In the aftermath of England’s World Cup final defeat, I provoked a fair bit of debate by arguing that England now face a difficult choice between prioritising the up-coming Commonwealth Games or the next World Cup in 2025.
Many of the responses suggested that we didn’t have to choose – we could give the old stalwarts a swansong at the Commonwealth Games and then look to the future going forwards from the India series in September. I understand the emotional pull here – it is a unique tournament, on home turf, which the players are desperate to be part of.
But the key issue for me is that if you choose do this, you really are still choosing: you are prioritising the Commonwealth Games over the next World Cup. There are 3 English summers remaining before the World Cup – if we want to be in with the best chance of winning that World Cup with a younger team, we can’t afford to throw most of one of those summers away.
More than that though, the Commonwealth Games is an opportunity to bring the youngsters into exactly the kind of tournament we’ve prepared them for via the Hundred – a high-profile, intense tournament, in a short, sharp format, played on a familiar, English pitches. (Well… “a” familiar English pitch, as it is all played at Edgbaston.)
I’m not suggesting that we debut 11 players at the Commonwealths though!
The South Africa series which kicks off the summer will be a long one, including a Test, and gives us the opportunity to build somewhat incrementally, if more rapidly than might be ideal. Importantly, the ODIs are not part of the ICC Championship, so there are no World Cup qualification points on the line.
One thing we don’t want however, is a repeat of what happened to Emma Lamb – given just one game to prove herself at the end of the Ashes series. If we give someone a shot in either the ODIs or the T20s against South Africa, it must be for all 3 games of that series.
None of this is an exact science, but an approach against South Africa could be to “re-debut” Freya Davies (as a proper opening bowler) and Emma Lamb (opening) in the Test, add Lauren Bell and Bess Heath (a bit of a wildcard, but we need to start thinking about cover for Amy Jones) for the ODIs, and then Alice Capsey, Bryony Smith and maybe Dani Gibson in the T20s.
This then gives you a bit of a platform to select an explicitly younger side for the Commonwealths, including up to 5 or 6 players who were not in the 2022 World Cup XI, but could be part of things in 2025.
Would this be our “best” side right now, to win the Commonwealth Games?
No, no, and thrice no! It’s not ideal, but we’ve got ourselves into a less than ideal situation by a total lack of succession planning with the batting and fast bowling.
So given where we are, would taking this opportunity give us a better chance to prepare players to win the next World Cup?
In the immortal words of Churchill: Oh yes!