#WT20 – good & not so.

Unashamedly blasting this out. Amorphous wotnots and occasional insights, I hope. Reflections. Dangerously off-the-top-of… my barnet. ‘S fine, because nobody will read it – because it’s about The Wimmin.*

So GOOD – & less good – lumped together. Bit like the tournament; maybe *like any tournament?*

Memo to self- and to you, sagacious friends – don’t go comparing it to the blokes. It’s different.

  • Australia. Their surge towards completeness. Different level of preparation, intensity & often – quality.
  • Perry & Schutt didn’t blow people away but they were still imposing; as was the team. Clearly it was Healy’s tournament (except for that weirdly dysfunctional final, keeping-wise!) but it was the team, actually, that crushed the opposition.
  • Generally better fielding and more threatening bowling. Generally more dynamic batting – power play batting from a different universe to most teams. T20 cricket from a different, newer, more dangerous era.
  • ‘Course India beat them so arguably that’s cobblers… maybe. (But not for me). It wasn’t just during the final that Oz were mostly competing at a higher level.
  • Is it good, or bad, that Aus appear to be out-cooling and out-boshing all of us on the investment in the women’s game front? No argument. 1. Fair play and congratulations. 2. Might this lead to Grand Prix-like processions to victory? (The ECB may come under pressure if the ‘re-organisation’ of the women’s schedule here stalls the recent surge towards higher standards and greater depth).
  • But back to #WT20. England were mixed – from Aus-like in their cruising past poorish opposition – to periodically awful in the field.
  • On the one hand it’s absolutely right to note that the absence of their toughest competitor (Brunt) and a truly fine keeper and stylish bat (Taylor) would hurt any team. But as England are resourced and prepared in a way that probably only second to Australia, we’re entitled to judge them pret-ty keenly, yes?
  • Amy Jones. Did a goodish job behind the sticks (as good as most international keepers?) and pressed the I’m Here! it’s Me! button, whilst batting.
  • Jones looked technically strong and crucially more dynamic than most of her team-mates during the international season, without quite building that seminal knock. (She got 20-30s when I saw her live but oozed something authentic and encouraging). A good deal of that landed in the World Cup: a strong #WBBL could see her fully ‘emerged’.
  • Tactically, Mark Robinson and co were again strikingly bold – fielding a zillion spinners, insisting that Beaumont and Wyatt charge early. Only during the final did Wyatt get into the or her game, though, whilst Beaumont felt out of rhythm – was scratchy, when she needs to be timing the ball to generate runs around the place at a decent rate. (She is not as powerful as some other high-order players, obvs).
  • Of course the spin-fest was a reaction or an expectation around pitches – which were widely regarded as disappointing. I respect Robinson’s gutsy hunch but was it just me that thought somebody was gonna cut through the slow-bowling ‘stranglehold’ and see that actually none of the England spinners turned it very much… and only Ecclestone bowled with that searching pace… and therefore they were rather fortunate not to get carted? (Poor generalisation maybe but ‘twas how I felt).
  • The Scots import Gordon did well, mind. Not spectacular, not hugely threatening, but did well.
  • Sciver is plainly ‘our’ Perry. Athlete. She grows into the role, fair play. Did particularly well to fill the Brunt-shaped hole, first up. Infuriates me with her bat-swing, mind – so unnecessarily hoiktastic and across the line – but hey-ho, she’s well within her rights to go with something she’s comfortable with, I guess. It just smacks of somebody who finds it all rather easy, overthinking and clumping everything to leg. But she’s a star.
  • Shrubsole bowled again, at times, more skilfully and with more raw swing than anyone else on the planet. She is class. She is class but still looks if not hurt, then less mobile and agile than would be ideal.
  • The Fielding. We ain’t necessarily comparing them to the blokes when we say that the fielding was – in the tournament generally – not good enough. Appreciate standards are improving. Appreciate Wyatt, Sciver, Knight, Beaumont, a bunch of Australians and plenty other individuals look like athletes in the field and are consequently great to watch. But despite the upward curve on this, too many players are simply not looking like international-class athletes – and this is important.
  • It’s important not just in the way the game is received, broadly but also in how matches seem, live. Running, fielding, catching, throwing can be electrifyingly central to the drama. Currently, obviously, they are let-downs too often, undermining the spectacle, the theatre of all this.
  • I know that work is going on to improve fielding work everywhere and that increased professionalism will change this.
  • *Also*. I’m slightly fascinated to know whether Robinson’s reference to ‘tears’ has related to some fairly brutal laying down of expectation regarding fielding skills. He will know that only about four of five of his players are good enough, out there. Do wonder how England staff bundle that forward, what level of urgency they insist upon, what pressure is being applied?
  • Like Robinson, I think I’m looking to judge the players as international-class athletes rather than women. But we’re both men of a certain age… and maybe likely to mess that one up, here and there.
  • Hey but not going to finish on a negative. I’ve loved the ambience and the actual cricket during 2018 and (acksherly) I spend half my coaching life actively supporting girls into cricket. Tomorrow I’m coaching the next, female generation and bloody looking forward to it.
  • I hope they will see more (or more of) Kaurs or Scivers or Taylors or Perrys: that their lives will be enriched and excited by stars they come to look up to.

 

*Accept that some folks will read some or all of this as somewhere between dubious and misogynist. Can live with that.

I’ve enjoyed travelling and supporting women’s international cricket and know my *intentions* are sound. Do regard it as maybe the most excitingly, richly-developing sporting phenomenon on the planet, right now. Hope to be able to see England Women on several occasions next season.

Significant Threat.

I was there when England scuffed and skipped, fainted and feinted their way past South Africa in the World Cup semi, in Bristol. It was, as they say, dramatic – dramatically bad for one’s equilibrium – whoever you happened to be supporting.

I do realise that that was a different time, place and format but sometimes it feels like there are *themes*, eh?

In the 50 over comp Heather Knight’s posse somehow came out on top but not before most of us England fans had bawled or tutted or cut out the middle person and shat ourselves. On the one hand, the subsequent, glorious victory at Lords squishes all arguments regarding England’s durability but on the other it feels true to also characterize the side with the rider ‘likes a wobble’.

They do – and we’ve already seen that in this WT20, during the win against Sri Lanka. In this game the first ball dismissal of Wyatt precipitated some pret-ty major, visibly contagious and relatively prolonged angst. So we approach the crucial game tonight, versus *arch-enemies South Africa with hope, yes but also with fear.

(*Arch-enemies? Can we still say that?!? There is a smidge of something approaching enmity, I suspect, between these two camps).

Strangely or boldly, England retain their 3 leftie spinners: can they/ will they do that against Aus? South Africa win the toss and opt to bat.

Lee, Wolvaardt, Kapp and van Niekerk are all players; by that I mean legitimate international players, with talent and experience. The concern around them is two-fold. Where is their confidence? Can they go at this?

The answer to question two is a resounding and disappointing ‘no’. Whisper it – for fear of encouraging more, bellicose negativity from male ‘traditionalists’ – but 21 of the first 24 balls… are dot balls.

The extraordinary aggression-void has engulfed South Africa in the same way it has smothered the ambitions of other teams in the competition. To the extent that this is in danger of not feeling like a competition – more a procession, led by Australia, where nominal rivals act out the role of opponents, rather meekly.

We can hope that India, the Windies and England may yet make a nonsense of this argument: Australia may not prove to be dominant. However the gulf in terms of intent between the Southern Stars and most others is striking… and a tad dispiriting.

But back to tonight’s opener – where sadly it is again as though the powerplay doesn’t exist (for South Africa) – or at least that part of the powerplay that opens up possibilities for the batters to clatter boundaries; that actively encourages it.

I have no doubt that this side of the game will develop in good time: more importantly a notably animated Charlotte Edwards bemoaning the generally disappointing lack of ambition (in commentary on TMS) goes on to repeatedly insist that a gear-change is completely essential. That gap must close.

Meanwhile wickets fall, the runrate continues to stall. 43 for 4 after 13 – but still somehow drama-less.

Knight claims a catch. Rather cheekily, according to the replay (according to Edwards); but the current England skipper is rather fascinatingly certain, even through the re-played denial. Kidding herself, being shamelessly competitive/cynical? Who knows?

Chloe Tryon belatedly launches; smites two sixes in quick succession. Can’t sustain it – caught off Sciver, to snuff out any real hopes of approaching 100. Tunnicliffe follows Tryon to the dressing-room. I can only imagine the trauma for Proteas supporters; the unambition, the disappointment seems endless.

Last over. Shrubsole skittles Ismail, has Klaas caught next ball off a leading edge then achieves the unthinkable-but-somehow inevitable by cleaning out Fourie. Hat-trick! Sciver’s wunnerful-ludicrous figures of 4 overs, 3 for 4 will rightly draw the eye of the cognoscenti but Shrubsole, again, will make the headlines.

Innings done at 85 all out. Okaay, South Africa’s strong suit is their bowling but at this stage it feels like they are about to be crushed. Except that England do like a wobble.

The spikes in quality continue. Klaas gifts England a four with a piece of fielding that is frankly humiliating: painful to watch. Wyatt blasts away with intent and some style. A different level of commitment to run-scoring – or just running.

With an angry Ismail putting it all in there, Beaumont drives her beautifully through firstly midwicket, then extra cover. Both times for four. Proper Top Level Cricket. Important for a tournament still disentangling itself from perceived mediocrity.

General note on this: I think all of us who genuinely enjoy supporting women’s cricket struggle around how to pitch any criticism. Better for female voices to do it. It’s not easy. But clearly learning can come from criticism as well as praise.

Very much on the plus side, Dani Wyatt is energetic, watchable and – tonight – has gotten swiftly into her flow. She belts through a series of borderline singles, diving to gain her ground at some cost to her physical safety. In simple terms, there is no comparison between the approach of the English openers and the preceding South Africans.

Come the end of the powerplay, England are 41 for 0. (South Africa were 24 for 1).

The Wyatt and Beaumont partnership are past cruising, at 55 for 0. Into, or possibly disappearing towards that dreamland where Statements Are Really Made. Could they do this in 12 overs, for none down?

No. Van Niekerk’s loopy leggies get Wyatt, clunkily, behind her legs,  premeditating a sweep but ultimately looking rather daft.

Sciver does something similar, to Daniels, walking to off and being bowled leg stick. After 10, England are 59 for 2. Then Beaumont gifts van Niekerk a further wicket, booming directly to long on.

With Amy Jones now joining captain Heather Knight it does feel like England have sufficient quality remaining to find the required runs. This they do. 87 for 3, ultimately. They’ve eased there, in truth.

Maybe it’s as well that Jones and Knight – both 14 not out at the close – have had some more time in the middle. Maybe. Certainly Jones will have enjoyed clubbing Ismail so emphatically through the covers and blasting the winning runs. Likewise Knight will have loved the two beautiful straight drives she stroked – and I do mean stroked – downtown.

But there may also be that minor frustration around the possibility for a 10 wicket job. Wyatt and Beaumont were simply playing at a higher level than the South African batters. Both got themselves out in their 20s, when plainly bigger scores – and additional psychological advantages – were there for the taking.

Maybe scratch that? Maybe we should be simply enjoying a thoroughly convincing win against traditionally competitive rivals? Maybe save Ultimate Ruthlessness Mode for the teams – Windies, India, Australia – who pose the most significant threat. Maybe don’t even note in passing, that there was no discernible wobble here.

Played, England. Good to see you so focused, so positive. Good to see you enjoy the win. Move on; you’re in this, now.

Resting, before acting.

I’m not much of an actor but I have been resting; between performances, or bundles of performances.

Pretentious? Moi? Well, that’s kindof what our sessions in schools are; more-or-less theatrical projections or expressions of strategy, policy, faith in our sport. And I have been waiting for the next launch, the next tour of our Community Cricket show to begin, so it’s felt like a rather welcome lay-off as well as a time to gather, before going again.

As I guess there must be for the average thesp, so there’s a weirdly seductive tension around my own downtime. Part of this arises from the fever going on in the background, as a discreet fury of discussion over strategy rises or rages to its conclusions. It feels as threatening as it does exciting. It feels big.

I mean of course the ECB/Chance to Shine/All Stars/Player Pathway stuff that has occupied the lives of most Cricket Development people over the last two years or more. The Seminally (Semenally?) Sexy Questions about how cricket needs to be, to be bubble-burstingly present for the next generation.

Hard to imagine? The sweeptastic revolutions on the pitch being mirrored by off-the-fullest-run-imaginable stylee pow-wows for admin staff and cricket people at all levels?

It’s been happening. It’s been spicy – and probably, I’m guessing still is – but given the preciousness of the raw material and the (honestly!) radical nature of some of the ECB proposals, no surprises that opinions might veer towards the antagonistic.

I’m at arms length from most of this, admittedly, being Coach rather than Development Officer. But I’m close enough to know that massive calls are being or have been made on everything from player pathways to All Stars to Coach Education. Big Stuff around the recreational game. Big Stuff around re-inforcing the rationale and execution of All Stars. Big Investments in change; a) because the belief is change is right and b) because the confident expectation is that there will be money. All this llus arguably Even Bigger Stuff in relation to the professional game, which I will all but ignore, here.

Year 2 All Stars is almost upon us. If you’re not clear what this is or means, here’s a view, or review, of some of the whats and whys.

All Stars Cricket is the ECB headline project for young children, begun this year, enacted through clubs. For 5-8 year-olds, very much aimed at boys and girls, very often via their mums, after shedloads of research showed this was the way to attract new families into the cricket universe.

All Stars is bold and welcoming and new: it represents a break away and forward (arguably – your choice) because Matt Dwyer, the Australian guru/driver/leader-in-possession of The Rationale has a) done this successfully before (in Aus) and b) believes only this level of ambition and dynamism can keep pace with or make sense with the kaleidoscope of change around the pro game. All Stars is defiantly in your face: not just an extraordinary investment but also a considered (and therefore philosophical) commitment to breaking out from the narrow heartland of the status quo towards something simply but strikingly more popular.

I have no doubt that there are one or two key words in that last paragraph that put the beejeeebers up some good cricket folks. But there’s no going back on this. All Stars is populist, yet the powers that be (or enough of them to back it, ultimately) plainly view it as essential to delivering new blood, new impetus. Resources are flowing that way again.

However, Roadshows to support the project and answer questions were delayed: I can’t honestly tell you whether this was due to alarm bells ringing or logistical stuff re kit or accessories or what. I can tell you that in a striking departure for us Community Coaches, our work in schools (as of any minute now) will be aimed primarily at a kind of parallel All Stars course, heavily linked to the general Primary curriculum and that we will be coaching the younger age-groups – Years 1 &  2. This is significant.

In previous years, the objective was more about enthusing 7-11 year-olds for the game and ‘signposting’ them into clubs ready to receive and support a new Under 11 side. The switch of focus to All Stars at 5-8 was initially to gather a new audience earlier, compete earlier with other sports and plant the cricket flag more visibly into school playgrounds: Dwyer (not entirely wisely, in my view) openly talks about ‘winning the battle of the playgrounds’.

All Stars has always been more sophisticated than might appear at first glance – probably as a result of the huge lump of research that preceded it. Year 2 will build on this by being ver-ry savvy in relation to what Dwyer & co. have understood to be the aspirations of the broader curriculum. In other words, the crossovers between mere cricket and all manner of learning skills (over and above the obvious developments in physical literacy) are being strongly emphasised.

Cynics might fear this is driven by box-ticking rather than the joy or brilliance or undeniable value of ‘games’ in itself: it certainly appears to cosy up to contemporary notions of what’s good educationally, as opposed to what makes wonderful and enriching sport. The All Stars proponents – and I am largely though not uncritically in this camp – would say that the project can deliver Big on the physical and the educational side.

You may not believe me when I tell you that I/we Community Coaches probably do need a rest between tours: I think we do. I know I’m pouring most of the bestest, truest, most generous-personal energy I can muster into trying to light up kids (mainly) through cricket-based games. Honestly, at the end – not during, not for me anyway – you do find the battery has run a tad flat.

Right now, then, I’m waiting, before doing some re-training or further training specific to the All Stars delivery. Then I’m on it.

In fact I may start with some work with Secondary School Girls, as we’ve run a really successful Lady Taverners competition here in Pembs, for some years. If logistics allow – and there can be issues around travelling for matches or clashes with other sports – all eight of our Secondary Schools try to enter teams. I try to get round the schools to lead some sessions and encourage, as well as attending the matches themselves.

Always sounds a bit corny when some bloke says something like ‘I really do want to make girls feel like they can and should be playing cricket’ but… that’s the way I feel. Indoor, festival-type cricket can be a great way in.

Two new teams were set up last season in the Pembs Ladies League. Having led pre-2017 season training sessions, I was struck by the proper keenness and quality and pride (actually) amongst the cricketing women. I am really hopeful and optimistic that more girls will step up as the opportunities feel more real – and as the role-models become yet more visible. In all the turmoil and change, the profound development of women and girls’ cricket will surely be a constant; undeniable and undeniably good?

Over to you, Sarah Taylor, Nat Sciver…