Women’s Ashes – Playing Jones In The Test Could EVEn Things Up

The fallout from England’s ODI Ashes whitewash is still ongoing – there are 30 comments (and counting!) below the line in our postmortem on the 3rd ODI – but England need to put the ODI series behind them and start to think about the Test.

The Ashes series is not actually lost yet – 8 points is the “magic number” for Australia to retain the trophy, and they only have 6 right now; but obviously the odds are stacked against England – they need to win the Test and all 3 T20s.

Being optimistic, England have a team that could win all 3 T20s – they won the T20 series in 2017, and they hold the World Record for the highest score in T20s between the top teams, having made 250-3 against South Africa at Taunton last summer. T20 is probably England’s best format at the moment, with batsmen like Danni Wyatt (one of only two women ever to have scored two international T20 centuries) and Tammy Beaumont ideally suited to the swashbuckling brand of cricket England like to play in the short game.

But the problem is that players – or more particularly, batsmen – ideally suited to T20 are almost by definition not suited to playing Test cricket, where you have to graft for your runs and build a score over hours not minutes. Perhaps more than anything in Test cricket, you have to put a high price on your wicket – something this current England team seem too-often incapable of doing.

So where can we turn?

The Women’s County Championship is not held in high esteem by England’s management, which is why they want to abolish it; but if County Championship cricket teaches you one thing, it is to put value on your wicket and grind-out an innings, and one of the more successful county batsmen over the past few years has been Eve Jones, first of Staffordshire and now of Lancashire.

There are other options of course – Sophia Dunkley or Bryony Smith, for instance – but they are both players more of a T20 mould, who have had the power-hitting mindset instilled into them by now.

Jones, however, is from a different era – dropped from the England pathway precisely because she was too “grafty” and wasn’t ever going to hit a T20 hundred off 50 balls – in other words, just what England need for the Test! Even if you were being extremely cynical, you’d have to say she can’t go any worse than most of England’s batting lineup has thus far in this series.

Is Jones One for the Future™? Not likely – she is nearly 27 and she’s never going to have an international “career”; but England have got a Test to win now and they need to find a bit of backbone from somewhere – Jones would be a gamble… but at 6-0 down we’re in gambling territory anyway – let’s give her a roll!

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Women’s Ashes Preview – England Hope!

The last time England took to the field against Australia, at the Twenty20 World Cup final in Antigua, there was hope.

True, England’s path to the final hadn’t been entirely  smooth – they had lost to the West Indies in the groups stages, in front of a fiercely partisan local crowd in St Lucia; but then nor had Australia’s – they had been thrashed by India, limping to 119 all out, after Smriti and Harmanpreet had smashed their bowlers for 167.

England certainly didn’t underestimate the Australians in that final, but having beaten India by 8 wickets in the semis, there was hope that they could go all the way.

But it wasn’t to be.

Having won the toss, England chose to bat, but only Danni Wyatt and Heather Knight reached double-figures as they were bowled out for 105 in the final over. In reply, the Aussies took England’s star bowlers to pieces – Kirstie Gordon and Anya Shrubsole went for 10 an over – as the Southern Stars romped home by 8 wickets with 5 overs to spare.

So much for hope.

And yet this week in Leicester, as England and Australia rejoin their rivalry in the 1st ODI of the multi-format Women’s Ashes series, the hope is there again.

England have put together an undefeated run of 14 matches since February, and in that time have whitewashed a T20 series against India, and both ODI and T20 series against Sri Lanka and the West Indies. It is a winning stretch that has become so talismanic for England that they turned down the chance to give some of their newer players – the likes of Sophia Dunkley and Freya Davies – opportunities in the T20 series versus the Windies, leaving them sitting on the sidelines in favour of the tried and trusted old hands who will be on the teamsheet once again in Leicester.

So is the hope justified this time?

Perhaps, yes.

England are a better team than they looked in that final last November, where they collapsed with exhaustion after an intense 3 weeks of sweltering tournament cricket, on pitches that didn’t really help a side who like to play their shots.

And while the Australians may have already built the strong domestic structures that England can currently only aspire to, at the top level the current cohort of contracted players are just as fit and just as well-drilled as the Aussies.

The returns of Katherine Brunt and Sarah Taylor, who both missed the World T20, will also make a difference. Taylor might not be the run machine she once was, but even as she has slightly struggled to adapt her batting game to the “Bish Bash Bosh ” era we all now live in, she has taken her wicket keeping to another level, and you can’t underestimate the extent to which her presence standing up to the stumps closes down the batsmans options and niggles at their confidence.

Katherine Brunt is arguably even more important, bowling with economy in all formats, even when she doesn’t take wickets; and while her batting can’t 100% be relied on – she still fails more often than not – she can be a match-winner with the bat too, coming in at 6 or 7, to halt a collapse or to give them that extra push over the cliff that turns a “10” innings up to “11”.

England’s settled batting line-up – Jones, Beaumont, Taylor, Sciver and Knight – all assured of their places for the entire series, will be full of confidence, playing on familiar pitches that will give them “value for their shots”, as Mark Robinson likes to say.

It is important to acknowledge that this is hope, not expectation – Australia are the better side, albeit probably not “win every game” better, as Alyssa Healy didn’t quite actually say.

But still, it really is hope.

England v West Indies – Bryony Smith Offered The Candle For England

When Laura Marsh played her hundredth ODI this week at Worcester, and in doing so joined the elite club of 9 players to have passed that mark for England, the much-deserved congratulations were accompanied by hopes that there would be “many more”.

It was the right thing to say at the time, but the truth is that there won’t be many more – Marsh is 32 years old, and though doctors have performed minor miracles on her troublesome shoulder to keep it turning for this long, her career won’t go on for ever, because nobody’s ever does.

Marsh was rested for the final match of the series, and replaced in the XI by… well… that’s actually an interesting question!

As well as Marsh, England rested Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver, bringing in Jenny Gunn, Fran Wilson and 21-year-old Bryony Smith for an ODI debut. So who replaced who? It isn’t really straightforward, and Mark Robinson probably wasn’t thinking “like for like” anyway, but if you say that batsman Wilson replaced mostly-batsman Sciver, and bowling allrounder Gunn replaced bowling-allrounder Brunt, that leaves Smith to replace Marsh.

And yet Smith has come to prominence in domestic cricket as a hard-hitting opening batsman – topping the Women’s County Championship Batting Rankings with 347 runs for Surrey this season; and while she does bowl tidily at county, she is often second or third change and doesn’t take a huge number of wickets.

Nonetheless, she came into the team on Thursday, didn’t bat, but bowled her full compliment of 8 rain-reduced overs, with a very nice economy rate of 2.5 – in other words, exactly what we would have expected Laura Marsh to do!

So it seems that Mark Robinson is (again) one step ahead of the rest of us in identifying a role for Smith that no one else foresaw – while we were all thinking “The Next Tammy Beaumont” he was thinking “The Next Laura Marsh” and it is a role she could be perfectly suited to, not least because there probably isn’t an opening for “The Next Tammy Beaumont” for several years!

Smith might not take millions of wickets, but that won’t be her job – it will be to dry-up the runs in the post-powerplay overs, which is where West Indies really lost it again yesterday (they were actually slightly ahead of England on runs at 10 overs) and smacking some sixes down the order at the death is just an added bonus.

This is the candle Mark Robinson has offered Bryony Smith – it is now up to her to seize it… and she has made a pretty good start.

OPINION: Reading The Runes On England’s Warm-Up Win In Sri Lanka

England began their tour of Sri Lanka with a comfortable win in a “jumpers for goalposts” warm-up match against a relatively inexperienced “Emerging” Sri Lanka team in Colombo.

England fielded 13 players, with most of the squad getting a run-out with either bat or ball. Lauren Winfield top-scored with 82 (retired) as England posted 319, before bowling the Sri Lankans out in exactly 40 overs, with Heather Knight taking 4-13.

Reading the runes on England’s selections, it looks like Amy Jones, who scored 56 (also retired) will continue to open the batting in the ODIs with Tammy Beaumont; with Lauren Winfield maybe coming in at 3 ahead of Heather Knight and Nat Sciver, as she did in the 3rd ODI in India.

Bowling-wise, although Katherine Brunt has travelled to Sri Lanka, she was originally planned to be rested for this tour, and she didn’t play in the warm-up. Instead, Freya Davies opened the bowling with Anya Shrubsole – Davies finishing with 1-16 from 6 overs.

Does this mean Davies is nailed-on for the ODIs? It would be a bold statement of faith from the coach… but that’s exactly the sort of thing Mark Robinson likes to do! (Remember Linsey Smith, Sophia Dunkley and Kirstie Gordon all making their debuts together at the World Twenty20?)

England’s bowling is obviously a bit injury-ravaged at the moment, with Georgia Elwiss and Sophie Ecclestone both having flown home and straight into rehab, so other options are obviously on the table, but it looks like Sophia Dunkley is not one of them – she didn’t bowl in the warm-up, and it seems like England see her as a pure batsman at the moment.

Danni Wyatt however, did send down some overs – they were rather expensive (going at 7.8, compared to Freya Davies’ 2.3) but England clearly do have her in mind as an option.

OPINION: Disappointed England Still Have Everything To Play For

England will be bitterly disappointed to have lost the ODI series out in India, having gone 2-0 down with one match to play. Having spoken to a couple of the players shortly before they left for India, including Heather Knight, whilst they didn’t underestimate India, they genuinely believed this was a series they could win.

England were even handed a bonus “Get Out Of Jail Free” card via the absence of Harmanpreet Kaur through injury, but they haven’t been able to capitalise as their batting has failed on both occasions.

This is an experienced batting line-up – England’s top 6 in the 2nd ODI debuted (on average) in 2010, with the most recent debuts in 2013. There are a lot of caps on those heads, but only Nat Sciver has come out and batted like it. Sure, there have been glimpses of the class we know these players have – Tammy Beaumont played a couple of glorious strokes in the 2nd ODI, but the only one anyone will remember is the horrendous slog-sweep she got out to!

Heather Knight played a fighting innings in the 1st ODI, but was out carelessly in the 2nd, underestimating the weight of a delivery from Jhulan Goswami and bunting a catch to extra cover. Sarah Taylor also misjudged the same bowler – there’s nothing necessarily wrong with driving at a ball half a mile outside off stump without moving your feet… but you better make sure you middle it if you do – Taylor didn’t, and it came off a thick edge to take out her stumps!

Overall, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that England batted poorly, more than India bowled especially well – there should be no excuses for this, and you can be sure that in the dressing-room there won’t be – both Mark Robinson and Heather Knight will see to that.

So with one ODI to play the series is lost, but there are still two ICC Championship points to play for, so England need to pick themselves up and go again on Thursday. Although they are currently 7th in the points table, the schedule is to their advantage, with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies at home still to play, so there is no need to hit the panic button, especially remembering that 4 teams plus New Zealand qualify automatically for the World Cup. But nonetheless, a couple of points on Thursday would give them some extra breathing room during the run-in.

All England need to do in these conditions is take a lesson from their opponents – there are no demons in these pitches, but there aren’t that many runs either – just keep calm and try to get a 4-an-over total of around 200 on the board by playing sensible cricket – basically, exactly what they did (and India didn’t) in the World Twenty20 semi-final just a few short months ago!

POST-MATCH: England v South Africa T20 – New Who?

Twenty20 cricket… like life… comes at you fast!

Just 4 hours ago, we were reflecting on a world-record-breaking performance by New Zealand versus South Africa – a magnificent century by Suzie Bates setting up a total of 216 for the White Ferns at Taunton.

England were still back at their hotel while the Kiwis were batting – Anya Shrubsole telling us afterwards that she was watching on her laptop at the time:

“Half way through the New Zealand innings I thought: Should I shut the laptop and not watch it, because I’ve got to bowl on this later?”

“But it is good to watch and see how the teams are doing and how the pitch is playing, and it was pretty evident from the start it was an absolute belter.”

Belter or not, 216 was a clear statement of intent from New Zealand – they know they disappointed at the World Cup here in England last summer; and they are determined to go all the way at the World T20 this year.

So they laid down a marker.

216.

And then England happened!

Heather Knight won the toss and had no hesitation:

“It was always going to be a bat first pitch,” says Shrubsole.

But pitches don’t break records, batsmen do:

“Tammy [Beaumont] and Danni [Wyatt] up front batted amazing; and then Nat [Sciver] and Katherine [Brunt] as well.”

Indeed it is easy to overlook Brunt’s and Sciver’s contributions – after all, by the time Beaumont was out England already had 185 – more than enough to win the match – they could have relaxed a bit… fired up a chilled-out playlist on Spoitfy… made cocktails…

But Sciver’s 33 off 15 balls, and even more so Brunt’s 42 off 16 balls at a Strike Rate of 263, were what turned a big total into a record-breaking one of 250.

So how do you go out and bowl on a pitch where 600 runs have already been scored that day? And not just bowl, but bowl 2 maidens in the powerplay, finishing 3 powerplay overs with figures of 3-2-2-0?

“I don’t know if I approached [bowling] differently to the others,” says Shrubsole. “I just tried to bowl a heavy length and bowl it straight and hope that it swung, and the swing helps – it gives you a bit more margin for error.”

It is typically modest, but truth be told, she was magnificent – England might be a batting team these days, but there will be days when they need to be a bowling team too – when the batting doesn’t quite click, or the pitches aren’t quite the “belter” this was – and she showed today she is absolutely integral to that.

But today was about the batters, as Shrubsole admits:

“Some of the bowlers might have had their pride hurt a little bit, but I challenge anyone who came here today to go away and say that wasn’t a thoroughly entertaining day of cricket. If you ask people who watch the games they want to see high-scoring games – they want to see 4s, they want to see 6s.”

And that’s what England gave them!

New Zealand?

New Who?

OPINION: England Hope For Triumph of Experience In Busy Summer

Charlotte Edwards will be in the commentary box at Worcester, as England take on South Africa in the 1st of six ICC Championship matches to be played in England this summer.

But the former England captain could be forgiven for a certain sense of deja-vu as she looks out onto the ground at New Road – all bar one of the England’s 14-player squad made their debuts under her or (in two cases) her predecessor Clare Connor. The “average” England debut for this squad was in 2009 – almost 10 years ago.

It will soon be three years since Mark Robinson was appointed England coach, and just over two years since Edwards was metaphorically left alone in a room at Lords with a bottle of Scotch and a loaded revolver. In that time, Robinson has handed out five “proper” debuts, to Alex Hartley, Sophie Ecclestone, Alice Davidson-Richards, Katie George and Bryony Smith, one “re-debut” to Fran Wilson, and awarded a new “rookie” contract to the so-far uncapped Freya Davies; but of these only Ecclestone will take the field today.

Of course, there is plenty more cricket to be played this summer – a fast and furious T20 Tri-Series against South Africa and New Zealand will offer opportunities to bounce back, as England look to rotate with half an eye on the New Zealand ODI series to come.

But it does have to be a worry that while the Australians are bringing on the likes of Beth Mooney and Ash Gardner, the pathway doesn’t appear – Ecclestone aside – to be producing the players they trust to go out there and score runs and take wickets for England.

That being said, this is still a very strong England team – the problem areas are mostly of the “nice problem to have” variety. Do you play Dani Hazell and Laura Marsh? What about Georgia Elwiss, who had a good game against South Africa for the Academy last week? Where do you bat Tammy Beaumont if Amy Jones opens with Danni Wyatt, which England seem to think might be the answer to Jones’ issues (which are clearly 99% in her head)? And of course you’d ideally want to fit in the ever-reliable Jenny Gunn, but where?

My guess is that England might go with:

  1. Wyatt
  2. Jones
  3. Taylor
  4. Sciver
  5. Beaumont
  6. Knight
  7. Brunt
  8. Marsh
  9. Hazell
  10. Shrubsole
  11. Ecclestone

This year will see no repeat of Pakistan 2016 – South Africa will be no pushover – though they will have breathed a sigh of relief that Laura Wolvaardt has decided for the moment to try to juggle cricket and medical school, because their batting can be as brittle as it can sometimes be brilliant without her indefatigability at the top of the order.

New Zealand will similarly push England hard, as you’d expect from a team led by the best player in the world (Suzie Bates) who can afford to drop one of the most destructive batsmen in the world (Rachel Priest) for “reasons” because when you’ve got Amy Satterthwaite and Sophie Devine too, that’s the kind of crazy thing you can do and still pull off the highest ODI score of all time against Ireland!

So… predictions? I think England will win more games than they’ll lose this summer, but they won’t have it all their own way.

The one certainty – for the neutrals, it should be a good one!