Tuesday, 29 March 2016

England thrash the Aussies

England Academy took full advantage of a tired-looking Shooting Stars side, bowling them out for just 148 in less than 38 overs, and then knocking off the runs with just four wickets down with nearly 20 overs to spare.

The Stars had played a 50 over game yesterday against Sri Lanka which they had won quite comfortably, but with just a 13 player squad and the temperatures well above 30 degrees, and the humidity energy sapping, it was perhaps little wonder that they were no match for a very keen England squad with England-contracted player Kate Cross once again at the forefront.

Within six overs the Aussie innings was in disarray as Cross claimed three wickets whilst conceding just one run. Molineux was caught and bowled for a duck in her first over, McGrath bowled in her third and the much-touted Stalenberg picked up a golden duck as she edged through to Threlkeld. The England camp were cock-a-hoop. At the other end Beth Langston was bowling an impeccable line and length meaning there was just no release for the Aussie batsmen. Eventually Langston gave way to Macdonald and the Aussies unleashed a series of pulls and cuts to finally get the scoreboard moving. They just seemed to have the measure of the pitch when Graham walked too far across her stumps and was bowled by Alex Hartley. The Aussies were 67/4 in the 18th over. Not long after Hartley claimed her second as Gardner advanced down the pitch and missed and left Threlkeld with an easy stumping. This was followed by an unnecessary run out as skipper Banting and opener Patterson got their wires crossed. Banting was run out by about 15 yards - 76/6.

The seventh wicket pair added 35 but the reintroduction of Cross seemed to mesmerise Patterson, who had batted a long time for her 37. Third ball of the new Cross spell she guided a short ball straight into the hands of Jones at cover point. Her vigil was over and Cross had 4/12.

Alex Price and Lauren Smith then added an enterprising 31 with Price putting away the bad balls with some aplomb, but when Smith went bowled by a full ball from Langston, the end of the innings was nigh. Ecclestone removed Price in the next over caught behind cutting one too close to her and Langston bowled Hancock neck and crop in her next over.

In reply the England Academy could not really have had a better start. Emma Lamb (26) and Evelyn Jones (38) put on 70 for the first wicket, with Jones finding the boundary with quiet regularity during the opening powerplay and thereafter as the Aussies kept the field up in search of wickets. Both went with the score on 70 though with Lamb trying to force the pace and being stumped and Jones bowled by a good leg-break from Wellington. It was only a minor blip for England though. Fran Wilson made 20 and took her team to within 18 of victory before she drove a ball straight into extra cover's hands, but Georgia Adams (37*) and Sophie Luff (10*) quickly polished the game off as the Aussies wilted in the heat.

The Academy play the Aussies again on Friday when they can probably expect a tougher ride.

England batting (unofficial) - Lamb 26, Jones 38, Adams 37*, Wilson 20, Luff 10*
England bowling (unofficial) - Langston 6.1-3-13-2, Cross 8-1-18-4, Macdonald 3-0-26-0, Hartley 8-1-34-2, Ecclestone 8-0-30-1, Butler 4-0-22-0

Australia batting (unofficial) - Patterson 37, Molineux 0, McGrath 5, Stalenberg 0, Graham 31, Gardner 7, Banting 0, Price 30, Smith 18, Hancock 4, Wellington 2*
Australia bowling (unofficial) - Hancock 3-0-18-0, Brennan 5-0-20-0, Vakarewa 5-0-16-0, Wellington 6-0-33-1, Price 6-1-22-2, Smith 3.1-0-24-1, Stalenberg 3-0-14-0


Sunday, 27 March 2016

England Academy start with a win

England Academy kicked off their tour of Sri Lanka with a convincing win over their hosts on a good batting track at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo.

Having won the toss skipper Fran Wilson elected to bat and Emma Lamb and Evelyn Jones took 28 off the first five overs - I was going to say without breaking a sweat, but on a stifling hot and humid day in Sri Lanka's capital, that would have been completely inappropriate. But in the sixth over Lamb clipped a ball to mid-on and set off for the single. Jones was not on the same wavelength and remained firmly rooted at the non-striker's end. Lamb ((9) attempted to return home, but was run out comfortably. England were 31/1. Holly Armitage joined the fray at number three, but within three overs both Jones and she were back on the England balcony under the whirring fans. Jones (26) clipped a full-toss to midwicket and Armitage (1) hooked a ball straight down deep square leg's throat. England were 46/3.

Bath duo Fran Wilson and Sophie Luff set about rebuilding the innings. Initially they nudged and nurdled and scampered quick singles, but as they grew in confidence Wilson hit some delightful extra cover drives and Luff got on her dancing shoes, advancing down the wicket to the myriad of tiny Sri Lankan spin bowlers.

Both batted at an even tempo and both reached their fifties in the 28th over of the game. Next over Luff was gone for 54, advancing again but hoisting one to long on. The pair had added 103 for the third wicket. Kate Cross then joined Wilson, but she had little to do but nudge the odd single as Wilson cut loose. The pair added 76 for the fourth wicket, of which Cross contributed just 9. Wilson had advanced in the meantime to an effortless 115. She was out bowled advancing down the wicket and effectively yorking herself, but by this time England were well set on 225/5 with 12 overs to come.

Ellie Threlkeld (6) came and went quickly but Cross came out of her shell and hit some good straight shots before she walked past one and was stumped for 33. The tail did its best to wag with Alex Macdonald making 29 before she was caught at long on. Sophie Ecclestone bagged a first ball duck, but Beth Langston (14*) and Alex Hartley (3*) saw England through to an imposing 311/9.

In reply Sri Lanka never looked like keeping up with the run rate. Kate Cross and Freya Davies opened the bowling and kept things tight with Cross making the initial breakthrough in the 5th over thanks to a catch by Langstone. The second wicket was a run out through a direct hit from Luff. Sri Lanka were 42/2 in the 12th over. As the heat took its toll on the fast bowlers the spinners were thrown the ball - Butler, Hartley and Ecclestone all bowled tightly without there appearing to be much turn. Butler claimed the third wicket with Sri Lanka having plodded to 85 in the 22nd over. The game continued to drift along with Sri Lanka content to take 4/5 per over mainly in ones and twos. Having made it to 148/3 in the 35th over there was a sudden flurry of wickets - one each for Langston, Cross and Ecclestone and another Luff run out. At 159/7 the game was effectively over and Wilson brought her bowlers back for short two over spells and even brought on part-time spinner Lamb to bowl five overs. She accounted for the eight wicket as a full toss was bunted to Wilson at midwicket and Butler took the ninth thanks to a good catch from Cross at deep cow. The Sri Lanka tail enjoyed the last 10 overs adding 71 to their total, but still finished 75 short of England's score.

The game took over seven and a half hours to complete in stifling conditions and many of the England girls looked shattered at the end. They have a day to rest before they meet the Australian Shooting Stars on Tuesday at the Panagora Stadium.

Batting (unofficial) - Emma Lamb 9, Evelyn Jones 26, Hollie Armitage 1, Fran Wilson 115, Sophie Luff 54, Kate Cross 33, Ellie Threlkeld 6, Alex Macdonald 29, Beth Langston 14*, Sophie Ecclestone 0, Alex Hartley 3*
Bowling (unofficial) - Kate Cross 6-0-22-2; Freya Davies 5-0-18-0; Alex Macdonald 6-1-33-0, Beth Langston 6-1-26-1; Steph Butler 8-0-36-2; Alex Hartley 8-0-27-0; Sophie Ecclestone 6-0-27-1; Emma Lamb 5-0-34-1


Monday, 21 March 2016

A week is a long time...in cricket

We are a week and 10 games into the WWT20 and it has been an interesting few days.

In Group A New Zealand have lived up to the expectations of many (me included) and look like the side to beat in this competition. They comfortably beat Australia today and their top order looks extremely powerful. The complete lack of pace from Leigh Kasperek's slllllllll...o...w right arm spin (although to be fair she does not actually spin it much at all - watch the ball in the slowmos!) seems to fox all who bat against her. Her appearance and style are very reminiscent of England's former left-arm spinner Holly Colvin. Short of stature she too threw the ball in the air, allowing it to dip as it got to the batsmen. She did alright too!

I keep expecting someone to work out how to play Kasperek - use your feet and play straight. In the group games they only have South Africa left to play. It will be interesting to see if Dane van Niekerk can get to her.

The Aussies look a bit of a muddled outfit. Which is not like them. I pointed out before the tournament that they did not know who to open the batting with. They still don't. If it were me it would be Mooney and Villani with Lanning at three, but I think Lanning may insist on taking the role against Sri Lanka. Despite their confusion the Aussies are still likely to make the semis - they have Sri Lanka and Ireland still to play. Their narrow victory over South Africa has saved their blushes. But will they make it beyond the semis? In all probability they will meet England there. England will never have a better chance of knocking them out of a major final.

In Group B the first three games went with form with comfortable wins for India, West Indies and England over lower opposition, but India's catatonic batting against Pakistan as they froze under the pressure of their own and their country's expectations, ultimately led to their demise - although you have to say that the rain probably saved Pakistan from throwing away a game that they should have won at a canter. Tomorrow India play England. Should India lose then their tournament may well be over. England's big game experience might just be enough to win it for them, despite a lacklustre start to the tournament against Bangladesh.

Defeat might not be the end for India. West Indies have been unconvincing in their opening two wins against Pakistan and Bangladesh. In fact Pakistan should have beaten them, but ran out of self-belief half way through chasing 103 and ended up four runs short. The Windies still have England and India to play and they could lose both those games, opening the door for India to qualify on net run rate.

I'll be watching the rest of the tournament from Colombo in Sri Lanka where I am headed to follow the England Academy take on the Shooting Stars and the Sri Lankan young guns. The way things are panning out at the moment I would suggest that it looks like a New Zealand v England final, but all that could change as soon as tomorrow. I'll be sitting on my suitcase in the front-room waiting for the taxi to the airport watching England take on India. Will it be new India or old India, and will it be new England or old England? Who knows?


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

New Zealand the in-form team heading into WWT20

So here is the up-to-date WCB IT20 Standings as the teams go into the WWT20 starting on 18th March, including all games played up to 9th March.

No I didn’t believe it either, but New Zealand really are top of the table AND they really are that many points ahead of England and Australia. I have checked lots of times. There are actually numerous reasons why they are top of the tree – Australia and England have not been too flash at T20 cricket of late (Australia have lost their last three T20 series and lost six of their last nine games); New Zealand have won eight of their last eleven games, including wins over England and Australia; and for some reason New Zealand played only 11 T20s between 1 March 2012 and 1 March 2014, which means they have only played 32 T20 games in the last four years compared with England’s 46 and Australia’s 44, so their recent form has a much greater impact on their current standing.

So does that make them favourites for the WWT20? Well the realistic answer is that they have as good a chance as Australia and England, the perennial favourites for these competitions, but also probably just as much chance as India, West Indies or South Africa. This really is the hardest WWT20 to call that there has ever been. Below I have previewed the teams’ chances, based on form, but there is one imponderable which I think might affect the tournament and who goes on to win it, and that is injury. 

For many of the top players the last few months have been jam-packed with cricket, as teams squeeze in ICCWC ODI fixtures, plus the almost obligatory three T20s. The Aussies have played an Ashes series against England, followed by a home series against India and no sooner were they back from New Zealand than they were on the plane to India. In between the entire squad has been involved in the WBBL, as have several of the England, New Zealand, West Indian and South African players. South Africa themselves have finished their latest series (against West Indies) today, which followed swiftly behind England's tour there too. Don't get me wrong I have no problem with plenty of cricket, but it does take it's toll. There will be many players carrying injuries into the tournament or having just recovered from injuries. I expect there may well be more during the tournament and if you lose a key player, then your fortunes can change rapidly. But aside from that caveat it looks like being a great tournament.

Group A
Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Ireland

Australia expect to win. In fact most of the cricketing world expect Australia to win, but I just have this nagging doubt about this side and about the balance of their team. They did not perform that well against England last summer, then lost 2-1 to India at home and then by the same score to New Zealand away just a few days ago. They are struggling to nail down a decent opening partnership, they are relying far too much on Lanning and Perry to get runs and their bowling looks light. It has been a long haul for the Aussie girls since the English summer, including a full-on WBBL and I think this may be a tournament too far.

Antipodean rivals New Zealand will be looking to steal the Aussies’ crown.  After a couple of lacklustre years, including the failure to make the semi-finals of the last WWT20, New Zealand, under charismatic coach Haidee Tiffen, are once again punching above their weight on the international scene.  They seem to have a bit more self-belief now and if skipper Suzie Bates can keep her recent form going they will be tough to beat. But they do have bad days. And when they are bad they are very very bad. Can they string together the five or six wins on the trot that they need? They just might.

South Africa surprised everyone, including themselves, by making the semi-final of the 2014 WWT20. It was a great achievement and the fact that they froze in the semi-final against England was no surprise. Their recent series against England and the West Indies in South Africa shows that that cup run was no flash in the pan. Within their squad they have match-winners in van Niekerk, Lee, du Preez, Kapp and Luus, but their squad is thin. I expect them to win some big games, but possibly lose some they should win. If you want an outside bet though...

Sri Lanka and Ireland will not make it to the semi-finals, but Ireland could well win their first WWT20 match when the two sides meet. Sri Lanka are in a horrible slump of form at the moment. They have lost their last eight T20 games and in truth have never looked like winning any of them. Ireland won the WWT20 Qualifying Tournament in December, just pipping Bangladesh (their fellow qualifiers) in the final. They have great spirit in their team and it may be enough to get them a very precious two points.

Group B
England, West Indies, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Playing at home and coming off the back of a T20 series win against the Aussies in Australia, plus a drubbing of a rather forlorn Sri Lanka, India are on a high. Things could go one of two ways it seems for them – they could either live up to their own, and the whole of India’s expectations and win the thing, or they could crash and burn. They should get off to a good start as they play Bangladesh on the opening day of the tournament, but their clashes with England (22nd March) and the West Indies (27th March), will decide if they make it through to the semi-finals. If they can make it there then their young stars – Smriti Mandhana, Shika Pandey, Anuja Patil and Veda Krishnamurthy,amongst others, may prove fearless enough to get them into the final, although it may have to be at the expense of tournament favourites Australia, which may be a big ask.

England lack consistency over the last couple of years. This tournament has come too early for new Head Coach Mark Robinson to have had any great influence over the outcome for his new team, but a new positive attitude with the bat looks certain. The South Africa tour proved that sometimes it comes off and sometimes it does not. There is no doubt that England have players capable of winning T20 games – Taylor, Knight, Jones, Shrubsole, Brunt – but the question is can they? England look a bit light in the spin-bowling department, with Knight now Charlotte Edwards go-to spin bowler it seems. If England make it out of the group then they are in with a shout.

The West Indies have a remarkably poor record in T20s over the last couple of years. They have only won seven out of the 25 they have played in that time. They have also managed to tie three of those games, which is quite a feat. They have class in Stafanie Taylor, and Deandra Dottin seems to be coming back into some sort of form after a couple of years in the wilderness following her ban, but these two need some back-up. They are a team capable of winning, but they lack a cutting edge.

Pakistan have had a torrid run into the tournament due to security issues in India. At the time of writing they have still yet to get to India, and it has been confirmed they will miss their first warm-up game with New Zealand scheduled for Thursday, and maybe even the warm-up against South Africa on Saturday. Their current T20 form is not that bad and they are a potential banana skin for the big three, but with little or no practice before the tournament they are clearly at a huge disadvantage.

Bangladesh have only beaten Ireland and Sri Lanka in their last 13 games, and lost narrowly to Ireland in the WWT20 Qualifier final. They should not trouble the big boys, but will be keen to get one over on Pakistan if they can.

So the warm-up games start tomorrow and the tournament itself kicks off on next Tuesday (15th March). Some of the group games are being televised as will be the semi-finals and the final. If the tournament can step out of the huge shadow of the men's tournament into the media spotlight, then it should be a great event.