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The story of Women's Cricket in Somerset

To mark International Women’s Day 2020, we thought we would take a look back at the history of the Women’s game within the County and the important role the Club have helped to play in its development.

Somerset has long had a special affiliation with the women’s game and the County’s Cricket Museum is proud to have the first, and only according to the museum’s curator, permanent exhibition to the women’s game in the country.

The Somerset Women played their first match on May 19th, 1956 at Morlands Athletic Ground in Glastonbury, but it has been in more recent years that Taunton has become something of a focal point for the women’s game.

England Women made their debut at the County Ground in 1997 against South Africa in an ODI which saw a young Charlotte Edwards make the first of her nine hundreds in the format.

The then 17-year-old produced a fine display of batting as she reached three figures from just 115 balls with an innings that included 15 fours.

Looking back at that match in a recent interview with this website she said: “To be able to get to play at such a beautiful ground like Taunton was great and it was such a beautiful day. It was the perfect setting for it all.

“I still remember that day very fondly. On the day we had a really good crowd and that was probably the first time that I’d played in front of a big crowd and it was just brilliant. Whenever I played at Taunton there was always a really good atmosphere and the Members really support the women’s game.

“Taunton is one of my favourite grounds. It was one of the best wickets you could play on and I had a good record down there. I loved the people and I loved the town. As a person it really suited me and I always love going back there. I was lucky enough to be back there commentating during the summer and it’s still a great venue and one that I always look forward to going back to.”

Since that day the England team have regularly returned to First Class cricket’s most South Westerly outpost and in 2009 the home of Somerset County Cricket Club also officially became the ECB’s Home of Women’s Cricket.

This coincided with the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 tournament, which saw Somerset stage all 12 group match fixtures in the competition. Since then the women’s game has gathered enormous support and momentum and from a logistical point of view it made sense for the England team to relocate away from the rural South West. However, Somerset still consider ourselves to be the Spiritual Home of the women’s game.

In total, Taunton has hosted four Women’s Test matches, 20 Women’s ODIs and 22 Women’s IT20s.

These numbers include the seven incredibly successful matches that were held in Taunton during the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup, which England eventually won on that memorable day at Lord’s.

The introduction of the Kia Super League in 2016 only emphasised the passion that there is in the South West for the women’s game, with four-figure crowds flocking to the Cooper Associates County Ground to support Western Storm over the four years of the tournament.

Western Storm turned out to be a huge success. The team became the most decorated in the competition by lifting the trophy twice and were the only team to reach Finals Day on every occasion.

It’s not surprising that the players have a soft spot for the County where England star Anya Shrubsole graduated from the Academy.

England Captain and former Western Storm skipper, Heather Knight also spent time on the Somerset Academy and revels in the atmosphere every time she runs out on to the pitch in Taunton. “It’s brilliant,” she said. “There’s always a really good atmosphere, and as the home team we really feel that support. The crowd get behind us, which is lovely, and any time we come down to Taunton we really enjoy it. The crowd are always really knowledgeable about women’s cricket, and really supportive.”

England batter Tammy Beaumont registered both her highest ODI and T20 scores at Taunton and understandably has affectionate recollections of the picturesque venue. “We’ve played at Taunton for a number of years during my career and we always get really well supported down there, which is really nice to see,” she said when speaking to this website last year. “You can tell that they’re a real cricket crowd because they clap good pieces of fielding and things like that as opposed to just cheering fours, sixes and wickets.

“We’re always well supported there and we’re always spending a long time signing autographs after the game, but it’s always worth it when there are so many boys and girls there enjoying the game.

“I’ve got career bests at Taunton, so I have very fond memories of the ground. I always try and sit in Marcus Trescothick’s seat when we’re in the home dressing room. I used to love watching him play when I was a youngster. I bumped in to him before a match at Taunton a couple of years ago and he said that he hoped his seat would bring me luck. It was really nice of him to say that.”

Somerset Women have also tasted success recently.

Sophie Luff captained the side to glory in Division Two of the ECB T20 league in 2019.

After lifting the trophy, Sophie said: “I’m really proud of all of the girls and it was a real team effort. For the young girls to have come into the side and performed like they did was phenomenal. It’s been a great team effort all year and I couldn’t be happier.

“Everyone worked really hard over the winter and I don’t think that anyone looked out of place at this level. We have a great group of players who are all playing for each other and enjoying each others success.”

A number of local players have also been selected to play for Welsh Fire in the inaugural Women’s Hundred competition, which will be staged at the height of the forthcoming summer.

Sophie Luff, Lauren Filer and Alex Griffiths, alongside former Western Storm players Claire Nicholas and Georgia Hennessy, will be taking to the field with the likes of Australian superstars Meg Lanning and Jess Jonassen in the new competition.

The women’s game is also going from strength to strength at the recreational level in Somerset.

The County Cricket Board has seen an impressive rise in numbers of cricket clubs with women’s sections and at the end of the 2019 season there were 32 clubs.  Growth and Participation Officer, Steve Gass explains: “Women’s cricket in Somerset has been on the rise for a number of seasons. Clubs are beginning to realise the benefit of making the game one for all the family”

So, what’s causing this demand?

“Back in 2018 the ECB created a participation programme called Women’s Softball Cricket Festivals,” continued Gass. “The ethos behind the programme is to create an experience that is fun, safe, fast and friendly. With the focus remaining on women and girls cricket, the game continues to grow. Last season we provided opportunities for about 70 women’s teams to take part in cricket.

“As a Board we are supporting cricket clubs to develop women’s sections by delivering a programmes called Active4 and FOURS! cricket. Active4 cricket is a Board initiative that supports a club by supplying a coach who will deliver four weeks of women’s soft ball cricket coaching. FOURS! is our programme to help women’s sections who want to transition from soft ball to hard ball. The coach is supplied along with a heavily subsided kit bag allowing the females in the club to have their own dedicated equipment. This has proved popular this year with eight clubs registered for support.”

With such a demand for women’s cricket in Somerset, there needs to be a structure in place to ensure teams have the opportunity to play at a level that matches their ability. As a result, Somerset Cricket Board have created three options this year for women to play cricket.

  • Softball Festivals – a fun and friendly cricket festival for teams of six to eight women. Nine festival dates across the county.
  • Softball League – with the game growing rapidly there was need for a soft ball league. Now with three regional division we have 21 teams playing across the County.
  • Hardball Festivals – opportunities for individuals or players who want to play hard ball cricket. These are aimed at new players/less experienced with a view to creating a demand for a development hard ball league in 2021.

So, what makes this system work?

“The clubs who host a women’s section have been fantastic in helping to run the leagues and festivals,” said Gass. “The women in all the teams are highly passionate about the sport and have really engaged and given lots of time in order to make it work.

“As the women’s elite level gains more coverage, we are experiencing more clubs who want to be involved. We recognise that we have work to do in the provision of hard ball cricket, but we are confident this will develop with the increase we are seeing in clubs starting girls only sections.”

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29/05/2020 18:30 - The Cooper Associates County Ground

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