tash Farrant. She will get swing, but tends to kiss the surface rather than bang it in. It means her margins for error are pretty small. Despite her debut 3fer this is not a pitch to suit Kirstie Gordon's slow left arm loop. She may miss out.

Off-spin may be the way forward with the ball skidding through, which could mean Dani Hazell gets a recall. It's a tough decision for Robinson. He will know that a win on Friday will mean England are almost on the plane to Antigua, rather than back to Gatwick. Sri Lanka could also get to 5 points if they were to beat the Windies in their final game on Friday too, but England's net run rate looks likely to pull them through, even if they were to finish level on points with the Lions.

If the weather plays ball Friday at the Daren Sammy Stadium should be another blast.

Martin Davies
15/XI/18

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Windies Blog - Part One

It's Sunday 11th November 2018 and I'm sitting at my desk looking out to the north west from the top of the Caribbean island of St Lucia. Several hundred metres below the sea is lapping gently onto a white sand beach sporting the usual paraphernalia of an upmarket resort hotel - sun beds, volley ball net, kayaks, two-man catamarans (I'm sure they have a proper boaty name, but I don't know it). It is a beach we have tried to get down to, but have so far failed. A trek on foot had to be aborted when we were confronted by a neighbour's rottweiler and impossibly dense undergrowth. An excursion by car was met with a barriered entrance to the swanky hotel and two hefty guards. A night raid is being planned...

It is just coming up to 9am and there is some hazy sunshine. It makes a pleasant change. Our group has been in our villa just north of Gros Islet, in the very north of the island, for three days and sunshine has been something which has been in short supply. Rain, on the other hand, has not! Sweeping showers over the first two days gave way to biblical rain yesterday, which left the precipitous roads gushing with water. It was not ideal timing as England were due to open their account in Group A of the Women's World T20 (and I use the term "women's" deliberately. When the men play it is the Men's World T20 - I use the terms not to be sexist, but just to distinguish between the two).

By the time photographer Don and I had  made it into the ground having picked up our Press Passes and negotiated the muddy rivers that flowed around the car park, not to mention the somewhat treacherous stairs to the Media Centre, it was already apparent that the day's game against Sri Lanka would not be taking place. In fact the games scheduled to take place tomorrow here in St Lucia (England v Bangladesh and Sri Lanka v South Africa) are in serious doubt. That would be more bad news for England, as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are both teams that England would expect to beat comfortably - not so South Africa and West Indies - the other two teams in Group A.

Shortly before 4pm the game was officially called off and CRICKETher's Raf and Syd dutifully went off to the "Post Match Press Conference". Mainstream media want quotes, no matter how bland and inane they may be. I'd rather Heather played cricket than had to answer questions to which everyone knows the answer she is going to give. Buzz words - disappointed, looking forward, ready, move on.

In an effort to spice up proceedings journalist Adam Collins lobbed in the grenade question "With the forecast as it is, do you think consideration should be given to moving the games to another country?" Pull pin, count to seven and then lob.....It was not a question that Heather could possibly answer. It was posed to create a hook for a story on a quiet news day and perhaps as a barb at the ICC for scheduling these games here in St Lucia at the back end of the rainy season. It was always a risk, as is our being here to watch the games. The ICC are apparently "considering the idea", although no-one from the ICC has said this is the case. Given that it is now "an issue" it IS probably now being discussed, but at what level and with how much vigour, who knows?

As it is the tournament goes on. Group B based in Guyana - Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Ireland - has no such weather issues and got off to cracking start with a fine victory for India over New Zealand, which puts them in the box seat to take one of the two semi-final places allocated to the teams that finish first and second in the group. A majestic 103 off 51 balls for Indian skipper Harmanpreet Kaur was possibly one of the best T20I innings that I have ever seen. Superb timing and magnificent shot selection. Not power hitting, but powerful cricket.

Australia then thumped Pakistan, but probably not as hard as they would have liked. They will have tougher games. And then West Indies took on Bangladesh in a Group A clash, presumably scheduled so that the hosts could appear on the first day of their home tournament, despite all their other games being in St Lucia. On a slow, worn pitch Windies would have been worried when they stumbled to 18/3 and then 50/5 with 3/5ths of their overs gone. But they managed to get beyond a 100, and then bowled Bangladesh out for 46, with Deandra Dottin helping herself to a World T20 record of 5/5 by bowling quick and straight. The Bangladeshis lack of a straight bat accounting for most of the carnage.

Which brings us back to today. Two more games are due in Guyana - India v Pakistan and Australia v Ireland. We will all be sitting in front of the tv with the aircon blasting away watching intently.

MD
11/XI/18

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Ten Predictions for the Women's World T20

With the start of the Sixth Women's World T20 competition just 10 days away we thought it was time for a few frivolous predictions, so here goes.....feel free to add your own in the comments.

No 1
Chloe Tryon will be the leading player for South Africa
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No 2
Ireland will break several records...that they don't want to break
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No 3
Mithali Raj will open the batting for India and bat too slowly
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No 4
Shemaine Campbell will be the West Indies player of the tournament
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No 5
Nat Sciver will be England's player of the tournament
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No 6
New Zealand will not make it to the semi-finals
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No 7
Sri Lanka will win a big game against England, South Africa or the Windies
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No 8
Harmanpreet Kaur will be India's player of the tournament
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No 9 
Sophie Molineux will be THE player of the tournament
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No 10 - THE BIG ONE
Australia will win the WWT20
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Tuesday, 9 October 2018

WWT20 favourites Australia name their squad

Three times WWT20 winners Australia have added two players to the squad that demolished the Kiwis 3-0 in their recent T20 series to make up their WWT20 squad. Joining the 13 players (only 11 of whom actually played in the series) are spinner Jess Jonassen, assuming she is fit after having minor knee surgery in September, and left-handed opener Nicole Bolton.

The full squad for the WWT20 is :-
Meg Lanning, Nicole Bolton, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Warehem.

There is no place for Aussie contracted leg-spinner Amanda-Jade Wellington, whose role has been taken by Georgia Wareham, and previously tried seamers Lauren Cheatle, Tahlia McGrath and Belinda Vakarewa are all overlooked in favour of the untested, and largely unproven, 19 year old quick Tayla Vlaeminck.

The Aussie starting XI looks pretty clear with the fire power of Healy, Mooney, Gardner and Villani up front, followed by the tactical nous of Lanning, Haynes and Perry for those tricky situations, and Kimmince and Molineux no mugs with the bat at 8 & 9. 10 and jack, Schutt and Wareham, will be hoping they never even need to get their pads out of their kit bags. If Jonassen is fit then she may step in for Molineux, although 20 year old Molineux may already have taken the left-arm spinner's mantle from her 25 year old compatriot, whose numbers in India in March were not that great. Bolton looks like cover for the currently out of sorts Mooney, who has struggled slightly with the bat of late, after her scintillating ton against England in the Ashes at the back end of 2017. I think Mooney will get the nod to start in the first group games against Pakistan and Ireland, with the Aussies hoping she can rack up some runs and get her mojo back before they take on New Zealand and India, in what should be tougher games.

With the top two in Group B going through to the semi-finals it is difficult to see the Aussies not waltzing into the play-off stages of the competition, which will be held in the Sir Vivian Richards' Stadium in Antigua. Conditions there may be very different to the Province Stadium in Guyana, where all the Group B games are being played. Four warm-up games at the Sir Vivian Richards' Stadium on 3rd and 4th November, including England v Australia, and five at the Province Stadium between 4th and 7th November will be good indicators of the type of pitches the girls can expect to face.

Whoever Australia meet in the semi-finals, which is likely to be one of England, West Indies or South Africa, they will back themselves to power on to the final two days later and then bring home the trophy for the fourth time in the six times it has been held. Only England and the West Indies (the current holders) have managed to prevent the Aussies from winning it more times. They will have their work cut out to try and do it again.

MD
09/X/18

Thursday, 4 October 2018

England spring surprises in their WWT20 Squad

England have named three uncapped players in their 15 player squad for the Women's World T20 Trophy which starts on 8th November in the West Indies. Loughborough Lightning duo Linsey Smith, 23, and former Scotland player Kirstie Gordon, 20, are joined in the squad by Surrey Stars player 20 year old Sophia Dunkley.

Left-arm spinner Gordon finished top wicket-taker with 17 wickets in this year's extended KSL, and former left-arm seamer, turned spinner, Smith, picked up 11 wickets, as the Lightning finished top of the table only to be beaten by Surrey Stars in the final. Despite both being left-arm spinners they have a very different style, with Gordon giving the ball plenty of air compared with Smith, who tends to fire the ball in at leg stump. As a result Smith quite frequently bowled in the powerplay for Lightning, whilst Gordon bowled only one of her 35 overs in the first six.

Dunkley made an enterprising 92 in a T20 warm-up game against the New Zealand tourists in back in June, but was not selected for the full England T20 squad that played both the Kiwis and South Africa later that month. She subsequently had a quiet KSL scoring just 98 runs in 10 innings, which included 66 in the Stars' opening match of their campaign against the Vipers, but had obviously shown enough to England Head Coach Mark Robinson to get the nod.

The full squad is :-
Heather Knight, Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Tash Farrant, Kirstie Gordon, Jenny Gunn, Danni Hazell, Amy Jones, Nat Sciver, Linsey Smith, Anya Shrubsole, Lauren Winfield and Dani Wyatt

Smith and Gordon will be competing for a place in the starting XI with another left-arm spinner in Sophie Ecclestone, whilst the right-arm off-spin variation comes through Danni Hazell.

Dunkley will be competing with Lauren Winfield for a place in England's middle order, but may be called into action if any of the top order batsmen should be injured or lose their form during the competition.

Missing out on the trip to the West Indies are six fully contracted players in Kate Cross, Georgia Elwiss, Alex Hartley, Beth Langston, Laura Marsh and Fran Wilson, plus Sarah Taylor who was declared unfit for the tournament a week ago. Also missing out are rookies Alice Davidson-Richards, Freya Davies and Katie George.

England are in Group A in St Lucia where they will play Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa and West Indies. The top two teams from that group will make it through to the semi-finals in Antigua on 22nd November. The final is at the same ground two days later.

Martin Davies
04/X/18