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Making waves with England's women

Mark Mitchener Mark Mitchener | 12:50 UK time, Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Having watched cricket in all its forms since an early age, I thought I'd seen it all.

Whether enjoying a summer's day at a picturesque county ground like Dean Park or New Road, waiting with baited breath as a one-day final nears its conclusion at Lord's, or squirming as England get taken to the cleaners by Shane Warne in front of nearly 100,000 at the MCG, sit me down in front of a cricket match on a sunny day and I'm a happy man.

So with the hottest day of the year looming, while many of my BBC colleagues braved the sweltering heat at Wimbledon, I was armed with a camera and lucky enough to get to see cricket in the most bizarre surroundings I've ever seen - the helipad of a cross-Channel ferry, as England's women launched their summer programme of one-day internationals, where they will face the West Indies, South Africa and India.

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I knew this particular ferry trip would be memorable after we were personally escorted onto the ship at Dover by SeaFrance director Bill Laidlaw (I nearly thought they were going to pipe us aboard at one point), although the French crew members looked a little bemused at the array of stumps, boundary ropes and other cricket equipment being brought on board.

Once we reached Calais, it was "all hands on deck" (both literally and metaphorically) as while the other passengers disembarked, everyone was pressed into service to help carry the equipment up to the helipad on the top deck, where the game was set up.

As the first two batters padded up, there was even an umpire, Lorraine Elgar, on hand to ensure fair play. The MCC may have approved Kevin Pietersen's switch-hitting, but I wondered what the guardians of the Laws would make of this. Would each side need to place two fielders in the sea for the first 15 overs, for instance? With the ball bouncing around off a length, Isa Guha even suggested the "one hand one bounce" rule be invoked.

Coach Mark Lane (right), pictured with Lydia Greenway and Laura Marsh, guided the side to success during the winter

As we snapped away with our cameras, a couple of us tried to dredge up some schoolboy French to explain to the bewildered Gallic seafarers what on earth was happening - although I balked at trying to explain the lbw law - a task which is not the easiest, even in one's own native tongue.

I'm not quite sure how seriously the score was being kept - although coach Mark Lane, fresh from guiding the side to a successful winter in Australia and New Zealand since his appointment, suddenly announced "four to win" just before the last ball was delivered, perhaps cricket was the winner on this occasion.

Credit where credit's due though, the best catch of the day was taken by a member of the media. Not me (as if), but Charmeyne McCollin from All Out Cricket magazine staked her claim for an international call-up by pulling off a stunning one-handed effort from a powerful straight drive which looked to be sailing out to sea as the rest of us took evasive action.

With both players and spectators wilting under the hot sun, we then had to pack up the equipment and vacate the top deck before the ferry could make its return journey and our buffet lunch could be served.

"It's always good to do something different to launch a series," all-rounder Beth Morgan told me afterwards.

"It's an interesting idea to play on a helipad, but it's good for all the girls to get together and have fun as this is one of the busiest summers the squad's ever had."

Busy indeed - the forthcoming two one-dayers against the West Indies were only announced at the end of May, and coupled with the NatWest one-day series against South Africa and India, England will have played 12 ODIs and four Twenty20 internationals by the time their season ends in early September.

Even greater challenges then await - with the Women's World Cup in Australia next March, followed by the Women's World Twenty20 in England in June, and another Ashes defence against Australia later that summer.

But I came away with the impression that this is a confident and ambitious but level-headed squad, and will be keeping an eye out to see how they fare.

And as I drove away from Dover with the sun still shining, I realised they didn't even check my passport - not even once.

You can check out a full photo gallery of the day here.

An appeal for a catch behind

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