Unwise, to write whilst disappointed to the point of anger. (Unwise, actually, to get angry about sport, eh?) But I suspect that the three consecutive defeats in this #CWC22 have left those of us that are bothered about Eng Women* starting the Working Week in a right mood.
(*Nobody was watching, live, in the ground. Media coverage, though growing, will be miniscule compared to male equivalents. So yeh I’m bit cheesed orff; ’bout everything).
Lets draw up a swift Mitigating Circumstances column. To draw some of the venom. England have been pretty bad because:
Demoralised by a higher level Australian side, in a concerningly one-sided Ashes tour.
Erm… something else?
These appear to be reasonably meaningful factors but do they account for manifestly below-par performances against West Indies and South Africa and that undeniable sense that England are in something of a mess? It’s right to acknowledge improvements elsewhere – ‘smaller nations’ catching up – but should that equate to or account for a steepish decline in performance levels for Heather Knight’s side?
The answer to that latter question is ‘maybe’; or, ‘it could’. Because pressure. Pressure from the rails, from under your collar, from inside the mind. England *suddenly feeling* vulnerable when they should still feel better, more solid, empowered. Because England are the second best side in the world. Meaning the answer to that question is also ‘no’.
South Africa have just beaten England in a tense but not exceptional match – certainly not, quality-wise. Player of the Match Marizanne Kapp may have thanked “her saviour” immediately after the game but she might have thanked any one a series of England fielders who again either spurned catches/stumpings or dived over balls that might have been stopped. Sour grapes? (Possibly: I’m soured, but I’m not sure anyone beyond Ecclestone can be satisfied with their contribution in the field. Given this is where England have stayed ahead of those developing sides – through what we might broadly call professional intensity and execution – the persistently shoddy work from England has felt genuinely galling).
Read the specifics of the match elsewhere. South Africa won it and deserved to win it but England’s batting was timid and one-dimensional and their fielding was badly off. Beaumont dropped an easy catch and was again, like her team-mates, ‘mixed’ – prone to dive over or past the ball. Jones, behind the sticks, was alarmingly in and out, Brunt and Shrubsole again relatively impotent.
The latter is somehow shielded from criticism (and there may be reasons for this) but it feels entirely reasonable to note that as a full-time professional athlete, in a universe where expectations have dramatically changed for the better, she is two stones too heavy… and this patently affects her fielding… and maybe to a lesser extent her bowling.
I have always been a huge fan – have gone on the record many times, to that effect. But it is not acceptable, any longer, that prime, professional athletes are so badly out of condition. This is one reason why Shrubsole should retire (and I expect her to) after this tournament; whatever happens over the remaining games. Anya Shrubsole has been a glorious intoxicant in the game, for a decade and more – arguably the best swing bowler in the world for much of that period. Now she should go.
Given that Shrubsole’s long, long-term partner is in a similar ‘twilight phase’, there’s a really fascinating link between the men and women’s international sides in respect of their opening bowlers. But I’m not going there. Katherine Brunt is (I repeat, like her colleague) one of the greats. Powerful, punchy but also loaded to the gills with a rare guilefulness, Brunt has had a low-key tournament. Could be powers fading. Could be tiredness.
There has been, quite rightly, talk of a double replacement or retirement, here. The Pretenders – notably Bell and Wong – have been drawing support concomitant to the criticism of the coach, in the absence of opportunity or ‘succession planning’. Brunt remains better and certainly more consistent than both… but sure, that proverbial clock is ticking.
All of which brings me back to the coach, Lisa Keightley. She’s done her work quietly, in the background: despite being drawn to more obviously charismatic characters, I have no issue with that. (Clearly, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be somebody people or players will follow). And yet I think she should go. The team energy has been somewhere between frail and limp, too often. There are simply too many errors going on. It feels – whatever that means – like the team lacks character. All of that is the coach’s responsibility: they are charged with making the environment.
We all have our own ideas about selection – that’s part of the joy of this, yes? My own admittedly left-field opinion, following a night in Hove where she did that thing where something ver-ry special gets announced, is that Mady Villiers had to be a fixture in this side. Maybe for that stunning, invigorating brilliance in the field alone. And Shrubsole should have been rotated in and out, or possibly simply de-selected, to bring on the newbees and recognise the modern realities re athletic non-negotiables. And, somehow, the likes of Beaumont and Jones and even Brunt should have been challenged more directly to perform or buck up, with the bat.
The squad’s felt too cosy; too willowy, even. Coach must not allow that to happen. Wyatt and Jones and Winfield-Hill endlessly gifting poor, premature dismissals to the opposition. Woeful catching becoming, or feeling predictable. Confidence paper-thin. For an age, Knight’s doughtiness, Beaumont’s application and Sciver’s power have carried the team – kept that chasing pack chasing. Now England look caught.
There is a chance that England could yet qualify. A slim one. If they do then they will be a threat, should they play to their maximum. So far, plainly, they have been devastatingly short of that aspiration. They will feel shrivelled and beaten in every sense…. and I guess I’m not helping here.
Pressure is real and not real. Keightley and Knight have to engineer the most astonishing of revivals. I hope they do it. If they don’t, then of course there must be changes.