Source: ECB

Mark Robinson: His Achievements and the Problems he faced

  • +1

When Mark Robinson announced his intention to stand down as England’s head coach, he caught everyone off-guard, not least the players. He was in charge for four years, which climaxed in the outstanding World Cup win at Lord’s in 2017.

As a proud Yorkshire man he is bound to have taken the recent loss to Australia very hard. It showed how far England cricket has to travel to catch up with the world leaders. The fact that the English stand way ahead of nearly every other nation should be a solace to him.

He was prepared to take bold decisions from the outset. The most dramatic was his first: the removal of Charlotte Edwards, England’s most garlanded player, as national captain. Equally important was his choice of her successor; Heather Knight proved to be the player needed to take a new-look squad forward towards a World Cup.

He was well aware of the shortcomings in structures that were preventing the smooth passage of youngsters through from nursery stages to international caps. (See my article here.)

The Head of England Women’s Cricket, Clare Connor, and her colleagues are giving much thought to the best route forward. And her tasks are doubled by the need to find an adequate replacement as head coach. The plan is to present a completely new structure for next year – time is pressing.

At present neither the county set-up nor the fixture-lists provide the most efficient forcing-ground to produce an elite squad capable of taking on any challenge. By contrast, Australia has put in place an well-funded organization whose success can readily be seen in the performances of the Baggy Caps this summer.

There are striking contrasts between the two systems, not least the disparity in the numbers of contracted players – England has 20, the Aussies around five times as many. Television has played a central role in the publicising of the WBBL down under. The Kia Super League was a brave initiative but bears little comparison.

It’s fascinating to consider how much a system is responsible for a team’s success, and how far exceptional individuals can sway the issue. Ellyse Perry is a remarkable cricketer who has turned recent Ashes contests with both bat (213*) and ball (7-22). But her management knew they had any number of other distinguished players capable of seeing off England’s best.

Even so, Robinson must have been desperately disappointed by his squad’s inability to rise to the occasion.

This is not the place to do a blow-by-blow account of where things went wrong, but there may be a few straws in the wind to explain England’s vain effort to regain the Ashes for the first time since 2013.

It probably didn’t help that England’s two opponents in the run-up to the Australian tour stood at the bottom of the world rankings, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Both sides were beaten by a street. This may have raised confidence, but it wasn’t the best preparation.

This is how the last crucial months played out:

England Selections – Youth or Experience?

Mark Robinson went for experience in his selection for the Ashes ODI series.

England’s Squad with appearances:

Player

Tests

  ODI

T20

Heather Knight (Berkshire,  Captain)

9

92

60

Tammy Beaumont (Kent)

4

62

69

Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire)                 

12  

113

69

Kate Cross (Lancashire)​​​

1

15

8

Sophie Ecclestone (Lancashire)​​1​​19​​20​​

1

19

20

Jenny Gunn (Nottinghamshire)        

11

138

101

Amy Jomes (Warwickshire) 

1

41

38

Laura Marsh (Kent)​​​​

8

95

64

Nat Sciver (Surrey)​​​​                

5

58

62

Anya Shrubsole (Berkshire)

6

60

64

Sarah Taylor (Sussex, wicketkeeper)   

10

123

87

Fran Wilson (Kent)​​​​

1

22

11

Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire)​​​

1

22

17

Danni Wyatt (Sussex)​​​          

0 

66

95

From them he selected this XI to face the Aussies at Leicester in the first ODI:

Tammy Beaumont, Amy Jones, Sarah Taylor, Heather Knight (captain), Nat Sciver, Fran Wilson, Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, Laura Marsh, Sophie Ecclestone and Kate Cross.

Many followers would have expected these names, packed with talent and know-how. The concerns were: the absence of young pretenders to Brunt and Shrubsole as wielders of the new ball. Cross was the third seamer selected, and she was to have one of the best summer of her career. But she was 27.

The only youngster present was Ecclestone: no doubt of her right to be there – she was the most outstanding bowler England had produced for a while. But wouldn’t it have been refreshing to see at least one other young hopeful rewarded for her efforts? Who could it possibly be?

Certainly not a batter. No new face had shown up to challenge the top six in the batting order. They had all produced results that made their selection inevitable. The seventh place was awarded to Fran Wilson who had been on the edge of the team for a while. She too was to produce some fine innings during the course of the summer of 2019.

The traditional ‘perfect mix’ of any team is a blend of youth and experience; only the latter was visible in Robinson’s first selection. This stood in stark contrast to the Australian approach; youngsters such as Ashleigh Gardner, Tayla Vlaeminck and Georgia Wareham were allowed to join some illustrious team-mates on the field.

Danni Wyatt replaced an injured Taylor in the next ODI, Jones taking the gloves. She replaced Brunt at Canterbury.

This match represented the nadir of England’s performances.

The solitary test match presented quite different challenges from the other two formats. This was the XI Robinson chose:

Tammy Beaumont
Amy Jones
Heather Knight (captain)
Georgia Elwiss
Sarah Taylor (wk)
Natalie Sciver
Katherine Brunt
Anya Shrubsole
Laura Marsh
Sophie Ecclestone
Kirstie Gordon

Now for the first time a second youngster appeared: Kirstie Gordon, the talented slow left-armer from Huntly, Aberdeenshire. Her selection ahead of Cross meant that Knight would have to use Sciver as her third seamer, along with Elwiss, also restored to the team.

Once more Australia weren’t in the mood to give England a chance. They had no need to force the issue and didn’t.

Scores:
Australia 420-8 dec. (Perry 115, Haynes 87)
England 275-9 dec (Sciver 88, Jones 62, Molineux 4-95)
Australia 230-7 (Perry 76*)

For the three T20s Robinson had more direct evidence of comparative abilities in this most foreshortened of forms. Wyatt was restored as opening bat and Winfield came in to provide ballast in the middle order.

The two great opening bowlers went for 90 runs off their combined seven overs. They didn’t manage a wicket. Australia’s total, 220-3, stood way beyond anything seen in KSL matches.

But when both English openers were dismissed without scoring, it looked as though the team was trying to wade through a quagmire. They lost by a distance.

In the second T20 they managed even fewer runs; Australia knocked them off for three wickets.

It’s a wry tradition of England cricketers down the ages that, when they have lost a series decisively, they turn up trumps (usually at the Oval) in the final battle.

So it was this time round. Robinson introduced one new face to the XI, Mady Villiers, the Essex off-spinning all-rounder. She achieved the most economical analysis of the six bowlers and picked up two wickets. With Brunt and Ecclestone each claiming three wickets, England followed this tradition.

The series was lost 12-4; in purely match terms the score was 6-1.

That last win wasn’t enough to convince Robinson that it was sensible for him to continue in charge. Whoever takes his place will hope that the new set of structures he knew was vital is speedily put in place. It can’t come too soon.

England desperately needs new young batters to augment the strengths of the current top-order players. Even more so, quick bowlers. There are two leading candidates available: Freya Davies and Lauren Bell. Davies has recently been taking clutches of wickets for Western Storm, the runaway KSL leaders. Bell, considerably younger, is still a work in progress. She has a fine action and can generate considerable pace. But as all quick bowlers discover, the faster the ball arrives on the bat, the faster it can leave it, if the delivery isn’t on the mark. Both have been operating under the understanding eyes of Heather Knight – Bell at county level too.

The dearth in batting competition went back to the 2018 KSL tournament. There, not a single uncapped batter had made a gilt-edged case for inclusion. The way the KSL is organised gives young batters few opportunities. We find only Bryony Smith (Surrey Stars) allowed to appear in the top four of a franchise. All the other places were commandeered by England regulars (Jones, Beaumont, Winfield, Knight, Sciver, etc) but more particularly by overseas players who the ECB presumably felt were vital to create sufficient quality and spectacle for the viewing public.

Incidentally, when Smith did make an appearance against the West Indians at Chelmsford, she was placed at No 9 and took 1-20 with her off-spin. Would an Australian head coach have asked her to take up her normal position as opening bat?

Robinson had remained faithful to his preferred XI in the previous two matches. and alongside Smith he included Jenny Gunn, herself 33 years old. This conservatism was both a condemnation of the English system’s failure to produce new young players deemed good enough and Robinson’s over-reliance on the tried and trusted.

He and his colleagues were well aware of this barely filled cupboard, but we are still waiting to hear the results of their deliberations. The one-sided outcome of the Ashes series has thrown the imbalance between England and Australia into sharp relief.

Questions have been asked about the England’s commitment to the National Training Centre at Loughborough. Is it too much of a comfortable cocoon, sheltering the squad from the outside world?

It would not be viewed like that if the players had regular cricket to play elsewhere. But the essentially amateur nature of women’s cricket means that the major 50-over competition (the Royal London One-Dayers) is squeezed into a short period at the start of the season, with use made of bank holidays to allow two matches to be fitted in over a long weekend. But there remain long tracts of the summer without any cricket of the standard needed to advance the nation’s cause.

Robinson’s appointment had been his first direct encounter with women’s cricket. He sharpened his players’ fitness and was successful in driving individuals’ performance forward, Most notably, he turned Tammy Beaumont from a lower-order batter who could keep wicket into a record-breaking opener; Amy Jones too will be grateful for his advancement of her career as a leading run-scorer as well as a high-class keeper.

The job specification should be posted soon.

Lead photo shows England huddle to listen to Mark Robinson before the World Cup Final in 2017

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *