Fourteen talented female cricketers from Europe's top Associate member countries the Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland came together at Worksop College in Nottingham last week to take on the ECB Academy side.
Based at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough, the ECB Academy side is formed of the best up-and-coming young players who have been identified as potential future prospects for the national team.
The European players were nominated by their country boards and then selected by an ICC Europe panel earlier this year, but had not come together as a collective unit until arriving at Worksop last weekend. This left little time for introductions; however after many past meetings on the field at ICC European Women's Championship events and development academies, many of the squad were already well acquainted with each other as players.
With two Twenty20 and two 50-over matches scheduled across the week, there was plenty of opportunity for both squads to take part in some competitive level cricket. In fact, due to the adverse weather forecast, the first Twenty20 fixture was brought forward by one day allowing an extra 50-over match to be played during the week. Although this did reduce Europe's pre-match preparations, it allowed both squads an additional opportunity to observe their players in a game environment and experiment with a number of playing variations.
Philip Hudson, ICC Regional Performance Officer and Coach of the Europe XI team was particularly pleased with how the week progressed: 'This week has been very much about assisting in the development of the players and giving them the opportunity to play as much competitive cricket as possible.
'It was pleasing to see that despite the results of the matches, the skill levels between our leading players and the majority of the England Academy girls were not too far apart. We must keep in mind that some of the ECB Academy side have been training for up to two years together, so it's a huge positive to see that our girls have the ability to compete at their level.
'For me another highlight of the week was also the opportunity for our European players to see some of the leading junior English talent performing in training and matches. Many of the English girls are managing to fit in regular training and fitness sessions while still in education or full-time employment. The support that the ECB players receive around lifestyle management is a key factor in their development as cricketers. Both ICC Europe and our countries must continue to develop support in this area."
ICC Europe would like to thank the England and Wales Cricket Board and Worksop College for all their support in the hosting and arrangements for this event.
August 23 Day 1: Twenty20
The Europe XI opened the series with a close win taking the first Twenty20 match by 5 runs. Key batting performances came from Clare Shillington (52), skipper Isobel Joyce (22) and Helmien Rambaldo (23), whilst ECB Academy's Danni Wyatt (2-14) and Kathryn Doherty (1-19) both impressed with the ball. Mandy Kornet, despite faltering with six wide balls to start the England innings, later turned things around to finish the game on a high of 3-9 whilst Heather Knight managed to better Shillington's score by 1 run reaching 53 before being stumped by Europe's wicketkeeper Charlotte Bascombe.
August 24 Day 2: 50 overs
The first 50-over match on day 2 saw a complete reversal of fortunes for the Europe XI after an impressive start the previous day. Winning the toss and electing to bat, the Europe side, minus their skipper Isobel Joyce due to illness, took to the field captained by the Netherland's Helmien Rambaldo.
The loss of Shillington for 24 in the 5th over proved costly as the next two wickets fell in quick succession with Tanke (0) and Richardson (0) following suit in the 6th and 9th overs. Violet Wattenberg who played her first match following a quadriceps injury, persisted until the 27th over until she was run-out for 36. Four wickets then fell for 18 runs following a strong bowling performance by ECB Academy with Europe eventually finishing on a modest total of 133 runs. Key bowlers for the ECB Academy were again Danni Wyatt (4-29) and Kathryn Doherty (3-30) whose combined off-spin and seam bowling attack convincingly challenged the Europe batters.
England Academy was determined to put in a strong batting performance after falling short in the series opener on day 1. Skipper Jenny Halstead (54) and Alice Macleod (60) opened the batting for the home side and faced seven of the Europe bowlers without losing a wicket. Both batters reached half-centuries in the process eventually reaching their target in the 29th over, convincingly beating the Europe side by 10 wickets.
August 25 Day 3: 50 Overs
The next 50-over match saw the Europe squad playing a much improved bowling and fielding game following their eye-opening defeat on day 2. After failing to take any wickets in the previous match, the Europe bowlers showed they also had the potential to be dangerous with the ball despite deteriorating weather conditions: Jill Whelan (2-23) and Eimear Richardson (2-20) proved particularly effective whilst Heather Whelan and sister Jill also recorded 3 maidens each. Despite the Europe team's inability to shake Tammy Beaumont from the crease (35 not out) nine wickets were eventually taken by the close of the innings.
Europe's reply started off strong with an almost even batting performance when compared with the England innings. However, the increasingly wet conditions meant that the match was abandoned in the 34th over and when Duckworth Lewis calculations were applied, the extra wicket taken by England Academy resulted in a disappointing loss by 22 runs for the Europe side.
August 26 Day 4:
Rest and recovery day - no matches played.
August 27 Day 5: 50 overs
Day 5 saw another improved fielding performance from the Europe XI but like Day 3 they were unable to take early wickets allowing England Academy skipper Jenny Halstead (37) and big-hitter Heather Knight (103) to build an opening partnership of 120 runs before the first wicket fell in the 29th over. From there on, Europe regained their confidence and took the next two wickets for 11 runs with some determined bowling from Heather Whelan. The middle wickets later fell for 21 runs thanks to some notably improved teamwork and precision by wicketkeeper and fielders.
Although fielding and bowling had improved, batting in the 50-over format continued to challenge the Europe side with many of the players still showing hesitation to play the style of shots that many of them had been selected for. As a trial, Cecelia Joyce was promoted to open the innings building 20 runs before being caught by England Academy skipper Jenny Halstead. Usual opener Clare Shillington was moved further down the batting line-up to create some impact in the middle order where she did just that scoring 33 to lift the team after skipper Isobel Joyce's early exit for 0 after facing only 2 balls. However, after Shillington was stumped by wicketkeeper Sophie Le Marchand, the rest of the order quickly followed suit with the remaining 4 wickets falling for 34 runs. Europe was again comprehensively beaten by 87 runs.
August 28 Day 6: Twenty20
With three successive defeats in the 50-over format, the Europe team was determined to take another win in their preferred 20-over format of the game. Winning the toss and electing to bat, Clare Shillington and Anne Marie Tanke opened the batting for the Europe side. Unfortunately ECB Academy were equally determined to finish their week on a high and the two opening batters were dismissed for 8 runs between them leaving the Europe side with much to think about in order to recover from the loss of two early wickets. Skipper Isobel Joyce turned things around by adding an impressive 46 runs off 49 balls to her side's score before being run out by Kathy Cross. The next five batters then held their ground long enough for the remaining overs finishing on a respectable total of 127-6 at the end of the innings.
England's reply was once again strong from the outset with the opening partnership of Lauren Onojaife and Heather Knight hitting well to score 50 runs between them before Knight fell to a direct hit at stumps by Eimear Richardson. Onojaife persisted until the 18th over scoring 37 runs until she was finally bowled by Mandy Kornet. From there on it was a motivated fielding performance from the Europe side that restricted the England Academy from taking any convincing lead and it was not until the final two nail-biting balls that the winner was decided.
Overall a much improved performance from the Europe side in the shorter format with England Academy winning by 4 wickets (128-6).