It’s a huge relief to see a squad posted for an outward tour in these troubled times
England’s destination is New Zealand, a nation that has fought off the effects of Covid-19 far more effectively than most. But the visitors will have to undergo ‘a 14-day stay in managed isolation or quarantine’, as the government dictum requires.
That helps to explain the chewing-gum-like timetable: fly out on 24 January; first game 23 February. These dates stand in stark contrast to cramped tours of recent years, especially for the men.
Some of the players have experienced similar privations in Australia. Before they could take part in the WBBL, they had to isolate for a fortnight. Not an easy proposition in unfamiliar surroundings.
The squad nearly picked itself. Anya Shrubsole has a leg injury, and Katie George is especially unlucky to be sidelined once again with back trouble. With the quick-bowling positions up for grabs – Katherine Brunt can’t go on for ever, though she’s doing her darndest to prove that old saying wrong – George would have been among the leading candidates to supplant England’s greatest fast bowler. As it is, Tash Farrant returns to the fray after a series of fine performances in the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint trophy. Like George she bowls left-arm over. Kate Cross fully deserves to retain her place.
Freya Davies gets the nod over the younger duo of Lauren Bell and Issy Wong, but Wong is wisely added to the party as a non-playing reserve. Not only will she gain valuable experience from the trip, but she will offer the batters some real pace to deal with in the nets.
The cautious approach
Lisa Keightley’s selections betray the suspicion I gained last year that she is unwilling to take a punt on youth. None of the younger uncapped element who performed so well in the trophy have found favour. Instead she has turned back to players of longer service, She will look to Danni Wyatt, Georgia Elwiss and Lauren Winfield-Hill to produce their best form. It is important that they do.
There is younger talent aboard – Ecclestone, of course, Villiers and Glenn. It will be fascinating to see how this highly promising spin trio will fare against the Devines and Bates of this world. But there is still no sign of a batter born around the millennium. This is getting quite worrying. At the risk of repeating a point for the third or fourth time: all the batters date back at least to 2013 bar Sophie Dunkley. Not even Georgia Adams, much closer to the average age, has had a tap on the shoulder, and she averaged 84 in the summer.
When, if ever, will we see a new name in the top six?
Once again no specialist back-up for Amy Jones is felt needed. Tammy Beaumont will be the option with the gloves. That was another chance to let a newcomer show her worth.
The White Ferns will provide an infinitely tougher ride than the West Indies managed last summer in the most trying of circumstances. Their men’s team have moved to the top of world rankings, and they gave a good account of themselves against the world champions Australia.
We wish all the tourists a safe and successful campaign.
The 16 to tour New Zealand:
Heather Knight (Western Storm, captain)
Tammy Beaumont (Lightning)
Katherine Brunt (Northern Diamonds)
Kate Cross (Thunder)
Freya Davies (South East Stars)
Sophia Dunkley (South East Stars)
Sophie Ecclestone (Thunder)
Georgia Elwiss (Southern Vipers)
Tash Farrant (South East Stars)
Sarah Glenn (Central Sparks)
Amy Jones (Central Sparks)
Nat Sciver (Northern Diamonds, vice-captain)
Mady Villiers (Sunrisers)
Fran Wilson (Sunrisers)
Lauren Winfield-Hill (Northern Diamonds)
Danni Wyatt (Southern Vipers)
It’s a sign of the times that the players are assigned to the eight new hubs, not their counties that have been a part of cricket’s fabric for centuries. All eight franchises are represented.