2006 Reviewed

A Ramble - with diversions - through 2006

Play!

I see no reason not to start this year's review with the same caution mentioned many times previously. Anyone who has visited this site for a while will know that in the main I refrain from editorial comment during the season, and indeed during most of the year. It's not that I don't have opinions (too many some might well say!) but simply that I feel most visitors want to learn what's happening in the game and take a look at the one aspect that I can cover rather better than others on the web, and that's in the pictorial department. However, once a year I feel entitled (it is my site after all!) to sound off on the last twelve months with my opinions on what seems significant both in the format of the game and those playing it. This also has the advantage that if I inadvertently offend anyone, and that's never my intention, they have a few months to cool down before I meet them on a boundary somewhere <g>!
And that should be the end of any (major) sense of deja vue!
And so my thoughts about 2006 and, if I may borrow the title of a Radio 4 comedy programme, "In no particular order".

Representing Your Country

[Anjum Chopra]
Surely there is no doubt that representing your country is the highest accolade any sportsman can aspire to. Olympic medalists wrap themselves in their country's flag and national team event clothing is usually in colours taken from the same source. Few however show such respect at the beginning of each game as Anjum Chopra shown here before taking the field at Shenley during the summer. She performs a small ritual, perhaps partly for religious reasons, perhaps partly as a superstition - something most cricketers have - here alternately pressing her country's cap to her lips and then her heart. I have not seen this repeated by anyone else. This type of open display is not one I would expect to see any English player use, but this is a cultural difference and not one indicating any less pride in their position. Although she has played many matches it would seem the knowledge of the honour done her in representing India has not disappeared, and I find that very refreshing.

A New England Captain[Charlotte Edwards]

Charlotte Edwards made her first series appearance on home soil as the captain. A 4-0 success in the one-days must have been very satisfying even if the loss of the 2nd Test at the new home of the women's game must have been equally disappointing. In the Taunton game the dismal batting performance in the first innings, admittedly against one of the world's finest bowlers, meant the match looked as if it was over very early on. In the end, a slow batting performance by the visitors made one wonder if they really wanted to win. However, the tactic worked and despite a fine century by the England captain (celebrating above right) and stubborn resistance from many players (check the times at the crease rather than the scores) came close to saving the day. But it was not to be and India celebrated their first victory in a Test against England. The first Test at Leicester could so easily have proved a victory for the home side. The disappointment here was the small crowd in spite of the efforts made by the ECB to inform the local community, many of whom are of Indian ethnic origin of course, about the fixture.
[Claire Taylor]The first of the one-days, played at Lord's, provided the innings of the summer. Claire Taylor's (left) record breaking 156* from just 151 balls was truly amazing. Anyone who can break a record set by a certain I.V.I. Richards has to be rather more than special. And what a venue to do it! And a good crowd too! Can she possibly top that in the rest of her career? Unfortunately the chances of many more matches at Lord's are near zero, but what a high point to look back on whatever the future brings! 
A rather strange  statistic occurred during the Lord's match. Mithali Raj was not only dismissed on the 111th ball of her innings but on the 111th ball of the partnership ... maybe Nelson is not just for the English ... have the Indians ever heard of him I wonder.
[More on the Lord's game later].
The second ODI at Shenley was washed out as you will know. The games of 'backyard' cricket that evolved however proved highly entertaining, especially Isa Guha's knack of calling a very late no-ball - bowled from too far in front of the picnic hamper presumably - when any youngster lost their wicket on the first ball. Now that's the kind of umpiring I can fully support even if Isa was at one point so convulsed with laughter (see below ) I am not sure she could see what was going on! Sarah Taylor coached a row of close fielders in the art of bending knees and opening your hands to the batsman. Being confronted with half a dozen short extra covers must have been a little daunting. One of England's batsman (was it Laura Marsh? - I am trying to recall) proved so adept at batting left handed I wondered if a style change might be in the offing. 

[Sarah Taylor]

Sarah Taylor demonstrates  close fielding technique
... and the art of low-fives

[Sarah Taylor]

[Isa Guha & Beth Morgan]

[Isa Guha & Beth Morgan]

Isa Guha recovers from a fit of laughter to decide
Beth Morgan has overstepped the ice box.
Yes, Beth - that one ...

It's not just policemen that are getting younger!

[Sarah Taylor]The average age of the England side must be dropping like a stone. In the last season or two, younger players have shown they can hold their own at the highest level. Into the squad this year comes Sarah Taylor (right) who showed immediately that she did not look out of place either with a bat in her hands, or wearing the keeper's gloves. England now have the good fortune to be able to call on two keepers of true international quality. The 4th ODI at Southampton also showed any Sky viewers that Sarah's talent with the bat should guarantee her an automatic place in the side whoever takes the gloves.
Somewhere I recall seeing that the average age of the current squad is just 23 1/2 years. Well it speaks well of the many unsung heroes who run junior cricket that youngsters are coming through so successfully.

And Representing your County
(and the 4s)

Uppingham and Oakham, this year's venue for the County Championships seemed to serve well enough. The grounds appeared somewhat more spread than those at Cambridge which gave rise to a few problems at the presentations. There have been some rumours circulating that the principle ground at Uppingham (the one with just one pitch) has been sold for housing. If true it is hard to think of the action as nothing short of vandalism. (Word has reached me that building has already started - I am reminded of the saying the decision makers in this case 'know the cost of everything and the value of nothing' since money can have been the only consideration.) Charlotte Edwards' splendid innings in the Super 4s on this ground (see later) shows what a reliable batting wicket it is, which, as regulars will know I have argued here before, is exactly what is required to fit players for the next level.  
The pitch at Oakham has, of course, been utilised for a County men's game so I guess there can't be a quarrel with the quality here although I have had mixed reports of some of the minor grounds in that vicinity.
Kent won the County title this year for the first time. Sussex men may have claimed their trophy this year but the girls couldn't follow suit as they had done a few years ago. A disappointing performance against the new County Champions settled the issue. It was a relief that weather did not interfere since the points table prior to the game was somewhat in dispute. Poor weather could have had some rather unpleasant repercussions, although I hope that would not have been the case. In the end the matter was settled where it should be - on the pitch! Kent were worthy winners.
But ... hell ... whatever anyone says it's not "Cambridge".
It seems we will we be in Taunton next year at the 'home of women's cricket'. I guess it would be a logical venue and with Kings College, Taunton Vale Sports Club, the County Ground etc. to call on it seems there may be enough pitches. I have some sympathy with players from the north travelling to this venue. It certainly can't be called central. 
This County tournament is surely the bed rock of the game, the next step on the ladder for club players, many hoping no doubt to join the Super 4s and ultimately England. Finding players in the absence of this competition would simply be impossible!!

A Controversial Report?

During the course of the ODI series during the summer, a report appeared on that well-known cricket site CricInfo. It stirred a few comments the day after it popped its head above the barricades. It was entitled "Not so Rosy at the Rosebowl". It was written following the 4th match in the series played ... well you don't need to be told where.
I was more than a little puzzled why the frowns appeared around the ground after its publication for much of what it contained seemed to gel with my feelings about the sport and I hope no one can contend I am not a total supporter (indeed addict) of the women's game. True Bob Willis' comment about "women being spoilt" by the venues was simply old grumpy doing his usual Eyore impression (see Winnie the Pooh if you need a reference), but we are all used to that surely. The author of the report, Jenny Thompson, then goes on to make the point that Lord's was rather special not only because Lord's always is, but because the free entrance and the excellent publicity brought in a crowd that was not only of reasonable size, especially considering the poor weather, but vociferously got behind the two teams. Sitting in the main stand provided an almost unique experience at a women's game and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Much praise must go to the Lord's authorities who regularly put up on the large screen during the men's Test Match played there a little earlier, an advert for this match. That screen carried the message of a free international match probably every 20 minutes or so. I am not the greatest admirer of a cult that tells me how to dress but I have to say well done to them this time for their work obviously paid off. If they were to host the match they patently wanted it to be a success and it certainly was.
So what of the hundred or two (was it really as few as 200?) that turned out at the Rosebowl? Well there are a number of things that might be said, all of which I suspect have more or less truth about them. Did the Rosebowl authorities give the forthcoming event the same publicity - I doubt it and if you know better do let me know? Were there public announcements on the PA during other matches at this venue? I doubt that too.
Did they offer it free? - no they certainly didn't! At 5 entrance and 7 for parking they provided a positive deterrent, the later charge being simply iniquitous ('rip-off' in common parlance might be a more accurate expression), when the ground has little or no public transport to reach it, and Jenny discovered a taxi from the railway station costs a tenner. I have no idea how much of the gate and parking money goes to the ground but some must surely. Would it not be in their best interests therefore to get as many "bums on seats" as possible? Or are they so awash with money selling tickets doesn't matter to them? Maybe they were ashamed to host a mere women's game....
I have no complaints about the entrance fee. Gill McConway has made the perfectly valid point that to make all matches free is to devalue the game. We have seen this season though that one free in a major and popular venue, well publicised, can bring in a decent crowd. Maybe it's an experiment worth repeating.
And if you have ever wondered, and I certainly had, what the view was like from that space ship in the sky known as the Lord's media centre, then I can tell you it is both different and in some ways disappointing. For the 15 minutes or so I was there a sense of intrigue and interest in the view from such a height turned to a desire for a more conventional view of the game. True the height means you can study the fielders' positions and the like more readily and I can see the advantage for the commentators in this angle, but it gave a slightly removed feel to the proceedings, almost as if you were watching the game on TV. Although my press pass would have allowed me to spend the day there I was very happy to take the camera back to the stands and the immediacy of having a crowd around me and the players relatively close by.
And by the way, the above does not signify that I agree with all Jenny types, any more than she is likely to agree with all I do. I mention the above report simply because my reading of it seemed to clash with those around me whose opinions I greatly value, and because the choice of venues for international games is not an easy one! I haven't even mentioned - until now - the factor that undoubtedly decides two of them - Sky TV. I have conveniently ignored it, but the ECB cannot and should not, proving once again it's much easier to criticise when you don't have to do the job yourself.

So where should 'we' go?

This leaves an interesting conundrum. What sort of ground gives the best impression of the women's game? Discounting Lord's as a special case, and one 'we' can't expect to repeat every season, then the game at Arundel seemed to me to have the best atmosphere. I have no idea of the size of the crowd (does anyone? - if so please let me know!) but it seemed busy. Perhaps I am biased by the fact it was a fine game of cricket and the countryside setting of one of the most attractive grounds in the country appeared perfect. Let's go there again - please! I swear the fact I live only about 45 minutes away by car hasn't swayed my conclusions - well not much anyway!
One idea that I kicked around with a few friends when I first heard several years ago that an international Twenty20 was in the offing was that it should be played as a curtain raiser to a men's county or international T20. It seems the idea has occurred to others and a recent press report in Australia is suggests Karen Rolton feels similarly. I'll be disappointed if those down under get there first but I'll certainly be keeping an eye to see what kind of crowd they get if they try the idea. I suspect it will make excellent publicity for the women's game.

Anyone tried the TMS message board?

As there seemed to be a number of message threads concerning women's cricket I decided to join. I posted three messages immediately and, a few hours later were told two had to be deleted as they were "unacceptable". This puzzled me. One was in a thread about Isa Guha. Many of the comments were more than a little flattering of her appearance and at least one included a URL to a picture of her. I posted another URL. This turned out to be "unacceptable". You are now possibly puzzling about what on earth Isa might have been doing that caused this picture to offend someone at the BBC. Well, in case you are wondering, she was fully clothed - in fact you can take a look for yourselves. Quite why this is unacceptable when another similar one wasn't is a puzzle that will presumably never be revealed.
The other message concerned the nickname for one member of the England squad. You will not have to struggle to guess who if I tell you that unpleasant and defamatory comments were being made about her private life. I gave the explanation of how it had, in fact, originated. Apparently scurrilous accusations are "acceptable" - my quotes this time - but my factual explanation was not. I can't see me returning anytime soon.
Anyway my attempts to quell or at least answer some of the sillier stuff about the women's game foundered but it seems the BBC are happy to let others post items which, were we all richer or lawyers, might well finish up in court.
I assume my third message was acceptable, but you may not be surprised to learn I have been quite unable to summon up the energy to find out ... 
The exercise seems, therefore, to be something of a 'busted flush' and if you're thinking of joining I wouldn't bother. Fortunately there are some excellent cricket newsgroups on the 'Net, with a majority of cricketers and supporters who know their sport, that I'd be happy to recommend if you are interested.

Anyone emailed TMS?

On the other hand this may well be worth a try. I have had one message read out - at least I think it was mine since the info was exactly what I had sent, but since no name was mentioned, someone else may have had the same ideas - in the same order...

My catch of the year

Now this is where I cheat as it has been the most difficult year ever for me to pick my favourite. When Sarah Taylor dived to her right to dismiss Charlotte Edwards in a Super 4s match at Reading, I was convinced that was it, and I really didn't need to look any further. I had never witnessed a wicket keeper take a catch quite like that in women's cricket before. But just to make life really difficult for me, Sarah pulled off a near identical feat only a couple of weeks later. I really can't decide which was the better of the two. I expressed my admiration to the umpire who was standing at square leg during the second incident. He said he had looked quickly at the bowler's umpire to see if the catch had been completed safely since Sarah had been diving away from him, only to see his colleague standing there with his mouth open. He wasn't the only one!
And then Alexia Walker decided to make the job even more difficult with a catch at the County Championships. I cannot recall who I was standing next to at the time but I remember remarking "She'll never get that" and actually swinging my camera away from the action. It was an over the shoulder (or perhaps more accurately over the back) catch which she can only have seen at the last split second having run full tilt away from the batsman. In my defence some of her team mates seemed as surprised as I was judging from the scale of the jubilation that followed.
And to make the job completely impossible Caroline Atkins takes a one-hander at the 2nd Test at Taunton which, I am reliably informed, had the umpires talking about it later in 'catch of the season' terms, and they see plenty of cricket! Jhulan Goswami didn't disgrace herself either, both at Lord's on the last ball of the England innings, and also at Taunton.
I am simply going to 'chicken out' of a decision at this point. If champagne was involved it would have to be a bottle for each! My wallet is grateful it isn't! A number of supporters, and indeed the press, have been saying how much fielding has improved in recent years. This has meant not only that we have started to take fielding that would have been remarked upon a few seasons ago for granted, but exceptional catching is starting to appear rather more often. For years an exception to the rule in her days with England, would Kathy Leng look more like an average slip today? (maybe...  but I suspect she wouldn't! - I have seen some remarkable catches by the Lengster that stick in my memory).

... and Best Bowling

Charlotte Burton's (left) 6-10 at the County Championships must be one of the most remarkable performances ever in that tournament and may well be a tournament record. I am not sure the records are in a sufficiently pristine state to be able to tell, but if anyone knows of a better set of figures do let me know. I suspect Charlotte would have preferred holding the silverware at the end of the tournament but it still gives one Sussex player something special to remember the 2006 'Counties' by..

... with the Bat

This season I saw one of the more remarkable scoreboards I have seen in many a year. Charlotte Edwards' 199* in a 50-over match was a quite astonishing knock. It's worth recalling when comparing it with other large totals made in the past that the only larger 50-over score I am aware of was made against a much weaker bowling attack. The Super 4s tournament is based on the best 48 (or so) players in the UK. With Claire Taylor's amazing knock at Lord's it has been quite a year for high scoring. Charlotte's 199* is one of the more remarkable innings I have seen in any Super 4s or anywhere else for that matter. Starting as she always does playing her usual elegant game, it seemed to become more and more powerful as time went on. No one was able to control her in the slightest and no matter where you set the boundary riders, she found the gaps. Made off just 151 balls in 181 minutes with 29 fours it was an innings to cherish! I really wish I had had a video camera to record this one. Claire Taylor reached her 100 in the same match in less time than Charlotte did (73 balls to 96). I certainly didn't realise that until the scorer mentioned it. That means, of course, that the latter half of Edwards' innings was made up of 99* runs off just 55 balls. You never had time to feel, as perhaps you should have, sympathy for the bowlers! I suspect that even the fielding side may have had some sympathy for Charlotte when the last ball fell just short of the boundary so the 200 wasn't passed.
[Charlotte Edwards  Don Miles]
I have been saying for some years that the most impressive innings I have seen at top level in the women's game was Lisa Keightley's century at Lord's in an ODI back in the 1990s. Now I will certainly have to amend that opinion. But which of the two mentioned in this monologue should I now place at the top of the list? It would be churlish to even try to choose. Will either record be broken in the next decade or two? I have my doubts....

Ramsey

At the end of the season I travelled in most relaxed company to Ramsey in Huntingdon for a charity match organised by Charlotte Edwards. In memory of her father who had died earlier that year, the proceeds were to go to the Macmillan Nurses, who do so much to care for cancer sufferers. It was a splendid day. Early rain relented and the England girls took on a side in a T20 match that appeared to be composed mainly of local cricketers. It ended satisfyingly in a tie (at least I think it did ... the scoreboard seemed as relaxed as everyone else ... and on my way past it I several times helped out with the names of some of the players in the England side). Local Cambridgeshire girl Natalie Cowan (below right) joined the girls and took the gloves for a while. I am told she keeps for the Cambridgeshire U15 girls. I guess it will be a day she'll not forget. 
[Natalie Cowan  Don Miles]
After a lengthy lunch, there was an auction of various memorabilia which included the unlikely sight of Ashley Giles bidding for a Kevin Pietersen signed bat. I would have thought he could have one of those for the asking any time. Could he have been simply running up a few prices - surely not!
The second T20 in the afternoon showed off the stars of the day including the 6ft 10-inch Will Jefferson, Phil Tufnell, Nick Knight, Darren Maddy et al. They were joined by women stars, Clare Taylor and Emily Drumm. 
The England girls appeared to win with Jenny Gunn hitting a six of the last ball, but again the result seemed the least important aspect of the match.
It was great to see such a large crowd and newspapers have reported the amount raised for the charity topped the five figure mark.
And overheard during the day ...
Spectator to England fielder near the boundary: "You've got 14 fielders out there!"
Player: "How much have you drunk?

2006 Ramble Part 2