In mid-December, fast bowler Lauren Bell from Hungerford was selected for the England Women’s A squad to accompany the senior group throughout the Ashes tour of Australia.
Then further excitement as England Cricket announced on 25 January that Lauren has been promoted to the senior England Women’s Ashes squad for the Commonwealth Bank Women’s Ashes four-day Test match at the Manuka Oval in Canberra starting on 27 January.
After a Covid-interrupted start, 2021 was set to be Lauren’s breakthrough year. At the end of 2020 she was one of 41 women to be given a full-time contract and in July 2021 made her debut in the new Hundred format for Southern Brave (more on this below), a team coached by former England skipper Charlotte Edwards.
Lauren’s performances on the pitch have been backed up with her continued development within the England Academy. Now as one of the senior players in the Academy she was hoping to play a leading role in the international tri-series that was due be played in South Africa in April 2020.
But of course that is before the Covid outbreak shut everything down, including cricket. It has also meant that her debut in the new ‘Hundred’ competition, where she was drafted by Southern Brave, was put on hold for another year.
The Hundred 2021
The Women’s Hundred competition (a new format of the game) finally got under way in July 2021 and Lauren has played in all the Brave’s first five matches.
On 24 July against Trent Rockets she took a wicket with her fourth delivery and then dismissed the Rockets captain Nat Sciver with what ESPN Cricinfo called “an outstanding back-of-the-hand slower ball,” finishing with 2-23 from her 20 balls.
Three days later against Welsh Fire she returned similar figures of 2-19 (as well as a catch). The moment she’ll probably cherish from the match is having England star Sarah Taylor – who has over 15,000 career runs and 226 England caps to her name – trapped LBW first ball: not many bowlers have accomplished that.The next match, against Birmingham Phoenix on 30 July, was quite for her. Once again she bowled her full complement of 20 balls and although returning her fewest runs to date (16) didn’t take a wicket.
On 1 August against London Spirit she struck again, trapping Chloe Tryon for nine and ending one of only two double-figure partnerships that Spirit was able to put together. Indeed, London failed to complete their 100 balls which in this new, shorter format, is fairly rare.
It’s for this reason that we very rarely see Bell with the bat: normally batting at 10 or 11, the performances of the Brave’s upper and middle order in their first four matches prevented the need for her to pad up. But with combined bowling figures of 5-77 at less than a run a ball, she was at that stage the second-best ranked bowler in the Women’s Hundred.
The Brave’s winning streak finally came to an end with a 17 run defeat to against Manchester Originals on 5 August, Lauren Bell conceding 30 runs in her 15 balls. Southern Brave remain top of the table, though, leading Northern Superchargers by one point.
Normal service was resumed two days later with a seven-wicket victory over Northern Superchargers in a rain-affected match, Bell taking 2-19.
The next match against Welsh Fire on 11 August was also won, this time by 39 runs. No wickets for Lauren this time, however (19 runs from 15 balls).
The final match against Oval Invincibles was another dominant victory. Brave scored 115-3 and then bowled the Invincibles out for 94. Lauren Bell took 3-22 including a caught and bowled and, later in the innings, two wickets in two balls.
The Women’s Hundred Finals at Lords – Saturday 21 August 2021
This was enough to put Southern Brave at the top of the table by a commanding five points and to book their place in the final at Lords on Saturday 21 August. After the play-off between the second- and third-placed teams their opponents at Lords were the same as in their final league match, the Oval Invincibles.
Sadly for Lauren and her team mates, the Invincibles lived up to their name. Batting first, they posted a competitive 121-6. Bell took two wickets for 24 both of them as a result of cunningly disguised slower balls from the back of the hand that ended dangerous-looking innings from the OI’s skipper Dane van Niekerk (caught for 26) and their young all-round prodigy Alice Capsey (bowled for 18). These deceptive deliveries had the commentators, including former England skipper Michael Vaughn, purring with pleasure. “The only way you can do that,” added former England bowler Phil Tufnell, “is after hours and hours of practice in the nets.”
After the turnaround, the Brave’s game completely fell to pieces. It’s very hard to recover from losing your first three wickets for two runs; and Southern Brave didn’t. Only three players managed to get into double figures and by the time Lauren Bell came in as the last batter, 58 runs were needed off 14 balls – not quite mathematically hopeless but pretty close. She and Carla Rudd did manage to add a further 10 runs and Bell herself hit a boundary, something that proved beyond six of her colleagues. When she was bowled with two balls to go, Brave were still 48 runs adrift.
Despite this disappointment, the season was a hugely impressive one for her. Her performances with the ball (apart from seven balls in the final, she wasn’t called upon to bat, quite common in this short format) put Lauren in sixth place in the bowling stats table with combined figures of 12-145. Her height enables to generate genuine pace and, as mentioned above, her disguised slower ball has bamboozled many illustrious opponents. And, despite ending up on the losing side, she did manage to take three wickets and score a boundary in a Lords final. and made it into the team of the tournament as picked by nearly 5,000 BBC Sport readers. How many of the rest of us can say that?
Success of The Hundred
This new competition, both the woman’s and the men’s, certainly had me hooked. I was sceptical of yet another short-format tournament but this seems to have worked, certainly in terms of its ambition to attract a younger audience. Many of the innovations are designed to speed up the action and, even more so than in T20, the balance of the game can shift very quickly. (The one problem which none of the short formats has yet addressed is the importance of winning the toss and choosing whether to bat or bowl first: this can have a big influence on the outcome. I would prefer two innings each of 50 balls, the second time round each team resuming where they were at the end of their first.) There’s also the question of how it’s to be fitted into the quite short and capricious English summer which already has three other competitions and at least one test series. On the evidence of its first outing, however, it certainly deserves to survive.
Most encouraging, and welcome, has been the boost this has given to the women’s game. The men and women’s competitions are held in parallel with the same franchise names and receive equal coverage on TV and elsewhere in the media (though the players do not yet receive equal payment). This is a huge improvement on what was the case even five years ago: and, for a cricket lover, has doubled the number of games I can enjoy in August (many of them on free-to-air TV). Players like Lauren Bell have contributed hugely to this. Roll on 2022…
The Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the Charlotte Edwards Trophy
The Hundred was certainly the most eye-catching form of the domestic calendar but two other competitions also took place, both named after major figures in the sport – Rachel Heyhoe Flint (who died in 2017) captained England from 1966 to 1978 and has been described as “the WG Grace of women’s cricket”; and Charlotte Edwards, captain from 2005 to 2016 and the current coach of the Southern Vipers (for whom Lauren Bell plays). The RHF is a 50-over competition, the CE a T20.
In the CE, the Vipers were knocked out at the semi-final stage by the Northern Diamonds, Lauren Bell taking one for 15 in that match.
The Vipers had their revenge on the Diamonds in the RHF final on 25 September, winning by three wickets. Lauren Bell didn’t take a wicket and – thanks to a 78-run eighth-wicket and match-winning partnership between Tara Norris and Emily Windsor – wasn’t called upon to bat. None the less, she ended up on the winning side, capping a fine season. A semi-final, a Lord’s final and a winner’s medal. Not bad…
Lauren grew up in Hungerford, attending Hungerford Primary School before going on to St Barts in Newbury. She learnt to play cricket at Hungerford Cricket Club, where her father Andy Bell coaches. Lauren went on to win a cricket scholarship to Bradfield College.
At age 14, Lauren was selected for the England Junior Academy.
When she was 16 years old, Lauren was selected for the senior academy, training at the English Cricket Board’s National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough & with the Vipers at the Ageas Bowl.
Lauren went on a 3-week senior academy tour to South Africa & opened the bowling there in the one-day & T20 tri-series against South Africa & Australia academies.
On Monday 7 May 2018 Lauren played for Berkshire against Devon and here is the crickether.com match report:
England Academy fast bowler Lauren Bell top scored and took a 4-fer as Berkshire came out on top in a low-scoring encounter with Devon at North Maidenhead.
Bell put on a feisty 36 for the 9th wicket with Allerton (11 off 39 balls) and then another 16 for the final wicket with Emma Walker (2 off 24 balls), to finish with 33 – her highest score in county cricket – as Berkshire’s innings ended all out for 123 off 45.4 overs – some way short of the 242 they had made on the same ground the previous day against Wales.
Afterwards, Berkshire captain MacLeod praised Bell’s contribution: “Lauren Bell saved it with the bat – she changed the innings, and then bowled brilliantly in the opening spell gaining crucial wickets – she was outstanding today.”
In 2019 Lauren had been one half of the successful opening bowling partnership that took the Southern Vipers all the way to the KSL final at the County Ground in Hove. Despite finishing runners up to champions Western Storm, the experience of bowling against the likes of England captain, Heather Knight, and ICC Player of the Year, Smriti Mandhana, will be one that stands her in very good stead in years to come.