The announcement yesterday of an almost completely uncontroversial England squad to tour Sri Lanka next month was accompanied by some rather more intriguing selections for the pre-tour camp in Abu Dhabi.
The 14-man squad to tour Sri Lanka will be accompanied to Abu Dhabi by 9 others – one of whom will also be the 15th player selected for Sri Lanka.
Coach Mark Robinson has hinted in the past at trying to almost ‘blur the line’ between the Academy and Performance (Contracted) squads, perhaps by subsuming the Academy into a larger “combined” squad. So, taking the 14… plus the 9… plus Anya Shrubsole, who is injured… do we have a hint of what a 25-man England squad might look like next summer? And if so… who is in, and who is out?
In addition to Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway, both of whom have retired, 4 members of last summer’s performance squad are not included for the Abu Dhabi camp.
Tash Farrant is playing WNCL in Australia, and (to be frank) probably getting a higher standard of cricket there than she would even if she played in Sri Lanka – she will undoubtedly be back.
Sarah Taylor is still working on her mental health, but given that there are no other wicket keepers in the squad, you have to imagine that England are still hoping she will be back too at some stage.
Jodie Dibble and Becky Grundy however, both look to be heading for the door.
Dibble was one of those in the unfortunate position of being expected to be part of the “contracted” performance squad, whilst not actually being “contracted” – i.e. paid – and unsurprisingly has not found it easy recently, and her exit was expected.
Grundy on the other hand, just seems to have slipped quietly out of form and favour – she’s 26, and has been overtaken by younger, “spinnie”r options in the tweak department – it will be a surprise if her central contract is renewed in January.
Also perhaps on the way out are several “older” batsmen the Academy squad – Eve Jones (24), Alex MacDonald (25), Steph Butler (22) and Sophie Luff (22). Of these perhaps Eve Jones can consider herself unlucky having had quite a good season in 2016, and all 4 might still make it; but the hint (based not just on these selections, but also on other conversations we’ve had) is that Robinson feels that this cohort overall just aren’t ever going to good enough, and he plans to almost ‘skip a generation’ over them.
In their place, a new gang of teenagers are knocking at the door, and the opportunity for them to come in and seize their chances has been presented to the likes of Surrey pair Bryony Smith (18) and Hannah Jones (17), Lancashire’s Emma Lamb (18) and Middlesex’s Sophia Dunkley (18). Alongside them, one “older” Academy batsman has retained her place – Sussex’s Georgia Adams, after a very good summer for Sussex and the Southern Vipers.
Finally, two big surprise selections – all-rounders Georgia Hennessy and Alice Davidson-Richards have both previously been part of the Academy, had subsequently dropped-off the program, but are now back! What have they done right?
Both had solid domestic seasons – the combative Hennessy was a key part of Warwickshire’s successful (albeit ultimately trophyless) season; whilst “ADR” (as she is known) is a new player recently – one look at her confirms that she has transformed herself fitness-wise over the past year. Both will have to continue to work hard if they are to progress; but Robinson has thrown them the big ball to run with – now it is up to them!
Professional sport is a tough old business – for every winner, there is a loser; and for every player selected, there is one who is dropped, not to mention countless others who never quite make the grade. There are always tough calls to be made, and it will be especially hard on those who go from contracted status to essentially “unemployed” at the stroke of a selector’s pen.
But like the Circle of Life, the game goes on, and Robinson’s determination to forge a long-term dynasty, by investing in new talent not just for next summer but for summers well beyond, is exciting and promising for the future of the women’s game in England.