She may be the youngest woman to take 50 T20I wickets, but Sophie Ecclestone holds loftier ambitions.
Having just celebrated her 21st birthday – in socially distant fashion, of course – left-arm spinner Ecclestone has enjoyed spending time since the Covid-19 enforced lockdown working on a different aspect of her game, which she hopes will help her achieve her goals.
Largely confined to a general fitness regime as opposed to batting and bowling, however, she does look forward to the time when England Women can return to cricket training, as their male counterparts began to do last week, and playing for her country again.
Ecclestone jumped to the top of the ICC’s T20 bowling ranks with her eight wickets at the World Cup earlier this year in Australia, where her average of 6.12 and economy rate of 3.23 were particularly eye catching. In taking 3 for 7 off 3.1 overs during England’s final group game against West Indies, she claimed her 50th international wicket in the format.
“I didn’t really realise until one of the girls told me before the game,” Ecclestone told ESPNcricinfo. “It was a big achievement for me … the batters will go after you in T20 cricket and I think if you can get them out and win the battle then you’ve done really well as a spinner.”
Ecclestone showed just how much she thrives on the battle with a nerveless display in bowling the Super Over as England defeated Australia in a T20 match in Canberra in February, in the lead-up to the World Cup, restricting Alyssa Healy and Ashleigh Gardner to just eight runs before Heather Knight and Danni Wyatt took their side over the line with the bat.
Last year, Ecclestone became the first player to retain the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s Women’s Player of the Summer award, having topped England’s wicket-taking charts in both the white-ball series against West Indies, and in the Ashes. In 2018, she won the award after taking 20 wickets across six ODI and five T20 appearances for England.
Asked to name her greatest ambition in cricket, having achieved so much since making her international debut at the age of just 17 in a T20 against Pakistan in Bristol, Ecclestone’s response makes it sound easy.
“Just to become one of the best players that’s ever played women’s cricket really, and be one of the best spinners and be remembered by that,” she said.
Keeping fit during lockdown has been helped by the energy required to look after her new 10-month-old puppy, Rex. But Ecclestone has also been in contact with Lisa Keightley, the England Women’s head coach, conducting reviews and setting goals, which include the aim of improving her batting.
With England Women still hopeful of hosting India, who postponed their June-July tour when the coronavirus pandemic hit, and South Africa, who remain scheduled to visit in September, Ecclestone and her team-mates will be looking to test themselves ahead of their planned ODI World Cup defence, due to start in New Zealand in February.
As a tailender, Ecclestone averages 9.60 with the bat in T20Is with a strike rate of 104.34 and has an ODI average of 6.90 with a strike rate of 64.95. While spin has been her first love since bowling in an under-11s game, she saw no reason why, at her age, she couldn’t develop into more of an allrounder or, at the very least, force her way up the order a little.
“It would be really nice to know that I can bat as well as bowl and give seomething else to the team, not just my bowling,” “Ecclestone said.
“I definitely feel the England team are going in the right direction. As the years go by everyone’s getting fitter and stronger and everyone’s trying to improve different aspects of their game, so hopefully we can go to the World Cup in New Zealand and win it again. I hope we can get some international cricket in at the end of the summer.”
Dom Bess feeling ‘really dangerous’ and keen to spin series England’s way
He may have gone wicketless during the fourth innings as England fell to a bruising defeat in the first Test, but Dom Bess isn’t the sort of cricketer whose confidence is easily dented. England’s offspinner, still only five matches into his Test career, has declared that he is feeling “really dangerous” and said he was keen to get back into the thick of it when the teams resume their behind-closed-doors contest at Emirates Old Trafford this week.
Bess is used to playing with a burden of expectation of his shoulders, having developed at Somerset where the Taunton surfaces are often tailored to suit himself and Jack Leach, the other spinner in England’s 21-man party. Ben Stokes, standing in as captain during the first Test, had partly based his decision at the toss on the theory the Ageas Bowl pitch would take spin in the fourth innings, but while Bess was unable to make a decisive contribution he seems in no way cowed by the experience.
In fact, had a tight review for lbw against Roston Chase gone his way – it came back as umpire’s call despite Hawk-Eye suggesting the ball would have hit the top of middle stump – West Indies would have been 31 for 4 and the eventual outcome of the game might well have been different.
“Personally I was really happy with how it came out, it’s just the opportunities that went missing in that last innings,” Bess said via video conference from Manchester. “It would have been nice to have that lbw shout, it could have potentially got us on a roll to have them four down. It’s coming out really nicely and if I get picked, hopefully we’ll get a big score and I can spin a couple out.
“I know I went wicketless [in the second innings], but like I said it could have turned… And actually, the thing I’m focused on is how well it’s coming out at the moment, I do feel really dangerous and that’s a great place to be. I think as a spinner, some will go your way some days, some won’t. That’s cricket. I don’t look too much into that. I want to contribute with bat, ball and in the field, and when opportunities come I just want to make sure I take them.”
Old Trafford has traditionally been viewed as a ground on which spinners can thrive, largely due to the extra bounce. Recently that advantage has been less pronounced, with spin in first-class games averaging 37.95 over the last five years – higher than at all of England’s Test grounds bar Cardiff and The Oval – which might suggest Bess, who has never previously played in Manchester, will asked to fulfil more of a holding role.
Even so, he will not be fazed if asked to try and win the game in the fourth innings again (a cause that would be helped by England’s batsmen putting up a few more runs), comparing the scenario to that of quick bowlers being presented with seaming conditions.
“I’m used to bowling on spinning wickets,” he said. “People talk about this pressure of it being on me, the last day… I’ve spoken a lot with Leachy about it, this pressure that people put on us. I actually flip it around, it’s a great opportunity – it’s like saying to a seamer, it’s a green one today, are you worried about getting them out? Course you’re not, you’re excited because it’s probably in your favour a little bit more. And that’s how I look at it, certainly the last couple of days and hopefully when it spins, it’s my time to shine and stand up.”
As for his own form, the encouraging signs are simple: bounce and spin. “I feel like I am attacking both edges of the bat. My consistency and accuracy within where I am landing it is dangerous. That comes through training, getting that feel, that rhythm. I’m very big on my rhythm, getting into it. It’s just a feeling, I guess and that’s certainly what I think I have got at the moment.”
The Southampton Test was Bess’s first at home since his debut in 2018, having come back from a period in the wilderness to dislodge Leach, his county team-mate, as No. 1 spinner. Bess, who is out of contract with Somerset at the end of the summer, may have to move in order to secure more regular cricket but suggested that as far as he was concerned there was no rivalry with England.
“I am playing at the moment but I am not taking it for granted. I know Leachy is behind me and I know how much he is working. I’ve had to fight for my spot for a long time I guess, always being behind. Potentially it’s a little bit different at the moment, the feeling. But it’s about making sure that I focus on what I can control. I know it’s a big cliché but it is as simple as that. I’ve got to make sure I am doing what I can do, day in and day out. There is no rivalry with it. We are helping each other to be as best we can for the England side. That’s a great place to be.”
Bess’s other noteworthy role in Southampton was to contribute to the ball-shining process. “Being a very sweaty man out on the field, I took a little bit of responsibility,” he said. Sky’s cameras even picked him up collecting sweat from his back – England might need such a combination of inspiration and perspiration if they are to level the series this week.
West Indies must consign Ageas Bowl win to ‘history’ – Phil Simmons
Phil Simmons, West Indies’ coach, has challenged his players to consign the events of the first Test at the Ageas Bowl to “history”, as they look to guard against complacency and close out their first overseas series win against a leading Test nation in more than a quarter of a century.
Speaking after his team’s return to Emirates Old Trafford ahead of Thursday’s Test, Simmons praised the resolve of his players in Sunday’s four-wicket win in Southampton – in particular Jermaine Blackwood for his decisive 95 on the final day of the contest, and Shannon Gabriel, whose haul of nine wickets across the two innings demonstrated his return to full fitness following ankle surgery.
The result means that West Indies have now won four of last six Tests against England – dating back to their famous run-chase at Headingley in 2017, and encompassing their 2-1 series win in the Caribbean in early 2019. However, they have not won a series in England since 1988, and Simmons acknowledged that it would be their duty to start from scratch in the coming days.
“For me it was a great win because I think that it signified a lot of hard work being done by the players over the last four or five weeks,” he said. “But you don’t come to England and just win a Test match. It was a top-class Test match, with good cricket played by both teams, and even coming down to the last hour, it could have gone either way.
“To come out on top. It’s been great for us, and it was important because you don’t want to have to chase England in England. So the chasing is from their point of view now. But you guard against complacency by just trying to do the same things you did before the first Test. Right now that Test match is history. We’ve got to be thinking about what we do from Thursday to Monday.”
West Indies successfully backed up their first-Test victory in Barbados last year with an equally impressive win in Antigua, but the challenge of replicating that form in an overseas campaign is rather harder.
Leaving aside their tours of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, they have only taken the lead in the first Test of an away series on three occasions since 1995. In that year’s tour of England, they were pegged back to a 2-2 draw after a crushing win at Headingley, and were then overturned 3-1 on their next visit to England in 2000, and 2-1 in South Africa in 2007-08.
However, the circumstances of the current England tour are different in a number of key respects – firstly, the absence of a home crowd, which England arguably noticed during a flat day in the field in West Indies’ first innings, but perhaps more significantly, the extended preparation period, which may have been forced on the tourists by the Covid-19 outbreak, but which Simmons said harked back to his own playing days in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I think that has been the biggest influence on the performance,” he said. “I think the fact that we’ve been here for that period of time, we’ve had quality bowling in the nets because we’ve had nearly 11 seamers here, you can’t put a price on that.
“I think that’s something that we have to look at. I don’t like to go back into my [playing] days, but we would come to England and play something like three or four proper warm-up games before the first Test, and we would also have three-day or four-day games in between the Test matches. So I think that period of training goes a long way to how we performed in that first Test.”
One of the key beneficiaries of the lead-up time was Gabriel, who had not originally been named in West Indies’ first-choice 14, but was added to the squad after proving his fitness in both the nets and the intra-squad contests at Old Trafford. His hostility in both England innings echoed his crucial contributions to the win in the Caribbean last year, and Simmons took particular pleasure in his two-wicket burst on the pivotal fourth evening of the match.
“The hardest time for bowlers, after bowling from the morning, is that last session,” Simmons said. “To see him and Alzarri [Joseph] come up trumps in that session is so pleasing to us. With him coming back from that ankle surgery and working as hard he has worked since we’ve been here, it was a joy to see him successful in that period.”
Blackwood also proved his mettle, and not for the first time against England, against whom he now averages 55.00 in seven Tests. He withstood intense pressure on the final day – both from the scoreboard, which read 27 for 3 with John Campbell retired hurt, and from England’s fielders, with Ben Stokes in his ear from the outset as they attempted to goad him into a rush of blood.
“I think he must be commended because he has worked very hard on trying to get that temperament right for each part of his innings,” Simmons said. “As we saw in the first innings, it was still there a bit, but in the second he controlled it a lot better. And that helped him to bring home the game for us.”
Blackwood himself conceded that England’s words were “nothing bad, just cricket” and Simmons accepted that it was all part and parcel of the Test match battle.
“It’s what I would have done too,” he said. “Try to get him irrational, but I think he held his own. He looked at the situation and played it as well as he could have. So that shows that his mindset is improving, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Mashrafe Mortaza recovers from Covid-19
Former Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza confirmed on Tuesday that he is Covid-19 negative. His wife Sumona Haque, however, continues to test positive.
Mortaza, who is also a Member of Parliament representing the ruling Awami League party, was diagnosed with the virus three weeks ago, on June 20.
“I heard the results of the test this evening, which is negative,” Mortaza wrote on his Facebook page. “I am thankful to everyone who prayed for me, was beside us and showed concern during this time. But my wife is still Covid-19 positive after two weeks of being diagnosed. She is doing well. Keep her in your prayers.
“I got treatment at home. To those who are affected, stay positive. Keep faith in Allah and abide by the rules. Together we will keep fighting the virus.”
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