A Ramble on Women's Cricket
Exciting & Worrying?
Last year I wrote a piece in this 'Ramble' indicating that both exciting and worrying events loomed on the horizon. Within the first couple of weeks we have now had one fall in each category. As I have been a little full of gloom on the last page or two, let's start with the exciting.
If you have clicked on some of the links on the home page of this site recently you will have seen articles relating to the Women's Big Bash (WBBL) currently running in Australia. Here crowds have been bigger than I am sure the organisers might have feared with figures in excess of 10,000 being quoted. I am unsure if this kind of number relates to stand-alone games or whether the following men's match has attracted some spectators early, but either way it's good to see crowds that you couldn't fit into many of the county stadia in this country. Early TV reports to have shown figures in the order of 400,000 which, exceeding men's grade cricket viewing figures down under, has resulted in the move for a least one match from a subsidiary channel to the main channel of one TV host. Does this bode well for the Women's Super League (WSL) scheduled for August this year in the UK? We have to hope it does but we'll have to wait and see. If it does it rules out the likes of Chelmsford and Hove as being too small!
However, these glad tidings (sorry - cribbed from a Christmas card - and there - I've done it again!) were followed by bad news.
Ireland have had to withdraw from the County Championship 50-over tournament and the County T20. Every game is for them an away fixture with all its associated cost which, unlike that of the English Counties, will include air fares, and probably hotel bills, for every match! Since Ireland have been good enough to qualify for the last two World T20s this is particularly sad. I have to applaud Cricket Ireland, however, for spending the limited cash they have at their disposal up to now.
The County Championship will be poorer for the loss of the Irish side, and of course, the Irish girls chance of playing competitive cricket has been drastically reduced.
I now need to make my apologies to their players. It has occurred to me while typing this piece that I have used relatively few shots of them in action on this site. I will put together a slide show of Irish players by way of that apology and remind them they are welcome to these pictures free if they'd like them. Just give me a day or two to put this together.
Now very far south of the UK in a warm and currently rather muggy Centurion, not far from Jo'burg and watching the occasional bird finding a drink in the puddles from last night's storm, I can reflect on the first match in the ODI series against South Africa. In a way the headline says it all, and it could almost be the shortest match report you might ever read. As regular followers know I am not one for ball by ball reports and simply remark on the things that have particularly struck me in the brief gaps you get from peering down the lens and concentrating a little too much, in a way, on ball by ball. These are thus a few reflections rather than a match report.
Firstly we were told by the locals that all the tracks around here are 'roads'. This one certainly was with only Anya Shrubsole managing to making the ball swing and bounce to any degree although Katherine Brunt got the occasional one to pop more than the batsman would have anticipated. Anya's 4-29 rightly earned her the Player of the Match Award, but many around felt, as my heading shows, that if there was an occasion on which two would have been justified this was it.
A personal best by Trisha Chetty showed not just skill but considerable courage as her last 20 runs or so were made when affected by an almost crippling cramp. Indeed at one point she had to halt in the middle of a run and England sportingly decided not to take the bails off, an act in the true spirit of the game and, in view of some recent events, very refreshing. Of course I viewed this from some 70 yards or more away and may not have heard the umpire call 'dead ball' and I can only report how it appeared from the side lines.
No one among the English supporters would have begrudged her a maiden century but that she made as many as she did is a tribute to a remarkable show of guts as well as skill. She rightly received a standing ovation on leaving the field.
Well, you know my two players of the match, what else sticks in my mind. Principally I think a very fine slip catch by Sune Luus to dismiss Lauren Winfield. Standing as the only slip I remarked to my companion that she had taken the ball at second just an inch or two off the ground. My companion assessed it as second slip and a half. It was a totally clean two handed catch.
Also, after an indifferent start trying and failing to play a few deflection shots to third man, Sarah Taylor found the middle of the bat and showed what she has shown Sussex supporters many times that she's equally at home on the ground or over mid-off or mid-on. It showed a player of considerable class comfortable in her work.
While I have seen other reports suggesting it was a comfortable win, and indeed in many ways it was, I was left with the feeling that the D/L method had handed England a very easy task after the second rain break, and while that system usually comes up with fairly sensible numbers it seemed pretty crazy on this occasion. I feel England would have taken the day in any case had no rain interfered but a lingering thought as I left the ground was that if even one South African batsman apart from Du Preez with her 38 had found some runs it would have been, rather obviously, a much tighter challenge for England. It could so easily have been rather less 'comfortable'. At the halfway point a South African total of 240-250 seemed very much 'on the cards'. We will have to see what the second game brings, and I, for one, would enjoy watching Chetty play another long innings, a few other South Africans grabbing their opportunity and setting a higher total to challenge their visitors.
An article in the UK's Daily Telegraph suggests a trial will be held in England of the use of red or yellow cards and possible 'sin-bins'. It is a shame to an old-timer like me that this is thought necessary. However, in recent times incidents of poor behaviour have, according to umpire friends of mine, become more common in the town park, or the local club, and even more regrettably perhaps, at the highest levels of cricket too.
Even the women's game has not been without its problems with incidents on and off the field that were far from edifying.
I suppose only the umpires trialling this idea will be able to report whether they feel it has helped in conduct on the pitch. If the result is positive the idea should be rolled out at all levels and worldwide within weeks. That won't happen, of course, as there will be player resistance at the highest level. I played school and club cricket for about a decade, a shorter career than I would have liked, and can recall only one incident of any sledging without humour. From what I hear from those in the middle today, the game has changed. I would say not for the better and something needs doing about it! With authorities around the world scared of player power, we all know it's odds on nothing will change.
<Feb 11> An article in the Times newspaper makes my blood boil! I don't need to subscribe to see the full article. The headline alone stirs me to anger. And I should add that I am one who finds this 'PC' world extremely irritating at times. However...
Firstly, encouraging people not to be abusive is hardly 'nanny state'. It is simply a matter of good manners which I appreciate are fast disappearing from society. As a club captain for a time I used to encourage the players I played alongside to behave as if they were playing a sport and not involved in warfare. My mantra; only speak to someone in a manner you might address them in the bar after the match and before you've had too many drinks. Banter is banter - fine - but some sledging is just plain rude. It reflects more upon the sledger than the receiver of the abuse.
To suggest that to encourage, even if by a penalty, people to behave in line with the "Spirit of Cricket" will in some way diminish the passion in the game seems to me to misunderstand what passion is. In fact you're not experiencing passion, you're experiencing anger. If you feel you need to be offensive in order experience passion then I feel sorry for you, for you do not know what real passion is.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the match at Centurion yesterday (2016 Feb 12) then it is 'Never Give In'. Part way through South Africa's 2nd innings and in reply to an excellent 262 from England, all might have seemed like too large a mountain to climb for the South African batsmen. The run rate, with many overs to go had run into the 8s and well into that figure too, nudging 9 at times. For a few overs that may be fine but for a large slice of your innings...
If England felt they had it in the bag they had not reckoned with Lizelle Lee and Marizanne Kapp.
In fact, I think it would be fair to say it was a team effort worthy of the highest praise and only the captain du Preez would have felt disappointed with her knock on this occasion.
And, if you've been here before you will know I don't do match reports, more of a highlights package, here are some of the things that struck me about their innings. Firstly it was the highest target they would have to chase to win if successful, trumping by a few runs that remarkable match at Taunton in 1997 when the England captain made her first international century and finished up on the losing side after, possibly, an even more unlikely fight back than in yesterday's match. Now as then, a relatively unknown player started the attempt.
I must make special mention of Laura Wolvaardt (yes, there's no 'f' in the middle of her surname although you will have seen it in most press reports and even on the scoreboard at the ground). I remember typing, following a game between India and England at Scarborough, that India had found a real new talent in Smriti Mandhana. Well, here we have another remarkable new talent. In the same manner as Mandhana (yes, I know the Indian is a left-hander and Wolvaardt is not) we have a technically very correct batsman and this one a mere 16 years old. Having settled herself in, she showed she has very aggressive shots in her armoury too and indeed it was one them that finally led to her downfall. South Africa must look after this young lady. If I can make a plea to them please do not try and over-coach her! Her technique is already hugely developed and it is possible she is best left alone to learn at her own pace. If you compare the innings in the first ODI at Benoni and the one yesterday it is obvious she has the head on her to do just that.
Those at Bath CC in the UK will not be surprised at how 'their' player, Lizelle Lee fought and refused to give in.
Wielding a heavy bat, Lee played a 'no fear' innings, probably the only possible course at the time she started if South Africa were to win this match. She joined Kapp who was already batting at run-a-ball type pace and together they made the win look possible. When finally they crossed the line, thunder and lightening were threatening the ground and the Player of the Match Award, which went to Lee - who else - was not witnessed by the spectators.
Looking back on the England innings, while Knight made a valuable and solid contribution, it was Wyatt's 40 off 27 that really gave the innings impetus and showed runs could be scored quickly on that surface.
Danni Wyatt (40 from 27). Image courtesy Crunch-Cricket
So what new will I take away from this game?
Postscript: It occurred to me at the game that newcomer Laura Wolvaart has chosen a number for her shirt which has a distinguished past. Previously worn by Johmari Logtenberg who chose it, I suspect, as she made her first appearance for South Africa at the age of 14!.
If you've been here before you will know that I suspect, had she continued with cricket rather than an excursion into golf, Johmari would have become a world beater. It's a proud number to carry - my suspicion is Laura will do it justice.
Well, you might think so looking at the scoresheet following the game, and at the number of balls still remaining had England needed them. However, it was not quite so straightforward as that. South Africa collapsed to 85 for 6 before Lee once again came to the rescue. An orthodox player she is not, but her obviously superb hand/eye co-ordination and dogged determination earned her and her team a valuable 74 runs at all but a run a ball. Ably supported by Luus they gave South Africa a chance and Letsoalo took the opportunity to add a personal best 14* to get her side close to 200.
England started serenely but a flurry of wickets finally brought Knight and Elwiss together. The difference in approach of these two batsmen is intriguing, and both equally valid. Knight, cautious at first and throughout her innings dealing with the 'bad ball' in cool and calculating fashion - England had the time after all - and Elwiss out to attack at the slightest opportunity, playing 'no fear' cricket. They complimented each other perfectly.