Domestic bliss and natural talents

There has been an evident shift in Irish Women’s cricket at the very top level, starting with the positive appointment by Cricket Ireland of Trent Johnston and Mark Lane as the new coaching team.

However, has the overall women’s cricket culture in Ireland begun to move forward and away from its old, stale and tired approaches?

After the Irish girls’ tour to Qatar and with the World T20 Finals ahead, it seems to be a good time to have a considered look over the woman's domestic situation.

Whilst it is clear that Cricket Ireland has a game plan for our national team, will our domestic leagues be progressing too?

During the tour, CricketEurope's forum certainly was an active ‘slaughter pit’ for the girls. Within the discussion both good and bad points were raised, but the most important thing was that it provoked discussion.

Surely this could be used as a starting point to highlight the need for a clear strategy about the women’s domestic game in Ireland. There is undoubtedly lots of talent, and we should be excited, but are we putting enough emphasis on the cricket being played at grassroots level in our clubs?

Are the governing bodies are doing enough, what more can be done, and how do we increase the playing numbers in the women’s game?

At the moment Cricket Leinster have three 20 over women’s leagues, three knockout Cups (Senior, Junior and Minor) and the Pilkington Plate, 40 Over competition.

In 2014 the following teams have entered the competitions:

  • Pilkington Plate 40 Over Comp – Pembroke, Merrion, North Kildare, Leinster, YMCA, Fingal.
  • Division 1 & Senior Cup – Pembroke, Merrion, Leinster, North Kildare, YMCA, Malahide, Clontarf, The Hills
  • Division 2 & Junior Cup – Railway Union, Merrion II, Clontarf II, The Hills II, Leinster II, Rush, Malahide II
  • Division 3 & Minor Cup – Railway Union II, Greystones, Rush II, Phoenix, North Kildare II, Dublin University, Pembroke II.

In total, 22 adult women's teams will be competing for the leagues and cups this season. The Hills has joined Division 1 to make it an eight team league. This means a better structure for the premier league of Women’s cricket in Leinster.

In addition, Fingal (Rush and The Hills) have become the sixth team to be added to the Pilkington 40 Over Competition. Whilst in Division 3, Greystones have entered a women’s team for the first time.

The following table illustrates the girl’s youth teams entered into the 2013 competitions. Entries for 2014 have not yet been finalised at the time of writing.

  • Clontarf (Two U11, U13)
  • Leinster (U11, 13, 15, 17)
  • Malahide (U11, 13, 15, 17)
  • Merrion (U11, 13, 15, 17)
  • North County (U11, 13)
  • North Kildare (U11)
  • Pembroke (U11)
  • Phoenix (U11, 13)
  • Railway Union (U11, 13, 15, 17)
  • Rush (U11, 13, 15,17)
  • The Hills (U11, 13, 15, 17)
  • YMCA (U11, 13, 15)

First division cricket can be funny, with many clubs having players on the Irish team, it can nearly take away from the level of cricket being played.

Although the Irish girls hold their own and don’t miss many games, but others miss out, and with the Irish girls selection not being affected by their club performance this leaves gaps in the first division.

Some players feel they are just there to make up numbers and rarely get an opportunity to bat or bowl. Having said that, whilst there is not a lot that can be done for this situation, the governing bodies and clubs must make sure these players are getting their fair go on the Division 2/3 teams.

The 20 over league is generally played competitively, however sometimes the 40 over Pilkington Plate games can just be a case of who is available or what team can be pulled together on the day.

Clubs have different sized squads and numbers to choose from. A definite need for a  new approach to the cricket being played is needed. Perhaps seeing bigger scores from the Irish squad players and all round better performances may be a way of gaining a supporter or two along the way.

The 2nd division is a mix of old and new players and it is a pity many older players do not continue to play and make their way down through the leagues keeping the strength of the cricket higher and passing on all of their knowledge and experience.

This division, and the 3rd division could be strengthened from more emphasis on coaching. Do they miss out at nets and therefore being able to take their game to the next level? Should this level of cricket and our youth teams be the place to place a high priority flag and pump a lot more of our limited resources into?

After all the Irish squad girls are being well coached and looked after. There are some great coaches out there already putting in hard hours with the current and next generation, in schools and clubs. For example, Nigel Pyne, Brían O'Rourke, Isobel Joyce, Amy Kenealey, Clare Shillington, Rob O’Connor and many more are investing time and knowledge so we can feel confident that some of the pieces are in place.

This is noticeable from the amount of young players named on the National Performance Squad and the Emerging Players squad back in November and the presence of teenagers on the Irish team such as Lucy O’Reilly.

Developing women's and girls' cricket within this province and country should be a main priority. Increasing women’s cricket participation, membership, club affiliation, coaching roles, together with securing sponsorship and further funding creates a forward positive motion and builds up our domestic game.

Should Cricket Leinster or Cricket Ireland be providing advice and looking to ensure a strong coach is in place with every club/team? Should there be regular meetings with CL/CI head coaches to ensure players improve and that the approach to the game is all going forward in one direction while maintaining high standards.

Some suggestions have previously been put forward, but maybe there is a need now to re-assess womens’ domestic cricket and any possible improvements.

  • Getting clubs and committees on board to commit to the growth of women/girl cricket.
  • Mentoring programme successfully implemented in clubs for the domestic leagues.
  • Appointing more women/girl development officers.
  • Expansion of Cricket Leinster’s development programmes for U19, U17, U15 and U13s with more winter training camps held.
  • More emphasis on schools competitions and over-seeing the move from schools cricket to club cricket.
  • Adding inter-pros/super 4’s back into play and advertising them.
  • Implementation of skills-based coaching sessions delivered by lead coaches in fast bowling, spin bowling, wicket-keeping and batting - all levels welcome.
  • Re-naming the leagues/cups - T20 coloured gear - emphasis on the style of game, fast moving, not like test matches.
  • Setting new goals, targets for players - Most 6’s, 4’s, diving catches - a welcome to the modern game
  • Attracting more players from other leagues around the world - strengthening club cricket and widening the appeal of the game.
  • Clubs or governing bodies attempting to attract other players/athletes from hockey, camogie and other sports – Talent ID days for potential future international stars.
  • Creating pathways for talented women and girls to achieve their potential. Fielding more women/girl teams - potentially playing a All-Ireland comp in time with the current developments in the NCU and NWCU.
  • Strengthening weaker teams, making sure they have advice and a support network to progress and improve.
  • Changing in cricket culture - fitness, strength and conditioning and with positive approach to sport physiology.
  • New faces – fresh ideas, at all levels, playing and administration.

All this said, Womens’ cricket needs people in seats to make things happen and the time for action is now.

The 2014 season is just around the corner and our Irish Women’s team taking off for their T20 World Cup dream in Bangladesh.

We all wish them well and hope for another upset to mirror their recent success versus Pakistan in Qatar.

This next season is the most important in a long time. Momentum from the womens’ World Cup run should make sure we are not stagnant and moving forward tackling issues and setting new and higher goals for women's cricket in Ireland.

There should be a real opportunity for all players to push for Irish team selection this summer. They should be watched closely at a domestic level to see who are the consistent performers and squad selected on the basis of current form, not reputation.

There is the extra incentive of this summer’s scheduled international games and the chance to represent your country at the highest level.