Three-match ODI limit is not help­ing game evolve

Ali­son Mitchell says women should be en­cour­aged to play as much in­ter­na­tional cricket as pos­si­ble... in all forms

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

With the dust hav­ing set­tled on the most watched Women’s World Cup the world had ever seen, in­ter­na­tional women’s cricket re­turned this week with the start of the qual­i­fy­ing pe­riod for the next World Cup, to be held in New Zealand in 2021. How­ever, while Twenty20 cricket is be­ing heav­ily en­cour­aged by the ICC, teams are not be­ing al­lowed to sched­ule more than three ODIs per tour, as part of the ICC Women’s Cham­pi­onship.

It seems cu­ri­ous, that, at a time when Women’s cricket has never en­joyed such pro­file, the num­ber of 50-over matches is be­ing cur­tailed. Ad­mit­tedly there is a World T20 on the hori­zon (next Au­tumn in Bar­ba­dos), for which teams will want to pre­pare, but the mes­sage I kept hear­ing from play­ers dur­ing the re­cent World Cup was that they needed to be play­ing more cricket – and the em­pha­sis was on the longer form in or­der to re­ally de­velop skills and en­sure plenty of play­ers got op­por­tu­ni­ties. How many times, for ex­am­ple, does the num­ber six bat­ter re­ally get a long in­nings in a T20?

This next, two-year cy­cle of One Day In­ter­na­tional matches – the ICC Women’s Cham­pi­onship – starts with West Indies tak­ing on Sri Lanka in Trinidad, be­fore Aus­tralia host Eng­land in a multi-for­mat Ashes se­ries, of which the three ODIs count to­wards World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion. In­dia, whose run to the World Cup fi­nal gen­er­ated such ex­cite­ment in their home coun­try, aren’t in ac­tion again un­til they play South Africa in Fe­bru­ary – more than six months since the World Cup ended.

The Cham­pi­onship as a whole, in­volves all eight top women’s sides – Eng­land, Aus­tralia, In­dia, New Zealand, Pak­istan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies, play­ing each other home and away in se­ries of three ODIs, with two points for a win and one for a tie or no re­sult. New Zealand will gain di­rect qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the World Cup as hosts, and they’ll be joined by the three best other teams in the Cham­pi­onship’s league ta­ble at the end of the qual­i­fy­ing pe­riod. The re­main­ing teams will get a sec­ond bite at the cherry by drop­ping into the qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment (de­tails of which have not yet been an­nounced).

Pre­vi­ously, it was left up to boards to de­ter­mine whether they would play just the three, qual­i­fy­ing ODIs, or whether they would sched­ule in more 50-over games, as part of their tour, with only the first three count­ing to­wards the Cham­pi­onship ta­ble.

My un­der­stand­ing is that the ICC felt that the ‘non-qual­i­fy­ing’ matches were be­com­ing de­val­ued by virtue of the fact they didn’t ‘count’ for any­thing. Per­haps, by not per­mit­ting ad­di­tional ODIs on th­ese tours, we might see ‘break away’ stand-alone tours, or per­haps coun­tries turn­ing to those out­side of the top eight for more ODI matches. This would, on the face of it, be ben­e­fi­cial for the smaller na­tions, but, would it be ben­e­fi­cial for smaller na­tions to be beaten soundly by top teams such as Aus­tralia or Eng­land? It cer­tainly moves away from the idea of ‘the best against the best,’ which is how the Women’s Cham­pi­onship is billed.

It is a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act, with the game still in evo­lu­tion­ary phase. The Women’s Cham­pi­onship has been an ex­cel­lent in­no­va­tion, giv­ing struc­ture and mean­ing to Women’s ODI cricket in a way the men’s game doesn’t have so clearly. The amount of cricket does, even­tu­ally, need to grow. Say­ing that, per­haps flex­i­bil­ity is the women’s game’s best friend at the mo­ment, at a time when op­por­tu­ni­ties and pos­si­bil­i­ties have never been greater.

Ear­lier this week I was priv­i­leged to host the ECB’s NatWest OSCAs – the Out­stand­ing Ser­vices to Cricket Awards. The three-course lunch and awards cer­e­mony hon­ours the thou­sands of cricket lovers across Eng­land and Wales, who vol­un­tar­ily and tire­lessly give their time and ef­fort to lo­cal leagues and clubs.

The years of ded­i­ca­tion of­fered by some peo­ple is truly astounding. The Life­time Achieve­ment Award was won by Gra­ham Rad­ford, a man who has spent 41 con­sec­u­tive years on the Com­mit­tee of Fel­bridge Cricket Club in Sus­sex. Dur­ing that time he over­saw a merger with Sun­ny­side Cricket Club (which saw the club be­come Fel­bridge and Sun­ny­side CC), he has un­der­taken nu­mer­ous roles on the com­mit­tee, helped to build part­ner­ships with lo­cal schools, se­cured fund­ing for club fa­cil­i­ties and rep­re­sented the club on the Sus­sex Cricket Board.

The award could equally have gone to Terry Birt, of Worces­ter No­mads CC, a fel­low nom­i­nee, who has clocked up over 60 years play­ing, coach­ing and or­gan­is­ing recre­ational cricket in Worcestershire. The third name on the short­list was Mike Win­ter, who has served Bret­ten­ham Park CC in Suf­folk since 1971. He has been on the com­mit­tee from al­most the day he

The mes­sage I kept hear­ing from play­ers dur­ing the re­cent World Cup was that they just needed to be play­ing more cricket

joined, and while his play­ing days may be be­hind him, he is still, at the age of 75, heav­ily in­volved off the field, in­clud­ing be­ing club fix­ture sec­re­tary.

The ca­ma­raderie in the room was re­mark­able that day at Lord’s. Cricket is never more so a fam­ily, than when peo­ple from all parts of the coun­try and from all dif­fer­ent clubs come to­gether. What­ever age or back­ground, the game is al­ways the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor.

Speak­ing of age, I was par­tic­u­larly de­lighted to meet Al­bert Pa­gan, from the North York­shire and South Durham League, who won the Um­pires and Scor­ers Award. Al­bert is still um­pir­ing at the age of 88 (I ini­tially told the room he was 86, and he de­lighted in cor­rect­ing me). Af­ter the lunch Al­bert asked if we could get up on stage and have a selfie. I no­ticed he was wear­ing a hear­ing aid, which must help him hear the snicks out in the mid­dle – although I re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to ask if he ever turned it down, depend­ing on who was bat­ting or bowl­ing! As well as com­ing across as a man who has tremen­dous spirit, I learnt that Al­bert played a sig­nif­i­cant part in hav­ing the def­i­ni­tion of wides clar­i­fied in the Laws of the game, par­tic­u­larly as re­gards a bats­man chang­ing their stance.

At the other end of the age spec­trum, there were OSCAs for Young Coach of the Year and Young Vol­un­teer of the Year. Af­ter the awards ended I got chat­ting to the Young Coach of the Year, Abi Bates, who jug­gles life as a maths teacher at Shut­tle­worth Col­lege, with be­ing a lead coach in the Ju­nior Academy sec­tion at Ley­land CC in Lan­cashire. She also works part time coach­ing Lan­cashire Cricket Board Un­der 11 girls and the re­gional girls’ Un­der 11 North team. And there I was think­ing I had a busy life!

At such an oc­ca­sion it is easy to talk about ‘ded­i­ca­tion’ and ‘ef­fort’ but it is done through love. Cricket has drawn them in. It is a sport that keeps giv­ing; through, learn­ing, friend­ship, ad­ven­ture and misad­ven­ture. We are all, to an ex­tent, a par­ent to the sport, keep­ing a guid­ing hand on the tiller. We are lucky to be part of such a fam­ily.

Un­der­played: In­dia won’t play again un­til Fe­bru­ary

Win­ner: Gra­ham Rad­ford with Mike Gat­ting

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Spec­ta­cle: Will we see thrilling World Cups again with fewer ODIs?

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