One year ago, almost to the day, a rampant England smashed New Zealand for a glorious 347 at Canterbury, before bowling the White Ferns out for 144 to win by over 200 runs – a result that New Zealand captain Sophie Devine memorably described afterwards as “one of those games that you just flush down the dunny”.
Today it was England’s turn to be on the receiving end of a hammering, as India took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series – the first time since 2007 that England have lost a home ODI series to anyone except Australia.
England did the right thing by opting to bowl having won the toss – as our analysis published earlier today shows, women’s ODIs between the top sides are more likely to be won by the team batting second, and attempting to defy gravity by choosing to bat first doesn’t usually end well. The fact that India won today doesn’t change that in any way.
Sometimes however you come up against a performance that takes on a life of its own. Australia found that out in the 2017 World Cup semi-final, and England found it out today, as Harmanpreet exploded like a volcano in the death overs – hitting her last 43 runs off just 11 balls, at a strike rate touching 400, to finish with 143 off 111 balls.
If this had been a frame of snooker, England would have conceded at that point – no one has ever successfully chased even 300 in a women’s ODI (though South Africa did once unsuccessfully pass 300 in a chase) and England weren’t going to do it today.
In fairness, they didn’t totally collapse – they cantered along at a pretty reasonable rate, and were actually “ahead” at 25 overs, albeit having lost one more wicket.
But it was “ahead” in 72-point finger-quotes – we didn’t believe it and they didn’t believe it – from the moment Harmanpreet left the field at the end of India’s innings, we were just waiting for reality to catch up with what everybody already knew – India had conquered Canterbury and England’s cathedral had fallen.
England’s white ball record this year reads: Played: 30; Won 16 (53%); which is actually… not great of itself, especially when you realise that fully half of those wins were against South Africa – Payed: 9; Won: 8 – against everyone else, their record is: Played: 21; Won: 8; Lost: 12. Not great at all.
To be fair, if there is a time to be losing games, this is probably it. 2½ years out from the next 50-over World Cup, England are starting to build a new side around the next generation of players, with Alice Capsey at the heart of it – the way she went out today and played with such positive intent, despite clearing being in some pain from the injury to her finger sustained whilst fielding in the deep, was remarkable. But as The Ed. put it: “Capsey Gonna Capsey”. (And equally… just at the point where you thought she was going to push on and play a really big innings, she was caught going for a big heave, because… well… Capsey Gonna Capsey!)
England’s other two youngsters, Freya Kemp and Lauren Bell, both took a battering today, but to a certain extent “that’s life” as a bowler in the modern game. For every performance like Harmanpreet’s today, or Smriti’s last week, there’s a bowler or two with a badly bruised ego; and they’ll both be back, hopefully at Lord’s on Saturday – the way for the management to respond to today is definitely to show faith in them, not to drop them.
Fingers crossed then that the weather plays along, and our big day out at Lord’s this weekend is everything we’ve been hoping for, for England’s first “normal” match in the capital since 2013. (They were scheduled to play India there in 2014, but the match was rained off without a ball being bowled.) It will be a good test of England’s ability to draw the kind of crowds we’ve seen for The Hundred, and which have encouraged the ECB to schedule not one but two Women’s Ashes matches in London next summer – though the official ticket site currently suggests that it is far from a sell-out with “plenty of tickets” still available, so… we shall see!