The two warm-up games England played in New Zealand were a sharp reminder of the challenges facing them before next year’s ODI World Cup, also in NZ.
They did win the first one, although they allowed the opposition to get within 20 runs of their total. The second game failed to provide the surge forward they must all have been expecting.
They let the White Ferns sail past 300 at a cost of only 5 wickets, then struggled to get their counter-attack going. With a relaxed set of rules in operation, three players passed 50, including the skipper – but that was her second knock of the match.
Concern about the quick bowling intensified. Neither Kate Cross nor Freya Davies could get much work on the ball, and their lengths were too inconsistent to prevent a flow of runs. They, along with Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver, took a combined two wickets for 216 runs.
Of the top seven batters only Danni Wyatt passed 20 (54). Sophie Ecclestone slowed the descent with a hard-hitting 52, but by then the game was gone.
The Real Thing
As soon as the real games started, it was a different story. The White Ferns were comprehensively outplayed in the first two ODIs, England revealing a weakness only in the second, where they allowed the opposition to recover from a dire position.
For the rest, the bowlers then the batters did the job.
Christchurch turned up a rare record: seven England bowlers took a wicket, and none more than two. One of those was Tash Farrant (2-31), making a first ODI appearance for seven years. The other, almost inevitably, Sophie Ecclestone with 2-36.
After the break Heather Knight joined Tammy Beaumont in a stand of 94. Beaumont looked restored to close to her best; the skipper maintained her fine form, and when Beaumont finally succumbed for 71, Nat Sciver brought matters to a quick conclusion.
Many miles south in Dunedin the pattern continued in the second ODI.
This time round Nat Sciver shared the new ball with Katherine Brunt, and the White Ferns’ top order fell away distressingly. But this is where England let their grip loosen. The left-handed newcomer Brooke Halliday scored a second half-century (60) in succession, and with determined help from the lower order she saw the total mount from 34-5 to a half decent 192.
Against a more demanding attack England’s batters might have been under pressure, but not here. After Danni Wyatt played a second careless shot in successive innings, Beaumont again anchored the reply (72*). Hesitation over a single cost Knight her wicket, but from there only one result was possible. Sciver (63) stormed past Beaumont’s score as they posted 103 together, then in came Amy Jones (46*) to remind everyone that she is the most elegant of England’s batters (a pause while the Sciver fan club reaches for a pen). Twelve overs were left unused.
White Fern Troubles
These results are desperately disappointing for the hosts. Just as three years ago on the England tour, they lack the depth in both batting and bowling to hold the strongest opposition in check. With Suzie Bates out of action, it leaves Sophie Devine, Amy Satterthwaite and the still young Amelia Kerr to post big scores. None has done so thus far.
Instead the leading innings have come from Halliday and Hayley Jensen (53 in Christchurch). The tail wagged encouragingly in Dunedin, but in vain.
An awful lot rests on Devine’s shoulders. She is her team’s best bat and best bowler; and she has to captain a side under pressure. At least the Ferns have shown what they can achieve in adversity: at Leicester in 2018 they came back to win the last of the ODIs with something to spare. Devine scored a ton.
First ODI (Christchurch)
New Zealand 178
Second ODI (Dunedin)
New Zealand 192
England Women 194/3
As we might expect, Lisa Keightley picked an expectable XI for the first game and made only one change for the second, Kate Cross replacing Freya Davies as the third seamer. It meant that Farrant was offered the new ball in Christchurch, a challenge she met quite well; but second time round she had to wait till first change as Sciver seized her chance with a decisive 3-26. Cross’ figures too looked much healthier, so she may have bought her ticket.
The only problem with a successful top-order is that nobody else can get to the crease. Tradition has it that when the crucial day dawns wickets will fall, leaving an unpractised lower-order to swing the game.
It will be fascinating to see whether Keightley is minded to make any further changes to the line-up for the third game. It seems very unlikely. Points mean prizes.