Thursday, 20 October 2016

England claim series win in West Indies

Well it wasn't very pretty, but sometimes you have to win ugly, and that is exactly what England managed to do in Jamaica.

After a horrible batting collapse allowed the West Indies to take the fourth ODI, and the two ICCWC points with it, England came back with a solid performance to win the final ODI comfortably, winning the series 3-2 and taking four of the six ICCWC points.

It means they only need one more point in Sri Lanka (in November), or for South Africa to lose one of their three ICCWC games against Australia (also November), to be sure of qualifying for the World Cup next year (assuming the Pakistan v India series does not happen in the next 10 days, which looks unlikely). Put it this way I don't think anyone will offer you odds against them getting there.

Make no mistake this was an important series for England. They were tested. Slow pitches, hot conditions, spinning wickets, some top quality players in the opposing side, and lumpy outfields. They lost two games that they probably should have won, but they showed they have some character by winning that final ODI. That will stand them in good stead as they move forward.

It was an excellent series for Alex Hartley, who seems to have stepped into the number 1 spinner slot, ahead of young Sophie Ecclestone, and probably Laura Marsh. Marsh is much more of a containing bowler, whereas Hartley is a wicket-taker. She took 13 in the five games and bowled with great control and accuracy AND she spins the ball. Without Anya Shrubsole a lot fell on the shoulders of Katherine Brunt. At times it looked like the pressure told, but she is a gutsy cricketer and usually came good when she needed to, which is tough for fast bowlers in the heat and on slow pitches. Generally England will have been pleased with all their bowlers, who gave very little away. Both games that England lost were down to their batsmen.

Overall Coach Robinson will have been pleased with his openers - Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield. Winfield had scores of 79 and 51, and Beaumont finished with scores of 57 and 34 after a poor start to the tour. She looked in good touch in games 4 and 5, having adjusted well to the conditions. Both now need to look beyond nice 50s, to big hundreds.

Number three is obviously still an issue. Georgia Elwiss had this slot for the first three games, as she did in the summer against Pakistan (where she had scores of 12, 17, and 77). Here she made 3, 16 and 3 batting at three, and then 9 and 5 coming in at number six. Having failed to grasp her opportunity at the top of the order she may find that she loses out to Fran Wilson in the middle order for the trip to Sri Lanka.

The number three slot was taken by skipper Heather Knight for the last two ODIs. A position she had not occupied in her previous 57 innings. After a golden duck in the first ODI she scored a frustrating 26, 22, 36 and 29. No-one will be more frustrated with those scores than her. She will know that she needs to turn these starts into big scores and get her side over the line in run chases.

Nat Sciver got two scores of 58, the second one not out in the final ODI, which was the sort of mature knock that her coach will have been willing her to make. It is sometimes difficult to remember that she is relatively new to the England team. She has only batted 22 times in ODIs and she has a healthy average of over 40 - the best in the England team. She is yet to record three figures for England, but this will come. She is maturing nicely in the England middle order.

Which brings us to Danni Wyatt and Amy Jones. Wyatt is the cheeky, chirpy, bubbly character from Stoke. She is a good athlete, smart in the field and has a rocket arm, but she has now played in 44 ODIs, and in 35 innings her highest score is just 44, which she scored on this tour in the first game at Trelawny Stadium. She followed this with 7, 17, 0 and 12. She bats for the team, but she seems to find ways to get out. She is an enigma.

As for Jones she kept well in four of the five games, but contributed little with the bat. She has been around quite some time, but has had relatively few opportunities in the middle (just 12 innings in nearly four years). She has the shots in her locker and needs to target spending more time at the crease, as she did in the first ODI with Wyatt. She has had big shoes to fill following on from Sarah Taylor, but given an extended run she could prove herself just as capable.

And finally a word about Heather Knight's captaincy. She looked comfortable making the decisions and used her bowling resources well. There were a few opportunities where she could perhaps have had more attacking fields, but the more she skippers the better she will get. Winning this series in the West Indies without her vice-skipper on the pitch, will be a feather in her cap.

Will this England team win the 2017 World Cup? They have the capability to do so, but it is a question of whether they have the self-belief. It is likely to come too early for this developing team, but I wouldn't write them off. If they can get on a roll early in the competition then they will be in with a shout.


Thursday, 6 October 2016

Aussies one step ahead again

The New South Wales Breakers, an Australian state cricket team, have announced that all their players will now earn the minimum wage in Australia of $35,000 (about £21,000) for playing in the Women's National Cricket League (WNCL) - Australia's state 50 over tournament. This appears to cover the entire 2016/2017 season, but that includes just six league games from 13th October until a possible seventh with the final on 3rd December.

The Breakers are the first women's state team to make this step up from being part-time players to being full-time professionals, thanks to increased sponsorship from Lendlease.

Since 2013 domestic players in Australia have been paid something to play for their state by Cricket Australia. Initially this was up to $7,000 out of a $100,000 allocation of funds from CA. In 2015 $7,000 became the minimum, and in 2016 this increased to a minimum of $11,000. With the additional money from Lendlease, NSW can now offer their domestic players the chance to be full-time professionals on a living wage.

In addition domestic players can also earn between $7,000 and $15,000 for playing in the WBBL, while Southern Stars contracted players are paid an additional $40,000 - $65,000. It means that top international players will now be earning over $100,000 from their cricket alone. NSW Breakers players who are not on Southern Stars's contracts, but do play in the WBBL will be earning between $42,000 and $50,000 per season. It seems inconceivable that the other five states and ACT will not follow NSW's example over the coming months, making the WNCL the first all professional women's 50 over league. That may not be this year, but almost certainly in 2017.

Compare this to the current situation in England where 19 players were awarded ECB central contracts at the end of January 2016. Two have subsequently retired from international cricket, Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway, leaving just 17 contracted players. The ECB have never disclosed what these contracts are worth, but somewhere between £25,000 - £50,000 seems to be the general consensus. But beyond this elite group none of the other girls that play the game were paid, until the inaugural Kia Super League this season, when those who actually played a game (about 35 non-contracted players) were paid £150 per game, and, if they made the final, the squad players all shared in the prizemoney. The maximum any player was paid for the KSL was about £2,500. Those who played in all five league games will have received £750.

The ECB have declined to follow the Aussies and have not put sufficient funds into women's county cricket to make this a semi-professional stepping stone to international cricket. There is no semi-professional league where players can hone their skills before being thrust onto the international stage, or back to which, players who lose their central contracts, can fall. It seems that the ECB are pinning their hopes on extending the KSL to 50 over cricket, but, as predicted here in December last year, this will not happen in 2017.

The door is open for the ECB to make some significant investment in the top eight teams who will compete in Division One of the County Championship next year, but it seems they are not inclined to open that door. In fact it looks firmly shut. An extended KSL (home and away games - even this will not happen in 2017) is the right format for T20 cricket, but domestic players need a semi-professional 50 over league, and surely the existing county teams are the way forward with ECB backing, leadership and minimum standards for training and playing facilities? Without this England's talent pool will continue to dwindle and the Aussies will continue to dominate women's cricket.


Sunday, 2 October 2016

SA v NZ & WI v Eng ODI series coming up this week

Two very important ICC Women's Championship series start next Saturday (8th October) - South Africa v New Zealand and West Indies v England.

It is the first time that New Zealand have ever been on tour to South Africa. Indeed the two sides have only met six times in ODIs, with New Zealand winning all six, but four of those were over 15 years ago. South Africa are just one point behind New Zealand in the ICCWC table, but they know that after New Zealand they have to travel to Australia for their last three ICCWC games. New Zealand on the other hand entertain Pakistan and will be banking on taking 6 points from those three games.

It means that South Africa really need all six points against New Zealand, which is going to be a very tall order... but not impossible. In the last eight months South Africa have recorded ODI victories over both England and the West Indies on home soil, so they know they can compete at the top level. Runs tend to be South Africa's problem, but in young Wolvaart they have a steady opener, and then the big guns - du Preez, Kapp, Lee and van Niekerk can accumulate and in Tryon and Luus they have two lusty hitters late on. New Zealand are a team in fine form - Suzie Bates is in fine touch with the bat after a summer in England and Devine, Satterthwaite and Priest will all have benefited from playing here in the summer. New Zealand's weakness is their lack of penetrative bowling and no spinners that really rip the ball. The sides are playing seven ODIs (the first three count towards the ICCWC). It should be a very even contest.

England have arrived in Jamaica in the West Indies just ahead of hurricane Matthew. Hopefully that will pass through the island early in the week and England can get some practice in ahead of their five match ODI series with the T20 World Champions. Here it is the last three games that will count towards the ICCWC standings, so England have a couple of opportunities to get their line-up right before points are won or lost.

It seems unlikely that Head Coach Mark Robinson will stray far from the line-up that beat Pakistan so convincingly over the summer, but with five spinners to choose from (Hazell, Marsh, Hartley, Ecclestone and Knight) he may well ring the changes, or perhaps even play four spinners rather than three. The brunt of the seam bowling will be down to Misses Brunt and Shrubsole, with back-up from Sciver, Elwiss and Gunn, as needed, and with Langston on hand at some time during the tour. Despite having a thumb injury the non-contracted Langston was preferred to the contracted Farrant and Cross. Quite where Danni Wyatt fits into the picture is not really clear. Had Fran Wilson been fit then she may not even have been on the plane? She is the type of player that might benefit from Robinson's nurturing - she has talent with the bat, but not always the application. If she gets a chance then she will need to grab it. She will not been thrown the ball to bowl.

But what then of the Windies? Sure they are T20 World Champions and they will not be slow to remind anyone who asks of that. But this is 50 over cricket. If Wyatt has an application problem, then the West Indians are a team of Wyatts. I generally use the word mercurial about their performances - quite simply you don't really know what you are going to get. Stafanie Taylor proved she is a world-class player in the KSL in England this year, with some outstanding innings, but she cannot carry the West Indian batting on her own in the 50 over format. Great expectations have been placed on the shoulders of young Hayley Matthews, after she burst onto the scene in Australia a couple of years ago, but since that series in which she scored 55, 89, 60 and 37, she has had poor ODI series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa - teams she should be filling her boots against. She also had a very poor KSL with the bat here for Lancashire Thunder. Deandra Dottin too has not quite fulfilled her potential with the bat. The West Indies need her to step up now too. In addition Kycia Knight, Shaquana Quintyne, Shemaine Campbelle, Britney Cooper and the returning Shanel Daley will need some runs, if West Indies are to be competitive.

As for bowling the Windies have plenty of choice, but not a great deal of penetration. Shamilia Connell is quite sharp, but is yet to make an impact in any series. It is the spin-bowling of Mohammed, Quintyne, Matthews and Taylor, plus the slinging pace of Dottin, on which the Windies will rely. The West Indies have not beaten England in an ODI since 2009, although they have not actually played England in this format in the last three years. If England can start the series well, then they should be tough to beat and could win all three of the important ICCWC games, which would mean that they will be the second team through to the World Cup next June. With the games being livestreamed by WICB it will be a great series to watch.