Wilson’s ‘Fran-tastic’ knock

Fran Wilson (L) added an unbeaten 146 for the fifth wicket with Natalie Sciver. © PCB

“I think Fran (Wilson) was spectacular,” said Heather Knight, following England’s 127-run drubbing of Pakistan in the second ODI at the Kinrara Oval in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday (December 12). “She’s been in the form of her life (over) the last year or so, but she hasn’t quite converted it into runs for England. So, to see her do that today was outstanding.”

To make sense of Knight’s comments, one would have to look back at the English summer, particularly the Women’s Cricket Super League where Wilson played a starring role for Western Storm in their title-winning campaign. Through 11 games in the season— 10, in which she batted— Wilson scored 298 runs. She wasn’t her team’s highest scorer, but her tally came at an average of 49.66 and strike rate of 138.60. Batting for the most part at no.4, Wilson played the role of both stabilizer or finisher through the season. Her consistency was largely unmatched amongst those who had batted in more than eight innings. Only Jemimah Rodrigues averaged more than her, thanks mostly to her unbeaten century against Southern Vipers.

It was on the back of these incredible numbers that Wilson was signed by Hobart Hurricanes for the fifth season of the Women’s Big Bash League as one of their three overseas players. While she didn’t light up the tournament with any huge scores, she showed glimpses of what she could do in the shortest format. Despite the poor returns, Wilson admitted that she was “hitting the ball well”, but needed to find a way to bat a little longer. However, in most part, her campaign reflected that of her team— riled with inconsistency.

Come the first ODI of the series against Pakistan, Wilson— clearly eager to get back into the thick of things— walked in to bat with 13 deliveries remaining in the innings, scored a run-a-ball six before she was lbw to Rameen Shamim.

On Thursday, the situation was a tad different— Wilson had more time. With England in a spot of bother at 181 for 4 in the 36th over, the right-hander had the chance to work her ‘Western Storm magic.’

However, lending stability to the innings seemed the furthest thing from Wilson’s mind at the time. Off the very first ball she faced, the right-hander played a cheeky reverse sweep off Nida Dar to exploit the empty third-man area. She stole two runs. It was a shot that not only underlined her inventiveness as a player, but in hindsight, also seemed to add weight to Knight’s comments at the end of the game. Only someone at the height of their powers would try something that audacious with so much time left in the game.

When you watch Wilson bat, it should come as no surprise that she is one of England’s best manipulators against spin. For starters, she plays a mean sweep shot. Most good sweepers handle spin decently, but add to that the willingness to also charge down the pitch, and you have a batter who most spinners would not enjoy bowling to. 

On closer inspection of Wilson’s career, this fact is further strengthened. Just compare her ODI career average before this game (18.85) to her numbers against India (34.25), a team packed with high quality spinners.

In game two, it was the way she dealt with Pakistan’s spinners that really stood out. In trademark fashion she swept and reverse swept when there were no fielders behind square, and when the field was set to cover those gaps, she danced down the track and hit straight down the ground.

It was in this fashion that she first took 16 runs off eight balls against Nashra Sandhu, and then clobbered 13 runs— to which Sciver added five— in Bismah Maroof’s final over. That none of the other batters were able to get hold of the Pakistan skipper’s incredibly slow leg-spinners is testament to the footwork, inventiveness and adaptability of Wilson.

When Wilson walked in to bat, Natalie Sciver was on 43 off 49 balls. By the time the innings ended, Sciver had moved to 100 off 85 deliveries— 47 runs off her next 36 deliveries (strike rate of 130.55)— and Wilson was undefeated on 85 off 49 balls (strike rate of 173.47), a career-best score.

Her power aside— her innings contained as many as three sixes— it was the 28-year-old’s game smarts that made England’s acceleration in the last 10 overs seem less ‘brutal’ than it was. The pair added 107 runs in the final 60 balls, smashing 12 fours and three sixes to take the stuffing out of Pakistan’s attack.

The rate at which Wilson scored allowed Sciver at the other end to continue going at a run-a-ball for a little longer. It gave her some breathing space: to focus on batting through the innings rather than having to go slam-bang. To add to that, it saw England finish with a mammoth total of 327 for 4, well and truly out of Pakistan’s reach. Had they managed only 270, Pakistan may have believed they were in with a chance on a good batting surface. However, with every run they got after the 270-mark, Pakistan’s spirit seemed to wither away. By the end of the innings they had little left.

Wilson’s 49-ball cameo was as much about skill and timing as it was about awareness and the way she played the field. While the sixes all came in the same general direction (slogging to the leg side) the fours showcased her full repertoire— lap shots, full blooded sweep, a dainty swipe across the line, a nice drive past mid-off and a couple of square cuts and drives that raced to the boundary.  If anything, it was a typical ‘Western Storm Wilson’ innings. One in which she showed little respect for the bowlers or their plans. Attack was the way to go, and it worked out ‘Fran-tastically’ well!