It has been a breathless summer for England’s women cricketers. Almost unbroken sunshine is fine for sprawling spectators; not so much fun for labouring fielders and bowlers.
A carefully choreographed campaign involved two visiting nations, South Africa and New Zealand. At stake were points in the new World Series, world rankings and team and personal pride. The season started with three ODIs against the Proteas, who are very much a coming force. They got their tails up at once, catching England cold – only in the metaphorical sense – at Worcester, where they recorded an unexpectedly easy win by 7 wickets.
If alarm bells rang in the English camp, they were certainly heeded. That unwelcome reverse was corrected with two huge wins at Hove and Canterbury. Protean batting and bowling proved to be less secure than at first sight: twice they lost their last six wickets like toppled dominoes, and their bowlers found England’s leading bats at their most combative. Tammy Beaumont hit two successive hundreds for the second time, and Sarah Taylor delighted her admirers with her share of a partnership of 156 with Beaumont at Hove. But overall, she was outshone by her captain, Heather Knight, whose forceful stroke-play showed her at her most commanding. Whether batting first or second, England put the South Africans to the sword, mounting scores of 331-6 and 232-3.
Sandwiched in the middle of two trios of ODIs came a sequence of T20s, played out in the West Country. Spectators were treated to three double-headers, each nation in turn being required to turn out twice on the same day. Given the unremitting heat, this was a severe test, and the players responded well to the challenge.
Results were nearly predictable. New Zealand blasted South Africa out of their path in the first game in Taunton, Suzie Bates treating their attack with contempt (124), in a new world record total of 216-3.
Astonishingly that feat lasted only as long as it took Tammy Beaumont (116) and friends to accumulate a quite astonishing 250-3 against the same Proteas. Were they downhearted? No! Contrary to all expectations, second time round England managed ‘only’ 160-5, a total that, till recently, would have secured victory nine times out of ten. Not at Bristol. With courage and determination, South Africa topped that total with only four wickets down, and doubts about England’s true quality resurfaced.
As in the ODI sequence, they answered their critics at once, comfortably seeing off the White Ferns by 54 runs. They repeated the dose triumphantly in a less than riveting final at Chelmsford. The sides were meeting for the third time in quick succession and once again, New Zealand couldn’t discover a means of upsetting England’s forward march. The irony was that the side who failed to reach the final had beaten the eventual winners twice, once in each format. That will give the management of both squads cause for thought.
The last sequence of games brought the finalists together once more, in 50-over format. A central point was: had the White Ferns found their extended tour more sapping than expected? Before coming to England, they had briefly toured Ireland. Though the opposition was less challenging at that stage, it helped to sap their energies by mid-July, and they lost the first two encounters by a street.
It’s enormously to their credit that they restored their self-belief at Leicester to post an inspiring win against the hosts and prevent a whitewash.
The Irish tour served to confirm the arrival of a bright young star in the making: Amelia Kerr, 17, scored an unlikely 232*, then took five wickets in the same match. Other youngsters hoping to make strong impressions were Laura Wolvaardt (SA) and Sophie Ecclestone of Lancashire. Wolvaardt couldn’t live up to the expectations raised by encouraging scores back home, but Ecclestone proved a major component in England’s growing domination of the summer. Even when she wasn’t taking wickets, her control of line, length and flight ensured her opponents had to labour for runs.
At the final hurdle England were found wanting. This was good for international competition, less so for the ambitious hosts hoping to build inexorably towards World Cup success.
Fielding from all three sides varied from the heroic to the lamentable. At its best, fielders claimed breathtaking catches in the outfield, threw themselves recklessly at the boundary sponge to prevent fours and backed up assiduously. The other version, familiar to all Extra 3rds players, we must leave to the imagination.
One statistic highlights the quality: Sarah Taylor chalked up her 100th stumping in 205 innings! This places her amongst the greatest keepers of all time.
The introduction of the new World Series certainly brought a new edge to proceedings. Points mean prizes, even more than in the past. There was a sharpness about game-plans that showed all the players bought into a true corporate effort. Only fatigue and the effects of sapping defeats could lower the effort put in by three combative squads.
The three series were characterised by the extreme friendliness of the stewards on all the grounds, the unbroken heat and the hundreds of youngsters bowling demon-fast and whacking the ball under the All-Stars initiative. The ice-creams retained the highest standards all through.
There were drawbacks that the ECB/ICC should consider:
Should video screens be playing non-stop at straight mid-on, almost directly in the batter’s eyeline?
Is there any point in the PA announcing projected totals, given a supposed run-rate? (‘If England continue scoring at 20 runs per over, they will total 680’)
What is the electricity bill for floodlights shining for hours in the brightest sunlight? They had the effect of a single candle.
For light holiday reading, nothing better than the ICC’s regulations applying to drinks intervals, field settings during Power plays 1, 2 and 3, and umpires’ errors. Only cricket could deal straight-faced with such finicky details.
And the musical interludes – oh dear. oh dear!