How does a new coach make her mark?
Lisa Keightley’s appointment as England’s replacement for Mark Robinson was widely applauded. She had an immediate target, T20 World Cup success down under, where she comes from.
Many cynics suspect that all new head coaches adopt some crazy notion to prove they aren’t just a carbon-copy of their predecessor. When we saw the first batting-order Keightley decided on, these suspicions seemed justified:
In detail: Jones and Wyatt to open – that seemed sensible enough. Trouble was, Amy Jones had been out of form for quite a while, unable to reproduce the high standards she is capable of; Danni Wyatt a powerful hitter, but always vulnerable to an early blemish. Nat Sciver and the skipper – fine; Fran Wilson at No.5 found herself batting two places above her county captain. The thinking was that Tammy Beaumont would provide the necessary firepower in the latter stages of the battle.
But it isn’t the easiest step for a top-order batter to adjust to coming in seven places lower down than usual. What do you do while you wait? Play a hand of bridge? Have a nap? Bite your finger-nails?
And she had the interesting experience of coming in after England’s greatest opening bowler. Katherine Brunt is an able, organised batter, but one place above a player who had twice scored consecutive centuries for her country?
Then the choice of Lauren Winfield, Yorkshire’s captain and opening bat, at No.8. So the feeling was that the skipper already had enough quality bowling to allow an extra batter to come in at that late stage. In three games she faced five balls, then was replaced by Mady Villiers, the promising off-spinner.
At 9 and 10 both Amy Shrubsole and Sophie Ecclestone can give the ball a real tonk, just what is needed when only a handful of deliveries remain.
The debutant, Sarah Glenn, was the natural choice to precede the roller. Who knows how many runs she may score for England in the future? For the moment, all eyes would be on her leg-breaks.
Against South Africa this opening gambit failed miserably. Jones (23) made a quick-fire start; Sciver hit a fine half-century, but after them only one player reached double figures (Wilson 14).
This SA side was substantially the same as the one that caused England some embarrassment two summers ago. Here in Perth the age-old truths prevailed: if you’re losing wickets regularly, it’s hard to keep the run-rate high. A total of 128-8 didn’t look sufficient and wasn’t. On the plus side, the five bowlers were hard to get away, though they lacked penetration. SA needed 19.4 overs to crawl over the line.
Keightley wasn’t going to learn many home truths from the second match against the debutants Thailand. The same batting-order was announced. England won at a canter, Heather Knight enjoying herself with a first-ever ton in a T20 game (108*). With Sciver scoring 59* at the other end, she put on 169 of the 176-2 total.
But – and it was a worrying but – the same two openers totalled 0 between them.
The next match was against Pakistan who had pulled off a splendid victory over the West Indies. But England were firm favourites here. Now the batting order was adjusted, Beaumont coming in at No.6, followed by Brunt and Winfield.
It is strange how often a side with batting right down to the lower reaches (Winfield again at No.8) fail to produce the goods. Once again England had to rely on the Sciver-Knight pairing for major scores (36 and 62); next best was Wilson with 22.
So what to do for the fourth outing? Change the batting order! Beaumont was restored to opener – and survived two balls. Such is cricket. Sciver continued her excellent form, scoring a third half-century. The reorganization worked well for Jones who looked much more at home at No.6 with 23* off 13 deliveries. England were much too strong for a West indies side that looked only a shade more confident than on their ill-starred tour of England last summer.
Australian observers have noted the lack of younger batting options for England. Not one of the first eight made their debut after 2013. That is not a recipe for continuing success.
The bowling tells a more nuanced story
A pattern visible over the past few seasons was maintained – the quick bowling was once more in the hands of Brunt and Shrubsole. Kate Cross had the misfortune to turn an ankle before the fourth match when she might have had her chance. The only other specialist option was Freya Davies who hadn’t been in her best form recently.
This shortage was more than compensated by the quality of the slow bowling. It could have looked a bit threadbare after the retirement of Laura Marsh and Danni Hazell. But Sophie Ecclestone’s masterly left-arm style was bolstered by the addition of Sarah Glenn (leg-breaks). Mady Villiers (off-spin) was given her chance in the West Indies game.
Ecclestone’s figures take a bit of digesting. In three of the four matches she went for a maximum of 3 runs per over. Admittedly, the opposition’s batting wasn’t quite on a par with Australia’s. Even so, it enhanced her reputation as one of the great spin-bowlers currently operating in world cricket. Glenn’s advance is admirable. Villiers may prove equally valuable; if England fail to produce quick bowlers of Brunt-Shrubsole quality, then she could easily find herself employed on a regular basis, a balance in bowling options closer to India’s than Australia’s.
Results to date:
South Africa 124-4
West Indies 97-9
Curiously, England batted first in each game. South Africa, Thailand and Pakistan all opted to field. It would have helped England’s onward progress if they’d had to bowl first in at least one match. And they found themselves in much the easier of the two groups of five competing nations.
The leading stats:
v South Africa 4-0-19-2
v Thailand 4-0-11-1
v Pakistan 4-0-12-2
v West Indies 3.1-1-7-3
Combined: 15.1-1-49-8 Average: 6.12
v South Africa 4-0-26-1
v Thailand 4-0-11-0
v Pakistan 4-0-15-3
v West Indies 4-1-16-2
Combined: 16-1-68-6 Average: 11.33
50, 59*, 36, 57
Total 202 Average 67.33
6, 108*, 62, 17
Total 193 Average 64.33