T20 WORLD CUP: Monarch of the Glenn

England strolled to a comfortable victory against Pakistan in Canberra, keeping their World Twenty20 campaign on track for a spot in the semi-finals next week in Sydney.

It was Heather Knight who walked off with the Player of the Match medal for the second time in succession, having scored 62 off 47 balls; but it was England’s performance with the ball that was most impressive under lights at the Manuka Oval.

England did a job with the bat, but it wasn’t the perfect performance by any stretch – their run-rate flat-lining at 8 runs per over through the middle overs, despite having wickets in hand. It was the perfect opportunity to showcase their new “Closing” strategy, but it didn’t really come off, and they ended up scrambling round in a bit of a panic at the end, losing 4 wickets in the last 3 overs.

Of course, it was plenty enough to win the match; but largely thanks to some brilliant bowling and fielding. This World Cup has not been a great showcase for the fielding side of the game (we’re looking at you in particular, West Indies) but England were really sharp tonight. Yes, Lauren Winfield put down a very tough chance; but England’s ring fielding was top-notch and probably saved 10-15 runs in the powerplay alone – that doesn’t sound like much, but it could easily be the difference between winning and losing a World Cup final.

And then there was Sarah Glenn.

Glenn hasn’t quite come from nowhere. In 2018 she was mentioned in dispatches after a brilliant bowling performance for Loughborough Lightning against the Vipers; and by 2019 she was rated 5th overall in our KSL Bowling Rankings, after taking 11 wickets at 6.05. But nevertheless, her England selection for the tour to play Pakistan in Malaysia at the tail-end of last year was definitely a surprise.

Sophie Ecclestone was obviously long-established in the team by this stage, and rated by many as one of (if not the) best left-arm slow bowler in the world; but the search for her perfect spinning partner on the field had been a long and not entirely fruitful one, taking in the likes of Linsey Smith, Bryony Smith and Kirstie Gordon along the way.

So the question was: was Glenn finally Ecclestone’s “Miss Right”?

Well, after 12 internationals, I think we can finally say that the slipper is fitting pretty well, and she was fantastic today, taking 3-15 at 3.75.

As she freely acknowledges, she is not the spinniest spinner: “I don’t naturally get as much turn,” she admitted today. But what she does do is stick to her plans and bowl stump-to-stump with unerring consistency. And it sounds like the England coaching staff are doing the right thing too: “They don’t throw a load of stuff at me, telling me to change this, change that – they’ve just told me to keep it quite simple.”

Cricket can be a complicated game, but if what works for you is keeping it simple, then keep it simple!  And if Glenn can continue to do so, then she and Ecclestone have got a beautiful future ahead of them.

T20 WORLD CUP: Thailand Go Gentle Into That Good Knight

Having started the day with zero points and a negative Net Run Rate of -0.16, following defeat to South Africa in their opening game, England turned things around in Canberra, getting two points on the board against Thailand, and perhaps equally importantly boosting their Net Run Rate to a whopping 2.38 positive.

The result puts England temporarily top of Group B, albeit with the West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan all having games in hand; and leaves them in a much healthier position should semi-final qualification come down to Net Run Rate.

England went into the match with an unchanged side, with Heather Knight having definitively ruled-out a u-turn on either the policy of playing 8 batsmen, or the that of batting their most consistent player of recent times – Tammy Beaumont – right down the order in a “closer” role which means she faces at best only a handful of deliveries.

Today she faced none at all, as Heather Knight took charge with a commanding hundred, which put paid to any hopes Thailand might have had of an upset after getting both openers out for ducks.

The recent form of Amy Jones in particular has been called into question after a pretty miserable Ashes last summer, but she did make two big T20 scores – 53 off 39 balls, and 89 off 52 – against Pakistan; and the bottom line is that she is essentially undroppable anyway, unless England want to hand the wicket-keeping gloves to Tammy Beaumont, which they really don’t, so they might as well continue to play her in her preferred position. (It isn’t like she’s chewing up deliveries – she is at least making runs or getting out.)

Wyatt also made runs against Pakistan, and given the damage we know she can do at the top of the order she also needs to stay where she is. By moving her down England would be depriving themselves of the one player they have capable of causing real carnage in a semi or final against an India or an Australia.

Getting back to today… Knight battered the Thais with 13 fours and 4 sixes, finishing with 108 off 66 balls – a Strike Rate of 164. As is often the case with Knight it wasn’t particularly pretty, but more of a professional demolition job that put put a wrecking ball through the scorecard, and taking England to a total of 176.

This was always going to be too much for Thailand whose highest ever score is 133, against the Netherlands last summer. They haven’t posted a score in excess of 100 since, despite qualifying for this tournament in that time, and today wasn’t going to be that day either. England’s spinners – Sophie Ecclestone and Sarah Glenn – both recorded Economy Rates under 3 as the Thais were held to 78-7 in their 20 overs. They didn’t shut-up shop, as we’ve sometimes seen from the minnows in these kinds of situations, so credit to them for trying to play some shots and still “going the distance” but they were still as definitively outplayed by England with the ball as they had been with the bat.

England still have work to do – beating the tournament’s lowest-ranked side is not in itself a reason to break out the champagne, but Heather Knight herself perhaps deserves a glass or two tonight after joining the “Hundred Club” in international T20s and getting England’s World Cup campaign back on track.

T20 WORLD CUP: WACA WACA (This Time for South Africa)

After losing to England in the semi-final of the 2017 World Cup, and then having a nightmare against a rampant Anya Shrubsole in St Lucia at the 2017 World T20, South Africa finally got the England monkey off their backs with a memorable win at the WACA.

This was always going to be England’s most difficult game in the group stages, and they will still expect to qualify for the semi-finals by targeting wins over the West Indies, Thailand and Pakistan. But if they are going to go any further than that in the tournament, they will need to bat a lot better than they did today, especially in the middle-overs.

Between overs 4 and 15, England trudged along at just 4.5 an over, despite having wickets in hand and plenty of proper batting still in the shed. There were really no excuses. Overs 16-through-18 – which went for 13, 10 and 11 – showed that there were runs out there, but neither Heather Knight coming in at 4, nor Fran Wilson at 5, were able to find them – between them scoring just 20 off 35 balls.

It would be remiss not to mention Nat Sciver, who scored a half-century at a Strike Rate of 122; but when the batters at the other end are going at under 60, as they were, there’s a limit to what even Super-Sciver can do to build a defendable total.

And let’s be clear that although the scorecard will show that England defended it into the final over, this was not really a “defendable” total. South Africa’s batters just did what they needed to do – Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp were brilliant in controlling the chase, keeping the required rate hovering around a comfortable 7, knowing that with wickets in hand that would get them over the line.

Overall England didn’t bowl badly as a unit. Shrubsole’s last two overs went for 22, which isn’t ideal when you are defending a low total, but then her first two had delivered 1-4, so bringing her back was a reasonable bet, especially with England really needing wickets.

But although the wickets of Kapp and van Niekerk did both come eventually, the hard yards were done by then, leaving Chloe Tryon and Mignon du Preez to steer their country to an exciting win, which should (… and I say should!) all-but guarantee them a semi-final spot. And on the balance of today, it is a spot they’ll deserve.

T20 WORLD CUP: Fully Fit England Raring To Go

Anya Shrubsole has assured England fans that, despite a couple of injury niggles in recent weeks, coach Lisa Keightley will have the full squad at her disposal for their opening match against South Africa at the WACA on Sunday evening.

“All 15 of us will be fit and raring to go on Sunday,” Shrubsole said.

That is good news for England, after Nat Sciver missed a warm-up match earlier in the week with a ligament injury to her right knee; while Shrubsole herself sat out a portion of the tri-series with a sore foot.

Having already been in Australia for over a month, Shrubsole stressed that England were now very keen to get their tournament underway, and that they would be going all out for a win in what is likely to be a tricky opening group encounter against the South Africans.

“If you lose one match, it puts a bit of pressure on,” she said. “So this is a big one. We’ve done everything we can do to be in the best place going into that game.”

“South Africa are probably one of the teams who will be looking and thinking they can can win this World Cup, so to call it a ‘banana skin’ match would be a disservice to them. They’re a really quality team and they’ve got dangerous players and what you know in T20 is one person can win you a game. It’s a tough game first up, and we know that will have to be our best.”

England last played at the WACA in January 2014, when they won a memorable Test encounter against Australia – a match Shrubsole (who took 7-99) has fond memories of.

“There’s a few of us who played in that match,” she said. “It’s always nice to come back. We’ve also got about five or six of us who have played for Perth Scorchers as well in the WBBL, so it’s a little bit of a home away from home for some of us.”

If England can start with a win that is likely to provide good impetus for their stated goal of reaching the semi-finals, with matches against the lesser threats of Thailand and Pakistan to follow next week.

NEWS: ICC Shake Up International Schedule With 6-Team ODI & T20 Champions Cups

An ICC broadcast schedule revealed by Cricinfo suggests that a 6-team “Champions Cup”, alternating between T20 and ODI formats, is set to be introduced from 2023, with the current biennial T20 World Cup scaled back to a four-year cycle.

While the current cycle leaves a “fallow year” every four years where no ICC tournament is played (the last example of this being 2019), the new schedule means a big ICC women’s event every year from 2023.

Although this is good news for the “Big Three” in theory, it will put additional pressure on the multi-format Women’s Ashes, with the Test likely to be in the firing line once again should the schedule be deemed “too crowded” (despite the fact that the men managed to play an Ashes Test series and a World Cup in England last summer).

It is less good news for anyone else, who could find themselves excluded from the 6-team Champions Cups – based on the current ICC Championship standings, West Indies and Sri Lanka would be shut out. Potentially even more worrying for a team like Pakistan is the risk that politics, rather than performances on the field, becomes the key determinant of which countries get to participate, as it has in the men’s game in the past.

Cricinfo reports that although the new schedule has not been formally approved, it is likely to be ratified by the ICC Board later this year, with expressions of interest in hosting these events invited by mid-March.

TRI-SERIES: England v Australia – Sting In The Tayla As England Sunk By Vlaeminck

At the halfway point of today’s match, it looked a fairly safe bet that England had it sewn up, and that Australia were about to fail to make the final of a tri-series in their premier format, played on home soil. England’s bowlers put on a disciplined display in the main, to restrict Australia to just 132-7 (though Anya Shrubsole’s 3 overs cost 35 runs – is the foot injury which saw her MIA earlier in the series still bothering her?)

It was another poor effort with the bat from Australia – certainly given the high standards we have come to expect from them over the past 18 months. Alyssa Healy fell hook, line and sinker into the trap that England set for her, holing out to deep midwicket in the first over of the day, continuing her miserable run of form. Meg Lanning, who since the summer has inexplicably dropped down from number 3 to 4 in the line-up, again looked uncomfortable out in the middle. There were some odd murmurings on commentary that she “doesn’t like to bat in the powerplay” – if true, this is a bizarre hang-up from someone who just 6 months ago was doing this.

After Australia’s loss to India yesterday, Ash Gardner described the series as “a good learning curve. These games don’t matter as much as what the World Cup is going to matter. This tri-series is all about trying different things.” Is this bravado or have Australia actually been treating this series less seriously than the other teams? In their 4 matches, they’ve not played the same XI once; and there doesn’t seem to have been much rhyme or reason to the continual switch-ups.

Tayla Vlaeminck, for example, has only featured in 2 of the 4 matches. Today, though, it was the young quick who starred. Not only did she pick up the wickets of both Danni Wyatt and Amy Jones in the powerplay, but she bowled with such venom and pace that she forced England to sit back and “see her off”. Sophie Molineux may have picked up 3-19 and the Player of the Match award but it was Vlaeminck who effectively “bought” those wickets by piling on the scoreboard pressure early on. Why hasn’t she been playing every match?

If it is the case that Australia are viewing this series as glorified net practice, that’s actually quite worrying for England – if Australia can beat them when they’re only firing at 50%, it doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming World Cup. Arguably, there isn’t much that England can change up at this distance from the tournament – they seem pretty set on playing 8 batsmen and heavily relying on Nat Sciver’s bowling to see them right; and they certainly won’t be changing their opening partnership, or abandoning the “Tammy Beaumont at 6” strategy, this close to the World Cup.

On the basis of today’s performance, the one thing that might make sense is dropping Shrubsole in favour of the much more economical Freya Davies. It would be a brave call by Heather Knight and Lisa Keightley, though if they wanted to save face they could always blame it on her foot injury. We’ll have to wait and see what the preferred approach is, come 23 February at the WACA.

TRI-SERIES: England v India – England Win, But Run Rate Could Cost Them Down The Line

After losing to India last weekend in Canberra, England got their revenge in today’s rematch at the Junction Oval in Melbourne, with a 4 wicket win, despite never really getting out of second gear.

England are now in pole position in the Tri-Series. If Australia beat India tomorrow then the final group match – England v Australia on Sunday – will become academic in terms of qualification for the final next Wednesday – England and Australia will be through.

However, India aren’t out of it yet, and if they can mug the Aussies tomorrow then they could still make the final, with a 3-way tie also being a possibility if Australia then go on to beat England.

So Net Run Rate could be critical, which may mean England live to regret their lack of aggression in today’s chase, with Nat Sciver the only batsman in England’s line-up to post a Strike Rate of over 100. (Though Brunt, Beaumont and Winfield all struck at exactly 100.)

Tammy Beaumont, who has played at this ground a fair few times in WBBL, said on Player Mic that England reckoned 150-160 – around 7-8 runs per over – would be a par score today; but India ended up only just scraping past 120 thanks to a big final over in which Deepti Sharma and Arundhati Reddy socked Anya Shrubsole for 15 runs, somewhat ruining Shrubsole’s figures in the process, though she still got player of the match for her 3 wickets.

Part of the responsibility for India’s lowly total must lie with Harmanpreet, who chewed-up 23 balls for 14 runs, which you just can’t afford to do at this level; though perhaps India’s real problem is a lack of confidence in their lower order, meaning Harmanpreet feels that staying there is almost equally as important as scoring runs, especially as she backs herself to pick up her strike rate later in the innings.

Whatever the case it didn’t come off for India today, and their sub-par total probably influenced England’s approach, especially after they lost early wickets – they knew that they didn’t actually need to hit fifth gear… or even third as it turned out… to win the game, so they were generally happy to chug along at just over 6 an over, rather than motoring at 7 or 8.

Could they have scored more quickly? You’d certainly hope so! It is true that a win is a win, and I don’t think there will be too many tears if they don’t make the Tri-Series final on Net Run Rate – that’s really not what they are in Australia for.

But the other side of today’s coin is that if you can’t throw off your conservative shackles in a series which doesn’t much matter, how do you expect to do it in a World Cup final? That’s the $64,000 question which England may have to answer back in Melbourne in a month’s time.