After a solid win against Wales in the semi-final, Somerset lost a thrilling encounter with Warwickshire to finish as runners-up on Vitality Women’s County T20 Group 3 finals day on Sunday.
The day began with Warwickshire brushing aside Gloucestershire, bowling them out for 68 (Anisha Patel taking 4 for 7) before chasing it down for the loss of three wickets in 12.3 overs.
The second semi-final, between Somerset and Wales, was a closer contest. Wales elected to bat first but lost Alex Griffiths immediately, Lorraine Szczepanski taking the wicket thanks to a catch from Jodie Filer. However, Georgia Hennessy (23) and Bethan Gammon (47) regrouped, keeping the score ticking over at more than a run a ball. The loss of Hennessy caused a slowdown, and while Wales did manage to add some quick runs towards the end of the innings they also lost frequent wickets which in the end limited their score to 122 for 6. Szczepanski, Niamh Holland and Nicole Harvey finished with two wickets apiece.
Somerset were dealt an early blow with the loss of Sophie Luff for 10, but some strong blows from Nat Wraith took the score onto 49 for 1 at the end of the powerplay. Holland was dismissed two balls later, but Harvey contributed a useful 15 while Wraith continued her work at the other end. Harvey and Emily Edgcombe were both dismissed in the 12thover, but Jess Hazell (15*) hung around with Wraith who finished the match with a four and a six off the first two balls of the 16th over. Wraith ended unbeaten on 74 off 49 balls, including seven fours and a six – her first T20 fifty.
After a break of about an hour, the final began at half-past four. Somerset won the toss and chose to bat. Wraith hit two fours but couldn’t repeat her heroics from the semi-final, being dismissed by Issy Wong for 10. Luff’s role was going to be vital and she lived up to the task, striking at better than a run a ball with some effective strike rotation and adept boundary hitting. Luff and Harvey put on 48 for the third wicket, before the latter’s dismissal brought Daisy Jeanes to the crease. The youngster played a brilliant cameo of 29 off 19 balls, including five fours and a six, to give Somerset’s score a quick boost. Immediately after her dismissal, Luff took a four off Bethan Ellis before going 4-6-6 off the following over. Unfortunately, the wicket of Luff for 56 brought about a slowdown in the last two overs but Somerset finished with a defendable total of 140 for 7.
Warwickshire’s chase got off to the best possible start – for Somerset. Once again, Szczepanski struck with the first ball of the innings, Marie Kelly skying a catch to Harvey. Wong, in at three, soon got to work with some lusty blows but Edgcombe bowled Gwenan Davies in the fourth over then had Wong in the sixth thanks to an excellent catch from Jeanes at long-on. Warwickshire were 40 for 3 after the powerplay with the game in the balance.
Moments later it swung in Somerset’s favour – Edgcombe the hero again with a stunning direct hit to run out Thea Brookes for 7. Ellis and Georgia Davis began to regroup before the latter was caught, inevitably, by Edgcombe off the bowling of Holland in the 12th over. Warwickshire were now 75 for 5 needing 66 runs off 53 balls.
But, like in the second match between the sides at Taunton when Warwickshire recovered from 33 for 7, the Bears’ experience all the way down the order showed. Ellis and Ria Fackrell stabilised the innings while keeping the required rate in check – 18 runs were required off the last two overs. The first five balls of the 19th over were taken for 16; while Fackrell was dismissed off the final ball, Ellis struck a four off the first ball of the final over to see Warwickshire home by four wickets.
Somerset should be proud of how they played in this tournament; there is no shame in losing to a strong Warwickshire side and they won every match against other sides. Almost inevitably, Luff led the run-scoring but Wraith and Jeanes can be proud of how they batted as well. On the bowling side of things, Edgcombe and Holland led the way with 12 wickets apiece, with both showing improvement on previous years. Szczepanski, as usual, was also highly effective in taking 10 cheap wickets.
I want to finish with some thoughts on the tournament overall and on women’s county cricket in general.
The current format of the Vitality Women’s County T20 is, frankly, a bit of a joke. I understand that budget restrictions mean that regional groups are necessary, but having eight winners and no national finals day seems at best baffling and at worst insulting. Interest in women’s county cricket is growing year on year, thanks not least to Women’s County Cricket Day on Twitter and the counties themselves who are now doing a better job of promoting matches (although they could still do much more). But there will be a limit on this interest if we continue with a format where nearly every team qualifies for a finals day and eight teams can claim that they’ve “won the T20”.
For next year’s competition, I’d add an extra team if possible (Cheshire or Scotland?) and split the 36 teams into three regions of 12. Each region would have two divisions, each of six teams, with promotion and relegation. Each team can play whatever number of group matches that fit into the time available. You could then have promotion and relegation playoffs but, importantly, there must be a national finals day for the top teams in each top division (possibly with quarter-finals preceding) This would be a much more interesting and satisfying tournament to follow.
The ECB should also give it more of a push, with proper fixture announcements and the like rather than information being slowly trickled out by Play-Cricket and the counties over the winter. Play-Cricket is not a great website for following matches – next year, the ECB should ensure that all matches are scored on NV Play (a sub-brand of Play-Cricket, I believe), which is a less clunky and more intuitive platform. As many matches as possible should be live-streamed, too.
What of women’s county cricket for the rest of 2022? Several regions have taken it upon themselves to organise one-day tournaments for their counties, to be played throughout the rest of the season. The East of England Championship and the London Championship are entering their third seasons, while we will also see the inaugural West Midlands 50 over competition and the Southern Counties Cup. These are great initiatives that will provide valuable game time to those not involved with the regions, but there are several areas of the country not covered by these tournaments, including the South West, East Midlands and North.
I hope that every region is endeavouring to set up similar tournaments in the near future because the current situation means that players who are too old for regional academies but not selected for their regional senior team have little opportunity to progress if they do not play for a county that plays in a one-day tournament. A few T20s at the start of the season in less-than-ideal conditions are not enough. Players improve the most when they are playing longer-form cricket – and the opportunities it brings to bat and bowl for longer – at the height of summer.
As it stands, Somerset have no more matches for the rest of the season. A number of their players will be playing for Western Storm or the Storm academy, but some will be left with just club cricket – my understanding is that Alice Bird, Tilly Bond, Emily Edgcombe, Jodie Filer, Lilly Hawkins, Daisy Jeanes, Lorraine Szczepanski and Brooke Whittaker are in this boat. This is a real shame. It all shows the folly of the ECB scrapping the 50 over County Championship after the 2019 season. It should be brought back urgently, or at the very least they should ensure that county one-day tournaments are being played in every part of the country. It wouldn’t be difficult to bring them all together in a revival of the County Championship. The ECB make a lot of noise about their commitment to women’s cricket, and while they have done good things there is a lot more that can be done.
The scorecard for the Warwickshire v Gloucestershire semi-final can be found here
The scorecard for the Somerset v Wales semi-final can be found here:
The scorecard for the Warwickshire v Somerset final can be found here
The Play-Cricket home page for the 2022 Vitality Women’s County T20 can be found here