In a two-part special, James Piechowski reviews England’s summer v Pakistan.
I arrived at Grace Road, Leicester on a damp Monday afternoon to see a sodden outfield and a sharp shower, which had the spectators rushing for cover from the downpour. The umpires did their best to keep everyone’s hopes up with regular inspections of the squelchy surface, but it was no surprise when play was called off and we moved onto the reserve day. Fortunately I was able to stay locally, there was no more rain, and the tiny returning crowd were rewarded by a good day’s cricket on a largely dried field, that saw England restrict Pakistan to a sub-par 165. England’s bowling had not looked especially threatening, but Pakistan failed to push along at a rapid pace. They could have made over 200, though, if not for Knight’s intervention when she brought herself on as 4th bowling change. Seeing as England later suffered early losses in their reply, this was perhaps as important as her half-century that would follow in England’s chase. Knight bowled well, using flight to deceive the Pakistan batsmen who could, too often, only lob the ball back up in the air, either into the grateful hands of England fielders in the outfield or straight back to a delighted Knight. Sidra Ameen made a well-crafted 52, but could have picked up more singles, and this would turn out to be her best effort of the series. She would eventually be dropped in the T20s, one of several puzzling selection choices made by Pakistan as the series progressed.
In England’s chase Winfield didn’t give herself a chance though, nicking off to the first ball. She had looked to chase a wide one, nearly overbalancing as she lost her shape. She then walked on Nain Abidi’s claim of a catch, which some suggested may not have been taken above the floor. A familiar sense of doom enveloped the ground, as England had puzzlingly picked only 2 specialist batsmen for this match, one of whom had already been dismissed. England were 0-1. Would we see a slow and stodgy crawl to the target, punctuated by regular wickets? It could well have been, and when a bright and breezy innings from Elwiss was truncated by the sound of the death rattle from Sana Mir’s delivery bowling her, England were in a real spot of bother at 33-2.
Where was Fran Wilson? Surely, England needed her stick-ability about now? But in stepped Knight, who played solidly and calmly, and along with Beaumont they started to assert themselves as Pakistan’s bowling wilted. They had a new belief in themselves, no doubt in part at least instilled by Mark Robinson. In a microcosm of what was to come later in the series, Beaumont used her feet well to work the ball round and hit over the top. Her dismissal, top edging Asmavia at about the halfway point, only brought in Sciver who again in an ODI played one of her busy, positive knocks. Knight just managed to make 50 before the target was reached thanks to Sciver’s selflessness, and England made it home at a canter with 18 overs left. I rushed off to catch a train to Worcester for the next game the following day. Little did I know what was to come!
Rain from a grey, overcast sky threatened to ruin the morning’s play at New Road but thankfully it never really materialised. What certainly did materialise was aggression from England, and their opening pair. Having been inserted by Pakistan they started well and pushed on, keen to reach the tiny 50m boundaries, prepared as instructed by coach Robinson, as often as possible. Nothing Pakistan tried worked, with only the impressive Maham Tariq and Sadia Yousuf showing any semblance of control. Winfield, an imposing and muscular presence at the crease, was bristling with intent, unleashing a series of booming straight drives, and vicious pull shots, as harsh on anything short as she was was excellent at putting away the full toss, and in fact any bad ball. Her ability as a dominant opener looked unquestionable. She liked to get on top of the bowling early on and force them into mistakes. Pakistan certainly obliged with some wayward bowling and many fielding mishaps.
The opening pair marched on unhindered. There was a sense of joy around the ground as first Winfield, then Beaumont registered their tons. Winfield had played the more aggressive innings, and made it to 123, whilst Beaumont had got bogged down a little at times, but battled through, continuing her recent excellent form. Both were out in the 39th over as they tried to accelerate further. In came Nat Sciver and she was soon under way, hitting Sana Mir for six and four. The quickish dismissal of Elwiss did not phase England and Knight joined the boundary party, although she was happy to play second fiddle to Sciver’s brutality.
21 runs were scored off the 47th over and 23 off the 49th as Sciver smashed six after six off the unfortunate Asmavia Iqbal and Nida Dar. Straight back over the bowlers’ head the ball sailed; and then way up over the leg side, over cow corner, over the groundsman’s covers – Sciver seemingly determined to deposit the ball in the River Severn. It was something to behold, and something I’ll not soon forget. Sciver had smashed 6 sixes and 7 fours in her 80 off 33 balls. Her assault was only curtailed when she was run out out at the end of the innings by Wyatt, who herself smashed a quick-fire 12*. England had done it, smashing many runs and many records, and the shackles were finally off: 378 runs had been amassed.
Pakistan’s reply never really got going, and the miserly Shrubsole was able to restrict runs and take wickets, returning figures of 4-19. Only Bismah Maroof played anything like the type of innings that would have been required, hitting 61 from 81 balls with 8 fours. Other contributions were far too slow, and Pakistan limped to 166 before being all out in the 48th over. England’s bowlers had not necessarily looked too dangerous but with a large score on the board, the run rate was just too high for them to chase.
Having been desperately disappointed by a rainy Sunday in Bristol (where England men’s ODI against Sri Lanka had been abandoned), I was delighted to wake up to a bright and sunny Monday in Taunton ready for the 3rd ODI. Again England won the toss and chose to bat, and two increasingly familiar figures made their way out in to the middle. After a solid start, the diminutive Beaumont provided a perfect contrast to Winfield’s brawn, playing square of the wicket with style and invention as she swept, reverse swept, hit over the top and drove beautifully through the covers. She was surely some type of controlled whirlwind, dervish-like at the crease. Her ability to use her feet to get to the pitch of the ball, or to hang back and play the ball late, was a feature of her batting; and coupled with her experience playing in the middle order, means that if she can see off the early overs she will be ideally placed to compose a long innings. The last century of her incredible 168* (including 20 fours) was nigh-on chance-less, and just goes to show how she can accelerate and exert real control as the innings progresses.
At the height of Beaumont’s onslaught, as boundary followed inevitable boundary, Pakistan were found to be clueless in the field and were far too reactive, moving fielders around where the last ball had gone through, only to find Beaumont smashing the next ball through the newly vacated region. This happened time and time again. If Pakistan had lost a horse because they had just shut the gate after one had bolted, there would not be many horses left in Pakistan right now!
The partnerships between the two openers across this whole summer series were remarkable. Their combined contributions tallied up 816 runs from 12 innings. A small statistical anomaly: Lauren Winfield scored exactly the same number of runs, 166, in 3 innings across both ODI and T20 formats.
England have unearthed two gems here, who complement each other ideally and they should be kept together as an opening pair whenever possible. Whether England are faced with fast bowling on a pacey track, or spin on a slow, dry turner, one of these two will be in their element. The other, I think, has enough ability to stick at it through unfavoured conditions. The biggest puzzle is how they have taken so long to shine like this, (although Winfield had shown some promise in 2014/15). We should give Robinson some credit for this, but not too much. His decision to drop Winfield for the World T20 was unwise. So in particular, Winfield had battled through to success this summer against considerable odds.
At Taunton Georgia Elwiss played beautifully for 77. She tends to take early risks and may give a chance or two, but has a resolute nature that means she can usually battle through to punish the opposition bowlers, using attractive cuts and drives through the off-side. She can hit a long ball, and once she gets in can be difficult to prize from the crease. With her obvious ability with the ball added into the mix, the only part of her game that is lacking is her ground fielding, which is not up to the standard of our best. The other question around her role is in T20. Robinson seems content to play her one game, then leave her out seemingly at random. Ideally more consistency would serve better. Credit should also go to Sciver who played a similar belligerent innings, this time just cut short of her 50 when she was caught off the bowling of Asmavia Iqbal for 48, going for another boundary. England eventually reached 366-4. With the longer boundaries and the slower start, this was in my opinion and even better batting effort from England than in the previous game at Worcester.
Pakistan’s reply got off to a bad start and never really recovered. Only Bismah Maroof, again, and wicket-keeper Sidra Nawaz with a good 47, played well enough to challenge England. Both were removed by Laura Marsh though, who returned figures of 3-29 off her allocation of 10 overs.
Alex Hartley was also bowled out on her début, and after giving away a few too many runs with some friendly full tosses, came back strongly in her second spell, only conceding 15 runs in 5 overs. Katherine Brunt (5-30) treated us to an exhibition of death bowling, castling Sana Mir and 3 more tail-enders with a series of full, straight deliveries that turned back the clock and were too good for Pakistan’s lower order. England had won the game by 202 runs and taken the series 3-0. It was an ideal start for Knight and provided at least some justification for all the changes Robinson had made. The 6 ICC Women’s Championship points were vital, and England are now in a much stronger position to qualify in the top four for next year’s World Cup.
For Pakistan, Bismah Maroof is the sort of player who would not look out of place in the WBBL or KSL, it seems a shame that she has not been participating in these competitions. In order for Pakistan to continue their improvement, it’s important their best players get experience by playing with the best. Sana Mir, although disappointed with her team’s performances, was confident they’d taken plenty of learnings from the series and almost seemed pleased that England had showed them how it was possible to play cricket, that had at times seemed more like the IPL than anything else. Maybe she thought, we could aspire to this attitude, and one day soon, too.