Selectors and coaches will be poring over the evidence of the first two rounds of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. But from now until the closing stages the cream of the crop will return to the England bubble, making the result depend on performances from the people who really matter, the players forming the great bulk of first-class cricket across the country.
Here are a few thoughts on the way the first eight matches panned out.
‘I’m a Professional’
This is the biggest gain of all. A large number of players have had their careers changed for the better by receiving retainers or contracts. They have a double effect: relieving pressure of lives lived on two fronts, earning a crust and playing cricket; and giving the recipients the reassurance that the talents are being recognised.
Splitting the country into eight regional hubs was a necessary step towards building a stronger pathway from beginners to elite. The final distribution of players has brought some surprises.
Eve Jones, the Lancashire captain in the Kia Super League, has moved down to Birmingham and finds herself captain of the Central Sparks. Have Sparks got an unfair advantage in boasting both an Arlott and a Boycott on their strength? Who would have imagined both Jenny Gunn and Linsey Smith turning out against Lightning for Northern Diamonds? Nat Sciver has joined the Diamonds, no doubt for family reasons. Susie Rowe’s return to arms after a lengthy break is a big plus for Stars as well as Kent. Tammy Beaumont was sent north to Loughborough, her alma mater, to join Lightning.
One of the weaknesses of the KSL was the authority’s inability to construct six franchises of similar strength. Under the present system two new groupings had to be built. They have become Central Sparks, based in Birmingham, and Sunrisers from Chelmsford. At first glance the Easterners looked vulnerable, and so it has proved thus far. They did well to top 200 in both rounds, but couldn’t hold the opposition when in the field. Their chance comes in the next rounds as they lose few players to the England squad. It was important for the competition that Vipers proved the mighty Storm were beatable.
The most experienced members of the eight franchises will earn their corn from now on. They include such leading figures as Georgia Adams, Tash Farrant and Fi Morris, but the younger generation have the chance to really show their mettle.
The Top Billings
England’s star players won’t be seen again till the final stages. It’s unwelcome news for Diamonds, for whom Brunt and Sciver have produced the all-important figures, plus an array of England bowlers waiting their turn. Likewise Storm will have to prove they can mount big scores without the England skipper showing the way. Anya Shrubsole made a welcome return from serious injury for one match, but her analysis (9-1-31-0) reminds the young pretenders, Issy Wong and Lauren Bell, that they must seize their chance. Wong demolished Sparks’ top order, finishing with 3-26.
The Lack of young Batters
Batting coaches will be delighted to see nine totals over 200, topped by Stars’ 289. But most of them came from well-known sources, Nat Sciver leading the way with the sole century (104), then Sophia Dunkley 97, Lauren Winfield 72, Danni Wyatt 66 and 53 and Tammy Beaumont 52 – and less predictable but very welcome: Mady Villiers 64, Sophie Ecclestone 60* and Kate Cross 45.
The biggest worry remains the lack of top-quality batting among the younger generation. I pointed out last summer that every one of England’s first-choice batters date back at least to 2013. This was Lisa Keightley’s first batting order (1-8) after taking over from Mark Robinson: Amy Jones, Danni Wyatt, Nat Sciver, Heather Knight, Fran Wilson, Katherine Brunt, Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield.
That is no recipe for progress.
Of the newer faces one to shine was the younger Bryce sister Sarah, who posted two confident fifties. She outpaced Beaumont against Diamonds at Chester-le-Street, the Kent pair putting on 117. Then the familiar pattern set in; Lightning’s run-rate dropped alarmingly as the later order could do little more than drop a bat on the ball.
Other major contributors from outside the pale included Amara Carr (aged 26) with a splendid 99 and Marie Kelly (aged 24) with 59. How the selectors must wish for a teenager to step up and knock a cool hundred. Memories of Sarah Taylor.
Storm’s second round innings shows the problem: after a powerful stand of 130 by Heather Knight and Sophie Luff, the rest of the innings fell away. They lost the next 7 wickets for 31 runs. Stars showed how the job should be done. After Dunkley and Davidson-Richards put on 123 the experienced Rowe and Farrant added 76 more between them.
The white ball
The white kookaburra is a major culprit on the scene. What a pathetic example of the cricket ball it is. Little movement available from it, little grip, and they’re all identical, thanks to their machine production-line. They serve to make the batter’s job much easier, though it’s the bowlers who need the support.
1. Variations in Livestream Offerings
Multiple cameras, individually manned
Adjustable remote-controlled cameras
Two fixed remote-controlled cameras
Commentary: either in sync with the action; or out of sync
We all know which options we prefer.
You have to wonder whether there is quality control over commentary on women’s cricket. You don’t expect to hear an experienced commentator and ex-County pro start with: ‘the Rachael Heyhoe Flint trophy – that’s a mouthful!’ as if he’d hardly heard of Baroness Flint. Nor another one who added multiple ‘sort ofs’ to every sentence.
Some have clued themselves up excellently on biographies and background, so they can pick out players as they come and go. Others haven’t bothered.
With many games livestreamed without audio, it seems a crying shame when you have turn the sound down to avoid a third-rate performance.
3. Stats Cards
These can be very useful and revealing, but it would help if the bowling analyses were allowed longer on screen and if the occasional card didn’t blank the view of a new over starting.
Current Standings after 2 rounds:
North Group Points
Northern Diamonds 9
Central Sparks 4
Southern Vipers 9
South East Stars 5
Western Storm 5