Shrubsole game-changer in game that changed cricket

Times Media


TELFORD VICE at Lord’s

CRICKET will never be the same in the wake of England beating India by nine runs on Sunday in one of the most thrilling matches yet played in the history of the game.

Anya Shrubsole, easily among the best swing bowlers anywhere, regardless of anything, took a career-best 6/46, claiming her last five wickets for 11 runs in the space of 19 deliveries.

She condemned India to a total of 219, in which they lost their last seven wickets for 28 runs in 38 balls, in reply to England’s 228/7.

That the match was a World Cup final only added to its glory.

That it was played at Lord’s added a layer of lustre to the ground’s already burnished history.

That it was the final of a World Cup played by women shone a light on the future of a sport that, for too long, has been dominated by men.

This tournament, beamed as it has been onto exponentially more screens than ever before for a women’s event, should — if the suits have any sense — change the game forever.

Who would not want to watch talented, skilled, spirited, competitive cricketers play a game for the ages? If they don’t want to watch because those cricketers are women, to hell with them.

We have seen many such contests this past month, and the fact that India have been involved in several of them — not least Sunday’s cliffhanger — should be a golden ticket to a glittering future.

For the simple fact is that what’s good for India is good for the game, regardless of the dismantling of cricket’s big three. In financial terms, at least.

Now that India’s women’s team have earned themselves a sliver of the spotlight that is, in all cricket-playing countries, unfairly hogged by men, recognition for their efforts and achievements should follow.

And with that will come money — perhaps enough to establish a women’s version of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Unlike in the men’s game, where the IPL is cast as a crisis for world cricket, a tournament of its stature for women will be a great leap forward.

Not only will women be able to earn more from playing professionally, they will benefit from the additional exposure and, perchance, be taken more seriously by the legions of misogynists who struggle to fit cricket and women into the same sentence.

But do women need men to take them seriously as cricketers?

They have delivered a compelling tournament that was eminently more watchable than plenty of the defensive, dour drivel dished up far too often by their male counterparts, and Sunday’s game was no exception.

England’s total was cobbled together from stands of 47 between openers Laura Winfield and Tammy Beaumont, 83 shared by Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver, and a pair of 32-run stands — both featuring Jenny Gunn — and Katherine Brunt and Laura Marsh.

Sciver’s 51, which came off 68 balls, was the only half-century.

India bowled with nous to curb the home side’s scoring, and they had imposing seamer Jhulan Goswami — who dismissed Taylor and Fran Wilson with consecutive deliveries in her haul of 3/23.

The Indians’ reply meandered to 144/3 in the 35th over, when wicketkeeper Taylor missed a stumping off off-spinner Marsh that would have removed Punam Raut for 63.

Three overs later, with medium pacer Gunn bowling, Heather Knight somehow dropped the simplest of chances at extra cover to reprieve Veda Krishnamurthy on 14.

That seemed to have turned the game in India’s favour, but this game had another, bigger idea.

Shrubsole trapped Raut in front for 86 in 43rd over, and suddenly the slide was on.

There was time for one more twist when Gunn dropped a simple chance at mid-off that would have dismissed Poonam Yadav.

Shrubsole, the bowler, didn’t blink. Instead she walked back to her mark — and cleanbowled Rajeshwari Gayakwad with her next ball to end the match.

That’s class, and she has it in spades.

Yoga, wine ring centurion’s bell.

Times Media


TELFORD VICE at Lord’s

FIRST a trapeze artist did an airborne circuit of the ground, cradling the World Cup itself as she dangled and twisted artfully from a balloon, all to wild applause.

Then Eileen Whelan — patriarchy changed her surname to Ash — became perhaps the oldest cricketer to ring the bell five minutes before the start of play at Lord’s. More wild applause.

With that we were all set for the World Cup final. Soon, Mithali Raj would lead her India team onto that famous sloping field and Lauren Winfield and Tammy Beaumont would emerge from that even more famous pavilion to open the batting for England.

Whelan played seven tests for England between 1937 and 1949, spent 11 years working for intelligence agency MI6 — gadzooks! A spy! — still whizzes about in a bright yellow Mini, and turns 106 in October.

She sleeps with a cricket bat near her bed “in case of burglars”, she said in an interview with the Eastern Daily Press in November 2016.

And not just any bat. It was signed by Donald Bradman, and given to her by him 69 years ago.

The same year, 1948, in a match against Victoria Country Women in Ballarat, she took 5/10 in 7.2 overs and hit 11 fours in an undefeated 102.

Whelan’s secrets for a long and rich life, she says, are the sacred and the profane: yoga every Tuesday and two glasses of red wine a day.

Heather Knight, England’s captain and a stripling at 26, wrote for the BBC in February of sharing a yoga practice with Whelan: “My pride, and a number of my muscle groups, are still in tatters after being put to shame by a 105-year-old.”

Who among Whelan, Knight and the trapeze artist was in better shape was a question no scorer could answer.

But no-one would’ve struggled to count the smattering of Marylebone Cricket Club members on the pavilion’s outdoor seats.

If more of them had been in attendance who knows how many cardiac events might have been sparked by the real world turning up in their backyard.

And on a Sunday, nogal.

No woman, no cry

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

MARIZANNE Kapp sat on the bones of her backside on the scrubby outfield of Bristol County Ground on Tuesday as a grey afternoon surrendered to a dull evening.

Her arms were wrapped, hands clasped, around her bent knees. The peak of her cap was locked downward. She stared at a blade of grass not a metre away, and saw nothing.

Kapp was a picture of pain, a study in hardness, catatonic with a trauma that dared not speak its name.

She sat unmoved for a forever that went on for too many minutes. The attentions of neither teammates nor opponents could shift her. She was as alone as anyone could be, but she wasn’t lonely.

When she was damn well good and ready she rose and left, measuring her steps from midwicket to the boundary and beyond with the frightening precision of a bomber pilot on a mission to hit only every third enemy trench.

No-one stopped her. No-one would dare. No-one ventured within five metres of her.

In almost 26 years of covering sport, I have seen nothing as powerful, as shimmering with defiance, as Kapp’s passionate refusal to accept the shattering fact of defeat. But defiance is not denial, and at some point the truth took hold.

It …

Was …

Over.

South Africa had come to the World Cup — why should we disclaim it as the women’s World Cup when no such apologetic qualifier is shoved in front of the men’s equivalent — as plucky outsiders whose ability to play a game as good as the one they strutted was questioned.

They left as a team people were compelled to watch, a side spiky with fighters, festooned with talent, and teetering with drama. From Kapp to Shabnim Ismail, as hard-arsed a fast bowler as can be found, to Dane van Niekerk, a bed-headed leg spinner who tells the bulletproof truth as she sees it, to 18-year-old Laura Wolvaardt, who bats as if she is moonwalking with diamonds on the soles of her boots — at 18! Bloody hell! — this is a team to treasure.

So they lost their semi-final against England by two runs with two balls to spare. So what? They lost a game of cricket that might just as easily have gone the other way, and won a legion of supporters to add to all the other legions they have gathered this past month.

“It hurts because we felt like we’d done enough,” Van Niekerk, South Africa’s captain, said, somehow finding enough of her voice to make sense in the madness of the moment.

Enough? South Africa had done so much more than that. But the challenge, now, is to ensure that this team are not shunted out of sight to be dusted off in the imagination of a frankly misogynist public only when the next tournament looms. They must be celebrated and given the attention they have earned.

Or, as England’s captain, Heather Knight, told a distraught Van Niekerk in the cruel moments that followed England clinching victory, “Keep getting better, keep improving ’cause you’re doing brilliant things for the game.”

“The media hype has been amazing,” Van Niekerk said, somehow finding enough light in the gloom of the moment to think a happy thought.

“We’ve had really good feedback from home. Hopefully, after this, a lot of girls get more interested in the game and try it and play it and hopefully our pipeline can come through.”

Hopefully. It’s a detested word in journalism because it’s an expression of nothingness, and this team deserves a lot better than nothing.

And so to a sold out Lord’s for today’s final between England and India. Lord’s! Where as recently as 1986 India’s captain was refused entry to the pavilion because she was a woman.

One day, ‘Kappi’. One day you’ll be there, too, standing tall.

Maharaj keeps eyes on bright future

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

WHO’S that lolloping up the hill, winning smile on his face, bright eyes on the prize, a fine future rippling in his gait? It is, isn’t it? Indeed, it is.

If you see Keshav Maharaj in the street, even if you don’t know who he is, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn he is the best thing to happen to spin bowling in South Africa in years.

Nine tests into his international career, which started in Perth in November, Maharaj has 36 wickets at 25.77.

But he adds value beyond the numbers with flinty batting and daggerish fielding. Which is good because, like all South Africa’s spinners, he does not have the luxury of specialty.

Can bowl, but can’t quite bat and suspect in the field? Try India. Or England, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies …

Anyone besides South Africa, where spinners are not respected enough as bowlers to earn their keep on that score alone.

Happily for Maharaj, then, he’s an asset in all three disciplines. Not that he’s happy with the way some things are going.

“I want to be a three-in-one cricketer, but I haven’t shown my true potential with the bat,” Maharaj said. “I’ve been selling myself short; I’ve got some work to do there.”

A tendency to get himself out after getting himself in has crept into his batting: a player of his ability should have more than two scores of 30 or more in 13 innings.

But these are details of the bigger picture, which is that Maharaj has become more than the sum of his parts.

“The whole bowling unit can thank Keshav,” Morne Morkel said. “For him to bowl exceptionally well and allow the seamers to rotate is something this team has needed desperately.

“The control he gives the team and good quality spin bowling. I’m a massive fan.

“He works hard on his game. He’s the guy on the early bus [to training] every day, and he spends endless hours working with [spin consultant] Claude Henderson.

“They’re always out here first, bowling balls. It’s nice to see a guy putting in the hours and the effort and it pays off.

“It’s rewarding, and it’s motivation for us not to sit on our backsides.”

But that might make Maharaj sound like a player who wouldn’t cut it if all he had to offer was left-arm spin.

Jonny Bairstow would, no doubt, beg to differ — even if it’s on the evidence of nothing but the Maharaj delivery that pitched on middle stump and ripped past the bat to canon into off during England first innings in the second test at Trent Bridge.

That was on the second day of a match played on a pitch that was far kinder to bowlers like Morkel than those of Maharaj’s ilk.

“My first wicket was obviously quite special to me but I’m happy to have that in the memory bank,” Maharaj said.

“Faf [du Plessis] came to me and said, ‘We just going to try and dry up the runs and hopefully that can bring wickets’.

“Luckily I picked up a few sticks.”

Three in each innings, in fact, with more no doubt waiting for him in the third test at The Oval on Thursday.

Until then, he has streets to walk, smiles to smile, prizes to eye — and work to do.

Leading Edge: Nine days off? Let’s go climb Crib Goch 

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

TELL you what, let’s bugger off to Scotland and do some fishing. Or to Cornwall, where they say the surfing is decent. Camping, anybody? There’s always golf … hey, the Open’s on at Royal Birkdale. Umm, where the hell is Royal Birkdale?

Is it near Crib Goch in Snowdonia, where more than four metres of rain can fall in a year? If it is, let’s stay far away.

If you have the time and the money, and you enjoy the outdoors, you could do worse than be in the UK in what people here call the summer.

It’s not summer, of course. Not in the African sense of being hot enough to melt the fat off a piece of biltong.

But it doesn’t seem to rain quite as often as in winter, the sun doesn’t go down until after 9pm, getting around — in London, at least — is as easy as minding the gap, and you’re never further from a decent pub than the distance the smell of a pint of bitter needs to reach your nose.

Not that a pint of bitter should be sniffed at, considering it will cost you upwards of the equivalent of R80. Unless it’s happy hour, when the inside of the pub will be all but empty and the pavement outside thick with people enjoying a drink and what they call summer.

It’s a funny old place, but enjoyable in many ways. That’s if you’re on holiday.

But what if you’re part of South Africa’s cricket team, who have bounced back from an awful Lord’s test with a stirring performance at Trent Bridge.

The series is locked at 1-1 with two to play. Bring on the third test already.

Not so fast. When hostilities resume at The Oval on Thursday, nine days will have passed since the end of the Trent Bridge test.

Momentum is a nonsense espoused by people paid to complicate the simple business of trying to win a game. If you won yesterday there’s no guarantee you’ll win today. Just ask England, who were smashed by 340 runs eight days after they triumphed by 211 runs.

But nine days is nine days: what happens to a cricket team when they take their eye off the ball for that long? Especially if they are playing at the most unforgiving level and in an era when matches come so thick and fast there’s rarely time to smuggle in a tour match between tests.

South Africa will be helped, unwittingly, by England distracting themselves by fussing over how many of their batsmen are left-handed — as if any team could have too many — and how to keep fooling Moeen Ali that he is not their best spinner.

As if finding something to do with yourself for nine days that does not snap the surprisingly delicate narrative thread of an important test series is not challenging enough, try having to do so while playing ever more ridiculous parlour games.

At least the South Africans have kept it as simple as possible. Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock have gone home. The rest are, well, around.

Royal Birkdale is in Southport, fellas. Which is north of Liverpool, or a two-and-a-half hour drive from Crib Goch — Red Ridge in Welsh — a knife-edged climb of some 923 metres.

Rather play golf.

What might the archbishop have said to the women’s captain at Lord’s?

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in London

HEATHER Knight and Mithali Raj have played 373 tests, one-day internationals and T20s for England and India. Only six of those games have been at Lord’s, where they will lead their teams in the World Cup final on Sunday.

Alastair Cook, England’s most capped male player, has turned out for his country 238 times — 31 of them at Lord’s.

If that doesn’t illustrate that cricket’s most self-important ground has been relegated to the status of the former home of a game that now lives in Dubai and works in India, this might: what do Desmond Tutu and Diana Edulji have in common?

Both have been refused the questionable privilege of mingling with the infamously pompous inmates of the Lord’s pavilion; Tutu in 1994 because he wasn’t wearing a jacket, Edulji in 1986 because she was a woman. That she was also India’s captain at the time didn’t cut much ice.

Tutu’s predicament was, of course, more easily remedied than Edulji’s. Any surgery contemplated should have been performed not on her but on the Marylebone Cricket Club members in the pavilion — above the neck as well as below the waist.

Women finally made it into the pavilion on match days in 1999, or 109 years after it was built. In fact, they are still struggling with access to Lord’s: the players in Sunday’s final weren’t allowed to train on the outfield on Friday and Saturday.

But that’s because of the rain that began falling on Friday night and may yet disrupt the final, what with Sunday morning forecast to be cloudy but dry until 1pm (UK time) — when there is a 50% chance of rain that intensifies to 60% by 3pm. Play is scheduled to start at 10.30am.

India’s players might not mind their parade being rained on after their suits promised them a bonus of the equivalent of more than R1-million each for reaching the final. The support staff will take home more than R500000 each.

For Raj, who was part of the team who lost the final to Australia in Centurion in 2005, there were other signifiers of change in the women’s game.

“It’s completely different to 2005 because the whole world is watching,” she said, perhaps having taken note of the fact that Lord’s is sold out for Sunday’s match and read a release from the International Cricket Council (ICC) that said the group stage of the tournament had captured a global audience of more than 50-million.

Many of those would be in India, which despite the undoing of the ICC big three remains where cricket shakes it money-maker most effectively.

“Everybody back home is rooting for us, and there might be a lot of changes if India win,” Raj said.

“A women’s IPL [Indian Premier League] might be in the pipeline.

“Not even the final was televised in 2005. Now the whole of India is sitting up and watching us.

“This World Cup is probably the turning point for the whole of women’s cricket.”

Knight was able to suspend her adversarial instincts for long enough to concur: “India being in the final is the best result for women’s cricket.”

The women’s game, then, will celebrate a great day on Sunday — regardless of the weather both inside and outside the pavilion.

But it has a way to go to catch up to, say, women’s football: more than 750-million watched the 2015 World Cup.

CSA fail to resolve coach calamity

Times Media


TELFORD VICE in London

SOUTH Africa will be spared the distraction of the naming of a new coach while they focus on trying to win their test series in England, but the uncertainty on the issue has been deferred rather than resolved.

According to a Cricket South Africa release issued after a board meeting in Johannesburg on Friday,  “The board received an update report from the panel charged with the responsibility to consider and recommend a candidate for the position of Proteas head coach.

“As the panel has not completed its work the board agreed to provide extension of time until the end of the current Proteas tour to England for the panel to complete its work.”

Might that mean that the panel recommended someone the board would rather they didn’t?

Someone like the incumbent, Russell Domingo?

And that they have been sent away to think again?

After all, on May 19 — the day after his appointment to the panel was announced — Domingo’s predecessor, Gary Kirsten, told Times Media: “The team is settled and the coaching staff have incredible work ethic and good knowledge to assist the players.”

Of course, Friday’s announcement might not mean anything of the sort.

It could be that the panel has indeed not met its deadline, which would be surprising considering interviews have already been conducted.

Or that the board realised the folly of unveiling a new coach in the throes of a series locked at 1-1 with two matches to play.

The third test between England and South Africa at The Oval starts on Thursday.