Friday, 28 April 2017

Preview of 2017 Women's County Championship

I have had several attempts at writing this introduction to this, my last preview of the Women's County Championship. In fact I did wonder if it was worth writing it at all? The reality is that the County Championship has been emasculated by its reduction to just seven games (its needs expanding not reducing!); the timing of the matches (71% of games will have been played by the end of May); ridiculous rules if games are cancelled by rain; and the lack of top players playing in it.

There is no 50 over KSL tournament this year, but there will be next, and then none of the players playing in that tournament will be playing county cricket at all. I feel desperately sorry for all those people who have worked, and continue to work, incredibly hard to make women's county cricket happen, and for all the young players, who are denied the opportunity to showcase their skills, every weekend, against the best players. So, without further ado, as they say...

Just eight teams will compete for the County Championship trophy this year, after three were relegated (Staffs, Surrey and Somerset) and only two were promoted from Division Two (Lancashire and Notts).

Kent won the trophy last year at a canter losing only once, to Sussex, who finished in the runners-up slot. But for much of the season it was Warwickshire that led the pack. They beat Sussex, Berkshire, and Surrey, and had two more games called off, to lead the table into the penultimate weekend. But they were dispatched by Kent and then lost the next day to Middlesex, to blow any chance they had of winning the Championship for the first time. They finished a creditable third.

With one less game to be played this year, and with teams without their England contingent probably for the majority of the season, this could be a very topsy turvy county season. The ECB have scheduled five of the seven games to be played by 29th May, and the last two games have been shoe-horned in between the end of the KSL league games and the KSL Finals' Day. It means the England girls will play a maximum of three games before the World Cup (probably less) and any of the 36 players involved in the three teams in KSL Finals' Day are unlikely to be allowed to play the last two games of the season.

It is almost impossible to predict who will actually win any particular game, let alone who is going to win the Championship. But below I have had a quick look at all the teams. Their strengths and weaknesses will depend on which 11 players they can actually put on the field. We know the England contracted players will miss the first weekend's games, but beyond that who knows? Kiwis Amy Satterthwaite (Lancs), Rachel Priest (Berks) and Holly Huddlestone (Middlesex) are the only overseas players in the Championship and could have a massive influence on their teams' fortunes in their first five games. If I had to stick my neck out I'd back Warwickshire and Lancashire to be fighting it out for the title come August, and Berkshire and Notts to be fighting to stay in Div 1, but with so few games to play and the weather bound to intervene, it could easily be the other way round. Let's hope we see some good cricket, and find a few future stars, as we wave goodbye to the Women's County Championship as we know it.

First weekend's fixtures

Lancashire v Middlesex at St Anne's Cricket Club
Notts v Sussex at Lady Bay Sports Ground
Warwickshire v Kent at Edgbaston Foundation Ground
Yorkshire v Berks at Harrogate Cricket Club

Lancashire v Berkshire at Urmston Cricket Club
Notts v Kent at Lady Bay Sports Ground
Warwickshire v Sussex at Edgbaston Foundation Ground
Yorkshire v Middlesex at Harrogate Cricket Club

The teams

Berkshire (last year 5th)
Berkshire are under new captain, Lissy Macleod, and will have Kiwi Rachel Priest in Berkshire black for the first five games of the season, but they are unlikely to see much of former skipper Heather Knight. Runs could be a big issue for them. It is going to be a struggle.
Lissy Macleod (capt), Heather Knight, Rachel Priest, Carla Rudd, Sherisa Gumbs, Annabel Flack, Alex Rogers, Fi Morris, Daisy Gardner, Lauren Bell, Ashleigh Muttitt, Millie Allerton

Kent (last year Champions)
The big news over the winter at Kent was the departure of Charlotte Edwards to Hampshire, after 16 years with her adopted county. She takes with her New Zealand international Suzie Bates, who had such a good season with the county last year.
Stepping up to the Kent captaincy will be Tammy Beaumont, when she is not on England duty. Her back-up will be Alice Davidson-Richards, who is likely to lead the county more often than not. Without their England contingent of Beaumont, Farrant and Marsh and with no overseas player yet named, the early part of the season could be up and down.
Beaumont (captain), Davidson-Richards (vice), Belt, Bryan, Farrant, Franklin, Gibbs, Greenway, Griffiths, Jackson, Jelfs, Marsh, Pape, Thompson

Lancashire (last year promoted from Div 2 as winners)
Back in the top flight again after winning promotion from Div 2 initially in 2014, only to be relegated straight back down without a win to their name in 2015. They seem determined the same will not happen to them again this year, and have enticed Alex Hartley back from Middlesex after four years in the south, which brought her an England contract. She will make an interesting pairing with fellow left-armer Sophie Ecclestone. They also have the in-form Kiwi Amy Satterthwaite warming up for the WWC17 with them until the end of May. Senior Academy batsmen Eve Jones has also joined from Staffs. On paper they look a strong team, but early success will be vital for them.
Megan Fairclough (capt) (4), Natalie Brown (10, Ellie Threlkeld (21), Bhumika Doshi (14), Nalisha Patel (15), Emma Lamb (6), Hannah Jones (7), Jess Couser (9), Laura Jackson (22), Laura Marshall (12), Rachel Dickinson (17), Sophie Ecclestone (19), Kate Cross (16), Shachi Pai (18), Evie Priestley (25), Georgie Holt (27), Rebecca Duckworth (26), Evelyn Jones (3), Alex Hartley (8), Ella Telford (5), Amy Satterthwaite (11).

Middlesex (last year 6th)
After four years with Middlesex in Division One, left-arm spinner Alex Hartley has been lured back to her old county, Lancashire, and Leeds medical student Anna Nicholls has chosen to stay in the north and represent Yorkshire. New skipper for the County Championship is Naomi Dattani. They will miss Fran Wilson's batting when she is on England duty, with the onus on Dunkley, Dattani and Dalton to get some runs on the board for them. They do welcome back Kiwi pace bowler Holly Huddleston.
Dattani (11) (capt), Bouchier (16), Dalton (3), Dattani (11), Dunkley (14), Gole (12), Huddleston (17), Miles (8), Morgan (5), Pope (15), Ravel (7), Wakeman (9), Westbury (6), Whitty (1), Wilson (4), Wolfe (10)

Notts (last year promoted from Div 2 as runners-up)
Relegated from Div 1 in 2015, they have come straight back, despite England internationals Jenny Gunn and Danni Wyatt leaving the county. They too have brought in some new recruits from other counties, Jodie Dibble from Devon, Lucy Higham from Leicestershire and Megan Burton from Wales. Led again by Sonia Odedra they should have a settled team throughout the year and could easily cause a few upsets in the first five games of the season.
Sonia Odedra (capt), Natasha Allen, Georgie Boyce, Megan Burton, Kelsey Cox, Jodie Dibble, Kirstie Gordon, Yvonne Graves, Lucy Higham, Hannah Hughes, Sophie Munro, Rosie Penford, Jane Smit, Ruth Sprawson, Hollie Stannard, Ella Tweed, Rebecca Widdowson, Bethany Unwin.

Sussex (last year 2nd)
A very strong squad on paper, but many of this squad will play very few County Championship games, if any at all. A great deal will be expected of the younger players, led this year by new captain, Georgia Adams. The only new recruit is Berkshire's left arm spinner, Linsey Smith, but she may miss the first two games as she is currently with the England squad in Abu Dhabi. Sussex's Achilles' heel is always the first few games of the season. This year they meet Notts and Warwickshire away in the first weekend. They are must-win games.
Georgia Adams (capt), Flora Bertwhistle, Ella Bourne, Ellen Burt, Sally Clarke, Izzy Collis, Freya Davies, Ariana Dowse, Georgia Elwiss, Abbey Freeborn, Chiara Green, Nancy Harman, Ella McCaughan, Tara Norris, Paige Scholfield, Linsey Smith, Bethany Tagg, Sarah Taylor, Ella Wadey, Lucy Western, Danni Wyatt.

Warwickshire (last year 3rd)
Last year's surprise package, they led the County Championship only to run out of self-belief when they faced the mighty Kent. This year they will be another year older and wiser and are again likely to be there or thereabouts. Their batting can look a little thin, but their bowling might save them. Youngsters Georgia Davis and Kate Green are names to watch out for.
Marie Kelly (capt), Jenny Gunn, Amy Jones, Rebecca Grundy, Georgia Hennessy, Georgia Davis, Laura Crofts, Liz Russell, Mina Zahoor, Anisha Patel, Kathryn Bryce, Jo Gardner, Louise Brazier, Bethan Ellis, Kate Green

Yorkshire (last year 4th)
A massively powerful team when they have their full England contingent available, they become less predictable when they are away. Led by Jess Watson this year they will be a tight unit, but as with others, runs will be an issue. Expect leggies Katie Levick and Hollie Armitage to lead the bowlers.
Jess Watson (capt), Lauren Winfield, Katherine Brunt, Dani Hazell, Beth Langston, Hollie Armitage, Anna Nicholls, Steph Butler, Katie Levick, Cecilia Allen, Hannah Buck, Katie Thompson, Madie Walsh, Theresa Graves, Rebecca Newark, Hannah Poulter, Rachel Hildreth, Charlotte North


Monday, 24 April 2017

Aussies announce 13 contracts

Cricket Australia have today announced the names of 13 women to whom they will offer Southern Stars contracts for 2016/2017. However the terms of those contracts are still being discussed, with CA keen to move away from the revenue sharing method that has served them so well for nearly 20 years. With the ACA (the players' union) and the players themselves, adamant that the next Memorandum of Understanding continues to pay CA players at all levels on a revenue sharing basis, it looks as though CA will either have to back down or face the consequences. With the Champions Trophy, for the men, and the Women's World Cup, for the women, just around the corner it is not ideal timing, but there are big money television contracts about to be negotiated by CA.

Thirteen Southern Stars is a reduction of two from the 2015/2016 list, with Renee Farrell, Holly Ferling, Grace Harris and Erin Osborne all losing their contracts, and only teenage leggie Amanda-Jade Wellington and 30 year old Rachel Haynes added to the list, winning back a contract she last held four years ago.

Presumably these 13 players will form the basis of Australia's 15 player squad for the WWC17 which gets underway two months from today.

The 13 Southern Stars contracted players are

Kristen Beams
Alex Blackwell
Nicole Bolton
Lauren Cheatle
Rachel Haynes
Alysa Healy
Jess Jonassen
Meg Lnning
Beth Mooney
Ellyse Perry
Megan Schutt
Elyse Villani
Amanda-Jade Wellington