World Cup 2013 #cricket

With the 2013 World Cup kicking off today in India, I am feeling a level of excitement that is certainly unique to playing in 50-over World Cups.  I am sure whether you are a player, coach, umpire, administrator or fan, there are some sporting events which instantly come to mind that for an indescribable reason have that ‘something extra’ about them. For me, the World Cup instantly comes to mind. I am not sure why that is, maybe it’s because the World Cup has the best 8 female playing nations in the one place together doing battle to see who can claim to be the best of the best.  So even though tomorrow sees the first match in what is my third 50-over World Cup, the emotions of being part of this incredible event do not and have not changed.  I am just as excited and in awe as Holly Ferling, Megan Schutt or Renae Chappell  are likely to be feeling right now (they are the newbies on tour).

I thought I might give you a quick rundown of each of the teams taking part in the World Cup, but firstly, let me take you back a few days.  Once we landed in India and I walked off the plane in Mumbai the smells and humidity hit me right between the eyes, but in a comforting way. As many of you will know (particularly if you have read my book “Shaker”), for me India is a place that I used to visit a lot when I was younger and I have many happy memories of my time in India, especially in Mumbai. So in a sense when I stepped off the plane a few days ago it gave me the feeling of like I am coming home. That makes me feel relaxed and happy, and will hopefully provide me with a perfect combination when it comes to playing good cricket.

As we made the 15 hour flight over to India the stories of previous World Cups were being told to anyone who wanted to listen. Our coach, Cathryn Fitzpatrick was sharing war stories of her World Cup campaign here in 1997 and the obstacles that the Australian team had to overcome to make it a successful one.  I will admit that there were talks of the narrow loss in 2000 against New Zealand, but understandably those stories were pretty short. All this story telling made me start to reflect on my first 50 over World Cup in 2005 in South Africa and how special it was to play in a team of stars and contribute to the success on the day of the final. Looking back there are only 2 survivors from that team Alex Blackwell and myself; that is if you don’t include our coach, Fitz. My only other 50 over World Cup was in 2009 in Australia and there are 6 players in this group that were part of that campaign.

The experiences I had in those 2 campaigns were at total different ends of the spectrum, in terms of both on and off the field, which is written about in detail in my book “Shaker”. Notwithstanding that I reflect on both of those campaigns quite differently, during each campaign there were lessons to be learnt about what is needed to ensure that as players and support staff that you have done everything that is possible to prepare and be ready to play the best you can. I will try to expand on these things over the coming weeks in my blog. However, enough of the reminiscing…for now….

So how will others and we go in this tournament?  If the practice matches are anything to go by it is going to be a close one. The great thing about women’s cricket at the moment is that there is depth across all teams and you must be on your game for every match if you are to come away with the trophy on 17 February. Here is my run down of the teams:

1. England – Deservedly come into the World Cup as favorites due to winning the title in 2009, but also wining the Quadrangle Series in 2011. They have a core group of players that have been together for a while. They are lead well by their most experienced player in Charlotte Edwards who I believe is playing her 5th World Cup (amazing in itself). They have a number of key players that they will rely on, but that isn’t unique to England. This is the case for all teams.

A loss against New Zealand in the warm up matches shows to other teams that they can be beaten and hopefully for the rest of the teams, this and T20 final loss in Sri Lanka, might open up a few scars.

2. New Zealand – With a recent change in the head coach and changes to other support staff seems to have reinvigorated the group. In our recent matches against them they seem more relaxed and to be enjoying their cricket, which is leading to good results. With Nic Browne and Sophie Devine back in the team, this gives them greater depth and therefore the confidence to put the performances on the park. Although they have played in the 3 World Cup finals out of 4 (T20 and 50 overs), the trophy has so far eluded them.  With plenty of players still within the team from those matches the only question is, if they get close will they have the confidence to finish it off?

Having beaten England in the warm-up matches (despite their loss the previous day against India) shows that on their day they can smash any team. Consistency is what they lack and they will rely on their top 5 batters.

3. India – Obviously playing on their home soil will bring that little bit extra out in all the players who will be led by Mithali Raj (No. 1 ranked batter). However, as we found in 2009, playing on your home soil also brings additional pressure.  In terms of their success or otherwise in this world cup both Raj and Goswami will be the players that will need to lead this young side with good performances, but I look forward to seeing the explosive players such as Amita Sharma and Kaur step up also. It is these players that have the ability to take the game away from the opposition.

Having won their practice match against New Zealand it shows that there understanding of the conditions will play into their hands, but then the loss against us shows us that when the pressure moments occur they are quick to turn on each other. With a few of their senior players expected to retire after this tournament, look out for them stepping up and trying to make sure that they leave on a winning note.

4. West Indies – Definitely one of the teams that have shown that they are serious about their cricket and are here to play. Even though the prevailing view seems to be that T20 cricket is more the format they are more likely to be successful in, they still have players that can easily swing the momentum their way in the 50 over format. Dottin who scored a 26 ball fifty against us the other day certainly has the ability to win them a few matches and if she combines with Stephanie Taylor they could cause plenty of problems for the opposition.

The team is led by Aguilleira who provides the level head and has worked really well with Dottin and Taylor when they bat together. They certainly have the flare and with confidence could knock off the more fancied teams.

5. Pakistan – This is a team that I don’t know a lot about due to only ever playing them in World Cups. They have a relatively young/inexperienced team but with that brings excitement of playing the best in the world.

The Pakistanis were able to produce a win against India in the T20 World Cup last September and they would of taken plenty of confidence from that. With us playing them tomorrow, I guess that I will have more of an idea, but we will certainly respect the team who will be used to these conditions.

6. Sri Lanka – Another team that we haven’t had a lot of matches against. We did play them last August in Sri Lanka at a training camp and we certainly noticed that they were very much improved in all facets of the game. With majority of their players now receiving central contracts, they have been able to devotee more time to their training and it is certainly paying off.

Similar to Pakistan they will be more comfortable in conditions that we are playing in and with their captain Siriwardene an experienced campaigner they will look to her to lead to the team well.

7. South Africa – The final team that rounds out the best 8 countries in this World Cup. Like most teams there are seasoned campaigners, with their power hitters coming from Brits and Fritz. Loubster might like the spinning conditions as well as their young leg-spinner Niekerk who is playing her second World Cup at the ripe old age of 19.

Against England in the warm-up match they scored 220, which was only 50 runs short, therefore illustrating that they have the ability to perform at this level. With them in our pool they certainly be a team to watch.

8. Us – Australia – we have had a core group of players together over the last couple of years and with us securing the WT20 trophy in Sri Lanka in September there is certainly a level of confidence amongst the group. Some of the players to watch will be Meg Lanning who has already impressed at this level having recently scored one of the fastest hundred off 45 balls. However, she isn’t the only one to watch, with our leaders in fine form at the moment, Alex Blackwell and Jodie Fields.

As usual Ellyse Perry will bowl quick, but the name that people will get to know over the course of this World Cup is Holly Ferling, a young 17 year old who is taller than Ellyse and has the ability to make the batters dance whilst at the crease. If she is let loose with Ellyse look out the opposition. Spin will of course play a role in this tournament and we seem to have a nice mix of spinners that Jodie can call upon. Obviously, it is a little harder to critic our team, as I would love to mention everyone!

So what does all that mean? As you can see all teams have got players that are experienced and that have performed well at this level. The depth of talent is great at the moment and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some upsets throughout this tournament. Even though England come into this tournament as favorites, I truly believe that there are 4 other teams that could walk away with the trophy. Who that will ultimately be we will have to wait and see. What I do know is that it is going to be an interesting tournament and it is something that I can’t wait for, so bring on tomorrow!!

14th or the 1st? #cricket

So on my flight from Perth to Melbourne following the Breakers securing our 1st WT20 trophy, it got me thinking, what means more…. the 14th WNCL title or the Breakers 1st WT20 trophy that I have won?

Two days ago the Breakers continued to break (sorry for the pun) Australian sporting records by becoming the 1st team to win both the WNCL and WT20 trophies in a season – yes we finally got that elusive ‘double’ we have been chasing for 4 years.

Since my debut with the NSW Open team in 1998 I have been extremely privileged to have played in 16 consecutive WNCL finals, winning an amazing 14 titles. The 14th was actually won last week in a match against a spirited Queensland team.

So much has happened during the 16 seasons I have represented the Breakers, including almost coming a full circle in terms of the people involved. For instance, in my first WNCL final (which was decided by the best out of 3 matches) I actually played against Joanne Broadbent, who is the current Breakers coach. The second title came down to the wire in a tightly contest match against Victoria. The captain of that team was Julie Savage, who is now our Chair of Selectors for Australia and the opening bowler was Cathryn Fitzpatrick, our current Australian coach.

Sitting in the SCG change rooms with my teammates after the WNCL win, I started to reminisce of all the finals that I have played and the amazing players that I have played against and with.  I realised that  I have witnessed 3 generations of cricketers.

The first generation was the players that I looked up to, that I wanted to emulate and when you came into the team as a debutant you didn’t speak unless spoken to first. Those players were Belinda Clark, Lisa Keightley, Sally Griffiths, Cathryn Fitzpatrick, Karen Rolton and Charmaine Mason.

The second was my generation, players that I had grown up playing youth cricket with and over a period of time we all managed to play for NSW and Australia together. Those players were Leonie Coleman, Michelle Goszko, Therese McGregor, Martha Winch and Alex Blackwell could sneak into this group. Players from other states included Shelley Nitschke and Clea Smith.

Finally I have been fortunate enough to witness the next generation, the group of players that will take this game to an exciting level. Even with this group I have been able to see their development from being in the youth programs to eventually making it in domestic cricket and finally performing on the world stage. Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry, Sarah Coyte, Meg Lanning, Erin Osborne to name a few, but I could pretty much name the majority of my team as they all tend to be under 25!

Even though the Breaker have won so many titles it hasn’t gone all our way and there were plenty of times where we really should not have won, but somehow managed to find a way. Some of those matches are explained in detail in my book “Shaker,” where I go through the emotion of being out there in the heat of the battle.

I believe the Breakers are a team that has built a winning culture since the inception of the WNCL in 1996/97, but how?

I feel that Cricket NSW has played an integral part by investing heavily in youth programs. This has allowed these players to gain an understanding of what it takes to be successful, but the main point of difference compared to other teams is that our youth teams won more often than not.

For some of the current Breakers their first loss representing NSW has occurred at National League (open-aged competition). Therefore they have gone through 5 -6 years of having never lost a game let alone a final. What that has done is to instil confidence and a belief that as a NSW player we can win from any position. Also oppositions sometimes fear us before we even get on the field or if they do get into a position of winning they don’t know how to finish it off. The 2005/06 WNCL final is a prime example of that against QLD, who choked at the final hurdle, thankfully for us. The game is referred in my book in the Chapter titled “the fat lady hasn’t sung”.

Apart from this, the support, resources and infrastructure that surrounds the players allows them to flourish on the field and do what they do best. 

Aside from the 16 consecutive WNCL finals, I have also been part of 4 consecutive WT20 finals, with our record not as stellar as that which we have achieved in the longer format of the game.

That is why maybe this year the 1st WT20 trophy meant a little more than the 14th WNCL title although they are very special. For the last 3 years the Breakers have played some amazing T20 cricket and have even gone through the season undefeated only to lose against Victoria in the final. If I was to be critical of our past performances there were times that we didn’t prepare enough, didn’t know our plans as well as we should and let the occasion get to us. Especially when you have lost a couple of finals in a row as a player you start to play mind games despite trying to stay in the moment.

That certainly was the case last year in the T20 final at Ethiad Stadium, as a group we were all over the place, with our mind not on the job.

There was certainly a different feeling this year, that was probably assisted by playing the WNCL final first this year so we were already on a high. Plus David Thompson didn’t leave a stone unturned as he allowed all support staff to fly to Perth instead of the usual 3 staff for away matches.

I believe this calmed all players knowing that it was like a home game, everybody was relaxed and drew confidence that we had been in this situation before whereas our new opponent WA were playing in their first final.

Despite making the game closer that what it needed to be, when Alex slapped the ball over the infield to give us the win it sparked celebration. Unlike last week in the WNCL final rain didn’t affect the win, therefore instead of the umpires announcing the win, it was won with a boundary. The majority of the team ran onto the field to embrace Alex and Nicola Carey, whilst I remained on the bench looked at Erin Osborne and gave her a big hug.

There was a HUGE sense of relief, we were able to finally add the WT20 trophy to our cabinet and the Breakers could claim being the Best Team in all formats. The real kick I got was to see the younger players step up and contribute to this win as I now know that the next generation of Breakers are just as passionate and will ensure our long proud history remains intact.