Friday, 27 November 2015

Sticky pitches, slow outfields & high temperatures in Bangkok - Izzy Joyce updates us

On the eve of Ireland's first game in the WWT20Q against the Netherlands tomorrow, Ireland skipper Izzy Joyce sends us her latest update. All the preparations are done. Three games stand between Ireland and a place in the semi-final...

It's been a week since we left an increasingly cold Ireland to travel to what we would regard as a very hot Thailand, though we have been reassured repeatedly that this - mid 30s - is as cold as it gets in Bangkok. Staying in this bustling city to play cricket is as far away from visiting as a backpacker as I could have imagined.

The last time I was here was in 2006. My five friends and I stayed in modest accommodation and regularly ate meals bought from street vendors, a strict no no this time around as avoiding food poisoning is much higher up the list of priorities than saving money is.

The shopping is just as good as I remember it, if a bit more expensive, and the food hasn't disappointed yet. Most important, the grounds we are playing at are pretty good. Yes, the wickets are sluggish and the outfield a little slow with the ball plugging rather than kicking on but there are pros and cons to playing in any country. Ireland hosted the last version of this competition and though the outfields would usually run a bit better and the wickets play a little truer, the rain played a huge role. At least here the weather is not an issue, except the dehydration factor of course.

The day after arriving we had our first training session and every player finished the session relieved that we had a week to acclimatise. Breathing is sometimes difficult and the heat makes maximum effort difficult. It was a wake up call for our less experienced players in particular as they have never had to play in this kind of heat before. Aaron (our coach) put on a reasonably tough fielding and fitness session that day to make sure we were operating at the top of our range and got the plane journey out of our systems early.

The two warm-up games have been crucial to our preparation. We played Scotland first and though we play them pretty much every year it was like playing an entirely new team in these conditions.

Bowlers who usually skid it through moved it off the pitch and spinners got every assistance from a helpful pitch. The combination of a sticky pitch, slow outfield and high temperatures made batting difficult so the game against the Scots was valuable in terms of getting to know the conditions and tweaking game plans.

We had the day off on Wednesday in between our two practice matches and the girls took the chance to pick up some of the widely available fake designer handbags, sunglasses and watches. There's also been a huge upswing in the number of loose, patterned trousers worn around the tournament hotel in the last few days.

The next day it was back to cricket and another warm-up game against the hosts. It was the first time we have ever played Thailand and we kept them down to 72 in their twenty overs. Then our two openers, Shillers and Ceil, got an opportunity to spend some time at the crease, knocking off the runs in just under 13 overs.

None of the warm up games between the various countries were high-scoring affairs with boundaries more difficult to come by than might be expected in a T20 tournament so it feels like the team that bats the best and adapts to the conditions will win this tournament.

Today was all about photos, meetings, sizing up other teams at the opening ceremony and frantically checking and rechecking gear bags to make sure nothing is left behind for the first real game day tomorrow. We face the old enemy, The Netherlands, first up in what could be the most important game of our group so it's game faces on and friendships on pause for the time being. 

Isobel Joyce

Thursday, 26 November 2015

World T20 Qualifier kicks off on Saturday

Saturday sees the start of the Women's World T20 Qualifier (WWT20Q) Event being held this year in Bangkok in Thailand.

Eight teams are looking not only to win the tournament, but for the two teams that make the final on Saturday 5th December there is also a place in the Women's World T20 tournament itself in India in March 2016, where they can test themselves against the eight leading nations in women's international cricket.

The eight teams taking part in the WWT20Q are split into two groups

Group A - Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Scotland and Thailand

Group B - China, Ireland, Netherlands, Zimbabwe

The teams in each group play each other once and the winner of Group A takes on the runner-up in Group B in the first semi-final; and the winner of Group B takes on the runner-up in Group A in the second semi-final (played on 3rd December).

On form you would expect Bangladesh to win Group A and Ireland Group B. Both have had far more experience against the top cricket-playing nations, with Ireland recently running T20 World Champions close in three T20 games. Both teams played in the last T20 World Cup, with Bangladesh picking up a win over Sri Lanka in their group game and beating Ireland in the 9th/10th place play-off.

It will be tight to see who those two play in the semi-finals, but it could well be Scotland who take the runners-up spot in Group A and Zimbabwe the same in Group B.

The warm-up games have all been quite low-scoring affairs, so if one batsmen can come to terms with the apparently sticky tracks at the Asian Institute of Technology Ground and the Thailand Cricket Club, where all the games are being played, then they could lead their side to victory. On the bowling front it looks like the spinners will be playing the key role.

WCB will bring you all the scores on twitter (@womenscricblog - click on the link at the top of the right margin to follow us) as they happen, plus scorecards and match reports. If we can find a link to online live play or highlights we will, of course, share that with you too. We also have Ireland skipper, Isobel Joyce, blogging for us from Thailand, so keep an eye out for her blogs over the next week.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Ireland head for Bangkok and first WWT20Q game

In just seven days Ireland will be playing their first game in the WWT20Q against the Netherlands. Captain Isobel Joyce and her team have completed all their preparations and are bound for Thailand. In her second blog for WCB Izzy confirms Bangkok will be no holiday...

The weeks leading up to the departure date seemed to fly in, but then the last few days have positively dragged. I think that may be because there is so much to get in order before we go. The usual focus has probably been lacking for those of us who work while our minds are otherwise engaged thinking of packing things like suncream and cricket bats. And while we all have a good excuse for our wandering minds many of my friends and co-workers seem to think we are heading off on our holibops as opposed to travelling to Thailand with a job to do.

My sister Cecelia is a solicitor in Arthur Cox, Ireland's biggest law firm, and she keeps on being told to have fun on her holidays! Although she won't be running to court in her suit, she still sees herself as going away to do some very important work - representing the Ireland Women's Cricket team.

We have plenty of students on the team and while some won't be missing much, we will no doubt have a study crew comprising Gaby Lewis, Kim Garth and Laura Delany who all have exams and assignments due dates to look forward to.

I coach hockey along with my teammate Clare Shillington and yesterday when we were saying goodbye to our charges for a couple of weeks, they were refreshingly interested in the sports element and the fact that it would be difficult to play somewhere so hot.

With hurricane Barney and seemingly never-ending rain, we are ready to see some sunshine. Our acclimatisation training since our trip to La Manga a few weeks ago has basically consisted of wearing lots of layers to gym, training, and conditioning sessions. Our wicketkeeper Mary Waldron wanted to wear her helmet to spin class but we agreed that was one step too far.

I'm looking forward to having a week out there to prep before the tournament gets started. It's so important when you're going into a tournament that you understand how the pitches play, the best way to go about fielding on the outfield, how quick that outfield is and plenty more besides.

Personally, I'm looking forward to bowling a lot of overs before the competitive matches begin. Since June, due to injury, the only matches I have played are the three T20s against World Champions Australia so I have bowled a limited number of overs in that time.

When you get a little.... older and add an injury, everything becomes about workload and injury management. So six days devoted to training and acclimatising means that I can put in a good shift and I don't have to worry about being on my feet coaching all day and aggravating my knee from overuse.

I'm also looking forward to experiencing Thailand from a different perspective than I have before. Having visited as a backpacker in 2006, staying in no doubt less salubrious accommodations than the hotel we are staying in this time around, it will be interesting to see how things might differ.

After all of this waiting it's finally time to board the plane; no doubt when we get there we will once again be impatient, this time waiting for the tournament to begin.  

Isobel Joyce

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Women's Cricket Super League Contenders

The deadline for the submission of tenders to become a Women's Cricket Super League Host expires tomorrow. The decision on who has won the six franchises will not be made public until January next year, but it seems that of the 28 expressions of interest relatively few have turned into solid bids. In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph Clare Connor, the Head of Women's Cricket stated that "assuming we get enough high quality bids it (the WCSL) will start as a T20 event". Perhaps there is a tacit admission there that the hosting package has not proved to be quite as enticing as the ECB had hoped.

How the WCSL Map might look?
But from the flurry of recent press releases it does seem as though some interesting bids have been submitted, with an interesting geographical spread.

Hampshire CCC are fronting a bid for a south coast franchise, based at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, with the "support" of Sussex, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. Quite what "support" means is not made clear.

Somerset CCC, Gloucestershire CCC and Exeter University have combined for a possible south west franchise, based around the university's training facilities and the county grounds at Taunton and Bristol.

In the north west Lancashire have confirmed their interest in being a WCSL franchisee, with the support of the Cheshire CB. Lancashire can of course boast the excellent training and playing facilities they have at their disposal at Old Trafford in Manchester.

It also looks like London could have two rival franchises based at Lords and the Oval. The MCC and Middlesex are believed to be getting together to try and get a franchise based at the Home of Cricket, and Surrey CCC stated back in July that they would be submitting a bid, with, you would guess, the Oval as hub of their franchise.

So what of the Midlands? All quiet so far, but there has been a great deal of interest from Loughborough University, where of course the National Cricket Performance Centre has been established. The problem Loughborough has is that they do not have a ground that could host televised matches with crowds. The nearest first-class men's and women's county is Nottinghamshire, so it would be no surprise if they submitted some kind of joint bid, perhaps with the support of one or more of Warwickshire, Staffordshire and even Worcestershire.

As for the north east Yorkshire, last year's Division One county champions, are the closest and biggest women's county, but have yet to commit to any bid. And in the south east it does not look as though any bid will be forthcoming from Kent or Essex, perhaps on the basis that they know they could not compete with the resources available to the London-based franchises.

For now it is all speculation, but once the bid winners are announced the next headache will be how the England and England Academy players are allocated to the various franchises. No-one has quite explained how this will be done, only that the hope is that the teams will all share the England resources equally to ensure a tight and entertaining competition.

No wonder Clare Connor is having sleepless nights.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

New England boss Robinson has a job on his hands

Sussex men's coach Mark Robinson has been appointed the new Head Coach of the England Women's Cricket team. A straight-talking Yorkshireman Robinson had a long and successful first-class career, and then proved to be an effective coach at Sussex, winning two county championships and several limited over trophies. He is obviously highly thought of in coaching circles, succesfully coaching the England Lions on recent tours, and was one of the candidates interviewed for the England Men's job. His appointment is a coup for the England Women's team.

He will take over his role at the end of the year, but his first meeting with his full squad will be just before they fly off to South Africa for their tour at the end of January. Nine of the England winter training squad of 21 are currently in Australia. Eight will be playing in the Big Bash and have been told they can stay until the final, which is on 24th January, if their team makes it that far.

Indeed there is likely to be no honeymoon period for the new boss. England are currently languishing in fifth place in the ICC Women's Championship, two points behind South Africa, who they meet in February. England have to finish in the top four to qualify automatically for the World Cup in 2017, which just happens to be on home soil. South Africa, with little game time for the majority of the squad and only T20 games for the rest, will be a tough ask. England really need to be targeting all six ICCWC points, but realistically they will probably accept four as a reasonable return on foreign soil in the middle of winter.

Despite some poor results over the last 18 months - Test Match loss to India; losing two of the ICCWC games in New Zealand and the summer Ashes defeat - England have stuck rigidly with their contracted players. In fact just 16 of their 18 players - neither Tammy Beaumont nor Tash Farrant featured in the England squads selected in 2015. The eighteen players have been "fully professional" now for 19 months and their contracts have been extended until the end of January 2016. It seems increasingly likely that all 18 will have their contracts renewed then for another year. All are in the recently-announced England Women's Winter Performance squad, with Fran Wilson, Beth Langston and Jodie Dibble (all currently uncontracted). The new Head Coach will have to try and get more out of players who have been training as professionals for almost two years, despite that fact that many of them have not put in the sort of performances you would expect over the past 18 months.

In addition a few of the players are reaching the end of their international careers. 35 year old Charlotte Edwards (she will be 36 in December) has clearly stated that she wants to lead the England side in the 2017 World Cup as her career swansong. Whilst she still merits her place as a batsmen (despite having a poor international 2015) many have called into question her captaincy, which was second-best against the Aussies this summer, and frequently appeared to be too formulaic. Heather Knight appears to be being groomed for the position post 2017, but has had precious little experience and needs to nail down her spot as an opener. Her transition into a batting off-spinner has probably been more successful than Moeen Ali's, but the shine is beginning to wear rather thin on her bowling. Perhaps England should be looking to the likes of Anya Shrubsole as a future captain? Whoever it is they need some time in charge, preferably with Edwards at their side.

Also over 30 are Lydia Greenway and Katherine Brunt, with Jenny Gunn 30 in May next year. They have all been in the side for a number of years. Brunt is perhaps bowling as well as ever, but you feel that she cannot go on much longer. Greenway and Gunn's best days are probably behind them and both were dropped for games for England during 2015.

After returning from South Africa, England will be heading almost immediately out to India for the Women's T20 World Cup. The tournament starts on 11th March and finishes on 3rd April 2016. Anything less than a place in the semi-finals will be deemed as failure, in fact many would say anything less than a place in the final.

There should be some respite during the summer as England entertain Pakistan, who they would expect to beat comfortably. In addition to the three ICCWC ODIs let's hope they also play some additional games and that England take the opportunity to try out a few new players and, perhaps, a new captain.

2016 is rounded off with tours to the West Indies and Sri Lanka to complete all the ICCWC games. England will hope that by that time their top four qualification will not be in doubt. If it is then the pressure will really be on. Failing to qualify automatically for your own World Cup would be very embarrassing.

All in all it is going to be a tough year for Robinson, but he has the credentials to succeed, although it could be a bumpy ride for both spectators and the England players.


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Ireland ready for World T20 Qualifier

Ireland have been preparing for the WWT20 Qualifier, which starts in Bangkok on 28th November, with a training camp in La Manga in Spain. Irish captain Isobel Joyce will be blogging for WCB as Ireland attempt to qualify for their second WWT20 tournament. They will need to get to the final of the WWT20 Qualifier tournament to win a place in India next March. We will follow them and the other seven hopefuls throughout the tournament.

Having just returned from La Manga, Isobel Joyce gives us her first inside view, ahead of the announcement of the Irish squad which has just been announced as:-
Isobel Joyce (Captain) (Merrion), Cath Dalton (Middlesex), Laura Delany (Leinster), Kim Garth (Pembroke), Jenny Gray (YMCA), Cecelia Joyce (Merrion), Shauna Kavanagh (Pembroke), Amy Kenealy (Leinster), Gaby Lewis (YMCA), Robyn Lewis (YMCA), Ciara Metcalfe (Pembroke), Lucy O’Reilly (YMCA), Clare Shillington (YMCA), Mary Waldron (Malahide)

The toughest thing about coming home from a training camp like our recent trip to La Manga is going straight back into full-time work, when all you really want to do is keep living like a full-time athlete.
Autumn sun to train in at La Manga

We are less than three weeks out from travelling to Thailand for the Women's World T20 Qualifier, and every session feels like it's making a difference. The training camp came at a perfect time for the squad, a gruelling three days feeling like a holiday in some ways - because we didn't have anything, like work, college or school, to drag our focus away from cricket. And during the next two weeks, nobody will need motivation to get all of the gym, conditioning and training sessions in...okay, we may still need some motivation for those conditioning sessions.

It was also the perfect opportunity for newcomer Cath Dalton to get in amongst the girls and get to know people better. Both of Cath's parents are Irish so she was well up for the non-stop chatter and banter that comes along with any group of Irish people. When she got 'stuck' at a table with all of the oldies at dinner and was able to hold her own, I knew she was a good fit for the team.

The training camp gave the squad more time with our new assistant coach, recently retired international, Alex Cusack. It is easy to see why he was such a mainstay on the Ireland men's team. His straightforward, no-nonsense approach, coupled with his calm demeanor and a vast knowledge of the T20 game means that his input is well taken and very valuable to the team. And even though he is a very laid back Aussie, his years of experience around the likes of Niall O'Brien and Gary Wilson prepared him well for a group of noisy Irish women.

The trip away was a definite positive for our head coach, Aaron Hamilton. The only headache he might have now is from trying to decide on his best team as every player showed their worth in the match scenarios on the last day.

Just 16 days until we travel, sure it will only fly by.

Isobel Joyce