They were the defending champions; they were one of the favourites at the start of the World Cup 2022. But three matches into the tournament, England were almost out of it with three losses. Once that happened, they went into must-win territory and to their credit, they almost pulled it off until they came across the immovable force of nature that Australia are.
Even though England will be proud of the fact that they came back from a phase where they lost seven consecutive ODIs, they still seem to have some persistent issues that were plaguing them during those games.
England have, in the past, made their intentions clear about wanting to challenge Australia for the numero uno position in the game in all aspects. And they might have held their own with the batting in both the games against their arch-rivals compared to the ODIs in the Ashes. However, if you look at it closely, the vast gap between them and Australia seemed to have widened as the tournament progressed.
It will be fair to say the gap between the other sides – South Africa, New Zealand, and India – and England is closer than ever before, providing greater competitiveness to the women’s game. But at the same time, Australia came into the World Cup as the favourites and were hardly stretched by other sides, including England, despite Natalie Sciver keeping them in the hunt in both the group match and the final.
ALSO READ: Natalie Sciver transcends time and occasion at a moment where nothing else mattered
In the final of the World Cup 2022, Australia blew away England with their batting might. One of the biggest reasons for the World Champions' success is the stable opening partnership between Alyssa Healy and Rachael Haynes. That model of ‘fire and ice’ is something every team is trying to emulate. India have the young pair of Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana, New Zealand tried it with the old hands of Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates, but none had as much success as the Australian duo.
England have tried to mix and match their openers with Tammy Beaumont as the constant. Beaumont is one of the most prolific batters in the world, but she is an anchor and needs someone aggressive to do the early damage at the other end in the power play. All the options England tried had varied success, with none of them being consistent.
Should they move on from Lauren Winfield-Hill is something they have been pondering. Amy Jones has found a place for herself in the middle order and even though she has had some batting troubles in recent times, she will continue to hold a place as arguably the best wicket-keeper in the world. Danielle Wyatt had a terrific hundred in the semi-final and is probably the closest England can get in terms of having that aggressive option. But consistency has never been her forte and England should give her more opportunities if they want to go that route. Another option is to give Emma Lamb a go, the allrounder might also provide the side with some much-needed flexibility, with Heather Knight being a reluctant bowler.
ALSO READ: Danielle Wyatt finally conquers the great uncertainties of cricket
The opening conundrum leads us to the topic of the lack of left-handers in the England setup. This has been raised before and although you can’t force fit someone just because they bat left-handed, England might have to think of having a southpaw in the batting order. Evelyn Jones is the closest in terms of being on the radar for selection. Aylish Cranstone is another option they have.
However, England have mostly been conservative in terms of their selections – other than with the inclusion of Charlie Dean. For that reason, it might be an unlikely scenario, but one must wonder if they should blood young Alice Capsey – again a right-hander - for the opening slot in the next ODI Championship cycle. The 17-year-old is a generational talent and England should be careful about how they handle her. But if you are to challenge Australia, sides will have to come up with some out-of-the-box thinking.
Age of the allrounders
While specialists have contributed significantly to their cause, Australia built their world-conquering side on the back of a bunch of allrounders, who are good at both their jobs. England are one of the rare sides, that struggles to have a genuine allrounder in their lower order. Sciver is a world-class option, but her top order contribution is so vital to the team that England might even sacrifice her bowling as she goes further into her career. But at the moment, they could try getting more out of her with the ball.
But one Sciver won’t solve the problem. Once Dean was brought in and Wyatt was moved to open the batting, England were left with Katherine Brunt at seven. As good as she has been in the past, at this stage, Brunt is not someone who can bat at seven or eight. Sophie Ecclestone, Dean, and even Cross might pip her in the batting order in terms of form. Again the issue with this is that none of them are allrounders in the truest sense. Alice Davidson-Richards is a better cricketer than from the time she played for England back in 2018. She one of the seam-bowling allrounder options they can have a look at.
England would do well to grow Dean and Ecclestone as all-round options and get more out of their batting. At the same time, they would also want the likes of Lamb and Capsey to be batters who can give them six, seven overs every game. England’s reluctance to use Sophia Dunkley, the bowler, has also contributed to the lack of flexibility in the line-up. The talented 23-year-old is also a leg spinner, who used to bowl regularly in domestic cricket before her batting took precedence in the England setup.
Sophia Dunkley has been one of England's bright spots © Getty Images
Aggressive leg spin
Talking of leg spinners, the event in New Zealand also showed the need to have an attacking leg spinner who can have an impact in the middle overs. Australia have an array of leggies with Alana King leading the way and with Amanda-Jade Wellington and Georgia Wareham they are well covered in that respect. Even young Amy Smith is earmarked for an eventual Australia call-up. New Zealand have Amelia Kerr leading the spin contingent, and the emergence of Sarah Asmusssen and Kate Chandler again will continue the production line for them as far as spinners are concerned.
Sarah Glenn can be the aggressive middle over bowler for England © Getty Images
India’s struggles in ODIs also coincided with their leading leg spinner Poonam Yadav going off the boil. When it comes to leg spin, England chose to ignore Sarah Glenn mostly in recent times in the 50-over format and chose to go with finger spinners. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old Glenn had to pull out of the tournament owing to bubble exhaustion. England would do well to help her get the rhythm back and let her be one of the vital cogs in the bowling unit.
The sameness of the pace bowling attack
This has been a subject that has come up before when it comes to England fast bowlers, that there is a bit of sameness to the attack, despite some of them being very good at an individual level. England will have to decide how long the spirited Brunt can last and should they think about giving Anya Shrubsole a break as well?
Natasha Farrant (L), Issy Wong (M), and Lauren Bell © Getty Images
With all the right-arm pacers bowling mostly at the same speed, England would also be thinking about unleashing quicker bowlers like Lauren Bell and Issy Wong. Natasha Farrant has been on the sidelines for a long while now; one of the left-armers in Farrant or Katie George could also provide them with the much-needed variation.
Sciver should make the side purely as a batter, but her bowling also is very similar in terms of pace. Finding another allrounder who can bowl pace is much more of a daunting task for England, maybe they should invest more in Wong’s batting and hope that her big-hitting ability can give consistent dividends.
Even though they have the second-best structure in place in terms of domestic and professional contracts, England could look into getting more out of their domestic competitions - the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and even the Charlotte Edwards Cup, with the focus set to shift to the T20 format now.
Building the England A and Academy sides and making them travel together with the main side on tours as they did during the Ashes is something that should be a regular occurrence. Whatever they do, England could do with some adventure in terms of selection and their structure, if their ambition is to challenge Australia come the next world event.