England won’t mind going into the World Cup without the burden of the dreaded tag as it might liberate them, but they will once again clash against their familiar foe in the opening fixture when they take on Australia on March 5. Can all this be a blessing in disguise? We will have to wait till England start their campaign.
Varied bowling attack
To start with, England have an array of pacers to choose from. Katherine Brunt is still going strong as the leader of the attack, with Anya Shrubsole giving her good company. In Kate Cross, they have one of the best seamers in the world and Natasha Farrant is one of the rare left-arm fast bowlers in women’s cricket. Add young Freya Davies and allrounder Natalie Sciver into the mix and they have all their bases covered as far as pace bowling is concerned.
On the spin front, England have one of the best spinners in the world in the form of Sophie Ecclestone and she will be supported by the right-arm off-spin of Charlie Dean. The only thing missing from their bowling arsenal is the lack of a leg-spin bowler, with the impressive Sarah Glenn not making it to the squad for personal reasons. They also have the services of off-spinning allrounder Emma Lamb and they would also have handy part-time options in Knight and Danielle Wyatt if it comes down to that. Sophia Dunkley can also bowl some leg-breaks, although, of late, she hasn’t bowled much.
The leadership of Heather Knight
When Knight took over the captaincy in 2016, she was leading a side in transition, with lots of senior players being phased out of the game for various reasons. It was seen as a risky decision by the team management when they put her in charge. But over the years, the 31-year-old has grown into one of the best leaders in the game, on and off the field. After leading England to the historical win in 2017 as a young captain, Knight has never shied away from the challenges that were thrown her away.
Knight has also become one of the best batters in the world and currently faces the daunting task of defending their title after the drubbing they received in the Ashes series. The cricketer from Hampshire will once again take the challenge head-on and will have to play a crucial role if England were to make it to the knock-out stages of yet another global event.
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Tammy Beaumont’s opening partner
Tammy Beaumont, T20I Cricketer of the Year 2021, has been a constant presence for England at the top of the order since her comeback in June 2016. But England have faced the problem of finding a consistent partner for her at the top. Since the 2017 World Cup triumph, they have had four different opening combinations at the top, with Lauren Winfield-Hill, Wyatt, Amy Jones and Lamb taking turns. With the first three not nailing their opportunities, and with Jones and Wyatt taking different roles in the middle order, England were forced to look towards Lamb in the final Ashes ODI and she subsequently made it to the squad alongside Winfield-Hill.
Come the first match against Australia, England will once again be vary of their struggles in the home and away Ashes at the top of the order.
Middle-order trio – Amy Jones, Sophia Dunkley, Danielle Wyatt
While it’s hasn’t been a real weakness before the Ashes series, Wyatt, Jones and Dunkley haven’t been as consistent as they would like to be in the middle-order to back up the efforts of Knight and Sciver. Young Dunkley had an impressive debut against India, but since then hasn’t been able to replicate that performance. The World Cup will present the trio an opportunity to lengthen England’s batting lineup, for they like the idea of having options till seven and letting Brunt bat at eight.
If England want to consistently put up big scores on good batting conditions, they would need the trio to pull up their socks and complement Beaumont, Knight, and Sciver.
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Fitness troubles of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole
England have played 41 matches since that afternoon at Lord’s in 2017, they have had to manage both their strike bowlers Brunt and Shrubsole, and they missed several matches for various reasons. Brunt, a veteran of 131 matches, has had serious injuries throughout her career and still plays as important a role as she played when they had that twin triumph in 2009. Brunt played 28 off those games, while Shrubsole featured in 32.
If 36-year-old Brunt were to go down during the tournament, they will have to restructure their attack, with the equally vulnerable Shrubsole leading it. England would be hoping that both of them will survive the tournament in New Zealand, having been through the grueling Ashes tour.
All the members of the England side left home in the Christmas month and have been on the road for three months as of now. Like in the case of the Ashes, if a few results don’t go their way in the opening few fixtures, there could be a threat of bio-bubble fatigue kicking in. Maybe ICC’s decision to relax the norms will help the defending champions the most when it comes to the exhaustion caused by the pandemic.