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Cricket – 2021 – A look backwards and forwards

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Last year, trackless wastes. This year, a valley of plenty

Women cricketers in this country have experienced more cricket in a single season than ever before. Delighted as they were to see the worst of the pandemic pass by, they must have felt quite weary as September ended like the proverbial Indian summer.

The key to 2021 was The Hundred. For something that started life as an afterthought, a mere add-on to the men’s version, it turned into a game-changer for women’s cricket. From the all-lights-flashing at the Oval on the first evening to the packed Lord’s crowd for the final it exceeded all expectations in its coverage and public support.

The new structure for women’s cricket really bore fruit. The two new(ish) competitions were successfully completed, the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy (50 overs) and the Charlotte Edwards Cup (20 overs).

Both India and New Zealand came visiting to keep England’s elite players on their toes.

Media coverage extended even further than before with television, radio and live stream airing almost non-stop. Players young and old had to get used to five-figure crowds observing their every move.

Among the many questions that arise from this surfeit is how to maintain the public’s support.

The Hundred and its After-effects

Before it started, Ali Martin of the Guardian wrote: ‘The ECB sweats on The Hundred catching fire’.

That is how touch-and-go it appeared, and its introduction was delayed a year by coronavirus. Even more daring was to place a women’s match first as a stand-alone event. The 7,500 who turned up at the Oval and cheered gave the strongest endorsement the ECB could have wished for.

The pattern adopted was double-headers with the women playing first, normally at 3 pm. This was a risk, but the numbers through the gates soon reached five figures. Riches indeed.

The target audience, those new to the game, came and came again. The question was whether seasoned cricket fans would do likewise. The answer must surely be yes.

One big doubt concerns the carry-over effect: the RHF final at Northampton fell a long way short of a 5-figure gate. Why did that new audience not turn up at Wantage Road as well? As the ECB hunt for answers, we can give one simple explanation: a very large sum indeed must have been spent on marketing The Hundred. Did the ECB have any pennies left to give adequate publicity to its other leading competitions?

Traditionally it has been quite insufficient. How many people are made aware of matches taking place in the the RHF and the CE Cup, and by what means? At an RHF game at Beckenham that I attended (post-Hundred) the crowd was modest in the extreme. So the PR people still have a task to attract people to women’s cricket in its many forms.

Rising Standards

The good news is that playing standards go on rising skywards. This has two main causes, professional contracts and the quantity of matches.

No longer are the England squad the only players who can avoid working 9-5 to keep body and soul together – though it must be admitted that few women’s sporting contracts in the UK are generous enough to offer a life of Riley.

But the introduction of domestic contracts means dozens of players can now devote themselves more completely to the game than ever before, with the inevitable result, rising standards. Whatever skills an individual has, the chance to execute them consistently is a motor for improvement.

The Hundred was played out day by day during the week. A few games in the other competitions were also fixed for mid-week, an impossibility till the new structures were introduced.

England’s Path into 2022

The tour to Pakistan is off and the following tour to Australia is in grave doubt. It is just possible that England’s women will travel but not the men. If they do go, they are likely to suffer repeated bouts of isolation, unless all the matches can be switched to a single state.

The loss of that first trip to Pakistan means Lisa Keightley and her staff won’t have the chance to introduce new(er) faces to the squad, in preparation for a sterner challenge in the new year.

One excellent feature of the tour down under is the addition of an England A team, a provision that needs urgent extension. So that is the first chance since lockdown to broaden players’ prospects of promotion.

England Selections​

We can look back at the two tours of the past summer to check whether any experiments made then have proved productive. England won both series, but final margins were closer than perfectionists might have wished.


First, three new faces were introduced. Sophia Dunkley was the one young batter to be given a chance and she grasped it with both hands. Her test innings of 74* against India was enough to silence any doubts. It helps her cause that she is a fine outfielder, and she received wise advice to concentrate on her batting and keep her leg-breaks for the nets and the beach.

The other batters to be offered a chance were Maia Bouchier and Emma Lamb. Lamb was very much an afterthought, introduced to the T20 squad to play New Zealand. Neither has yet had a chance to prove her ability, Lamb reduced to watching one ball from the bowler’s end. Such is modern cricket.

Keightley may argue that England possesses an unusually strong batting line-up. That is true in part. When they succeed together, they are capable of big totals, as in the last fling of the season at Canterbury (342 in 50 overs). But far too many innings failed to convince.

Every batter is allowed the occasional lapse; that is in the nature of cricket. But a glance at England’s batting averages reveals worrying shortfalls.

Lauren Winfield-Hill is a prime case in point. She gave way to Danni Wyatt for the T20s, so had to produce in the ODIs. In the five against New Zealand she scored 21, 39, 4, 33 and 43, showing a pleasing consistency, but failing to go on to score big. That is the story of her career. In 51 ODIs she has made one century and three 50s. Is that sufficient?

The other player used as opening partner for Tammy Beaumont was Danni Wyatt, but she is restricted to T20s for the moment.

The next alternative is Eve Jones who has been scoring heavily in domestic cricket. She has the added virtue of being a left-hander. She has had to wait till the age of 29 to reach this prominence, one of the most obvious examples of a player benefiting from a domestic contract. As for her age: if you’re good enough, you’re young enough.

Her end-of-season awards piled up: the PCA Women’s Overall Domestic MVP and the Charlotte Edwards Cup Player of the Year. The she walked off with the cinch PCA Women’s Player of the Year.

She was selected by her fellow-players who are the best judges of quality. And yet she becomes the first recipient never to have played for her country. That may yet happen; she is a prime example of a player whose standards have benefited from the introduction of the domestic contracts.


It would have been fascinating to know whether Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole would have gone to Pakistan, or been saved up for the big party in Oz. It was a chance for Keightley to measure up the rival qualities of the remaining seamers, Kate Cross, Tash Farrant, Freya Davies and the uncapped prospects like Issy Wong, Danielle Gibson and Emily Arlott.

Only the first two, the most experienced, have made justified claims for immediate inclusion.

The slow-bowling line-up has shifted. While Sophie Ecclestone remains the first choice, Charlie Dean has supplanted Maddy Villiers as the preferred off-spinner. Sarah Glenn has ceased to be an automatic choice, though no other leg-spinner has been introduced to threaten her place in the wider squad.

Ecclestone’s position means that a number of other fine slow left-armers are not finding favour, Kirstie Gordon and Linsey Smith chief among them. If Ecclestone is expected to repeat her solo spin performance in a future test match (64 overs against India), then the selectors and I will part company for good.

It will be instructive to see whether a back-up wicket-keeper is chosen for the next tour. In recent times Amy Jones’ name has figured alone (Tammy Beaumont the make-shift stand-by). With a second team flying to Australia the temptation might be to limit the total number of keepers to two, but that would be a mistake. Abbey Freeborn was chosen as keeper in the one England A team selected during the summer (against New Zealand), but there are several others who deserve consideration.

A Big Advance

The 2021 season came as a huge encouragement for cricket. After the desert of the previous summer the new plans could be put into practice. They worked out better than anyone can have hoped. One overriding aim was to reach parity with the Australians. Clare Connor sensed that England was a few years behind them in overall development, but the recent Australia-India series has shown that even the world champions have chinks in their armour.