Source: ECB

Where do England go from here?

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One group who will be looking forward to the third of the three Sri Lanka T20s are the penny-counters at Derby.

They can hardly have expected to see England arrive desperate to avoid another embarrassing defeat. A large crowd will be present, finger-nails protected from a nerve-ridden battering. After the visitors’ heroics at Chelmsford, all now hangs in the balance.

I’ll put my cards on the table now and offer you the XI I think should be picked:

1. Tammy Beaumont (captain)
2. Danni Wyatt
3. Bryony Smith
4. Nat Sciver-Brunt
5. Freya Kemp
6. Maia Bouchier                   Any batting order you like
7. Bess Heath
8. Charlie Dean
9. Sarah Glenn
10. Lauren Filer
11. Lauren Bell (Mahika Gaur, if still unwell)

Of course it won’t be. There’s a player here who isn’t in either squad, and I can be accused of that wonderful gift, hindsight. But It’s time for Heather Knight to admit she isn’t your perfect T20 player.

(See below for an Aussie view).

Lewis in the stocks

Jon Lewis finds himself in the position that head coaches find hard: defending both his team’s performance and his own decision-making processes. We don’t have to hunt far to find parallel examples in other sports.

First, his selection of fifteen Players to form his T20 squad. Another reminder:

Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Alice Capsey, Kate Cross, Charlie Dean, Lauren Filer, Mahika Gaur, Danielle Gibson, Sarah Glenn, Bess Heath, Amy Jones (wk), Freya Kemp, Heather Knight (captain), Issy Wong, Danni Wyatt.

Even before what politicians would call that ‘little local difficulty’ at Chelmsford, people were asking questions about his choices. You would be well advised not to scroll through the comments posted on the BBC’s HYS (Have Your Say); there you find all manner of carping remarks about nearly every team-member. Players omitted frrom the squad are praised to the skies in a way that suggests the contributors have seen a player do well once, and know nothing more about her qualifications for promotion.

You are permitted to close your eyes at this point. Comments: Knight is hopeless, especially as captain; Jones is hopeless (as a batter); Glenn is not worthy of selection, nor is Cross. Bouchier is over-hyped. Black marks are splattered all over the place. So much for anonymous criticism.

Back a little closer to reality:

Lewis did not pick Nat Sciver-Brunt, Tammy Beaumont, Sophia Dunkley or Sophie Ecclestone, who has suffered an injury that keeps her inactive anyway.

It’s hard to deny that these omissions looked like treating the Sri Lankans as second-class citizens.
Have the four missing players been overworked? The 2023 summer has seen more cricket played than any previous one, but – looking at the matter a different way – which of the four would have turned down taking part in another franchise league, if offered one? The WBBL draft is capturing the headlines. ‘Sorry, I’m too tired to come.’

Knight in the stocks

Knight has made decisions that are hard to defend. Wong had already displayed her troubles in her opening over. Calling her back in the closing stages, with the game already lost, remiinds you of cruelty to children. Knight and Lewis had been watching her in the nets and come to the conclusion it was worth giving her a chance now to prove herself.

That call came at the expense of Lauren Filer, who, we must assume, was fit and ready to play. In the first match Mahika Gaur had hustled Athapaththu enough to create an edge to the keeper. What might Filer have achieved with her greater pace?

Shouldn’t the fifteen Lewis chose be capable of seeing off nearly any opposition placed in front of them? It’s high time they played without Ecclestone, the rock on whom so much responsibilty lies? Ditto the keeper. Whether Jones scores big runs or not, she is sans pareil with the gloves. Should her stand-in be a reliable run-getter or merely skilled with the gloves? That question has been posed for many decades.

After two games Bess Heath has not yet appeared. Would she have done better than Jones (2 innings, 4 runs, once not out)? Impossible to say; all we know is that Jones has been shunted up and down the order, most recently down it.

So, for that matter, has Kemp; No 4 at Hove, No 6 at Chelmsford. Does Lewis’ policy favour versatility or having an accepted role for everyone?

Latest: Knight has been picked by Sydney Thunder for the WBBL, so they know something those English doubters don’t.

The Case for the Defence

Part of Knight’s explanation for England’s demise was that this was an inexperienced team. Oh!

Knight 103 T20 matches; Jones 90; Wyatt 148; Cross 15 (plus 57 ODIs) and Glenn 51. All those five bar Glenn are over 30. That’s nearly half the team. They scored 28 between them.

What is ‘inexperienced’ in this context? English players have more exposure to top-class crixket than most people. If they were indeed inexperienced, why were they chosen? We may quibble about the odd selection, but no-one can doubt the talent Lewis has at his disposal.

Maybe Wednesday’s game will put all our worries to rest.

Now for Derby

Athapaththu has won the toss three times in a row (the other one was against the Development team at Arundel). Each time she invited the other lot to bat.

Would it make a ha’porth of difference if Sri Lanka batted first? It all depends on how quickly England can get rid of their one world-class batter and focus on the rest of the order who profited from her positive start at Chelmsford.

More important still – who will Lewis pick? I attempted to do the job for him, but failed miserably. I imagined he would like to see all his squad play twice, to give them an even chance of putting in an application for the T20 World Cup. But no, none of Bess Heath, Lauren Filer and, unavoidably, Lauren Bell, have yet appeared. Were the first two regarded merely as reserves, to soak up the atmosphere of international cricket from beyond the boundary?

If they are picked, it will be for that one solitary remaining match. If things had worked out as planned, that would have meant a dead-rubber game, England cruising to a 3-0 victory. The reality looks very different.

Both Sarah Glenn and Bess Heath are local Derbyshire products. Let’s hope they can be sure of a starting place in front of their home crowd.

The Fixture

Wednesday 6 September, 18.00; Incora County Ground, Derby