Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Lancs take title in dramatic final day

The final day of the Women's County Championship was as dramatic a day as you could have imagined, but you would have been hard-pressed to have followed it anywhere, or find any account of the day, with the exception of some county twitter feeds, our own twitter feed, this blog and that of CRICKETher. Even now there is nothing on the ECB website about who has won the Championship, or the teams that have been relegated and promoted - in fact there seems to be nowhere for it even to be located on the ECB site should it be written.

The Women's County Championship is the premier format of 50 over cricket below ODIs. Its standard has been criticised by the ECB for several years, but nothing has been done to improve it or replace it. It has been allowed to drift, and, this season in particular, it has been shoe-horned into two slots in the season, when many players could not play making many games a lottery. It must have been a nightmare for team managers and coaches.

With the proposed 50 over KSL now officially abandoned the ECB have finally decided to focus on county cricket it seems, but there will be no changes until 2019, with eyes next year firmly focused on T20 cricket, with the T20 World Cup in the West Indies in November 2017.

In our view serious ECB resources need to be put into a County Premier Division with a meaningful structure of games (at least 10 I would say), payment for the players involved, professional coaching structures and resources, and a commitment to promote the product, so that it is a level that girls aspire to reach and becomes a serious test of players' abilities. England players and one or two overseas players should also be encouraged to play, when they are available.

But enough of the future what of the current? Or more accurately the recent past...

Well in Div One it looked like it was Warwickshire's county title to lose. They were the only unbeaten side after five matches, but had the second and third teams in the league to play - Yorkshire and Lancashire. They had been in a similar position last year and blown it. Surely it couldn't happen again?

In the first game of the weekend Yorkshire posted 176/8 thanks to 51 from Hollie Armitage and 46* from Hannah Buck. Warwickshire lost early wickets, but made it to 74/2, only to lose their last eight wickets for eight runs to be 82 all out, and pick up only four points from the game. The Yorkshire win meant they were now in the driving seat as they were one point ahead of Warwickshire.

Meanwhile third-placed Lancashire were claiming 17 points as they defeated Notts by 63 runs, bowling them out for 108, chasing 171, with Sophie Ecclestone taking 4/16. It meant that Lancs were still third in the league, but 12 points behind second-placed Warwickshire. For Lancs to win the title they would need to beat Warwickshire the next day and hope Warwickshire didn't get too many bonus points, and then pray that Notts could beat Yorkshire, with Yorkshire also not doing too well on the bonus point front.

First things first they had to beat Warwickshire. When Sophie Ecclestone took 6/12 and Warwickshire were all out for 88, with only one batting bonus point, they were on course to achieve their first objective. When Lancs reached 92/5 to claim victory, they had all 18 points and Warwickshire had only three. Lancs had leap-frogged their opponents in the league and now all they could do was wait and see what happened between Notts and Yorkshire.

Yorkshire won the toss and elected to bat, but made a nervy start and were struggling at 62/4, but another patient knock from Hollie Armitage (55 off 108 balls), and some good shepherding of the lower order by Beth Langston (33*), meant Yorkshire got to 178 all out and three potentially precious batting points. With Warwickshire losing, it meant that Yorkshire did not have to win. They just needed to pick up a total of five bonus points. With three in their pockets they needed just five Notts' wickets to take the title. They took the early wicket of Georgie Boyce, but then had to wait another 97 runs before they got their second. The third came pretty swiftly thereafter, but Sonia Odedra was still there with Notts still needing 59 to win. They reduced that to 27 before they lost their fourth wicket, when the experienced Jane Smit joined Odedra. Neither of them will now be too welcome in Yorkshire as they steered Notts home with just four wickets down.

And so Lancs were the 2017 County Champions, by one point from Yorkshire, and three points from Warwickshire. 

Meanwhile at the bottom of the table it was a question of who would join Berkshire in Division Two next year - it was between Sussex, Kent and Middlesex. With Middlesex playing Sussex in the their last game, Kent knew that they only had to win one of their last two games against either Middlesex or Berkshire. They chose to load their side with all their key players against Berkshire on the Monday. Without them they had been bowled out for 110 and lost to Middlesex on the Sunday. They duly beat Berkshire bowling them out for just 79 and chasing it down for the loss of one wicket. They were safe.

And so it was that whoever won the Middlesex v Sussex clash would stay in Div 1. Middlesex batted first on a green looking wicket, but it played perfectly, and all the Middlesex batsmen enjoyed the conditions, helped by some inept umpiring. They racked up 259/6 with Sophia Dunkley hitting a well-made 63. With Sussex missing four frontline players they looked short on batting, despite the addition of South African Mignon du Preez. After a sprightly opening over the Sussex innings never really got going and at 85/4 things looked bleak. A 53 run partnership between Georgia Elwiss (38) and Freya Davies (29) gave Sussex brief hope, but when Elwiss hit a Dattani long hop straight to square leg, Sussex's goose was cooked. They were eventually bowled out for 169 giving Middlesex the win by 90 runs and another year in Div 1. Next year will be the first time that Sussex have ever been in Division Two.

Coming up from Division Two will be Hampshire and Somerset. Hampshire took the Div 2 title with final weekend wins over Devon and Somerset themselves, courtesy of telling contributions from Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates. It will be interesting to see if they both return in 2018. Somerset had secured their return to Div 1 with a thumping 96 run win over Surrey, the previous day. At the bottom of the table Staffs ended a miserable season with two more defeats and will be playing in Div 3 next year, as will Worcestershire, who were already relegated even before they lost their last game of the season to Derbyshire.

Promoted from the Div 3 play-offs to Div 2 are Essex, who beat Gloucestershire by six wickets, and Northants who beat Durham by five wickets.

So another County Championship season has ended before September has even begun. Congratulations to all those who have finished at the top and commiserations to all those that have finished at the bottom, but special thanks to all those that make it all possible.


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