The ECB and all the England squad were overjoyed to hear that the West Indian cricket team was willing to come over to play a series of matches late in the season.
This meant saving an international summer which seemed likely to end without a ball bowled. But there is a trouble-spot to be sorted first.
Michael Holding criticized England’s men’s team for not continuing to take the knee after the West Indies left for home. England’s women have agreed to make the gesture. But once the tour is over? Heather Knight will have a chat with her opposite number, Stefanie Taylor, before it begins. No doubt that issue will be a first concern.
The trouble with gestures of this sort is: how long should they continue? One answer would be until racism is eradicated across the earth. Within cricket there have been multiple examples of it at work from its earliest days. It is barely sixty years since (Sir) Frank Worrell, one of the Caribbean’s greatest, was appointed captain of the WI. Before him every captain had been white. It caused a storm of discussion. But his leadership of the team was lauded worldwide and especially in Australia, after they toured there in 1960-1. The Brisbane tie remains one of the greatest test matches ever played.
If we take Holding’s complaint to its logical conclusion, then every match played from now on will have to be preceded by that meaningful gesture.
England’s future make-up
Once that sensitive issue has been sorted, we can turn to purely cricketing matters. The tour starts on 21 September.
Who does Lisa Keightley select for her first XI? Logic says it should be members of the elite squad now working hard in the bubble. But her options are widened by performances in the current Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy matches. It is achieving one of its most important targets: to test out other players for future England representation.
After four rounds Keightley will be more impressed by continuity of performance than a single starring show. She is likely to mark up batters who can be relied on to build sizeable innings against a variety of bowling styles, and bowlers who can consistently ask question of able batters, no matter the state of the white ball.
The elite squad left the tournament after two matches. In that time many of them proved their worth. Batters: Sciver 104, Dunkley 97, Knight 91* and Winfield 72; and one outstanding analysis: Brunt 9-2-20-5.
The two greatest needs for the future of England’s women cricketers are young top-order batters and fast bowlers. Of the two, the latter are the rarer. But now the teenage Issy Wong is putting in a strong claim for inclusion. She has what the amateur observer calls ‘a fast arm’, a great rarity on the scene. She bowled one opening spell for Central Sparks that presented a challenge to batters of Brunt-like quality.
Would either she or the slightly older Lauren Bell be considered for an outing at the top level? Both can worry batters at high pace. We have had to rely on Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole for so long that the need for reinforcements is growing urgent. Kate Cross has proved a worthy first change for England and is another to be blessed with a lovely bowling action. But as with the batting, the time is fast approaching for alternatives to be considered.
England batting line-up has also remained stable over a number of years. Combinations of the skipper, Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Winfield, Danni Wyatt, Nat Sciver, Amy Jones and Fran Wilson have produced the goods, but rarely all in the same innings. The ultimate challenge is of course Australia, and somehow Keightley need to find a top six that can prosper against the best bowlers in the world.
Only Bryony Smith has found favour in the last season of two, so surely it is time to search further afield
In the current tournament repeated reminders have come from uncapped players, for example the Scottish sisters, Kathryn and Sarah Bryce. Would they be asked if they’d be happy to switch nationalities? Would they accept? Sophie Luff has been close to test calls for several seasons. Now she has returned a series of big innings. Could she find favour, or will Keightley prefer to promote the youngest players?
One criticism of Mark Robinson’s tenure as Head Coach was his preference of the tried and tested. The Australians’ last visit showed up the fault-lines in that strategy. Will his successor choose a different approach? Let’s hope so.