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.

TRI-SERIES: Australia v England – “Heather Say Die”

Knight Knight

England twice looked dead and buried in this match – and twice it was captain Heather Knight who refused to say die, seeing England home in a thriller of a match that felt at times like it had as much riding on it as a World Cup final.

At 41-3 at the halfway stage of their innings, England could easily have given up (we nearly gave up on them from our sofa…) To recover as they did to post a total in excess of 150 – beating their effort against India yesterday by 7 runs – was a remarkable effort.

That recovery was spearheaded by Knight, who smashed her highest score in T20 internationals for the second consecutive day in a row – this time with a 45-ball 78; alongside a 115-run stand with Fran Wilson, who underwrote her newly-found status as England’s middle-order power-player.

Then, after debutant Annabel Sutherland smashed Katherine Brunt for 17 off the antepenultimate over, in a display of youthful swagger that almost cost England the game, Knight did the job for her side again in the Super Over – hitting Ellyse Perry for consecutive boundaries to reach the target with two balls to spare. Unsurprisingly she was once again named Player of the Match.

Perry v Jones

Ellyse Perry’s opening spell of 4 consecutive overs went for only 9, but it was interesting to note from coach Matthew Mott that her economy rate wasn’t the only reason she bowled all her overs up front. Mott, interviewed during the match, said that he had sent out a message telling Meg Lanning to keep Perry on for her fourth over because it fitted with their pre-planned “match-ups”. Presumably it hasn’t escaped the Australians’ attention that Amy Jones effectively became Perry’s “bunny” last Ashes, and there is clearly still a psychological “block” there, with Jones playing out 12 dot balls against Perry today. It all built up to what was a frankly suicidal run-out.

Jones’s confidence will have taken a big knock after being unfairly lambasted for claiming the Smriti Catch-That-Wasn’t yesterday, which is very unfortunate. England will need to hope she can find some form across the rest of this series.

Uninvincible Australia

England will take a lot from this win, which will be all the sweeter after Australia walked all over them in the Ashes last summer. More to the point, it showed that Australia aren’t the invincible super-humans that we’ve come to expect. Both Knight and Wilson were dropped at crucial stages in their innings’ – Knight when she was on just 2* – and there were also some distinctly average pieces of fielding on the boundary rope during the Knight-Wilson onslaught. It just goes to show that even the Aussies aren’t immune to pressure when their backs are against the walls.

There is one other cause for concern for the home side. Captain Meg Lanning – who looked uncharacteristically uncomfortable at the crease today – missed the Super Over, having gone off for treatment for a “bad back”. It seems a bit odd that she would miss such a crucial part of the match unless there was something genuinely wrong – fingers crossed she holds up OK for the next match of the series against India tomorrow.

TRI-SERIES: England v India – Catches Don’t Win Matches

Catches Win Matches they say, but there has nonetheless been some debate recently in The Other Game™ over whether fielding actually matters, in what we are soon going to have to start not calling the “shortest format”; and on the evidence of today… it maybe doesn’t!

After winning the toss and electing to put England in, India could have had them 4 or 5 down for not-very-many. But Harmanpreet let one through her hands at mid off; Jemimah made a total hash of what should have been a dolly on the boundary, which ended up going for six; before Veda dived short of one at mid on, which was not an “easy” chance, but still one a top professional really ought to be taking.

Even putting the catches aside, India’s fielding wasn’t at its best – they let a few shots slip the ring that should have been cut off; and they lost some chases that they ought to have won in the outfield too.

In contrast, England were generally sharper. It might have been 40 degrees, with smoke from the bush fires still hanging in the air, but they caught more of their catches, cut off more of those shots on the ring, and won more of those chases in the outfield.

And yet it was India that won the game.

It wasn’t down to any one outstanding effort either – though she was India’s top scorer, this was no “Derby 2017” from Harmanpreet, as the fact that the adjudicators ended up giving the Player of the Match to someone on the losing side (Heather Knight) attests.

Rajeshwari Gayakwad did bowl really well up-top – she had Amy Jones cramped for style from ball one, and before the first over was through the England keeper was walking back to the dugout, caught meekly at mid off, trying to go inside out, but only succeeding with the “out” bit.

Gayakwad finished with a Kapp-esque Economy Rate of 4.75 off her 4 overs, which none of the England bowlers got close to – Ecclestone being their meanest, at 6 runs per over. Gayakwad didn’t play a single T20 for India in 2019, though she played a few ODIs, but she is already looking like she could be an important part of India’s challenge for T20 World Cup glory next month in Aus.

As for England, they will take the positives of good knocks from Knight and Tammy Beaumont into tomorrow’s game against Australia; when we might see Freya Davies take the ball, after Anya Shrubsole left the field early today, presumably injured. (The TV commentators didn’t seem to mention it* so we aren’t 100% certain, but Mady Villiers spent most of the game on as sub, and Shrubsole seemed to disappear after the 5th over.)

But England will need a much better performance tomorrow if they are to square-up to the Aussies, who won’t give any quarter with bat or ball. This was always going to be a tough Tri-Series to win between the top 3 sides in the world… but it just got a bit tougher for England after today.

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* Apologies if they did and we missed it.

NEWS: Kent Bryce For Impact

Following the news of Susie Rowe’s comeback for Kent, the forever-reigning 50-over county champions have announced not one but two further signings for 2020.

Having unveiled Scottish-born England international Kirstie Gordon yesterday, they have today added Scotland keeper-batsman Sarah Bryce to their squad for the T20 Cup – the only remaining official county competition in 2020.

The younger sister of Scotland captain Kathryn Bryce, Sarah has earned 20 T20 caps for her country, scoring 511 runs at 39.30, and taking 14 catches and 15 stumpings.

On joining Kent, Bryce said: “Kent have an outstanding pedigree in women’s cricket, with a record number of Championship titles and multiple T20 titles, too.”

“I’m eager to improve my game and I feel that there is no better place to do so in domestic women’s cricket than at Kent, where I can learn from experienced Internationals and look to contribute on the field straight away.”