Cricket writer Amy Lofthouse takes a long, critical look at the reasons behind England’s failure to reach the T20 World Cup final and says they are falling behind on the international stage
It is not unusual, after being knocked out of a global tournament, for an international coach to be frustrated by his players’ performances. It is, however, pretty unusual for a coach to come straight out and say: “We aren’t fit enough.” But that is what England women’s head coach Mark Robinson did after his side were knocked out of the Women’s T20 World Cup.
Robinson is exactly what England needed after a disappointing 2015 Ashes campaign. He is experienced, forthright and, crucially, saw the need for change. Throughout last summer it was stated that England were going to play a more aggressive brand of cricket. It rarely materialised. And when it did, it was more careless than clever.
The collapse at Hove, which cost England the Ashes, was one of the worst performances they had put in. Those frailties are still there but England are finally embracing what it means to play positively. They cleared the ropes at the World T20, led by Tammy Beaumont, whose inclusion gave the top-order the boost for which it had been searching. Beaumont didn’t appear in international colours last year. But 138 runs in five matches, including four of England’s six maximums, showed the positivity that Robinson has been talking about. England are finally starting to put words into action.
After losing to Australia in the T20 semi-final, a game England should have won, Robinson hit the nail on the head. England don’t look fit enough at crucial moments, both mentally and physically. Their fielding has been one of the biggest and most obvious declines since they won the Ashes in 2014. They looked scrappy and, at times, embarrassing against Australia in Delhi. They lost by five runs – five runs that accurate, clinical fielding would have saved.
England also don’t seem to like chasing a total. Against Australia, they were 67 without loss after nine overs. They ended the game at 127 for seven. They went from being in control to collapsing in a heap. It wasn’t the first time in the tournament. Against the West Indies, they cruised through the opening eight overs unscathed. Once the openers were gone, the middle-order collapsed and made a simple chase difficult. They won against the West Indies. They weren’t so lucky against Australia.
Changing England’s mindset will be one of Robinson’s biggest challenges. England have an over-reliance on captain Charlotte Edwards. That much was obvious during the Ashes and Edwards was drained by the end of last summer from carrying the team for much of the series.
Her T20 batting has benefited most from Robinson’s change of approach. She isn’t the most nimble between the wickets – dodgy knees will do that to a person – but her ability to find the boundary, to hit across the line and down the ground, was responsible for England’s good starts in the tournament. What she needs is for the middle-order to follow her lead. They have underperformed throughout the competition, and it is here where they are the most frustrating. The middle-order is full of players who are genuine pleasures to watch, players who can change games. But they barely did that during their time in India.
There is a gap growing between England and the rest of the world. For much of the tournament, an England versus Australia final seemed inevitable. Now the international scene is improving, and England are lagging behind. New Zealand made it through the group stages without losing; West Indies won their semi-final with a positive, refreshing performance. The major nations are finally becoming competitive in women’s cricket, and England, so long the trailblazers, are now playing catch up.
The step up from domestic cricket to international level is always difficult, but more so in women’s cricket. The players who have central contracts get one-on-one coaching at the Loughborough Academy. They spend more time undergoing intensive preparations and have access to the best facilities. Few, if any, of the counties can afford to replicate that. It means that when players do make the move up to international level – and it feels like less and less are – they don’t have the support or knowhow to be a success.
If this tournament has proved anything, it’s that England are caught between the old and the new. There is room for cautious optimism, but there are also big areas of concern. Robinson will know what needs addressing, and his level-headedness will guide England well in the coming months. Things have to change from the bottom up, starting with the domestic game and finishing with a long, hard look at the players in the international set-up. This defeat to Australia could, and should, be the turning point for England’s women.
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.