Women’s Sports Column

netball223 – 29 January

This week’s stories come from tennis, football, rugby union, netball and cricket.  There’s a mix of some of the best action of the week plus a look forward to what’s coming up in the next couple of months.

Firstly, if you haven’t got involved in Sport Relief as yet, there’s still time.  The This Girl Can campaign has released new short films to show how girls and women can get involved.  “Slow fundraising beats no fundraising” is the message.  There’s so much you can do and so many organised events on the weekend Friday 18 to Sunday 20 March.  For more information see sportrelief.com and www.thisgirlcan.co.uk.

Biggest cheer of the week must go to Britain’s Johanna Konta.  She reached the semi-final of the Australian Open Tennis in Melbourne.

Since the last column was published, Konta beat Denisa Allertova from the Czech Republic 6-2 6-2 and then dispatched 21st seed Ekaterina Makarova 4-6 6-4 8-6.

In the quarter-final Konta was up against the unseeded conqueror of Simona Halep, Zhang Shuai.  She eased past her 6-4 6-1 to become the first British woman to reach a grand slam semi-final since Jo Durie in 1983.

Her semi-final opponent was sixth seed Angelique Kerber.  It was just a match too far and she was beaten 7-5 6-2.  Kerber was always going to be a step up, but it didn’t help that Konta’s game was beset by unforced errors.   Konta’s recent form will see her jump from her current ranking of 47 in the world to 28.

Konta’s Australian run has been described as a “fairytale” in some media outlets, but this does not do her justice.  There was no element of luck or unreality – it was all down to Konta’s incredible hard work and mental toughness.  Let’s give her the credit and leave the “fairytale” out of it.

In the final on Saturday 30 January, Kerber will face world number one, Serena Williams, who smashed fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0 6-4 in their semi-final.

Britain’s wheelchair tennis ace, Jordanne Whiley, did not fare so well this week.  She lost in the quarter-final of the singles 6-7 6-4 4-6, and in the semi-finals of the doubles with her British partner Lucy Shuker, 6-7 6-4 3-6.

The women’s doubles title was taken by top seeds and current Wimbledon and US Open champions, Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza.  They beat the Czech pairing of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 7-6 6-3.

Along with the release of the 2016 FAWSL fixtures this week has come another raft of transfers.  Liverpool seem to be hottest in the market as they have made the surprise signing of winger Natasha Harding after she was released by Manchester City.  Harding only signed for City in March 2015.

City themselves have signed an immediate replacement in Swedish striker Kosovare Asllani.

Liverpool have, however, lost Asisat Oshoala to fellow title-hopefuls Arsenal.  The Nigerian player was named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year in May 2015.

The new FAWSL One and Two season will begin on Wednesday 23 March.  It is set to be the most exciting yet with an expanded division one nine-team league.

The first week of fixtures looks like this:

Wednesday 23 March

FA WSL 1

19:00 Manchester City Women v Notts County Ladies
FC Academy Stadium

19:30 Liverpool Ladies FC v Birmingham City Ladies
Select Security Stadium

19:45 Arsenal Ladies FC v Reading FC Women
Boreham Wood FC

FA WSL 2

19:00 Bristol City Women v Yeovil Town Ladies FC
Stoke Gifford Stadium

19:00 Sheffield FC Ladies v Durham Women FC
Sheffield FC

19:45 London Bees v Watford Ladies FC
The Hive

Sunday 27 March 2016

FA WSL 2

14:00 Aston Villa Ladies FC v Oxford United Women
Sutton Coldfield Central Ground

14:00 Millwall Lionesses v Everton Ladies FC
Millwall Football Club

14:00 Watford Ladies FC v Yeovil Town Ladies FC
Berkhamsted FC

Monday 28 March 2016

FA WSL 1

14:00 Chelsea Ladies FC v Liverpool Ladies FC
Staines Town FC

15:00 Manchester City Women v Arsenal Ladies FC
Academy Stadium

FA WSL 2

12:00 Durham Women FC v London Bees
New Ferens Park

There will be increased broadcast coverage via the BBC and BT.  Let’s hope the print media follows suit (I’m available if anyone needs me).  Otherwise you can keep up with it all at www.fawsl.com.

The RBS Six Nations begins on Friday 5 February.  Defending champions, Ireland, will be confident of taking the title again, while World Champions, England, realise they must improve on their poor fourth-place finish of last year.

The first weekend’s fixtures are:

Friday 5 February

18:00 Scotland Women v England Women
Broadwood Stadium

Saturday 6 February

13:00 Ireland Women v Wales Women
Donnybrook

21:00 France Women v Italy Women
Stade Marcel Verchere.

England’s Roses suffered a series whitewash 3-0 against World and Commonwealth champions Australia this week.  After a close-fought first game, as reported last week, with England just losing out 52-58, Australia really piled on the pressure and rarely looked threatened in either of the other two games.

The second match, played in front of a sell-out crowd at the Copper Box in London, was tight for a while, with England holding a four goal lead in the second quarter, only to see it vanish by half-time and to be trailing by 25-23.  The second half was much more one-sided and the Diamonds went on to close it out 60-44.

The third game, also at the Copper Box, was, in truth, also somewhat one-sided.  Australia ran out convincing winners 53-41.

This is not to say that England were out of their depth.  It is a young squad and showed good maturity and determination throughout.  Sasha Corbin was my player of the series, although the official Roses player of the series was Goalkeeper Ama Agbeze.  Sharni Layton (also Goalkeeper) was the Aussie player of the series.

Netball’s popularity and fanbase just keeps growing.  The domestic season starts this weekend with Super Saturday at the Genting Arena in Birmingham.  All eight Superleague teams will be taking part and it will all be shown live on Sky from 2pm as part of their Netball Month.

 Two momentous events in women’s cricket occurred this week.

In the all-Sydney inaugural WBBL final the Sydney Thunder beat the Sixers by three wickets.

It was always going to be difficult for the Sixers as they posted a small total of just 115 for the Thunder to chase.

The Sixers won the toss and elected to bat.  They were the in-form team coming into the final – winning nine games in a row to go from also-rans to semi-finalists in the process.  They won their semi-final against the Hobart Hurricanes with ease and looked prepared to upset the favourites in the final.

But it was not to be.  As they regularly lost wickets the Sixers were unable to put together any meaningful partnerships.  Eventual player of the match, spinner Erin Osborne, did the most damage taking 3-21.

The response from the Thunder was not confident though and the Sixers must have thought they were still in with a chance when Captain Ellyse Perry took the wicket of Rene Farrell in the last over with the Thunder needing four to win.   In the end the Sydney Thunder took the game with three balls to spare.

The other event, which has somewhat shaken the world of women’s cricket is that India have gone 2-0 up in a three-match T20 series against Australia, in Australia.

In the first game, in Adelaide on 26 January, they managed their highest ever chase in a T20.  Australia had posted a decent 140 after their poor start left them 17-2 after four overs.  Indeed it wasn’t until Alyssa Healey came in that Australia really put their foot down – Healey hitting 41 off 15 balls, supported by Alex Blackwell with 27 off 22.

India’s reply started uncertainly when Mithali Raj was caught for just four in the second over, but a second wicket partnership of 55 between Smrti Mandhana and Veda Krishnamurthy steadied things for the tourists.  Three quick wickets later India looked in trouble again at 91-4 off 14 overs.  Enter Harmanpreet Kaur.  She scored 46 including one six and six fours, ensuring her team’s victory with eight balls to spare.

The second game, at the MCG, was spoiled by rain.  Australia batted first again and managed 125 for 8 off 18 overs.  Meg Lanning made a creditable 49 but after she was run out at the non-striker’s end Australia went on to lose 5-10 in 14 balls.

India had reached 52-0 in their chase when the rain started again and when it stopped and the D/L total was revised again to just 66, India had no problem in knocking off the extra 14 runs.  Mithali Raj and Smriti Mandhana were unbeaten on 37 and 22 respectively.

India had won their first ever series against Australia.  The third game takes place at the SCG in Sydney on Sunday 31 January.  Both teams may take the chance to try out some new names in preparation for the World T20, which takes place in India in March and April this year.

Happy to say no “and finally” this week.  There will be no column next week as I will be away, but I’ll be back on the 12th with two weeks of news!

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