Friday, 28 July 2017

County T20 Climax this Sunday (not that you'd know it)

This Sunday will see the climax of the 2017 County T20 Competition, and the crowning of the T20 Champions, but you'd be hard-pressed to know it was happening unless you are playing in it, or an ardent fan.

County T20 cricket and the County Championship receives no coverage by the ECB on their website whatsoever. If you click the "County" link then, ironically, the only link to women's cricket there is to the Kia Super League!

Contrast this with Cricket Australia's coverage of their domestic women's competition - the WNCL (see here). On the CA website you will find links to past and present series, which include league tables, fixtures and results, news and video clips.

County cricket and county cricketers, who play for nothing, deserve better.

Anyway back to the matter in hand - the County T20 finale this Sunday.

All teams in Divisions One, Two and Three of the T20 competition will play their last games of 2017 this Sunday.

In Division One table toppers Lancashire finish their season against Surrey and Yorkshire at Banstead CC. They know that if they win both their games they will be crowned champions, but having lost two weeks ago to a rejuvenated Sussex, they have proved that they are not invincible. Both Surrey and Yorkshire are mid-table with three wins out of six games, so Lancashire can take nothing for granted.

Warwickshire and Sussex lie in joint second place just one win behind, with Sussex having beaten both Warwickshire and Lancashire in their last fixtures. Both are ready to pounce if Lancashire slip up, although Warwickshire are far better placed due to a superior net run rate. Warwickshire take on Kent and Middlesex at Beckenham, who are again mid-table with three wins out of six games. Sussex host bottom of the table Somerset and Berkshire, for whom anything less than two wins means relegation.

In Division Two Notts are two wins clear at the top of the table with an unblemished record to date. They will hope to keep it that way when they take on Scotland and Essex at home at Welbeck CC.

The only teams that could deny them the title are Hampshire and Worcestershire, who look to be fighting it out to get the second promotion place. Hampshire take on Wales and Staffs. Worcestershire have Derbyshire and Durham to overcome. With all four of their opponents potentially one of the three counties that will be relegated, both will have a fight on their hands. It will be interesting to see if Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates are back in Hampshire colours on Sunday!

At the bottom it is all hands to the pumps for Essex, Derbyshire, Staffs and Durham. With only one win so far this season Essex have it all to do, with table-toppers Notts, and Scotland as their final opponents. The clash between Derbyshire and Durham could be a vital one, with the victor possibly being able to save their spot in Div 2 for another year. It is so tight at the bottom that NRR may well end up being the crucial factor.

In Division Three Gloucestershire are looking to take out the Group A promotion spot and will do so if they beat their closest rivals Oxfordshire, or Devon.

In Group B it is a two-way struggle between Cheshire and Leicestershire for promotion to Div 2. It is perhaps fitting therefore that they take on each other, and third-placed Shropshire to decide which one of them will go up.

And finally Group C sees Northamptonshire almost certain to take the Division, and the promotion spot, as they need just one win against either Norfolk or Cambridgeshire to make the title theirs.

Let's hope the weather doesn't ruin the climax of the competition.


Saturday, 22 July 2017

England and India fight it out for World Title

Tomorrow I will be at Lord's with about 26,500 other people to watch the culmination of the best Women's Cricket World Cup there has ever been. It is estimated that around 100 million people will be watching around the world. Whatever the result it will be a great day.

Before the tournament started we all hoped that it was going to be just that. Great cricket played by skillful players on decent wickets. It has turned out to be a batsmen's heaven with the white Kookaburra ball doing little for the seamers or the spinners. The result has been 14 individual hundreds by 13 separate women (only Nat Sciver has two), and 15 team scores over 250 (in 30 games to date).

It has also produced those knocks that will live long in the memory - Chamari Attaptu's 178* against Australia, as she took them on single-handed; and Harmanpreet Kaur's 171* against the same opponents in a World Cup semi-final. Perhaps they were even more important because they were struck by a Sri Lankan and an Indian - two countries who have taken their time to embrace women playing cricket - on a world stage in front of millions of people, and have produced positive headlines for women's cricket across the globe.

In the five years I have been writing this blog women's cricket has changed beyond all recognition, but it is still in it's infancy and it needs to be nurtured. The pool of top talent is still very thin. Despite what coaches and team managers may say there is no real strength in depth for international teams, as Australia have shown in this tournament, where their lack of seam bowlers coming through has been exposed.

England have the same problem in depth. Beyond the current contracted 18 players there are few who are knocking on the door for selection to the squad, let alone a place in an England starting 11.

This then is the challenge for the next five years - create more depth to the women's game - which will only come about if there is a semi-professional level of cricket below the international players. Australia have already taken this step with all WNCL and WBBL players being paid salaries. In England the KSL pays a few players a pittance - about 25 county players will have earned an average of about £500 from the last tournament.

Much more needs to be done, particularly for 50 over cricket in England. If KSL50 is not to happen, as it seems, then a fully-funded County Premiership 50 over competition needs to be established, with far more games played than in the current County Championship (just seven this year). It will have to be funded by the ECB, but it is essential for the development of the game here in England. It needs to be the best 50 over competition in the world, attracting players from around the world - I'd suggest no more than two per team. Inevitably there would be clashes with international duties for both England and overseas players, but that would allow more opportunities for fringe players.

Six premiership teams with professional coaches, players and support staff, working all year round to produce players with the talent to go on and play for England - that would be my hope.

Will it happen? I have no idea, but something must. The challenge to women's cricket administrators in England, and around the world, is to seize the opportunity that this brilliant competition has opened to take the game to the next level....again!


Monday, 10 July 2017

Aussie win a watershed moment

England's heart-stopping win over Australia yesterday has taken them to the top of the WWC17 Standings with each team with just two fixtures left to play this week. It puts them in a great position to qualify for the semi-finals.

People often talk in sport about something being "a watershed moment" - a turning point or a fundamental change in direction or attitude. England's win was just such a moment. It was all the better because it was never really expected, and England won despite not really playing their best cricket.

When new coach Mark Robinson decided it was time to move on from the Lottie Era it was a tremendous statement of trust in the girls who remained in the squad that they could do the job for England, without their former captain and leading run scorer.

Frequently in interviews Robinson would state that the girls really never knew how good they were. What they lacked was confidence in their own abilities. On Sunday they began to show that Robinson's confidence in them was not misplaced and that their confidence in themselves, and as a team, is on the way up.

It was not a faultless performance by any means. Anya Shrubsole and Nat Sciver dropped catches they would normally take in their sleep, and the batsmen will be annoyed that they made good starts, got the pace of the wicket, but did not go on. But whereas such lapses would have led to a collective dropping of heads, this time there was a determination to do better next time. Each batsman who came to the crease knew they could do a job - this time it was left to Katherine Brunt and Jenny Gunn to be the ones to take the England innings from ordinary to enough to give the Aussies something to think about.

In the field Heather Knight's ground fielding was exceptional as she led her team from the front and Nat Sciver held her nerve as she caught Ellyse Perry on the boundary edge at cow corner in the dying embers of the game.

Mark Robinson won't be getting too excited just yet, and there will no doubt be some dark days amongst the good ones, but inside he will be relishing the next few days with the hope of some more signs that this England team have got what it takes.

Here is who plays who in the next five days, with the top four qualifying for the semi-finals :-

England - New Zealand & West Indies
Australia - India & South Africa
India - Australia & New Zealand
New Zealand - England & India
South Africa - Sri Lanka & Australia

And here is how they stand to date...