Tough Questions.

After what felt a truly galling day for those of us who follow and support England Women, an inquest. Because we’re angry as well as disappointed, right?

I get that anger is not typically the most helpful medium through which to search for progress. Indeed I have been wondering if Mark Robinson – Head Coach – has been able to stifle his own, inevitable fury in order to facilitate the next fightback, or if he, like my good self, has allowed himself the expression of that rage, before his players as well as privately.

The Ashes may have gone. Australia are effectively five points clear after two relatively close but relatively poor-quality contests.

So, will the England de-brief have been (or will the de-brief be) a painfully-forensically chilly room, where Tough Questions, direct questions are asked? Of the captain; of the world’s best swing-bowler; of everybody who wasn’t Tammy Beaumont yesterday. Surely?

The air may have have been blue or just raw and icy. The coach may or may not have crossed that line into the near-personal; “how fit are you? How much have you been listening? What the hell were you thinking?” Or, probably more likely, he may have simply hosted a deep-dive of a conversation into ‘all of it’. Both the Ashes Predicament and the nature of yesterday’s defeat point to an urgent bit of soul-searching.

Having been close enough to this group to have heard the whispers, I know they are genuine, committed athletes and that they know, as professionals that there are expectations around not just performance but re-calibration, agility, intelligence-around-performance. Let’s start with the captain.

Knight came in after Amy Jones inexplicably dived/dove right into a trap – driving uppishly straight at the only fielder in the midwicket parklands. (Good cricket, good placement from Australia but poor from the England opener). Beaumont was already looking rather fine: she went on to make a magnificent century that outclassed and embarrassed the efforts of her colleagues.

Knight entered early, as it were, due to the absence of Sarah Taylor: contrary to that which follows, I think this is not a bad idea, even when Taylor is selected – the captain in at three.

Of course Knight was conscious of her own failure in the previous game and of England’s subsequent collapse and underachievement. So she was in some sense entitled to play with caution. But she fell into some strange, depressing funk – ‘Knight’s circumspect start’, they called it on SkySportsMix – where she stalked painfully from 3 off mid-twenties balls… to 9 off 32… to 13 off 37.

(At this point Beaumont was 29 off 24 and had already achieved major moral victories against Perry, Schutt & co. She was playing the lead with the kind of ease that may only occur once or twice in a career, against the Aussies. *All Knight had to do* was back her up and rotate the strike in her direction).

Instead Knight died a hideous, protracted death – and maybe, early though it was, the spirit in the innings died with her. At 16 off 42, she nearly advanced at Gardener, swung hard, hoisted high and was out for nowhere near enough.

Given the context, it was pretty near criminal. The bowling had been goodish but hardly unplayable – witness Beaumont’s knock. More infuriatingly, the complete absence of inclination to take ones, here and there, beggared belief, given a) Knight’s quality b) the imperative to do that. It was an extraordinary stall and it did have an effect on subsequent partnerships.

Heather Knight’s work has often been characterised by a kind of heroic calm and determination. She has and will again lead, through thick and thin. She will know this was bloody thin.

Other players got in a bit but failed to go on. The recalled Wyatt brought her usual vim but could not persist. Neither of the experienced Brunt nor Shrubsole looked like countering: Ecclestone could bring no boom.

If you seek out the detail from the scorecard or the burgeoning stats industry you will find more, more unfortunate numbers. The essence being a rather pitiful stasis: no meaningful partnerships, no fours in the last eight zillion overs. From being set – via Beaumont’s brilliance – for a possible 270, England made 217. Hence the use of the word ‘galling’.

Rude and ridiculous to offer no credit here, to Australia. Let’s be clear, I rate them and always made them favourites for this Ashes series. Schutt is class, Perry is class – though she was fascinatingly unthreatening yesterday. Australia are the best and they may again be moving away from the pack.

Kimmince, I have always felt *has something* – though yesterday she benefitted from some ordinary batting, from England. Overall, though – and this is part of the concern, for England – Australia will be frustrated to have only have played in patches, in this series, so far.

A further word about England – and those Tough Questions. It needs a preface.

Anya Shrubsole is the best female swing bowler in the world: (Schutt feels different – sharper and less mercurial). I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw her in Cardiff, during a male-female Eng/Aus double-header, out-swing all the blokes. Shrubsole swung it so far she could barely control it but it was a revelation.

In the last two games the England World Cup-winning star has dropped two return catches; the kind of catches that fall into the non-negotiable category. She will be mortified – she looked mortified – and she will be back but does Mark Robinson have the right to look straight at her and refer to her fitness, her weight and the possibility of a link to poorish or decreased concentration? After all it’s often said in both amateur and professional sport that fitness and conditioning are central to maintaining both good concentration and good decision-making.

Is all that a Tough Question too far, or is that merely what professionalism brings? (Discuss).

In any case, England lost a game that they needed to win, that a particular player made available to them.

Because this is top-level sport, Tammy Beaumont has every right to feel somewhat betrayed by what she might feel, momentarily, in her anger, was her colleagues’ professional incompetence. Because this is sport, I hope and expect the clan will re-gather… and go like hell once more.

6 thoughts on “Tough Questions.

  1. As a fellow fan I share your frustration. England have so far delivered 2 bits-and-pieces performances that have been lacking in too many areas. However I wonder if the problem isn’t more to do with the genuine difference between the sides and less about individual performances.

    England were close to Australia 2 years ago, but since then, the Aussies have improved more than we have and pulled away. They now have a top order with 2 players better than any in the England side (Lanning and Perry) and a lower order (Mooney, Gardner, Jonassen, Kimmince) that is better than England’s middle order.

    Their bowlers have better discipline in their line and length than England’s (1 wide in whole innings vs. 9 for England) and more variation with Schutt, Perry, Kimmince and Wareham.

    They also read and adjust to conditions better than England do typically, and have more effective and aggressive field settings.

    They have comfortably won the last 3 meetings between the 2 sides.

    I think Australia could win the Ashes very comfortably indeed and it will be a depressing one for us England fans. Any England wins will require unlikely combinations of exceptional England performances and poor Australia ones. It’s most likely in T20, of course, but Australia have specifically said they’ll be looking to avoid T20 defeats this time.

    Just remember these Australian performances haven’t been too good yet, either. Lord help us if they actually start to play really well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting. Agree with everything you’ve said – think I said some of it, in the post.
      In essence, that concern that we’ve only seen about 70% of what the Southern Stars are capable of… is a concern!

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  2. England do not have any left handed bats in their side, their whereas Australia have 4 left handed bats.It makes a massive difference to bowlers lines and lengths as well as continual fielding changes.In the Last Ashes Series here in 2015 Lydia Greenway was the leading run scorer for England as well as top of the batting averages–Englands only left hand ba!!!.David Tossells book The Girls of Summer confirm all the stats as well as Cricinfo.Amazed the English Management dont realise how important left handed bats are to the team.In the current mens team there are Morgan,Stokes,Ali and Curran to name a few.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. England don’t appear to have any left-handers in the cupboard. Greenway apart, the only one I can recall even being mentioned in dispatches over the last few years is Eve Jones of Lancashire (& Lancashire Thunder). But she is 26 now and one assumes her time has been and gone.

        Australia always seem to have a stock of left-handers, whatever the era, and – come to that – whatever the gender. I’m at a loss to know why that should be. Is there perhaps a coaching tendency down under to encourage players to play with their dominant hand as the “top” hand on the bat?. It’s always seemed an oddity to me (as a non-player) that convention has “right-handed” batsmen playing with their left hand as the dominant one according to the coaching manual.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Can only think that the lack of lefties is a bit of a cyclical thing. (Have no doubt that the coaches would be looking for a mix of right & left-handers for the extra challenge that offers to opposition bowlers. Raw crazy to discriminate against left-handers).
        Re the technical issue, also surely true that the old-school, high-elbow steer-it-with-your-top-hand approach is so-o challenged by contemporary playing (with freedom, with ‘positivity’) that it is almost redundant. Good players will be able to play straight, with lots of top hand… but also choose the right time to do ver-ry different stuff.
        Thankyou for your comments – appreciated.

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