It was a sad day for many county players and teams on last Sunday, as the last ever round of Women’s County Championship (WCC) fixtures was played out around the country.
The ECB’s plans for a restructure of women’s domestic cricket for next season, whereby different counties will join together to feed into new regional hubs, means the end of a Championship which has run for over two decades.
The Championship was introduced in 1997, a few months before the ECB took over the official running of women’s cricket, and was formed to replace the old Area competition which was played over a long weekend at Cambridge. Areas like “The West” had previously covered huge swathes of the country, meaning some women had to travel huge distances to play representative cricket.
The new WCC aimed not only to solve that problem, but also to give all girls and women the opportunity to represent their local county, as well as mapping onto the existing men’s structure. Unlike in the men’s game, though, there have never been any distinctions made between first-class and “minor” counties – Berkshire, for example, were a dominant force in the WCC for many years.
Over the years, the Championship has been the main breeding ground for England players – indeed until the introduction of the Kia Super League in 2015, it was their main means of development.
Clare Connor once told me that winning the County Championship with Sussex in 2003 was the proudest moment of her career. Certainly for all those who have followed, played in and helped to run the WCC, it will be deeply missed.
For one player in particular it truly is the end of an era – former England player and Middlesex stalwart Beth Morgan. Morgan is the only player to have played in every season of the Women’s County Championship, and on Sunday made her 128th appearance in 50-over cricket for the county, breaking the existing record held by Jackie Hawker of Somerset.
“Every chance you get to play for your county, it matters,” Morgan said. “I’m the luckiest person in the world. I got to play for a county that I love for so many years, alongside so many great players. I’m chuffed to still be part of it.”
Morgan has not yet announced her retirement from domestic cricket, and will still be representing Middlesex as they seek to defend their County T20 Cup title over the coming weeks.
However, at the age of 37 and with a full-time career established away from cricket, it seems unlikely she will be playing in the new semi-professional set-up come 2020.
Should Sunday’s game prove to be her last top-level one-day appearance, it will go down as a fitting conclusion. Morgan hit 31 runs and held a crucial catch as Middlesex beat Berkshire by 20 runs at Mill Hill School, topping division two.
Elsewhere in division two, Essex confirmed third place with a 55-run win over Worcestershire – Cath Dalton top-scoring with 70. For Wales, big name New Zealander Rachel Priest shone, hitting 84 against Durham as the visitors chased down their target of 175 for the loss of only 4 wickets. Somerset against Devon sadly fell foul of the weather, but will be replayed on July 14 at Taunton.
In Division 1, great rivals Kent and Sussex faced off against each other one for the last time. The sides have shared 14 of the last 17 titles, but despite Kent having claimed the trophy, it was Sussex who finished up well on top in the encounter, with a huge 160-run triumph – Georgia Adams, Izzy Collis and Georgia Elwiss all chipping in with half-centuries.
Hampshire were also in the runs, posting 273-9 against Surrey, including half-centuries from Charlie Dean and Lucia Kendall, before bowling the visitors out for 81.
Yorkshire secured second place to Kent in the Championship by beating Nottinghamshire, Holly Armitage top-scoring with 59, while Lancashire beat Warwickshire by nine wickets, chasing down the Duckworth-Lewis adjusted 58 runs from 10 overs.
In Division 3A, meanwhile, rain curtailed Staffordshire’s match against Lincolnshire but did not prevent them from finishing at the top of the table after a hugely successful season.
Captain and former England Academy batsman Steph Butler has been their mainstay, averaging 61 across six matches, with the Whyle twins – Charlotte and Kathryn – also showing their class with 272 season runs between them.
For all the counties, the focus now switches to the T20 Cup which begins next Sunday with a round of triple-headers.
RAF NICHOLSON / Photo: Getty Images