No player ever celebrates when their teammate has to sit out a game with an injury, or in this case misses out because they are precautionary-isolating with a head cold, but the absence of Katherine Brunt from the second T20 was the best thing that could have happened to Freya Davies.
Davies did play in the first T20 (it was Tash Farrant who was the like-for-like replacement brought in for Brunt today), but with England’s conglomerate of bowling options, she only had the chance to bowl one over. Today, she was handed her full allocation of four – and she certainly made the most of them.
In her first over, she had Hayley Jensen caught in the deep trying to cut – a perfectly executed plan, directly following a chat to captain Heather Knight and a swift rearranging of the field, to tempt Jensen into her favoured shot.
Then, 10 overs later and with New Zealand eyeing up a total of 150, Davies took the key wicket of Amy Satterthwaite on 49*, coming round the wicket and shaping the ball back into the left-hander to have her bowled. Three balls later she also saw off Maddy Green – this time, moving the ball into the right-hander, who got an inside edge which was well snaffled by Amy Jones behind the stumps. It was the perfect demonstration of why Davies at her best is so dangerous: the ability to move the ball both ways, very late, leaving the opposition batters in a state of desperate uncertainty.
In her final over it was a fuller, straight ball which did for Kate Ebrahim, handing Davies her first ever four-fer in international cricket. New Zealand’s eventual total of 123-9 was never going to be enough.
Davies made her name in the Kia Super League for Western Storm, as a crucial part of the team which twice won the competition. In the final year of the KSL (2019), she finished as leading wicket-taker, ahead of a raft of the world’s best bowlers. The key to her success was that she knew her role, and could therefore do it with confidence: the senior seam bowler, who always opened, and usually also bowled an over or two at the death.
One of the difficulties for Davies has been finding her feet in a similar way for England. With Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole the automatic new-ball bowlers, and the England management seemingly reluctant to “experiment” between World Cups, chances to showcase her skills have been few and far between. You sense that even when chances have come her way it’s been hard for her to understand her role in the team – there’s never been certainty about when, or if, she will bowl her overs.
Katherine Brunt is one of England’s great players, and no one wants to see her career end before it’s her time. But Tammy Beaumont only came into her own as an England batter when the heavyweight Charlotte Edwards retired from the fray. Is it a leap to suggest that the absence of Brunt from today’s game had a similar psychological effect on Davies?
This might be speculation, but it could be important. It seems unlikely that Brunt will be able to go through a jam-packed 2022 schedule without needing to be rested on some of the big occasions, and in any case, she herself acknowledges that she isn’t going to be around forever. England need someone to be ready to step up and take on Brunt’s role whenever the need arises. Davies made a very good case today why that someone could… should… be her. Had Brunt been playing, she might never have been given that chance.
Sometimes a head cold really can be a blessing in disguise.