Source: Don Miles

A look back at the Kia Super League

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My thoughts on the KSL Set-up 2018 – The Biggest Question

If it ain’t broke…

The ECB is giving serious consideration to abandoning the Kia Super League after three seasons’ existence in favour of a much-debated 100-ball contest. The supposed advantages of the change include: pairing the women’s game off with the men’s; increased live coverage and a type of game better suited to the supposed 10-second attention span of the modern populace. A new audience would be attracted to the game.

With this 20-ton pendulum swinging just above our heads, we can attempt an assessment of the KSL as it unfolded during the blissful high summer of 2018.

The Aim

The Kia Super League was set up in 2016 to raise the profile of women’s cricket, to raise the standard of English women cricketers and to bring together the best players in women’s world cricket. (Compare and contrast Tyrrells Premier 15s League in Women’s Rugby)

Mark Robinson, England’s Head Coach, said before the start of the 2018 season that he wanted his own players to determine the outcome of matches. Not easy when the six franchises import some of the best players in the known world to compete with them. They aren’t going to be placed 8, 9 and 10 in the batting order or be seventh change in the bowling line-up.

The Method

In July 2017 the ECB abandoned its plan to add a similar 50-over competition to the KSL. In the longer term, women’s cricket can only expand and improve if that nettle is grasped. The England captain herself would love to play more test cricket. In the last twelve years Sarah Taylor has mustered a mere 9 tests; her predecessor as England’s wicket-keeper, Jane Smit (Cassar), played in 21 tests over a fourteen-year period.

T20 games were ordained. That means there is far less scope for all eleven players to make their mark. Each squad is a blend of three England players, three Overseas stars, England Academy players and the best of the rest at County level. If few England-qualified players are deemed worthy of a place above No 5 in the order, then their chances of reaching the batting crease are low. And when they do, how many overs will be left?  If their task is to clout every ball of the remaining 1.3 overs for 6 or play tip-and-run, then any thoughts of player-development fly out of the window.

A typical 2018 line-up of first 4 batters in each franchise (Overseas players in bold):

DIAMONDS

LIGHTNING

STARS

STORM

THUNDER

VIPERS

Winfield

Devine

Smith

Priest

Jones E.

Bates

Mooney

Haynes

Lee

Mandhana

Satterthwaite

Wyatt

Athapaththu

Jones A.

Taylor

Knight

Bolton

Beaumont

Beaumont

Villani

Sciver

Taylor

Kaur

du Preez

That is: 3 sides had 3 Overseas players in the Top 4; 2 had 2; 1 (Stars) had 1 and they went on to win the Tournament.

Put another way: of 24 leading batters, 14 were Overseas players; 1 was England-qualified but has not played for her country (Eve Jones. Lancashire’s captain). Of the remaining 9 England players only 5 were consistent first-choices this summer.

A random example of the squeezing-out of home-grown players:

Alice Davidson-Richards comes in at No 7 for Diamonds against Storm, with 2 balls left. Before her, overseas players occupied three of the six places and scored 95 of the total of 172-5 (Thank goodness for Lauren Winfield with her 48 off 45 balls!)  ADR normally bats 4-5 for them.

Is there any difference in treatment of Overseas and home-grown players when they fail to score runs or get hit out of the park?  On 22 July Delissa Kimmince v Storm returned an analysis:  2-0-38-0.

On 5 August she was brought on as 1st change in the return match: 1-0-21-0.

She is Australian.

A few drawbacks of the abbreviated game:

One batter can all too easily dominate proceedings; two bats in one big stand are usually enough to claim the champagne. Hardly one bowler can claim to have won the match for her side by taking an avalanche (4+) of wickets at minimal cost.

In a game of 200-balls breadth, this tendency would be even more exaggerated.

How many field-catches close to the wicket were spectators allowed to see? – none?

How many maidens were bowled? – eight!

There are 15 players in each squad. With an extended fixture-list in 2018 – all played each other home and away – there was a higher chance that players 12-15 would occasionally get the nod. But did they? Some players didn’t appear at all.

We can talk about steep learning curves for young English players hoping one day to catch the selector’s eye, but their chances of showing their mettle are severely restricted. The Royal London One-dayers gave a more reliable indication of their worth.

On the ECB’s generous video clips we see time after time: ‘A bowls to B…4 runs’. The sequence becomes monotonous through repetition.

The Bowler’s lot

How can bowlers improve when they are allocated only 4 overs which are, as often as not, delivered in 4 spells? Philip Tufnell has been heard to say: ‘We’re always straining at the leash [to bowl]’. If they concentrate on bowling as tightly as possible for 24 deliveries, how do they readjust to the challenge of bowling 60 in 50-overs match with a completely different field-setting – or considerably more, if test matches were even to reappear? (Laura Marsh once bowled 44 overs in an innings and lived to tell the tale.) Some of us are old enough to remember when bowlers got through 1000 overs in a season.

Of course, if bowlers were allowed unlimited access to the ball, even fewer of them would have the chance to participate positively in the game. Another black mark against the T20 format.

Every bowler has to learn to deliver a ball, then watch as it’s slogged to a far corner of the field  – without adopting the teapot stance.  Shrugged shoulders not welcome. Even Katherine Brunt, the only bowler to take 5 wickets in an innings, suffered this frequently. One of the equal-top wicket-takers after Round 5, Tash Farrant, was slaughtered at 10+rpo on occasion.

Victory can too often depend on one bowler delivering one, occasionally two economical overs (Shrubsole/Kerr/Kapp). Is that what cricket was supposed to represent?

As for the 200-ball feast: if straightforward arithmetic is employed, the traditional five bowlers would be offered 20 balls each, that is 3 overs and two balls. Of course, an over doesn’t have to consist of 6 balls. The number has varied between 4 and 8 in recorded history. 5-ball overs are the favoured option at present, it seems. Metric wins out over imperial.

By the end of the 2018 series the average run-rate had increased to the highest ever in women’s world-wide T20 competitions – 7.47. The 2017 level was a mere 6.57. where will this all lead? Serious consideration should be given to the ball that is used. Neither of the two major manufacturers have succeeded in giving the white ball the same range of characteristics as the red one – the pink one is still in nappies.

In every game there has been fine bowling on view, in most of its recognised guises. Defenders of the status quo will point to the lack of consistency in the bowling: a sequence of accurate deliveries is all too often interrupted by a rank long-hop or full-toss. But we are left wondering what would have happened if all these games had been played with the red Duke’s ball or its exact replica painted white.

The continuing improvements in playing standards:

Catches in the deep, boundary dives, powerful hitting, wicket-keeping, throwing (the greatest improvement of all!). They contrast starkly with bowling skills. Occasional successes mask the pasting that bowlers of every type have suffered. What is the gain for a young bowler being offered one over by a (am I guessing?) desperate captain and getting tanned for 26 by an international player? Is the response ‘Get over it. Go back to the nets and work harder’?

Dismissals:

Eight arbitrarily chosen totals from this season:

174-3

172-5

172-6

174-7

154-3

175-5

85-2 (6 overs)

67-0 (6 overs)

These include no fewer than 11 run-outs, that is, over a third of the total.

The most frequent methods of dismissal by bowlers include: catches in the deep (many outstandingly good); stumpings as batters go for broke; clean bowled as batters reject technique (the straight bat) in the chase for quick runs.

The stumpings tell a confused story. The standard of keeping is generally very high. The standard of batters’ footwork against spin bowling is much weaker – especially against a quality wrist-spinner (Kerr/van Niekerk). Up the creek without a paddle. Sarah Taylor’s vast haul of stumpings is all the proof needed. But she herself was stumped twice in the course of the competition!

Questions

1. Why did the ECB say no to 50-over matches?

Comparison with its nearest 50-over equivalent:

The English Counties’ Royal London One-Day Cup competition is highly organised and spreads across the entire country, arranged in three divisions and seven groups.

Eight counties comprise Division One and play each other once. That means that distinguished players such as the England captain and the leading wicket-keeper in the world currently play in Division Two.

A few Overseas players fill up the ranks, but not so persistently as in the KSL. Two sides are relegated and two promoted each year, which leaves little room for failure.

The competition’s relative importance to the ECB was reflected adversely in the final round of matches played in Division One in early June. Kent lying third met Somerset in bottom place at Canterbury. This promised to be a battle of the giants: Shrubsole versus Beaumont and Marsh. But no, they were called away, allegedly, to take part in an England warm-up session for the coming tri-series. No matter that with more forethought these preparations might have been fixed for another occasion. The crucial final games in the top division were debased.

The competition’s relative importance to the ECB is far more positive in another regard: it is the clear pathway to England selection for its own 50-over games, which are now organised on the basis of a  world-wide competition.

2. Who does the KSL competition favour more, home-grown or Overseas players?

The Overseas dominate most of the time. They comprise 3/11 of every team. They are rarely if ever discarded as reserves. Current England players are also spread round the franchises but not all of them are automatic choices (Hartley, Winfield, George etc). This is inevitable. While the imports will all be first choices in their homelands, only 11 can represent England at a time. (Contrast rugby’s 23!)

This year the six franchises opted mainly for batting imports. It wasn’t a prime requirement for them to strengthen England’s chances, but it should have been possible for the regulations to specify the type of Overseas player signed up, for example, two specialist batters, one specialist bowler. The statistics below paint the picture.

In the men’s game there are concerns about the increasing percentage of home wins in test matches. Players have little chance of preparing for unfamiliar conditions on tour before facing the music. In the women’s game, eighteen Overseas players have had the chance to adjust to English conditions (drought, downpour). The imbalance would be redressed if all England players were all assured of reciprocal arrangements.

3. By what criteria are England players allocated to the six franchises?

Many are self-explanatory, but some baffling decisions remain. When Charlotte Edwards retired, it was decreed that Tammy Beaumont, her successor as Kent captain, would replace her at Southern Vipers to bolster their batting chances. Why? Why not send her north to help out Lancashire Thunder, who were in more obvious need of sustenance? Sarah Taylor was moving back south, and Thunder had one victory to show in two seasons.  Furthermore, Beaumont captained the Stars, but would take a back seat at her new abode.

Personal preferences must be seriously considered. Not everyone wants to be linked to a franchise based hundreds of miles from home. Should it have been necessary to send an England hopeful, Alice Davidson-Richards, from Tunbridge Wells to Leeds to pursue her ambitions for advancement? And it seems odd to find Sarah Taylor, even after her return south from Lancashire, turning out twice at her beloved home ground, Hove, for the visiting team.

The repeated switching of players from team to team cannot possibly help the togetherness that all coaches and captains long for. The 2018 results did show greater equality in strength between the six franchises. All achieved at least two wins and suffered at least three losses. But if the KSL is allowed to survive, how many more player-transfers are likely to occur? The fewer, the better.

4. A case of the Leaders and the Led?

‘Making up the numbers’. (Contrast men’s T20 games; all have a closely defined role)

In every game there are four squad members whose main job is to sprint refreshment on to the field. But worse, there are junior players whose role is so subservient that, if they are lucky enough to be included in the XI, they do little more than bat in the 19th/20th over as the wickets tumble in a headlong rush.

Any ambitious youngster admitted to this level of expertise will be delighted. But should her role be (almost) entirely passive?

Should DoCs and Head Coaches have been instructed to ensure that all fifteen players are allowed a certain number of games in the season? Sadly, even if that happened, they would in all probability not be invited to bowl and be placed at No 10 or 11 in the batting order – unless certain levels of input were required (say, minimum two overs bowled, batting position no lower than 6)

With no other meaningful women’s cricket in operation during the KSL programme (late July and August), these outsiders had no chance to practise their skills.

This is at best osmosis.

5. Can the KSL learn from a comparison with the situation in Women’s Rugby?

The two games are strikingly different in nature, but it is rewarding to contrast the way in which the two authorities, the ECB and the RFU, have gone about spreading the good word.

Both opted for what are essentially franchises, rugby 10, cricket 6. The contrast in these two numbers may in itself be indicative of the relative strength of the two games. The rugby competition lasts the entire season (with a 2-month break for the 6 Nations); the KSL a month and two days. Cricket decided to encourage the best non-English players to take part, rugby didn’t. The many foreign players competing in the newly-established Tyrrells League excluded the very best, (New Zealand, with one late exception). Instead they come from the USA, Hungary, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France (1 player), Sweden…

Each rugby franchise needs to field 22 players per game, and must run two sides. These are demands way beyond the compass of their cricketing equivalents.

In stark contrast, many of the top world players have dominated the KSL (Haynes, Mandhana, Lee, Kapp, van Niekerk, Bates, etc, etc.) A fascinating question is why? Did the ECB fear that general standards would not be high enough without that amount of foreign input?

The KSL takes the lead in terms of live coverage. Sky plays a major role and BBC Live Sports Extra offers commentaries. In 2017-18 the Tyrrells got two Sky visits plus occasional livestreaming.

The ECB was lucky to avoid the major ructions caused by the RFU’s choice of its ten franchises – it came to heated national debate.

6. Are the priorities right?

Presumably, ECB’s priorities in setting up this competition put the future of England Women’s cricket at the head of the list. Is the balance right? Almost certainly not. Overseas players hold sway far too often. Why three per team? Why not two? Then they would not  dominate games as persistently as they do at present. And the money saved on their expenses could be redirected to the native game.

Many matches have been exciting, several unpredictable; that is in the nature of the beast. They have been watched by ever larger crowds. But as with all games of this length, they are forgotten as quickly as they are played out.

Bowlers should be honoured, not treated as cannon-fodder. Their role should be to take wickets and deny runs, not just to deny runs. No Head Coach should need to say to his charges: ‘If you go for less than’ – let’s guess – ‘8 per over, you’ve done well.’ With the proposed introduction of an even shorter game, bowlers will be even further reduced in stature. It has been sad watching great practitioners such as Sophie Devine and Katherine Brunt being regularly flogged all round the park.

We should be looking to advance the other end of the cricketing spectrum for all its worth. Women’s tests are close to extinction. The ICC should be striving to advance that side of game, the best formula we have. The introduction of a 50-over competition one notch higher than the current Royal London One-day Cup would be a first step in the right direction.

Some raw stats after the group stages (as of 16 August 2018)

Overseas players in bold

Batting Records

Most runs

Highest strike-rate

Highest score

Mandhana 421

Mandhana 174

Mandhana 102

Haynes 307

Devine 146

Knight   97

Satterthwaite 277

Lee 141

Sciver     95*

Bates 245

Mooney 138

Satterthwaite   85

Winfield 205

Beaumont 127

Bates   82

Bowling Records

Most wickets

Best bowling

Best RPO

Best Average

Devine/Gordon    16

Brunt        5-26

Brunt         5.42

Gordon      11.38

Ecclestone       15

Lamb       4-17

Kapp         5.52

Brunt       13.20

Lamb/Levick       11

Ecclestone 4-20

Gordon         5.68

Devine      13.88

Farrant       10

Morris       4-22

Bell         6.09

Gunn         14.54

Kapp/Sciver/v Niekerk   8

Sciver        4-32

Ecclestone   6.59

Ecc’stone  15.40

Nicholas.                7

Gunn       3-10

Nicholas       6.69

v Niekerk 16.00

Overall

Average run-rate 7.44 rpo

Runs per wicket 22.18

Average 1st innings total 139.32

11 wins batting 1st

17 wins chasing

Only Lightning and Storm had a net run-rate above zero

With thanks to hypocaust @_hypocaust for the basic stats, imperfectly transposed

Implications:

Overseas players dominate the batting places. Most of them were signed up for their batting pedigree, though nearly all can turn their arm over, Sophie Devine foremost. The only English players to appear are all established internationals; no new face has emerged to demand a place in Mark Robinson’s next selection purely on her batting.

The reverse is true of the bowling stakes. While two outstanding performances came from Overseas players, Devine and Marizanne Kapp, all the other major contributors were British.

It’s good to see youngsters appearing in all four columns of the bowling stats. The Scot, Kirstie Gordon, had several fine spells and made an impression in high places by clean bowling the England skipper; Sophie Ecclestone is a known threat; Emma Lamb’s bowling is coming on to match her earlier batting record in quality; Lauren Bell replaced injured quicks (Farrant, George) and made a positive impression. Claire Nicholas led the way for Wales with some excellent spin bowling.

But by their very function in T20 cricket, the bowlers’ union had to suffer huge indignities as they were flogged to all parts of the parish.

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