England v Pakistan 3rd T20 – England Spread The Batting Load Around

England once again showed the breadth of batting talent currently available to them in their 26-run win against Pakistan today, with the top 5 all making decent contributions  to complete a tour clean-sweep across both the ODI and T20 formats.

It’s been one of the hallmarks of this tour that it hasn’t been the same batsmen making all the running, with Tammy Beaumont, Danni Wyatt and Nat Sciver all adding to their century tallies, and Amy Jones, Heather Knight and Fran Wilson all falling just short of doing so with scores in the 80s. Wilson, whose place was in some doubt after missing out for much of last summer, has had a particularly good time of it; and shared an important late partnership with Beaumont in today’s game, the pair adding 44 runs across the last 4 overs of the England innings after things had stalled a bit in the middle period.

It looks a fairly safe bet that these 6 – Beaumont, Wyatt, Sciver, Jones, Knight and Wilson – will now make up the core of England’s batting in the forthcoming WWT20, with Lauren Winfield – who did get an outing today but unfortunately for her didn’t actually make it to the middle – looking like she will miss out.

The real question, then, is over the batting order. The thinking seems to be that we should expect the unexpected, with no one player “nailed on” to come in at number 3, even in similar match situations. In the first T20, with England losing their first wicket in over 4, Beaumont did the job; while today, with the first wicket going down in the 5th over, Knight was tasked with the role and Beaumont dropped down to number 5. Remarks on commentary suggest this is a deliberate strategy, designed to ensure maximum flexibility. It’s certainly an interesting approach, though I’m not sure I agree with relegating the best batsman (a title to which Beaumont certainly has a claim) to number 5.

With the ball, Sarah Glenn has enjoyed a memorable first tour in England colours, and continued her honeymoon period by picking up another couple of wickets in today’s game. Of course the real test – Australia in home conditions in February – still awaits her; but Knight has shown good faith in giving her a decent run to start her career, with signs that England might prefer to have a leg spinner in their armoury rather than a second leftie (Kirstie Gordon remaining on the bench for the whole tour).

Ahead of the tour we thought Pakistan had a decent shot at sneaking a win past England, but in truth they never really came close to a winning position in any of the 6 matches – credit to England for never taking their foot off the pedal. Of the Pakistani bowlers, Diana Baig had a good tour, with England struggling to score against her throughout; she finished up with a couple of wickets today, dismissing both Wyatt and Knight with some clever variations in pace. Leggie Syeda Shah, who made her debut in the T20 series, looks like a good bet for the future at just 15 years old. Pakistan’s main concern should be their batting – with Sana Mir MIA, Bismah Maroof was left to score the vast weight of the runs (24%), the rest of the order showing a worrying tendency to crumble around her.

Overall, England probably got out of the tour everything they could have hoped for – some decent match time (only one of the matches rain-affected in the end), a chance to expose their younger players to international cricket in a relatively low-stakes series, and the opportunity for their batsmen (still bruised after the heavy loss to Australia) to regain some confidence ahead of the World Cup.

England v Pakistan 2nd T20 – Good… But Could Time In The Eye Gym Help England Do Even Better?

England clocked-up a huge 84-run win against Pakistan in the 2nd T20 today in Kuala Lumpur, after Amy Jones (89) and Danni Wyatt (55) put on 120 for the first wicket in just 11.2 overs.

It was a stupendous start from Jones and Wyatt, and I was just reaching for my laptop to look up whether two hundreds had ever been scored in the same innings before, in men’s or women’s T20 internationals, when Wyatt was dismissed. (The answer appears to be “No”, by the way.)

Following Wyatt’s departure, England’s Run Rate dropped off somewhat, as the worm shows:

Having been going at almost 11-an-over, they dropped back to a little over 7, and a total that had been heading for well over 200 fell back to “just” 185.

It was still plenty enough of course – Pakistan’s highest ever score in a T20 is 177 – that was in Kuala Lumpur too, but versus lowly Malaysia, and against England their top order pretty-much folded in the face of the size of the ask in front of them. Aside from a battling 38 off 35 balls from Iram Javed, the only other positive they could really take is that the tail clung on to “go the distance” as they finished 9 down.

So England will be happy… but could they be happier? Should they have got closer to 210-220?

It is normal of course for players to take a few balls to “get themselves in”, but Sciver and Knight chewed-up 14 balls between them at a Strike Rate of less than 75 – that’s two-and-a-bit overs, which could be crucial in a big semi or final in Australia next year. So how could this be addressed?

The Telegraph’s Women’s Sport section’s list of Women of the Year, published this week, included an interesting name I’d never heard of: Sherylle Calder. Calder has (as far as I can see) never played top-level sport, but she’s on the list because she worked with England’s men’s rugby team at this year’s World Cup in Japan as a “vision specialist” – improving the players’ hand-eye coordination, among other approaches by using a specially developed set of video “games” called EyeGym.

A top player would never dream of going out to bat without warming-up her body, and they might take a few “throw-downs” as well to get the feel of leather on willow, but could the use of something like EyeGym help to get their vision closer to “the zone” before they have to actually face a ball in anger?

It wouldn’t be a cure-all – there’s lots you can’t account for, especially the pitch – but in a game of fine margins, it might be worth a run or two an over; and while that might not have mattered against Pakistan today, against Australia at the MCG next spring, it could be all the difference in the world.

England v Pakistan 1st T20 – England’s World T20 Team Takes Shape

Is today’s XI the team which will take to the field come February 23, England’s first fixture in the 2020 World Twenty20? It seems more than likely. Heather Knight may change things up later in this series, but for now, you’d say that this is the team she believes has the best shot at winning them the world title.

That means Amy Jones back at the top of the order, with Tammy Beaumont dropping down to 3, which is my personal preference, as I tweeted during the second ODI:

Jones certainly looked much more confident today, hitting a 38-ball half-century. It wasn’t a chanceless innings, featuring a couple of inside edges which she was lucky to get away with, but in T20 you need to take risks, especially when your partner at the other end is getting a bit bogged down.

For their part, Pakistan bowled well enough to restrict Tammy Beaumont to only a-run-a-ball. In particular, 15-year-old debutant Syeda Shah dazzled the England batsmen with her leg spin: Jones bowled after failing to read a straight one, while only a fumble by wicketkeeper Sidra Nawaz prevented Shah from also picking up the wicket of Nat Sciver in her next over.

Oddly, when Beaumont was finally dismissed in the 16th, England chose to send in Katherine Brunt at 5. With 4-and-a-bit overs still remaining, you’d think that Knight would back herself ahead of her frontline seamer; or even Fran Wilson, fresh from her unbeaten 85 in the second ODI. Not only is the England captain clearly the superior batsman, I’d also question whether it’s really worth knackering Brunt with the bat in this heat when you also want her to open with the ball? (Her economy rate today – 9 – seemed to suffer accordingly.) I’m not sure it’s a tactic I’d repeat.

As it turned out, when Knight did finally make it to the crease in the final over, she bludgeoned three consecutive boundaries. Of course England won easily – never in doubt? hmmm – but you’d hope they might be scoring upwards of 175 batting first against Pakistan, who are clearly a much weaker side.

One player who must surely have cemented her place in the WT20 squad after today’s game is Freya Davies. With Davies entrusted with opening the bowling for England, it seems that Knight has more faith in her Western Storm (and soon to be London Spirit) teammate than former coach Mark Robinson; faith that was repaid handsomely today. Bowling quickly and getting a touch of swing, Davies made as experienced a batsman as Javeria Khan look ridiculous – the opener totally exposing her stumps, swinging and missing completely as the ball clattered into off-stump. Davies’ ability to bowl dot balls in the powerplay – she managed 9 today – is also invaluable.

If this IS Knight’s first-choice XI, you’d expect England to go into the 2nd T20 unchanged, to give them another outing together ahead of their Australian odyssey. Mady Villiers and Kirstie Gordon might therefore have to wait a bit longer to get their first opportunity of the tour.

England v Pakistan 3rd ODI – Glenn Spinning In The Rain

ICC Championship Played Won Lost Tied / N/R Points Max*
Australia 18 17 1 0 34 40
England 21 14 6 1 29 29
India 18 10 8 0 20 26
Pakistan 18 7 9 2 16 22
South Africa 15 7 6 2 16 28
New Zealand 15 7 8 0 14 26
West Indies 21 6 14 1 13 13
Sri Lanka 18 1 17 0 2 8

* Max = maximum possible points achievable.

England will finish in 2nd place in the Women’s International Championship after rain washed out the final match of their ODI series with Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur, with none of the side below them able to get more than their 29 points.

As we stand, India now also appear all-but certain to automatically qualify for the World Cup, with the latest gossip from ICC Towers suggesting that the points are looking likely to be shared between them and Pakistan for their unplayed series. (Last time around, the ICC awarded all the points to Pakistan, but the rules have been tweaked since then, with the BCCI now able to argue that it was outside their control, because it was the Indian government (not the BCCI) that prevented the series going ahead.)

Finally, this also means that South Africa need just two more wins from their 6 remaining matches against New Zealand and Australia to join the automatic qualification party, so you’d think it will probably (but by no means certainly, yet) be Pakistan who will join Sri Lanka and the Windies at the qualifiers.

But I digress…

England won the toss again, for the third time in the series, and opted to bowl this time. Perhaps they were just bored with batting? Or perhaps they had seen the forecast and wanted to chase in a potential Duckworth-Lewis situation?

Pakistan got off to a good start – Nahida and Javeria trotting along at 6 an over, until the introduction of Freya Davies, making her ODI debut, in the 9th over. Davies began by bowling a maiden to Javeria, keeping it full on middle / middle-and-leg stumps; and went on to concede just 7 runs in her first spell – bowling just one bad ball in 4 overs. A second spell saw her finish with 0-19 off 7 overs – an Economy Rate of just 2.71, having made a really impressive start to her ODI career.

The one thing Davies didn’t get was a wicket in reward for her efforts – they were all going into Sarah Glenn’s bag, as she picked up a 4fer in her 3rd ODI. If she’s honest… and I’m sure she will be, because the best players generally are… Glenn will likely admit that this was actually not the best she has bowled in the series – there were a few loose deliveries, and she was a tad fortunate to end up with an Economy Rate even lower than Davies at 2.25 – better batsmen would have punished her in the runs column. However, you can’t argue with the wickets – the last in particular was a beauty which turned just enough to pass the bat and clip off stump.

Anya Shrubsole also grabbed 3 wickets, including two-in-two, and was looking dangerous for more with her inswingers before the rain came down with Pakistan 145-8. Shrubsole’s assured place in the side is actually under a bit of pressure for the first time in several years, with Brunt still doing what she does, Cross bowling sharply, and now Davies making a case too; but Shrubsole is a big game player and England will want that in Australia, so it was a good time for her to find some form.

We now move on to the T20s next week – Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Perhaps expect Glenn to be given a rest and Kirstie Gordon to get the chance to have a crack at the Pakistani batsmen for the first time on this tour, as England play their final matches before selection for the T20 World Cup. (They will play a tri-series v Australia and India prior to the World Cup, but the squad will be the same.)

England v Pakistan 2nd ODI – Frantastic!

In what was a more convincing win than Monday’s “business-like” affair, England absolutely walloped Pakistan – Heather Knight laying the foundations for a strong total, while Nat Sciver (who hit her third ODI hundred) and Fran Wilson (who achieved her highest score for England) then delivered the knockout blows at the back end of the England innings.

England’s 300+ total was all the more impressive coming as it did after both centurions from match one fell cheaply today. As so often in Danni Wyatt’s career, famine followed feast, as her century in the last match was followed up by a limp dismissal in only the second over of this one – Wyatt plonking it straight into the hands of extra cover. Tammy Beaumont was also largely responsible for her own downfall, repeatedly swiping at wide balls outside off stump until at last she edged one out to backward point in the 14th over.

That left Heather Knight, England’s new number 3, playing the aggressor role. Knight’s strength is that she is more than capable of adjusting her game to the match situation at hand – a quality which is much-needed for the batsman coming in at first-drop – and this match was no different, the England captain timing the ball perfectly through the gaps to rack up a 49-ball half-century.

Unfortunately she got bogged down in the 80s – possibly with the thought of that impending century somewhere at the back of her mind? Or maybe it was just the crazy heat. Either way, with the run rate dropping below 5 an over thanks to a tight spell of bowling from captain Bismah Maroof, she decided to chance the arm of Sidra Amin at mid on, thus denying herself the chance to reach 3 figures.

That honour instead fell to Nat Sciver, who – to the delight of her teammates – achieved the milestone on the penultimate ball of the innings with a scrambled single (though oddly didn’t secure her the Player of the Match award, which went to Knight).

Despite that, the real star of the day (in my view) was Fran Wilson. Wilson has had a difficult time of late – playing no official role in England’s Test or T20 teams against Australia last summer, but still expected to be on hand in case they needed a “gun” substitute fielder – so to see her succeeding at international level is particularly pleasing. Her arrival at the crease today seemed to reinvigorate a slightly-flagging Sciver; and her strike rate (173) was far and away the highest of the match.

It was the Sciver-Wilson partnership which helped England finish with a bang instead of a whimper – on Monday they hit just 61 runs across the last 10 overs of the innings, while today they added 107 in the same period.

Pakistan’s problems are two-fold, judging by these first two matches. Firstly, their spin-heavy bowling attack has been unable to generate wicket-taking opportunities on pitches which don’t offer much turn. They are left with the option of trying to bowl tightly, restrict runs and hope that England make mistakes – as a strategy, it worked for a short time today and did generate a couple of wickets, but they couldn’t sustain it long enough to put them in a match-winning position.

Secondly, they just can’t bat at anything like the required rate, which means that even though they ostensibly had a good start today – losing just the 1 wicket in the first powerplay – you never quite felt like they were in with a chance of chasing down the total.

For England, the big question ahead of the 3rd ODI is whether, now that they have safely won the series, they will change things up selection-wise. Bringing in Freya Davies and Mady Villiers for the final match would make perfect sense – nothing to lose, everything to gain in terms of international match experience – but England’s selection policies of late have been notoriously conservative, so who knows?

England v Pakistan 1st ODI – Banana Skin Avoided

Kuala Lumpur is the business capital of Malaysia, so it is perhaps appropriate that England turned-in a businesslike performance to win the 1st ODI versus Pakistan.

“Businesslike” may seem an unfair label for a display which included two centuries, for Danni Wyatt and Tammy Beaumont, in a 180-run opening stand, followed by a 4fer for Kate Cross as England bowled the Pakistanis out well short of their target; and perhaps our perceptions were coloured by watching it all on four hours’ sleep, but “entertaining” it was not!

Nevertheless, this could have been a banana skin – the first match of the tour, with the entire batting order having spent a hectic six weeks in Australia at the WBBL, while all the bowlers were stuck trying not to gather rust in the indoor nets at Loughborough. There was definitely scope for it all to go horribly wrong, and the fact that it didn’t is probably the important thing here.

This is not to subscribe to the Matthew Mott mantra of “Our Job Is Just To Win”. It really isn’t – your job is to get people to pay money to watch you, and that means entertaining them! But every once in a while you gotta do what you gotta do, and facing Pakistan in their home conditions, in oppressive heat and humidity, in the 1st ODI of the series, was maybe one of those times.

Heather Knight has talked a fair bit in the lead-up to this series of a “New Era” post Mark Robinson. She seems to be very-much in charge now, and it was interesting to hear Danni Wyatt after the match say:

Heather’s given me licence to play my game at the top of the order.” [Emphasis ours.]

Just a few months ago, it would have been Robbo giving her that licence.

So what did Heather do differently?

Well, she gave Wyatt back the spot at the top of the order that she wanted, and that certainly came off as she posted her first ODI hundred, at quicker than a run-a-ball. She played some nice shots, particularly driving inside-out over the top of cover / mid off, and looked confident in her game.

Alongside her Tammy Beaumont put in a more measured performance, and it took her a while to work out how to score runs outside of the powerplay, as her Strike Rate dropped to around 40 through overs 11-20, before picking up again to finish at around 75.

England’s (and I guess Heather’s) big decision was what to do at first drop? No 3 was Sarah Taylor’s role so someone needs to step into it now. Heather herself did that today, but was this based on the match situation, or will she do that job from now on? My impression is that it’s not a role she particularly wants, but she may have decided that she needs to take that responsibility anyway – it will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of games.

With the ball, Sarah Glenn became the first player to make their international debut in an ODI since Alex Hartley in 2016, with England under Mark Robinson generally using T20s to blood new selections. Glenn pretty-much picked up where she left off in KSL – bowling tidily; making the batsman play and making them think. She wasn’t getting a huge amount of turn, but she picked up a couple of wickets towards the end, including a nice LBW which did do a bit, edging leg through the air, and then turning in off the pitch to hit more of middle than leg. (Diana, at the non-striker’s end, didn’t look impressed at the time, but she was wrong!)

The interesting question going forwards is whether England stick with the same XI for the rest of the series? Batting-wise, I’d guess they will – there aren’t too many options, though Lauren Winfield will be hoping to get an opportunity at some stage. Bowling-wise, it would seem harsh to “drop” Glenn, and I’d like to see her play all 3 ODIs; but with those 3 games coming in less than a week, they probably do need to rest the quicks at some point and bring in Davies, though they may wait until the 3rd ODI to do it – we’ll find out on Thursday.

PREVIEW: England v Pakistan – New Faces Knocking On The Door For England

ICC Championship Played Won Lost Tied Points Max*
Australia 18 17 1 0 34 40
England 18 12 6 0 24 30
India 18 10 8 0 20 26
South Africa 15 7 6 1 16 28
Pakistan 15 7 7 1 15 27
New Zealand 15 7 8 0 14 26
West Indies 21 6 14 0 13 13
Sri Lanka 18 1 17 0 2 8

* Max = maximum possible points achievable.

England travel to Kuala Lumpur for their final round of matches against Pakistan in the ICC Women’s Championship, with automatic qualification for the World Cup in New Zealand next spring already in the bag. (Four teams qualify automatically, along with hosts New Zealand; and while India, South Africa and Pakistan can all theoretically overhaul England, India and Pakistan, who play each other in their final rounds, can’t both do it.)

Whether England had this in mind when they selected their squad is an open question, but with four “newer” faces in the 15, with just a handful of caps between them, England do have the chance to roll the dice a bit against a Pakistan side who are probably better than when England thrashed them at home in the lead-up to the 2017 World Cup… but not that much better.

Pakistan will also be without their greatest ever player – Sana Mir – who taking a break from the game, which can only make England’s task easier.

What it won’t be, however, is “easy”. Kuala Lumpur is bloomin’ hot this time of year – the mercury will be hitting 31-33 degrees all week – and there is also a fair chance of thunder and rain having a say in proceedings.

England’s only uncapped selection for this tour is Sarah Glenn, a specialist leg-spinner who had an impressive KSL for Loughborough Lightning this summer. Former Head Coach Mark Robinson was always on the lookout for a leggie, and England might just have found a good one in Glenn, who doesn’t turn the ball as much as Amelia Kerr, but is a very tidy bowler who won’t give much away. Personally, if I had to choose one or the other, I’d play her in the ODIs rather than the T20s, but England’s inclination is usually to do the opposite and use the T20s to blood new caps, so we’ll see!

Mady Villiers got her first cap in England’s last international – the final T20 of the Women’s Ashes – and the T20s is probably where we’ll see her run out, hopefully with a chance to get a bat as well as a bowl.

Freya Davies meanwhile is turning into something of a South East Asian specialist. Having won all 3 of her previous caps against Sri Lanka in Colombo, she looks likely to add to that here – Heather Knight is a big fan, having played with her at Western Storm; and Knight was also no doubt influential in ensuring she grabbed her for the London Spirit in next summer’s Hundred. Barring an injury to one of the Brunt-Shrubsole axis, she probably won’t get a game in the ODIs, but the T20s are another matter, and with the T20 World Cup coming up next, there is an opportunity for her to stake a claim as an economical opening option for Australia.

Kirstie Gordon has yet to win an ODI cap, but has a good chance of collecting the final one of the set, having made her Test and T20 debuts already. With England playing 3 ODIs in the space of a week, picking all three current first-choice quicks (Brunt, Shrubsole and Cross) in that heat and humidity feels like cruel and unusual punishment – so expect to see “Commissioner” Gordon at some point teaming up with Sophie Ecclestone – they may both be orthodox lefties, but they offer something quite different, balancing each other with attack from Gordon and a little more defence from Ecclestone.

The batting line-up is much more settled, though England are likely to change the order up a bit: Danni Wyatt, coming off a pretty encouraging showing in WBBL, is likely to open in the T20s, but not in the ODIs. The only real area of debate is the duel between Lauren Winfield and Fran Wilson for the final spot in the late middle-order, with Wilson probably edging it, thanks in part to her exceptional fielding which often adds 10-20 runs to whatever she gets with the bat.

Overall, England really ought to be targeting a whitewash, certainly in the more predictable ODI format. However, there are some worries that the players who went to WBBL are tired, after racing round Australia at a million miles an hour for six weeks, while those who didn’t have been stuck indoors at Loughborough for three months and may be rusty, so don’t under-price Pakistan pulling off an upset in the 1st ODI. Even if they do, expect normal service to be resumed pretty sharply, with England winning the ODIs 2-1 and the T20s 3-0.

Fans in England will, we understand, be able to watch the action on something I believe the kids call “The You Tubes”, but a good supply of coffee will be essential, as the ODIs start at 1:30am on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, with the T20 series following the week after with 2am starts!