The Vitality IT20 Tri-Series involves England, New Zealand and South Africa, competing in three sets of double headers during June 2018.
The format requires each side in turn to play two Twenty/20 games on the same day. The opening pair of matches at Taunton offered the expected results, if not their overwhelming margins. Against South Africa, Suzie Bates’s blistering 126 helped the White Ferns register a new record T20 total of 216-1, helped most of the way by Sophie Devine (73) .
Astonishingly that record lasted only a few hours, as Tammy Beaumont (116) and Danni Wyatt (56) flogged a dispirited South African attack towards a mighty 250-3 to help England achieve a record margin of victory, 121 runs.
The players met again three days later to resume combat. A large crowd was in attendance on a lovely day to witness cricket play its customary tricks on expectations. First England disappointed the home supporters by batting far below their best. Wyatt and Sarah Taylor were guilty of careless shots in the air to put England on the back foot. The scoring rate was a healthy 8 runs per over, but only Heather Knight (35*) supported the ever reliable Tammy Beaumont (71) for long. A total of 160-5 looked fragile.
South Africa were a side reborn, bowling then batting with the confidence they had shown a fortnight earlier at Worcester. They overtook the hosts’ total with relative ease, despite the early loss of Laura Wolvaardt. Lizelle Lee (68) and Sune Luus (63*) put on 103 together, leaving the skipper Dane van Niekerk (25) to shepherd her side towards the line. It took another brilliant stumping by Taylor off Sophie Ecclestone to halt her progress.
These were two points that England hadn’t expected to forfeit. If they lost in the late afternoon match against the White Ferns, their outlook would be unhealthy.
They set off at a great rate, but lost Wyatt, Taylor and Beaumont in reaching 58. Nat Sciver now played the innings all her admirers had been waiting for (59), scored at over 1½ runs per ball. Anya Shrubsole delighted her home crowd with a belligerent knock of 22 to help her team to 172-8.
Would that be sufficient against a New Zealand XI in such great batting form? They started at a pace similar to England’s, but fate intervened to remove all three of their major stars, Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates and Amy Satterthwaite in reaching 47. This gave the home team added vigour and self-belief, and the middle order came and went with surprising regularity.
The bowlers really did their job. Even the most expensive, Tash Farrant, making a return to England colours after a lengthy absence, took two wickets and made a tricky catch in the deep. But the plaudits all went to Sophie Ecclestone who finished with 4-18 in her four allotted overs, bowled in four spells. This was quite enough to earn her a richly deserved Player of the Match award, the only bowler thus far to achieve this feat.
The policy of using bowlers one over at a time is now commonplace in T20. It had no adverse effect on Ecclestone’s accuracy, but we are left wondering how effective it is in reducing the batting side’s flow. Yes, they have to accustom themselves instantly to a new bowler, but equally, the bowler has to take immediate command of the desired rhythm and control.
There was some excellent bowling on show to set against the less persuasive. Raisibe Ntozakhe, Shabnim Ismail and Dane van Niekerk kept England in check on the first day, producing combined figures of 12 overs, 68 runs and 3 wickets. Likewise Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Nat Sciver and Heather Knight together bowled a decisive 11 overs to take 8-53 against New Zealand. This was enough to silence all the critics who doubted England’s bowling strength, that is to say, your correspondent.
If the results on the first day had been all too predictable, the reverse was true on the second. The crowd was kept enthralled throughout. The third and final instalment takes place at Bristol on June 28.
Match 1 New Zealand 216 for 1
South Africa 150 for 6
Match 2 England 250 for 3
South Africa 129 for 6
Match 3 England 160-5
South Africa 166-4
Match 4 England 172-8
New Zealand 118