Support through Sport UK's Helen Bowles is currently competing in the Indoor Cricket Masters World Series. Check out her blog below and keep checking back for updates.
Today is day three of the World Masters Series of Indoor Cricket, which is being hosted in Birmingham.
The Masters Series hosts teams from all over the world in both the over 35 and over 50 age categories. In Birmingham, we have teams competing from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Sri Lanka and of course England.
I'm playing for the England women's over 35s. We're making history as the first women's masters team to compete for England at the World Series. We only came together as a team in July of this year and we're on a pretty steep learning curve, playing against women who have been playing the game with each other for 10+ years!
We have nine games over the space of seven days and, with each game lasting just under two hours, it gets pretty intense! We have a squad of 12, and eight play in each game.
We're a varied bunch! Aged from 36 to nearly 50, and including teachers, civil servants, musicians and management accountants, we have a range of experience - some of us only gave indoor cricket a go for the first time less than a year ago!
It's a great sport to get into as you're always involved. Everyone has to bowl and everyone has to bat. You play on a netted court, similar in size to a netball court, and when there're three games going on at the same time it gets noisy!
I'll write about how our games have gone so far in my next entry and if you want to see what it's all about in the meantime, click here.
We’ve now played five games in four days. We haven’t won a game yet, but we've got better each time.
Indoor cricket can be a bit unforgiving in that opposing teams can rack up big scores that don’t show that you actually fielded quite well and had some good chances at taking wickets. If you take a wicket, the opposing team loses five runs from their score. It’s not like outdoor cricket where the batsman leaves the field when they’re out; in indoor, you bat as a pair for 32 balls (four overs of eight balls) and if you get out you keep on batting but lose runs off your score.
We’ve taken some great wickets, at least one jumping catch and one diving catch and plenty of run outs and stumpings. It’s an amazing feeling when you get a wicket, especially on the show court as there's a big roar from the crowd. But there have been a couple of games where wickets have been a bit harder to come by and so we’ve had to work hard as a team to keep our spirits up - we’ve never given up though; we’re England, we don’t do that!
We also won our first point. In each game, the idea is to get the highest score, but you also get extra points if you can score more than the opposing pair of batsmen. It’s called a skin - so if your first pair of batters scores more than the pair from the opposing team who went in first, you win the skin and get a point. We got a point off South Africa thanks to some great batting in our final skin of the game. It was an amazing feeling and to be honest we might have celebrated like we'd won the game!
I’ve played in two of the games so far and have loved it, even when my bowling hasn't been going too well! It’s an incredible feeling to think that this time last year I was just being introduced to the game - and now I’m wearing an England shirt! That’s part of what drives me to look after my team mates when I’m not playing, by making sure they have drinks and encouragement - and they do the same for me when I’m playing.
We have a lie-in tomorrow, which I’m really looking forward to as we’ve had some very early starts – we left our hotel in the dark on Sunday morning and got home in the dark! I’ll give you the run down of a tournament day in the next blog entry so you can see what we get up to!
Day five: a day in the life
I’ve decided that playing in an international tournament, even at "home", is like being in a surreal bubble, where you could be anywhere and it could be any time of day or night!
On Monday, we played one game, at 9am. I’ll take you through some of the day, so that you can see what we get up to during a tournament day.
With an early game, we still have to make sure that we have plenty of time to warm up. So I got up at 6.30am, had a quick breakfast and then we all made our way to the arena and had the team briefing. We then had our warm up, which ensures that our muscles are prepared for the running around to come. The whole squad warms up, as we have to make sure that we are all ready to play at any time, in case there’s an injury. We do throwing, catching, bowling and batting - this ensures that we get our eye in and get our muscles back into the habit of playing again.
And then it’s game time! I didn’t play on Monday, so my job was to look after two of the players, making sure that they had water when they needed it (you have to pass the water bottle through the net – it’s a bit like feeding caged animals!). I also made sure to cheer on the team, making as much noise as possible!
Once the game was over, we all headed off for a cool-down, stretch and a bit of a debrief. We looked at the positives from the game, but also discussed the things that didn't go to plan, and worked out what to do to improve next time. And then it was ice bath time for those who played. Ice baths are evil, but good. They help muscles recover quickly after exertion, but it can take your breath away when you get in! After the ice bath, the players with niggles headed off to see the physios and sports therapists - we have an amazing team to help us - and then it was nearly time for food. And this was when the sitting around began.
By the time that all the post-match rigmarole was over, it was about 12. The food hall doesn't open until 1pm, so some of us sat and watched the other teams playing, and others went to relax, or sleep, in our team room. Some also stayed and chatted in the refreshment area. This waiting around is when you lose sense of where in the world you are and what time of day it really is - you live on cricket match time! Being an international cricketer might sound exciting, but you definitely have to get used to entertaining yourselves for hours on end.
After eating, our day was basically done. We had some free time away from the arena - a real treat! There have been some days where we have been at the arena for 12 hours or more and I think that the sitting and standing around makes you ache more than the playing!
After eight games, we finally have a rest day!
We haven't managed to win a match yet, but in every game we've improved. In some games we've scored more runs, in others we've taken better wickets and fielded more sharply. We haven't quite made it all come together in one game yet, but when you look at how far we've come, we have so much to be proud of.
I think it’s safe to say that we're all pretty tired! Eight days of being in tournament mode is different to anything else I've ever done before and my mind and body is ready for a rest. The other teams in the tournament feel the same I think – a change of scenery for the day will do us all good.
Spending some down time in the hotel has meant bumping into guests who have asked what brings us here - and when we're in our kit, it's pretty obvious that something is going on as we have "England" all over us! I feel really proud when I get to tell people that I'm playing for my country. I think it's fair to say that I don't look like an international athlete - I'm not tall, muscly, lithe etc, but we don't all have to fit the same picture to be successful do we?
If you look at the cricketers playing in Birmingham this week, you don't see hundreds of stereotypical athletes: you see people who love their sport and can throw, catch, bat and bowl. Masters sport is so good for encouraging people to continue pushing themselves to achieve.
We played our last game of three against Australia yesterday. Here’s a picture that was taken afterwards:
Last day, last thoughts
My team has played all their games now - we didn't win any, but we came away with new friends, new skills and a lot of memories.
This is what sport does best. It gives you opportunities to make friends, keep fit, learn new skills and have new experiences. I can safely say that this has been the most extraordinary week of my life!
Today has been long. I'm writing this at 10.30pm and I'm still at the centre, having arrived at 8am. We played our game at 9am and then stayed to support all the other England teams competing throughout the day.
As I type, our over 35 men are trying to reach the final. The noise in the centre all afternoon and evening has been incredible - it gives you such a buzz, although I don't know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the noise as a member of the opposition. We've enjoyed cheering for our men’s teams today - they've been so supportive of us in our first Masters appearance against some highly skilled opponents, so it’s been good to give something back.
I've learnt a lot this week. You have to be mentally tough to play in an international tournament, as well as physically capable. You have to know how to look after yourself, but also when to ask for help. You rely a lot on your teammates - more than I realised - and they rely on you. You pick each other up, bolster each other and make sure that you face challenges together. We've done a whole lot of laughing and cheering, and shared a few tears too. Sport is emotional - the adrenaline and endorphins you generate can have such a positive effect on you, but you get lows too, naturally, and sport - and your team mates - pick you up and get you going.
I am so proud to be an England player. For me, it is such an honour to have represented my country and to have been able to host countries from all over the world and make friends with other cricketers and their families. It's not been an easy tournament, but I've learned so much about myself. I wouldn't change a thing!