2016 Diary

A Ramble on Women's Cricket
 - with diversions -

This diary will be updated erratically throughout the year.

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And Now the Exciting Bit...

A few pages back (it seems ages ago) I wrote that the future was both worrying and exciting. I then set out on what was a series of worrying stories and, just in case I had put the 'dampeners' on anyone, I thought it was about time to take a look at the other side of the coin.
Now what, you may ask, is exciting about recent and coming months? Well, there's been much written around the 'Net and elsewhere on the success of the inaugural WBBL. Attendances were pretty good (except ironically at the double headers where they appeared to fall off - is there a lesson there?) and TV coverage was apparently way better than anyone, including the TV companies themselves, had anticipated. One tick in the right box here it would seem.
Then there's the ECB's answer in the form of the Women's Cricket Super League (WCSL). This is a rather less professional tournament, at least as far as the majority of the players are concerned, as payments will be made to relatively few I am led to believe, or certainly not to all. In view of the sums of money involved this seems regrettable but hopefully will be rectified in future years. This tournament was supposed to expand to include 50-over matches in 2017 and this now seems unlikely with England hosting the 50-over World Cup that year. Nonetheless, bearing those caveats in mind, it's a start and progress in women's cricket, while relatively speedy in recent years, has always had hurdles to jump. Another tick?
However, I consider there's another area where real progress has been made and I take my hat off to those who dreamed up and kicked-off the ICC Championship. This competition to decide which four teams get automatic qualification for the forthcoming World Cup has had, in my opinion, the biggest impact on the game since someone tossed a white ball to a woman player. All the top countries must play each other in a minimum of three ODIs in the course of this tournament and the results have been more than a little interesting, and I don't mean interesting in the terms of the traditional curse. Suddenly we have teams that were considered underdogs producing performances that have shaken the established elite, admittedly sometimes in the shorter from of the game, but I suspect these teams would not even have met in many cases were it not for this Championship. If this sport needs anything desperately it's competitive cricket! One side regularly whitewashing another will do absolutely nothing to promote the game. Hard as it is, wearing an England cap, to see one's team beaten, the victory by South Africa in one of the ODIs and one of the T20s, has to be good for the game as a whole. You cannot base a worldwide sport on three or four teams!
In fact South Africa's victory in the ODI, I have to concede, was one of the most exciting games I have seen for quite some time. It is sad the TV companies feel the audiences attention span is so short only T20s are worthy of air time in South Africa. Hopefully Sky in the UK will become deeply involved in the 50-over game in the World Cup in 2017. (Oh, he's not going to type "we must wait and see" again, is he?)
I would like to add one other word of praise for CricketSouthAfrica. A 16-year old made her debut in the series against England and you will already have seen that she made a major impression on me. On the long flight home, when your mind wanders and wonders if you'll ever catch any sleep, I found myself thinking of the situation in the other top countries. If any of the other participants in the forthcoming WT20 had a 16-year old with obvious talent, which of them would have the courage to throw her in at the deep-end and see if she sinks or swims? I can think of a few who wouldn't.
So, in spite of the welcome the two new projects have received - the WBBL and WCSL - I feel the biggest progress has been made in the longer format of the ODI. My hope of eight countries all able to supply competitive cricket may not yet have been realised, but I do feel it is closer than it has ever been in the twenty plus years I have followed this sport.

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No Need to Add...

Crucially, CA recognise that investment that is purely directed at the top levels is a short-term solution; the system needs to be looked at as a whole and money needs to filter down into domestic cricket for long-term dominance to be sustained.
From Wisden India Article
It would seem I am not alone in my views.

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Why? Why? Why?

I have failed (personal circumstances) to watch the TV coverage so far of the WWT20. The matches so far broadcast reside on my hard drive awaiting a viewing. So the first game I have sat down to watch live is the fixture this morning (19.03.16) between India and Pakistan.
So why should I be screaming "why, why, why?" at my TV screen? Several reasons presented themselves in the course of this game. Now, don't get me wrong! This was a great game of cricket and proves, to those who really understand the game, that exciting as England men's game was yesterday chasing down 220+, you don't need piles of runs to make a tense game.
Scorecard
So why all the 'whys'?
Pakistan held India to 7-1 at the end of the 6 over 'power-play'. This is remarkable in itself but was followed by a strange tactic by one of the most experienced captains in women's cricket. Once again I shouldn't be harsh on Sana Mir who has made real contenders out of this side and what I see as a classic error would probably have been made by every captain, men and women, there except possibly Meg Lanning. At least that was my first thought. Fielders were immediately dropped back to defend the boundary. Why?... Why?... why?... If you have the opposition scoring at only just over one run per over, why would you wish to change anything? I know the bowlers will probably have to be altered but until the batsmen pluck up the courage to go over your heads, why move the field at all? You have now allowed the batsmen to easily break the shackles, take a few simple singles and work their way back into the game.
Before I wear out the '?' key on this keyboard (although I'll need it again shortly) I think I'd better move on, and I should mention, contrary to my first thought, it was a mistake that Raj didn't make later in the match.
So only 7-1 for India. It was a combination of skills that made this such an odd score. It did illustrate what is possible with accurate bowling - bowling to your field that is - and fine fielding. Other positives - Pakistan's running between the wickets - ignore the run outs, generally it was out of the top bracket. Their placement of shots in the opening overs was also very precise especially in comparison with their opposition's performance earlier. I also had to admire Kaur's fielding and Raj's catch which was the 'champagne moment' in the match. They were rather the exceptions in the Indian side which was mixed at best. We all have those days - I remember them well! 
And now I must see if that '?' key still works...  'Why?... Why?... Why?...  do the broadcasters fail to show the D/L score on the screen? It is often an excellent guide to where the match is, and when rain threatens, as it did here, it is the clue - in fact became the answer - to who would win this game. I have no answer!
But you know me - I always seem to find something that could only be called a 'negative' on the pitch itself. If you have the match on your drive watch the umpires. Frequently moving away from the bowlers stumps in the wrong direction they found themselves not just in an impossible position to give a decision on run-outs (it's just as well this was on TV) but also suffered a blow from the ball. Not exactly what one might have expected at this level and was about as surprising as was the fixture in which they were officiating.
You may not think so, in view of what I have typed above but actually I've no complaints about this as a match. Just wait for the carpers to mention how few runs were scored and that there was only one six. Many would have expected India to make a 'cake-walk' of it.  Any match that  has tension is worth a watch and this match had it in spades. That's what sport is all about. One side blitzing the other out of the game makes no spectacle at all but If the WWT20 can produce some more televised game as close as this, it will be a great advert for the sport.
For a match report of the highest quality read this...

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Postscript:
You have heard me (well read me anyway) mention before that I have no time for those who consider hitting sixes is what, in the women's game, T20 is all about. If you watched the India v Pakistan men's match later that day you will have seen a procession of players from both sides who wished they'd stuck to trying for 4 runs rather than 6.  With the women's game, currently at least, it's a lesson those players watching should have picked up. Somehow I doubt the commentators will have. The next women's game on TV is only a day or so away - just wait for the 'six' mantra to be voiced yet again. It reminds me of  a line from a protest song many years ago - "when will they ever learn."
Just take a look at this...  Sir Everton Weekes' stats who finished his career with a Test average approaching 60. Now look at the '6' column. Yes - scoring over 12,000 runs in first class cricket he hit just two sixes. Or did he? When approached by a reporter after Weekes had claimed he had hit only one, Sir Everton apparently said the other was "2 with 4 overthrows". I have no idea if he had his tongue firmly in his cheek, but there's no doubt you can become one of the games greats and put 6s firmly to one side. If you have the talent that is! Or perhaps watching the deep square leg boundary fielder joyfully tossing the ball in the air is a sight that doesn't bother you. If you want to go the '6-route' count the runs in those 6s against the dismissals. I'm pretty sure I know how the equation will work out.

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Sorry Suzie!

Well, I have to offer the New Zealand skipper an apology. You will all know that New Zealand's White Ferns comfortably beat Australia's Southern Stars in the WWT20 group game.

Match card

Did I think they would lose and hence I should say sorry? No! We know from recent history they have it in them to beat absolutely anyone. Indeed they are looking like the side someone has to beat, and quickly perhaps, to put them off their strides to the silverware. It was simply, that in the piece above on the India v Pakistan game I uttered an accusation against her (and others) and was proved completely wrong. I admit it!
So what could I have said? Well, it concerned the way in which captains will change the field in over number seven of a T20 in spite of the fact everything has gone swimmingly in the first six. In fact my first instinct, based on what I have seen so many times before, was that any international captain, except possibly Lanning, would make what I consider to be that cardinal error. And it frustrates the very devil in me when I see captains do it. I should have known better when Mithali Raj proved me wrong in the second innings of that match, but entrenched ideas die hard in one of my years, and so I have to say "Sorry, Suzie" for as far as I could make out from the TV screen and commentary, over-number-seven started with just two fielders outside the ring. I could argue that with Australia at something like 4-4 at that point the decision was an easy one to make but that would be cheap. I still believe that others would have immediately dropped at least one more fielder back. No, I got it wrong! And if, Suzie, you ever read this I'd be happy to apologise face to face.
As is my wont I will not attempt a match report - as I have said many times others manage this far better than me - but here's a few items I noted down during the game; points that might well be left out of the classic 'match report'.
  • Rachel Priest took an unfortunate blow, while keeping, which had her wiping her mouth and chin a little later. It reminded me of an incident I witnessed in Bankstown near Sydney in 2009 during the match against England when, after being hit in the mouth and spitting blood, she was back swiftly behind the stumps. [I could provide a picture but I won't in case you may be eating when you read this...] She does not lack courage, although, like many commentators I feel a helmet when standing up is not a bad idea.

  • I can forgive Leah Tahuhu for the drop. It was not easy to make out on the TV screen why she failed to hold on. The reason was the ball came from bright sunlight to deep shade and the camera's auto light level could not keep up and, I guess Leah's eyes would have had the same problem. While no one on commentary mentioned this, it must have made the catch more difficult than it first appeared.

  • Erin Bermingham's drop was also forgivable. Following the delivery you are always off balance and it was hit like a rocket. I suspect she would take 50%+ like this but this one was not to be.

  • We have had some odd decisions from the 3rd umpire. I wasn't happy with at least one of the boundaries given on review and very doubtful of a second. We have already had a "taken in front of the stumps" stumping not allowed which seemed dodgy to me, in another match. That must surely have been on the 'benefit of the doubt to the batsman' principle since there certainly seemed doubt rather than certainty about the incident.

  •  I was also left wondering, as was Lisa Sthalekar if I recall correctly, whether the waist high full toss rule does (or perhaps should) apply to the level of the ball at the crease line. I know in the incident of a possible catch in this match the batsman had moved several feet down the wicket, but it seems unfair to punish a bowler if the ball would have been fine had the crease line height been the deciding point. We could have batsman advancing to ensure a no-ball. Once again the laws seem to favour the batsman.

  • Despite Australia's low score (103-8) there are improvements the New Zealand side could make to their fielding and their bowling. There were a few fumbles on the turf and rather too many full-tosses bowled. Churlish to say this perhaps in view of the comprehensive victory, but it might matter against other opponents, or if they meet the old enemy again later in this WWT20.

  • Devine's catch was just that. The words spoken by the commentator at the time bear repeating - "One of the great catches we'll see in this tournament - men's or women's".

  • I'll make no comment about the Australian batting. The scorecard says it all. But Ellyse Perry must be exempted from nay criticism. 42 from 48 balls is a pretty good knock in any circumstances, but becomes a fine one when your team mates are collapsing all around you.

  • One of the sixes hit was described as "over 70 metres". It illustrates that boundaries need little change from men's to women's cricket - if, in fact, at all. Although it didn't appear to be the case in this game, as far as one can ever tell from a TV picture, I have seen them set at distances that were, frankly, an insult to those playing.

  • Leigh Kasperek was rightly the Player of the Match and it was good to see a bowler picking up this Award.

So why did New Zealand win when I have listed a few criticisms of them above. Quite simply they read the conditions correctly, and, what is arguably more important, the captain took full advantage of them with her bowling options. How your players perform is, of course, what ultimately decides a match but for once, Meg Lanning was out-captained and in my opinion that had a significant part to play in this game.
As an aside Id like to mention Kate Cross' summaries and explanations of training methods on Sky TV. Coolly and calmly explained, she provided a very balanced view. And I have more than a little sympathy with her not quite managing to illustrate, with ball in hand, what she was saying. Under the glare of the cameras and with no room to use her normal run, that was hardly a surprise. Her presentation skills were very evident however, and while I'd rather see her running in with ball in hand, like the kiwis she had a good day.

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