A truly stunning sunset over the Quantock Hills marked the end of what had been a quite remarkable week of cricket at the Cooper Associates County Ground.
During that time, over 170 children had trained with and met their sporting heroines whilst countless world records were obliterated.
In addition to that there was the small matter of four dramatic and entertaining International T20 matches played out in front of thousands of supporters from all over the world set against the beautiful backdrop that is the home of Somerset County Cricket Club.
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 ODI hundreds. Since that day the England team have regularly returned to First Class cricket’s most South Westerly outpost.
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 themselves to be the Spiritual Home of the women’s game and you can see why.
Crowds in their thousands turn up in force every time England Women visit Somerset’s County Town. In addition to that, the seven matches that were held in Taunton during the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup were a huge success both on and off the field, whilst the introduction of the Kia Super League has only emphasised the passion that there is in the South West for the women’s game as four figure crowds have flocked to support Western Storm over the last two years at Taunton and Bristol.
It’s not surprising then that the players have something of a soft spot for the County where England star Anya Shrubsole graduated from the Academy.
Opener Tammy Beaumont has 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 recently. “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 both of my career bests at Taunton now, 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. Obviously, he opens the batting and I try to bat a bit like him. I bumped in to him a couple of times before the recent games and he said that he hoped his seat would bring me luck. It was really nice of him to say that and to get some runs on top of that was even better.”
England Captain, 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 after England’s recent recording breaking win over South Africa. “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.”
Before the dramatic action of the Tri-Series between England, New Zealand and South Africa had even unfolded on the pitch, all three squads took part in a special event at the Cooper Associates County Ground to launch the tournament.
The full squads from all three countries helped to deliver a free fun coaching session to over 170 children on the outfield. The players gave the youngsters, who were aged between five and 15, the benefit of their expertise whilst engaging in several cricket-based activities. Following the fun cricket event, a question and answer session took place with Suzie Bates, Amelia Kerr, Dane van Niekerk, Chloe Tryon, Tammy Beaumont and Anya Shrubsole.
During the light-hearted questioning all the players gave their thoughts ahead of the series and discussed the current state of the women’s game. To end the day the players from all three squads then spent time signing autographs for all the children.
The youngsters who attended the session will certainly remember the event for a long time, but what did the players think of it?
“It was great to see so many kids at Taunton,” said Beaumont. “It was good to be able to get to meet them all and see how enthusiastic they were about their cricket. It was really good to see. We didn’t really know what to expect on the day, but it was great to see so many kids and I hope that they enjoyed the session. Events like this are important and I remember when some of the Kent team came down to our primary school to do a little coaching session. Those kinds of memories stick with you for a long time.”
Knight was also impressed by the event. “I spent a lot of time here as a kid, so it’s great to see so many kids here having fun and enjoying the game,” she said after the session. “It’s a lovely opportunity for the kids to come out and play on the Somerset outfield.”
With the feel good factor at extremely high levels, attention turned to matters on the field as the IT20 Tri-Series got underway in front of a bumper attendance at the Cooper Associates County Ground. However, the crowd of more than 2600 spectators could not have been prepared for what was about to happen.
New Zealand took on South Africa in the opening encounter and the tone was set for a remarkable day as records began to fall. Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine put on a record IT20 stand of 182 as New Zealand also set a new record women’s IT20 score of 216 for one. Bates also became the highest run scorer in Women’s IT20 cricket after notching up her 2639th run. She also made 124 not out from just 66 balls in an innings that included 16 fours and three sixes, the second highest ever score in an IT20. Dane van Niekerk and Mignon du Preez added 79, which was the highest fifth-wicket partnership for South Africa in T20 matches but the White Ferns romped to victory by 66 runs.
It couldn’t get better than that could it?
It most certainly did as England set about smashing the records that had been set just hours before, securing the highest ever margin of victory by runs and blasting their way to 250 for one thanks to the second fastest ever T20 century (from 47 balls) courtesy of Beaumont. “We knew it was a good wicket having seen the New Zealand innings that morning, so we knew it was going to be a good game,” she said. “To go out there and bat like that was really pleasing for me and it was one of those days where everything seems to go your way. The way Danielle Wyatt, Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver got us up to that total at the end was unbelievable.
“New Zealand have got a very good team so for us to go out and break their record so convincingly was really pleasing for us. Ever since Mark Robinson has come in he has asked us to push the boundaries of women’s cricket and take the game on, so it’s nice that we are doing that.”
Another crowd of well over 2500 returned to Taunton for the second double-header on Saturday which, although lacking in milestones, was no less dramatic. If nothing else, we would find out if England could cope with the rigours of two matches in a day.
The team showed tremendous character in beating New Zealand in the second match having lost the opener to South Africa, but the players refused to blame the timetable.
“We’ve known the schedule for a long time, so we knew that day would be tough,” said Beaumont. “We’d spoken not only about the fitness element but also the nutrition side of things as well to make sure that we got everything right in the build-up. The fact that we came back and won in the way that we did against New Zealand after losing to South Africa is testament to that. It would have been very easy to crumble and be tired, so to win that second game and show some real character was exceptional.”
So, as the sun set on Saturday and the broadcast compounds we dismantled, women’s cricket bid goodbye to Taunton for another year, or did it?
Although the International teams have left the region for the time being, the women’s game is going from strength to strength in Somerset.
The County Cricket Board has seen an impressive rise in numbers over the last 12 months as Growth and Participation Officer, Steve Gass explains. “Women’s cricket in Somerset is on the rise,” he said. “From 2016 the numbers have increased from 18 teams to almost 30 by the end of this season.”
So, what’s causing this demand?
“The ECB have 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. This year alone, Somerset hope to achieve a total of 48 teams experiencing cricket through these festivals. That will be in excess of 480 women taking part in cricket, almost half of them for the first time.
“As a Board we are supporting cricket clubs to develop women’s sections by delivering a programme called Active8 cricket which is a Board initiative that supports a club by supplying a coach who will deliver eight weeks of women’s cricket coaching. The model has proved very successful with four teams developed in 2016, another five teams in 2017 and a further five this year. That’s 14 new women’s sections created and sustained.”
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. 14 festival dates across the county.
Softball League – with the festivals being such a success in 2017, there was clear demand for something more competitive. There are now three softball cricket divisions (North, South and Mid divisions) with 15 teams taking part. The league will have seen 72 fixtures played this year, culminating in a finals day on the July 8th
Hardball League – With the increase in numbers at softball festivals, there was a growing demand from teams to try hardball cricket as well as those established clubs who already played hardball cricket. There are now two hardball divisions (North and South) with a total of 10 teams taking part this year.”
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. For example, on July 22nd when Western Storm open their season against Yorkshire Diamonds at the Cooper Associates County Ground, we hope to have 15 women’s teams taking part in a softball festival before the professional game starts.”
Somerset CCC CEO, Andrew Cornish has also recently pledged that his County will do whatever it can to support the Board and aid the growth of the game in the South West. “The women’s game in the region is getting stronger by the day and we are determined to ensure that we do whatever we can to help with that development,” he said. “We have a long association with the women’s game and feel a tremendous amount of pride in the success of the England side, especially when someone like Anya Shrubsole, who is one of our own, excels on the biggest stage.
“Along with Gloucestershire County Cricket Club and the University of Exeter, we have put a huge amount of time and effort in to making sure that Western Storm are the major force in the Kia Super League and that bore fruit in fine style last year. The popularity of the women’s game is at an all-time high at present and we are delighted to have been able to play a part in that.”
Mr Cornish could also not be more content with how the recent International week played out at Taunton. “It could not have gone better,” he said. “To have nearly 200 children here for the launch event was amazing. To see the players interacting so readily with all the youngsters really was something special and all three teams can be really proud of their players. Every single one of them was a credit to their country and indeed the sport as a whole. There is no doubt that life-long memories will have been created during that session.
“The crowds we had for the games were another huge plus for us. It clearly shows that there is a real passion for the women’s game in this part of the world. It is a real honour to be able to host women’s International matches here at what we like to think of as the Spiritual Home of Women’s Cricket and I look forward to maintaining and strengthening this link in the future.”
It was a truly incredible few days for International women’s cricket and for Somerset. It seems only fitting for Tammy Beaumont to have the final say on what was a remarkable week for anyone involved.
“It’s a really exciting time to be involved in the women’s game,” she said. “And the West Country really knows how to support women’s cricket.”