La Manga Minefield

At the ongoing European Women's T20 World Cup Qualifier in La Manga, there has been a lot of criticism around the state of the pitch and outfield on both grounds. Broadcaster, and former county cricketer, Charles Dagnall was perhaps most unequivocal in his assessment, responding to a picture of the pitch by saying on Twitter "Quite simply, this is shit".

And he wasn't wrong. Whilst not as bad as some pitches that have been used for some associate tournaments it certainly served to amplify the already substantial gulf in class between the less established teams of France and Germany and the more experienced Dutch, Irish and Scots. I'm a great believer that lower ranked teams need more experience against the higher ranked teams, but it needs to happen on a fair playing field.

The groundsman, Callum Bristow, did defend himself on Twitter, stating "Before comments are made and people jump to conclusions about the pitches, the groundsman (me) was on furlough and brought back with 5 weeks to prepare these surfaces, letís look at... are they playing cricket? Yes, are they safe? Yes".

And to be fair to Callum, five weeks isn't enough time to prepare two grounds for a tournament of this importance, and he has been further hampered by a recent heatwave that has left the pitch and its surrounds looking like, as one of my colleagues put it, the surface of Mars.

So who to blame? The pandemic shares a lot of the blame - one of the reasons the ground staff were on furlough is that the club has been denied its regular stream of income from touring English club teams for the last two summers due to the lack of international travel. But the ICC should have been aware of the situation when they moved the tournament from Scotland.

The venue is also set to host the European qualifier for the Under-19 World Cup in three weeks time. Whether three weeks is enough time to bring the venues up to scratch is debatable, and the ICC would do well to at least investigate the possibility of an alternative venue, though that may be difficult logistically due to the vagaries of international travel at the moment.

The live stream, which has been uncomfortable viewing for more reasons than just the pitch at times, has brought an issue to the fore though. As Annette Aitken-Drummond pointed out, "The pitches for ICC women's associate cricket tournaments have always been brutal. The difference is, you're now all getting to see them."

The tournament format

Having a number of one-sided matches in a tournament always raises questions. Whilst anyone who has read what I've written over the years will know that I'd never propose not allowing teams to take part, even I am wondering whether the format of qualification for Europe is ideal.

Regional competitions used to be conducted on a divisional level in all five ICC regions. In recent years the ICC has moved away from these structures, except at Under-19 level. But is this the best decision?

I do think that weaker teams need experience against stronger teams. But they also need experience against fellow weaker teams - ones knowledge may be boosted by playing against stronger opponents, but confidence can take a knock when you're losing regularly.

Germany and France are clearly a step behind the other three teams in the tournament. Turkey, who withdrew, had never fielded a women's side before would likely have been another step behind the French and Germans. The presence of Turkey in the tournament was already odd given that other European teams have fielded women's teams in recent years including Italy, Austria, Denmark, Jersey and Guernsey.

Perhaps a second division tournament involving those teams to produce a qualifier to join Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands would have been a better way to set-up the pathway. Give more teams more experience of competitive tournament cricket and better prepare them to take on the bigger teams. Everyone wins.

It's great that European qualifying is no longer a closed shop only involving Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands. But could it be better structured? I certainly think so.

An answer to an old question

Back when I first started paying attention to associate cricket, a story that caught my attention was that of Cindy Pacquet. She turned up to play for France in a youth boys tournament back in 1999 and caused a bit of a fuss. Other teams complained but the tournament referee - CricketEurope's own John Elder - ruled that as the tournament eligibility rules didn't specify anything about the gender of the players, she was eligible.

I'd always wondered what happened to her, and what she was doing now. Was she still involved in cricket?

I got my answer the other day when I was informed that Cindy Breteche, playing in the aforementioned European qualifier for the women's T20 World Cup, was known before her marriage as Cindy Pacquet. She has so far played 12 T20Is for France after making her debut against Norway in 2019.

Her selection wasn't the only unusual selection for France around that time. At a senior men's tournament in Gibraltar the same year, France selected a 12 year old for a match against Israel. He was ruled ineligible by the organisers, and France forfeited the match in protest.

The selections are thought to be due to Simon Hewitt, then a player for the French national team and administrator in the country who was fond of annoying more senior administrators. A fine hobby if I do say so myself.

Hewitt may not be involved these days, but the unusual selections continue. Lara Aramas, who made her debut against Germany the other day, is a former world champion chess-boxer at the 55kg weight division. Certainly a unique combination of sports!

Another question answered

In last week's column I was puzzled by what happened in the fourth T20I between Rwanda and Ghana which was conceded by Rwanda when rain brought the game to an end with the score on 30-1 (and Rwanda behind on DLS) in the Rwandan innings with them needing 167 to win.

I suggested that it was either a fault with the DLS system, or a mistake on the online scorecards. It turns out that the Rwandan captain simply thought that the chase still required - 137 from 90 balls - was too tough and conceded before DLS was even mentioned.

It remains a puzzler though. Rwanda were 36-0 after five overs chasing a target of 165 in the first T20I and won by one wicket. 137 from 90 isn't that much tougher than 129 from the same number of balls. DLS only had Rwanda a few runs behind at that point.

Whilst I'm not suggesting any corruption at all, it has something of a whiff of Hansie Cronje forfeiting an innings against England in 2000. It's felt that the higher profile of associate bilaterals these days is attracting the attention of those who wish to corrupt the sport, and conceding in this situation certainly isn't a good look.

International round-up

It continues to be a busy time for associate cricket around the world with a number of series coming to a conclusion since my last column. A report on the recent Finland v Sweden T20I series can be found here, whilst one on a tri-series in Portugal also involving Gibraltar and Malta can be found here.

As for outside of Europe...

Thailand women tour of Zimbabwe

The one-day leg of Thailand's tour of Zimbabwe concluded on Tuesday with the four match series finishing at two a-piece.

In the first match, Thailand's first in 50 over cricket in over four years, the tourists recovered from 35-3 to post 199-4 from their 50 overs thanks to 67 from new captain Naruemol Chaiwai and 50 from Chanida Sutthiruang. The hosts chased down their target with five overs to spare to win by 7 wickets.

Wongpaka Liengprasert was the top scorer in the second match, making 51 out of Thailand's 229-9. Thailand then bowled well to restrict Zimbabwe to 207-9, particularly Nattaya Boochatham whose 5-33 helped her team level the series with a 22 run win.

An unbeaten century by Naruemol Chaiwai was the highlight for Thailand in the third game, especially after the top three were all dismissed for ducks. No other batter contributed in any significant fashion though and they were restricted to 189-7 from their 50 overs. Zimbabwe had little trouble chasing down their target to win by 5 wickets with 6.3 overs to spare.

The last match saw Zimbabwe bat first for the first time, scoring 212-8 form their 50 overs. A knock of 52 not out from 49 balls by Chanida Sutthiruang helped the visitors win by five wickets with 3.5 overs to spare and square the one-day series.

Thailand will no doubt be delighted at pushing a full member like this after not playing 50 over cricket for so long. It will also raise questions about whether the ICC should have extended ODI status to more teams than just Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. Thailand have certainly made a good case in this series.

The teams are currently playing a T20I series with it level at one each heading into the decider. More on this series in my next column.

Namibia v Zimbabwe Emerging Players

This tour of Namibia by the Zimbabwe emerging side was certainly a one-sided affair. Three T20 match and three one-day matches were played and if Namibia were hoping to use this as preparation for international assignments ahead they will have been disappointed with the standard of opposition offered up.

In the first T20 match, Zimbabwe EP could only manage 112-8 from their 20 overs, which the hosts chased down easily in 13.3 overs to win by 7 wickets thanks to Zane Green scoring an unbeaten 81 from 47 balls. The second match saw a brutal display of hitting by JJ Smit who hammered 93 from just 29 balls - a strike rate of 320.69 - to help Namibia score 254-4. Zimbabwe EP couldn't even manage half of that total as they were bowled out for 122.

The third T20 was a little closer, relatively speaking. Zimbabwe EP were bowled out for 129, which Namibia chased down in 18.3 overs to win by three wickets. But it was back to one-sided contests in the first one-day match, Namibia scoring 322 before bowling their opponents out for 210 to win by 112 runs.

Zimbabwe EP batted first in the second one-day match and were able to score 304, recovering from 198-6 thanks to a 33 ball score of 80 by Carl Mumba. Despite losing Zane Green early in their run chase, Namibia had little trouble chasing down their target thanks to a 207 run partnership for the third wicket between Michael van Lingen (who scored 115) and captain Gerhard Erasmus who finished unbeaten on 100 as Namibia won by six wickets with 11 balls to spare. It could have been quicker had JJ Smit not reigned in his instincts and scored slowly to try an allow Erasmus to reach his century, though he did somehow manage to accidentally hit a six at one point.

Namibia completed the whitewash in the third and final one-day match, scoring 367-8 from their 50 overs thanks to 96 by Zane Green, an unbeaten 91 from 47 balls by Gerhard Erasmus and 80 by Nicol Loftie-Eaton. Zimbabwe EP were bowled out for 210, losing by 157 runs.