A Ramble on Women's Cricket
Previous Page (A Few Thoughts on England v Pakistan)
First Kia Super League Concludes
Much will have been written about this tournament by the time you read this, but if you are a regular visitor you will know that I don't (as a rule anyway) rush to judgement or to print. It may be a sign of advancing years but I find a little reflection can alter the perspective and opinions can slowly change .
From the 'positives' - and we all know how cricketers love to reflect on those in every interview so I may as well follow suit - the League can be said to have been a success in many respects. Firstly there have been far more 'bums on seats' than anyone I spoke to before this tournament kicked off, had expected. Figures around 500 were the favourite of those who are regular followers of the game and that 'guestimate' has been out by a factor of about two. Does it matter that many of the tickets may have been 'freebies'? Probably not. The test will come not this year but next when we see how many people will open their wallets to watch. I am assuming that fewer complimentaries will be around then, but I may be wrong.
But should you judge a tournament like this based on spectator numbers? Since cricket is a 'business' which in the end, and collectively of course, has to pay its own way, then the combination of gate money and other revenue streams could be said to be the only way to judge a success or failure, but, like all businesses, a new product may take some time to make an impression on 'the market'. The initial investment has been made by the ECB, and all credit to them. I hope in future years the product will sell well enough to become self sufficient or even a money earner. It could take time and during that period I hope they will keep ticket prices low, especially for juniors - £1 seems to me the perfect mark!
And on the pitch? Well I have watched eight games if you include the warm-up at the Ageas. I have seen some startling performances and even discovered that low scoring matches can be exciting - sorry you must be sick of that word by now - and, of course, I've watched cricket long enough to have known that already. Still, it remains true! There's nothing like a tight finish, whatever the scores, to get the blood racing.
We've also discovered that women don't need 'mickey-mouse' boundaries (as one watcher near me put it on one occasion) to score runs and make a game worth the watching. Indeed, the inability to run 2s let alone 3s rather detracts. There must have been more, but I can recall seeing only one three in the tournament and, not surprisingly, Sophie Luff was one of the batsmen involved. Peering down a telephoto lens means you get a very different view of the game, more akin to TV perhaps than sitting in a crowd. It's not unusual to ask the guy next to you "how was she out" to discover it was a c&b when your lens was pointing at the batsman and you were thinking "that's a fine shot". The same goes for the number of runs scored off any ball. But I digress...
So it's highlight time and that has to mean the Storm's Stafanie Taylor.
If I must pick one innings that will live in the memory from KSL16 it'll be her knock at Bristol. Unphased by the required run rate, and deliberately settling herself in, the final part of her innings was a whirlwind. 74 from 48 balls was the final tally and a 'not out' as she went over the line with 6,6,4. It revealed an enormous talent with both the bat and the brain.
I have been known to disagree with 'Player of the Tournament' choices before now, but I find it hard to think anyone can disagree with the panel on this one. I certainly don't! They must have sighed with relief at how easy the choice was.
The other big hitter this time around has been Nat Sciver, rattling the sight-screen on one occasion and hitting powerfully all around the wicket.
So if Taylor takes my batting award, as indeed she did the official one, how about the poor bowlers, for whom this sort of cricket was not really designed? Well this is what CRICKETher made of them. Note the italics at the foot of the table to see how they were derived. Linsey Smith's numbers are remarkable, more especially perhaps as she was a replacement for an injured player, a fact that caused a slight controversy in some quarters who felt that since the Vipers already had a number of players warming the bench they should have been played instead. Now this is not Linsey's fault and I stress that strongly. She was given a chance and boy she took it! In answering that criticism, I made the point that the fault (if any) lies with the Vipers' selectors who should have picked her in the first place... Perhaps they will next year!
If you are going to be harsh, and I'm not, then she would have to share the spoils with Hayley Matthews and Anya Shrubsole.
How about the fielding. Not as easy a one to judge overall although the single performance of the tournament, as a team, must go to the West, who managed so remarkably in their match against Lancashire at Taunton. In fact I remarked to anyone who'd listen that I thought it was the best team performance in this regard I'd seen since starting to watch this sport more than 20 years ago. I am going, rather illogically and perhaps unfairly to others, pick my 'Catch of the Tournament' from this match. Why do I say it's unfair to others? Well there were other remarkably fine catches in this game, including a caught and bowled by the England captain that could easily have cost her broken fingers. But I'm handing my prize to Cait O'Keefe, at least partly, on the totally illogical principle that because I can't really decide between several, the prize goes to the player who never had a chance to show her worth with bat or ball or to distinguish herself in any other way despite playing at every opportunity..
What a picture like this can never show you is how much ground Cait had to make. Take it from me, it involved a long and speedy sprint. One thing that will be apparent to anyone who has fielded out there near the rope, is that at no point was Cait ever in line with the flight of the ball. It was always travelling to the side of her. To a non-cricketer it might have looked rather simpler than those who have tried it will know it really was!
I also intend to nominate my "Ground of the Tournament". It has to be Guildford. The reasons? Well it was one of several where you could obtain an ice cream - thank you, Waitrose - and I'd mark down those grounds where that was not an option. Rather more importantly, from a cricketing perspective, the game there had an intimate feel about it. These huge bowls are fine, and I know every players wants to say "I played at......." but for spectators the game is relatively distant, and the large array of empty seats even when good crowds turn out for the match, are somewhat intimidating. These are my awards don't forget - and Guildford takes top spot for me. I also liked the BBC TMS team sat behind their table, out in the open, close to the boundary edge. It intrigued many of the passers-by. So many press boxes, with their glass fronts, can be sterile, if necessary places. If you are a journalist, or a photographer on a tight deadline, you need the extra quiet, a desk and good wi-fi in order to work - that's fine - but TMS on the boundary - I thought that was great.
Having looked at the 'positives' I feel, as a matter of balance, I should mention a few less favourable points, some rather more significant than others, including some you will have heard before.
Firstly, and to climb back on a hobby-horse that I am afraid keeps appearing and asking to be ridden, if you are not Stafanie Taylor or Nat Sciver, I suggest you give 6s a miss. Please look back at your individual or team's record on these and see how many runs they gained versus how many catches they gave. It is not a ratio to cheer you up. I am not suggesting you don't go aerial! In fact Sarah Taylor is a master at clearing the in-field and taking 4 runs for her effort in a way that poses far less risk. My advice - practice your chip-shot. It is also an exciting shot for the spectator...
Secondly, and I know it's an obvious point, but often seems to get forgotten, you cannot judge a batsman who comes in with 9 balls to spare, in the same way you do an opener. It is almost inevitable that in virtually all cases the openers will have a lower strike but a high average, and a higher run aggregate too. The player who has 9 balls to play with and makes more than 9 runs has done a fine job - hang on to her!
Thirdly, while some boundaries were sensible, some were, as I've mentioned, what a spectator near me insisted on calling "Mickey Mouse". I know the reason why they were so set, but England proved in their series against Pakistan, you don't need 50 yard (or smaller) boundaries to score plenty of runs. And you can't always take at face value stated numbers for boundary sizes. A simple look at some photographs will show that two matches that were stated to have the same, were actually quite different. That 'Sky' commentator, Paul Allott, who makes the most odd suggestions on how the women's game should be changed, shows that those not familiar with the sport don't realise that women can actually hit a cricket ball, and very hard at that. Have I spelt his name right - I confess I haven't checked - not least because his mispronunciation of the players' names rankles with me. So I've done as much 'homework' as it would seem he does. A shorter length of wicket, one of his suggestions, would be not just a nightmare for groundsmen, who I have had to remind a time or two that the circle in limited-overs games is not the same as the men's, but would distort the game beyond recognition. Many women play for men's teams too. Can you imagine trying to bowl on a 22 yard wicket one day and heaven only knows what length the next? Are we to have shorter tennis courts for women's matches maybe? Not sure what Wimbledon would make of that... Still cricket has always had its eccentrics.
What of Finals' Day and one where the turn-out was below that we expect at "Fortress Chelmsford"? The planning here seems to have gone a little awry. Firstly there was a huge music festival on near the town. That might well have sucked some potential watchers away, and others may have felt they would not venture forth if roads were likely to be a nightmare. In fact traffic provided no problem. While discussing this during the match, a spectator in front of me turned and said "it's also the day when Ipswich play Norwich which some round here regard as a local derby." Was it the poor pre-sales (or so it was reported) that meant few sales outlets were open and those that were - well the only one I found near my seat anyway - had long queues every time I checked. Do I want to miss more than 15 minutes play trying to get a drink or something to eat? No, I don't! While two matches in the day was a bargain, the problems did take some of the gloss off the occasion. I did however have the pleasure of meeting up with someone I had seen only briefly since 2005 and the South Africa hosted World Cup. It was great to catch up.
And so to what I am going to call KSL17. I know the powers that be will probably call it 'KSL 2' but this way I don't have to worry about which year's archive I go hunting in for particular images. You know what I'll mean - and as one US professor once wrote to me "the point of language is to convey meaning". He did add however that his keyboard sometimes took a different view. 2017 will be an interesting year. The World Cup looms and I'm looking forward to pointing my lens at teams I rarely see - Sri Lanka perhaps and the very powerful hitters of the West Indies. Rumours abound that the 50-over section of KSL17 will be played before the World Cup, rather obviously to give England players a chance to warm-up in the format they will have to contest. However this has set a real conundrum for the coaches of sides like Australia, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand. They can look at this in two completely different ways...
Firstly they may consider that here is an opportunity to give a few of their players - and, of course it would be only a few - a warm-up in the type of conditions in which WC17 (notice what I've done there?) will be played. The rest of the squad would have to prepare without the 'big' names.
Secondly they might consider that they need all their players together to train and prepare. The result of that would be, of course, that KSL17 is denuded of most (perhaps in the worst case scenario - all) of its stars other than those about to don their England shirts. In that eventuality, KSL17 begins to look remarkably like Div 1 of the County Championship. There's an interesting thought... especially to those who suggested an easier way to start the KSL in the first place was to give the cash and the overseas players to Div 1 counties.
I await with bated breath which route the overseas coaches choose to go. Whichever it is I'll be on a boundary somewhere following one KSL team or another (with Sussex players in four teams this year I have had no natural 'home'), looking forward to a high quality of cricket as the KSL has so far provided, and indeed the County Championship does too, a matter being largely forgotten recently. It seems, if the overseas stay away, it's a little too early to airbrush out what will in effect be a County Championship by another name.
I am starting to adopt a mantra it seems. One of my favourite radio personalities always used to finish his programmes with "if you have been, thanks for listening". Looks like mine is becoming "we must wait and see".