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A Ramble on Women's Cricket
And on Reflection
Having now returned to the UK, and at least vaguely back on UK time, it seems an appropriate moment to cast a few thoughts on the trip into the ether. As is common in this 'blog' I'll leave the serious analysis to others. Apart perhaps from a few asides, I prefer to let my pictures do the talking. They can be found here.
Firstly, if you have ever considered a trip to New Zealand, consider no longer - just go. Not only is the scenery worth the trip but, at the time of year we travelled, the weather is perfect - well it was for us. Empty roads also adds to the joys of travel.
But we were primarily there for the cricket and it was hard to judge beforehand how this tour might pan out. England hadn't had a match in anger for ages and New Zealand had had a sorry time against the West Indies. Also, I had been asked by the ECB to provide photographs. Although shots of mine had appeared in various publications and on their web site previously, this was the first occasion on which I would be 'the' photographer. All round then there was no shortage of uncertainties!
My first view of the opposition - well 'opposition' if I abandon my neutral stance behind the camera - was in a local supermarket. Were they not in an hotel which is where we usually find the England team? If they were then perhaps the food left something to be desired.
My next surprise was the ground at Mt Maunganui. I had seen matches there before courtesy of Sky TV but when viewing the ground itself it seemed to me more like a quality club ground than an international venue. Now there's no problem with that - I am not complaining - in fact in many respects I prefer grounds of this nature as the cricket appears more approachable - binoculars are not a requirement. The sun beat down and it was a pleasure to feel that on my back after a long English winter. We (that's myself and Martin Davies who was charged with writing a report for the ECB) set up in a modern cabin that had definitely not been designed with photographers in mind. The bright reflective walls made trying to judge the brightness, contrast and colour balance of pictures I was expect to provide the ECB within minutes of the conclusion of the match extremely difficult and I'm still not happy with what I produced compared with the result I was able to sort out later in a better environment. Now I can't lay the problem at anyone's door. Most of the 'pros' at this game have a shield designed primarily to keep the sun of f the laptop screen so that it's so much easier to sort and send images. That's something I must add to the armoury if I am asked to take on this task again for it would probably have assisted here.
The first three matches were part of the ICC Championship and England went down 2-1 in this mini-series. This must have been hugely disappointing but, telling you what you already know, England were out of season and straight off the plane. New Zealand, of course, were coming to the end of their domestic season. The matches were quite a learning curve for me, meeting up with Mike Lewis a local photographer who allowed me the use of his kit for an hour or two at one game. Thanks, Mike! It taught me a number of things, not least how heavy some of those "dinner plate" lenses are. You have talked me into upgrading my telephoto but it will be to something that's more easily managed.
The crowds were disappointing and that continued throughout the tour. None of the packed Chelmsford crowds here.
New Zealand had a nightmare in the 1st T20 at Whangarei (the "Wh" is pronounced as an "F" which came as a surprise) and England managed an easy win by 8 wkts. The hosts bounced back comfortably in the 2nd however.
Now memory fades and I'm wondering if it was at this ground that I was somewhat astonished, when walking out to photograph the toss, at the state of the wicket - no - not the one they were due to play on which was fine - but the strip immediately adjacent. In my playing days I frequently found myself fielding close to the bat in front of the wicket. I would not have wished to take up that fielding spot here. The strip was mud with a few plants - I can't say grass - and a ball bouncing off this might have gone anywhere. Oddly I never actually noticed this happen during play. I apologise to the groundsman if I have confused the ground at which I noticed this.
England completed the series win 2-1 with all five bowlers grabbing a wicket at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval at Lincoln, Christchurch.
The remaining two ODIs followed and, sadly for England, these did not form part of the ICC Championship, the first three did, resulting in New Zealand claiming the lion's share of the points.
England won the 4th ODI very comfortably with fine innings from the skipper, Charlotte Edwards, and the keeper, Sarah Taylor, who, in the following ODI just missed out on a century.
In all it was a most enjoyable trip and I found the post of being the ECB's photographer very challenging. I noticed the New Zealand Media Manager, who seemed to have the job I was doing for the ECB, peering at her screen from about 6-inches to a foot away. We both struggled with the bright walls of the Press Boxes as mentioned earlier, and I hope my shots appearing elsewhere were not too 'off' the best they could have been.
This round-up is likely to tell you little you didn't already know but I will add something here in praise of one member of the ECB's staff in particular you may notice but will probably not appreciate what her job involves. This someone worked her socks off! On the video camera or on the keyboard, as well as chasing various other duties, it was obvious to all in the press box that Beth Wild did not have time to breath let alone eat!
She has my total admiration for unending energy and total professionalism.
The Future of the County Championships
Rumours are circulating of a major change to the County Championships in 2016. Indeed, if the rumours bear any credence then the word 'change' should perhaps be in quotes.
Where are we now?
This year will show a really major change. White ball cricket and coloured clothing has come to the senior teams in the Championship. This is an innovation that I find both expected and, considering international women's cricket is almost exclusively white ball, an obvious and welcome idea. There is the point of cost, of course, and the matter of black site screens. Although many of the grounds on which the sport is played will have the facility already, many will not. This means one member of the support staff (e.g. a volunteer, a coach, a parent perhaps) has to carry around rather a lot of black material, and, presumably a step-ladder. I have yet to discover if anyone at the ECB has done a safety assessment of the fixing of this to current sight screens. Perhaps Counties must do their own. That, however, is the only 'down-side' I can see to this arrangement, ignoring the extra (and not inconsiderable) cost of white balls over red. In fact the first batch of white balls supplied to my county have worn very badly in practice situations, so we'll have to see how this progresses.
From a personal point of view (and I stress the personal) the advent of numbers and names on shirts will make my job as a photographer appreciably easier. If only the counties had adopted the Irish idea of numbers on trousers as well then life would be - well - near ideal.
Now with a face as clearly shown as that identifying Cecilia should not be hard but so often harsh shadow of the helmet peak makes life rather difficult. But I digress...
'Ideas' for 2016
The word 'franchise' is being widely circulated. The suggestion appears to be that a 'layer' of cricket will be inserted between England and County Cricket. There's nothing new in this in the sense that the Super 4s ran for quite a number of years in this manner and was finally dropped (as not serving a useful purpose?) after the 2014 season. EWA and EWDP programmes have been introduced presumably to bring on the players who would have played in the S4s.
But what does the word 'franchise' mean? Is it the intention to see whether "Joe Blogs Painting & Decorating" (I do hope there isn't such a company) would be prepared to shell out to pay for a series of matches between their team and the other five or three or seven (??) in the league.
Possibly the idea would be to follow the IPL and associate the teams with towns rather than counties. Will we have the Brighton Brigands playing the Harrogate Hawks in 2016? The visibility of the sponsors would be considerably less in this instance of course, although no doubts shirts etc would loudly proclaim who has paid for them.
Or we could have the worst of both worlds with 'Blogg's Brighton Brigands playing ... well you get the idea.
My thoughts on all this (other, of course, than what I've already given away above)?
Let's first assume that this 'franchise' system is inserted in the same way that the Super 4s were into the fixture list. Here the counties coped well enough. Clashes with County games were avoided (not something that's occurring this season with EWA fixtures) and, had the purpose of the S4s been clear (an England trial? Just another competition with higher standards?) they would probably have survived. No one I spoke to ever seemed to know why they were played and the fact that so many promising youngsters were brought along simply to field made little sense of them as a training or a spotting exercise. Had a purpose been clear to all and sundry things might well have turned out differently.
So perhaps the 'franchise' games will be simply as a spectacle to bring others to watch women's cricket. Well that's a more than laudable reason to hold them. Plenty of publicity would be required along with someone to pay for it. Perhaps it's to try and persuade broadcasters to take an interest in other than international cricket. This latter might be difficult in view of the fact it is only this year that Sky has been persuaded to televise the Ashes Test. They will surely want to see the reaction to that before making any decisions and so any announcement on this scheme is unlikely before that fixture has passed into history.
If this 'franchise' system is to be viable in either (or both) the scenarios above then quite a number of fixtures will be required. This season, for the very first time in my association with this sport, County and England games clash. As I mentioned previously EWA commitments (including days that do not have a fixture listed) also clash. The status of County cricket has essentially already been downgraded. It has been pointed out to me that male internationals in this country do not play more than very occasionally for their Counties. While this is true, women county players do not gain a penny from their representation. Indeed it costs them not inconsiderable sums to play at this level. The situation is as chalk and cheese! If County cricket is to survive fixture clashes with any new league MUST be avoided.
But even more worrying to me are the rumours that County cricket may become an U19 sport only. No senior teams will exist and only age-group cricket will survive. Essentially it won't really be County cricket in the full sense of the word any more. This is not to denigrate those playing (U-any-age). I am simply assuming, and I don't feel this is unreasonable, that those playing age group cricket aspire one day to play for the senior county side (if not to go on and play for England). This would also be a huge waste of talent. There is the assumption that players who reached 19 and are not part of the EWA setup simply don't have what it takes to be an international. I am not of that opinion. It also says to those players, in the strongest possible terms, that no one in authority (other than those at their local club) feel they offer any value to the sport. If not on the scrap heap the insinuation is that you are on the way there.
I was under the impression the powers that be were keen to show the numbers of females playing cricket was large and, until recently, rising. The problems with the change in status of club cricket resulted in a fall. The result of this, if not very carefully managed, will mean further decline. Perhaps the policy has changed. Perhaps the thoughts now are that numbers don't matter - all that is of consequence is the top few. It would be a sad day were that the case and very short sighted in terms of development. I have to hope this is not the feeling among those who administer this sport.
If this piece has sounded very negative, then I can't apologise for it. Are my fears unfounded? Of course I hope so. I hope to be able to read this back a year or so from now and think to myself "don't believe the rumours in future" I hope all will be well not just with England but with County cricket, played and supported by those of all ages. While change can often be necessary, it brings its pitfalls as well as possible benefits.
Other thoughts on this subject can be found here... (Martin Davies blog) or (Crickether)
The same day I wrote the above, I spotted the following tweet which gives an insight into the state of club cricket in recent times.