During the Ashes earlier this year, England seemed stuck in a rut. They would go in circles and pick the same players for every game. There appeared almost an unwillingness to look beyond the little bubble they were in. When they finally did, Mady Villiers, on debut, contributed significantly to England’s only win in the series.
Come their limited-overs series against Pakistan in Malaysia, it suddenly seemed that bubble had been burst. For starters, England were under the tutelage of a new (interim) coach, two of their senior-most players had retired, and a third had been dropped. They were finally changing things up!
The inclusion of Freya Davies, Sarah Glenn and retention of Villiers seemed to suggest they were starting to look beyond their little circle. They had identified a group of bowlers who were genuine wicket-takers. Additionally, pushing Danielle Wyatt, easily their most aggressive and free-flowing batter, to the top of the order— possibly England’s answer to Australia's 'Alyssa Healy move'— indicated a desire to mix things up. Both strategies pointed towards the fact that England had finally realised they would need to adopt an aggressive approach to win against the best teams (read, Australia).
Both Glenn and Davies have taken the field during the series and made an impact straight away. While the former played a lead role with the ball in the ODI series, finishing with eight wickets, Davies— who was surprisingly (such a non-England move) picked ahead of Kate Cross in the first T20I— showed why she was a central figure in Western Storm’s title-win in the Women’s Cricket Super League earlier this year.
In the third ODI of the series— her debut— she was handed the ball when Pakistan’s openers had set the perfect base. The right-arm seamer, however, managed to pull things back with a tight spell of 4-1-7-0, after which England (and Glenn) took complete control.
A few days later, in the first T20I, in defence of 155, it was Davies who got the ball rolling with two wickets in her very first over, sending back the duo of Nahida Khan and Javeria Khan— the pair who had put on a 96-run partnership only in the previous match. Although both she and Glenn conceded a few boundaries through the course of their spells, when Bismah Maroof and Omaima Sohail were trying to get a move on, it finally felt like England had found that spring in their step again— the kind that comes with succeeding at something new! Once again— even if it is against a poorly performing Pakistan team— they are showing signs that they have the ability to scrap their way to the top again.
At the other end of the spectrum, are Pakistan…
Early in the year, Bismah Maroof’s team seemed to have finally tapped their potential. They beat a full-strength West Indies in an ODI series in Dubai, tied the series against South Africa in their backyard and looked to have found a formula for success. Their batters had understood the need to be aggressive, they had found a group of bowlers who could support Sana Mir, and in Aliya Riaz, they had a pace bowling allrounder who could provide some power lower down the order.
Following a successful outing against Bangladesh, they appeared primed to challenge—if not beat— England in their ‘home away from home’. However, the script could not have gone any worse.
Pakistan seem to have receded into their shell once again. Maroof aside, the batting has come a cropper, the bowling unit has been exposed in the absence of Mir, and the fielding has been a far cry from what they displayed early in the year.
To add to these issues, their selection indicates they are beginning to recede into their shell again. There is no desire to give their new group of players an extended go.
Syeda Aroob Shah, who showed great control and temperament in her ODI debut against Bangladesh, was not given a game in the ODIs despite the hosts’ bowling struggles, and England’s well known inability to counter leg-spin.
Having finally been handed an opportunity in the first T20I of the series, Aroob displayed the same level-headedness she showed against Bangladesh. She knew what she had to do— find a way to bring the run rate down— and she did just that, conceding just 21 runs in her four overs, while also getting the big wicket of Amy Jones. Although her spell wasn’t enough to stop England’s onslaught at the end of the innings, she showed Pakistan have much talent to draw from if they just look beyond their little circle.
However, amidst all the doom and gloom, Maroof’s team did manage to give England a scare in the first T20I on Tuesday (December 17). They will be hoping, that with a few tweaks— to their mindset, and possibly, to the line-up— they will be able to do a little more than that. Come the second T20I at the Kinrara Oval in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday (December 19), all eyes will be on their line up. The question is, do Pakistan have the courage to look beyond?
Pakistan: Bismah Maroof (c), Aliya Riaz, Anam Amin, Syeda Aroob Shah, Ayesha Zafar, Diana Baig, Fatima Sana, Iram Javed, Javeria Khan, Nahida Khan, Nida Dar, Omaima Sohail, Rameen Shamim, Sadia Iqbal, Sidra Nawaz (wk).
England: Heather Knight (c), Amy Jones (wk), Anya Shrubsole, Danielle Wyatt, Fran Wilson, Freya Davies, Kate Cross, Katherine Brunt, Kirstie Gordon, Lauren Winfield, Mady Villiers, Natalie Sciver, Sarah Glenn, Sophie Ecclestone, Tammy Beaumont.