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 s 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...