Charlotte Edwards will be in the commentary box at Worcester, as England take on South Africa in the 1st of six ICC Championship matches to be played in England this summer.
But the former England captain could be forgiven for a certain sense of deja-vu as she looks out onto the ground at New Road – all bar one of the England’s 14-player squad made their debuts under her or (in two cases) her predecessor Clare Connor. The “average” England debut for this squad was in 2009 – almost 10 years ago.
It will soon be three years since Mark Robinson was appointed England coach, and just over two years since Edwards was metaphorically left alone in a room at Lords with a bottle of Scotch and a loaded revolver. In that time, Robinson has handed out five “proper” debuts, to Alex Hartley, Sophie Ecclestone, Alice Davidson-Richards, Katie George and Bryony Smith, one “re-debut” to Fran Wilson, and awarded a new “rookie” contract to the so-far uncapped Freya Davies; but of these only Ecclestone will take the field today.
Of course, there is plenty more cricket to be played this summer – a fast and furious T20 Tri-Series against South Africa and New Zealand will offer opportunities to bounce back, as England look to rotate with half an eye on the New Zealand ODI series to come.
But it does have to be a worry that while the Australians are bringing on the likes of Beth Mooney and Ash Gardner, the pathway doesn’t appear – Ecclestone aside – to be producing the players they trust to go out there and score runs and take wickets for England.
That being said, this is still a very strong England team – the problem areas are mostly of the “nice problem to have” variety. Do you play Dani Hazell and Laura Marsh? What about Georgia Elwiss, who had a good game against South Africa for the Academy last week? Where do you bat Tammy Beaumont if Amy Jones opens with Danni Wyatt, which England seem to think might be the answer to Jones’ issues (which are clearly 99% in her head)? And of course you’d ideally want to fit in the ever-reliable Jenny Gunn, but where?
My guess is that England might go with:
This year will see no repeat of Pakistan 2016 – South Africa will be no pushover – though they will have breathed a sigh of relief that Laura Wolvaardt has decided for the moment to try to juggle cricket and medical school, because their batting can be as brittle as it can sometimes be brilliant without her indefatigability at the top of the order.
New Zealand will similarly push England hard, as you’d expect from a team led by the best player in the world (Suzie Bates) who can afford to drop one of the most destructive batsmen in the world (Rachel Priest) for “reasons” because when you’ve got Amy Satterthwaite and Sophie Devine too, that’s the kind of crazy thing you can do and still pull off the highest ODI score of all time against Ireland!
So… predictions? I think England will win more games than they’ll lose this summer, but they won’t have it all their own way.
The one certainty – for the neutrals, it should be a good one!