Cricket writer Amy Lofthouse predicts difficult times ahead for an England team in transition when the international series against Pakistan starts in Leicester on June 20. With some of their best-known players either recently retired or unavailable, newly-installed captain Heather Knight will need all of her renown stubbornness to move England forward
Another series, another new era for England’s women. The absence of Charlotte Edwards, Sarah Taylor and Lydia Greenway leaves new captain Heather Knight facing an uphill battle for the upcoming series against Pakistan. She has plenty of playing experience, plenty of talent in and around her squad, but it will be a big ask for her to lead England forward.
Last summer was a huge disappointment for England’s women: they took a step back, surrendering to a fitter and more professional-looking Australia. There were improvements during the World Cup in March but only in fits and starts. They certainly weren’t sufficient to carry them to the final, and it proved to be the end of a long international career for Edwards.
Knight is a strong character. She has her opinions and isn’t afraid to voice them – head coach Mark Robinson recently described her as “stubborn”. It is the right kind of stubborn, though, and one that England need. Edwards’s captaincy was the weakest part of her game. Knight will have her own ideas, and without Edwards’s presence will be able to experiment more freely.
Losing Edwards is a double-edged sword. Her batting is by far the biggest loss for England. No matter how much they may deny it, Edwards’s success shielded the rest of her teammates. If she failed, the rest struggled to make an impact. It will be a sink or swim moment for the batters. The series against Pakistan will probably be one of experimentation, shifting players up and down the order and encouraging them to find the boundaries more often. England cannot afford to let themselves be stifled.
The absences of Taylor and Greenway will also be felt. Greenway’s batting slipped in the last 18 months, but she could always be relied on in the field for a moment of brilliance. It will be odd not to see her leaping at backward point, stretching an arm out and stopping a shot that seemed destined for the boundary. Taylor’s batting, too, faltered, but it was always a treat to watch her behind the stumps. Her reaction time is sensational – so quick and light on her feet and alert to any change in pace from the bowler. She will be missed, both from a team and a spectator’s perspective.
Pakistan are not Australia. They lose more than they win, and England emerged on top when the two met in the World Cup. Their bowlers are skiddy, however, and could do well on English pitches. It will be a process of trial and error, as England try to find their feet in a post-Edwards world and bridge the gap between domestic and international cricket.
The introduction of the Women’s Super League at the end of July and through August, will help. It is always difficult to adjust to international level, and England’s women have struggled most with this. Some players, like Georgia Elwiss, adapted straight away. Others haven’t found their feet, whether it be that extra pace that international games have, or adapting to the higher fitness demands.
The Super League will give them the chance to face international bowlers, and learn how to deal with run chases and pressure situations. It is an area where England have struggled in recent times, and one which this series will help them improve on.
The biggest problem, both with the Super League and the international series, will be coverage. Both will have BBC commentary, but drawing the crowds to the Super League might be tricky. The success of the domestic women’s competition in Australia was down to free-to-air television. The Super League does not have that luxury, which is a shame. There is plenty of talent in the domestic ranks, talent that is deserving of wider recognition.
England’s showing last year in the Ashes drew criticism from those watching on Sky. Bad performances often look worse on television than they do live. It is down to Knight and her team to change those perceptions and show that England’s women are still a force to be reckoned with, even without their leading run-scorer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Lofthouse is a freelance cricket journalist for the Guardian and the BBC. She has covered England’s women at home and away for three years, as well as reporting on men’s county cricket. She was a finalist in the 2012 David Welch Student Sportswriter competition. Amy’s latest articles.