Robinson keen for England to be tested

Just three months into his tenure as England’s new Head Coach Mark Robinson led England into a World Cup. It was the T20 World Cup in India. England were under-prepared and Robinson was just finding his feet. England made it to the semi-final, but imploded against the old enemy, Australia, falling five runs short chasing just 132. Post-match, with his captain, Charlotte Edwards, sitting next to him Robinson blamed the squad’s fitness. Five weeks later Charlotte Edward’s glittering England career had ended. Robinson had dispensed with his captain and, some would say, his best batsman. It was time for England to start again…

Fast forward to Lord’s in May 2017 and Robinson finds himself just six weeks away from another World Cup. This time the 50 Over World Cup on home soil, with the tantalizing prospect of a final on the hallowed turf outside the window, in front of 20,000 people. But can England win it?

“We’re in a really good place, but until you play against someone else in a really good place, a good team, it’s how you react. You just don’t know”, Robinson explains. After deciding that Edwards was not part of future England plans, Robinson set to work remodeling the England team, based around his new captain, Heather Knight. “Heather is genuinely outstanding”, he says. “She has the last say on team selection,” he says. “As captain she always has the team on the pitch that she wants.”


The first test for the new look team was a home series against Pakistan. It was a series they were always expected to win, but they won it in some style, with openers Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield, hitting 70, 104 and 168*, and 0, 123 and 43 respectively in the three ICCWC ODIs. Heather Knight chipped in with an important 50* in the first ODI and Nat Sciver was brutal with 27* and 48, plus a 33 ball 80, including six 6s. The foundations were there for a new top order, with the confidence of runs under their belts.

And so on to the West Indies, with qualification for the World Cup still three wins away. On sticky wickets and “cabbage patch” outfields England recovered from a disastrous second ODI featuring five run outs and a collapse from 133/1 to 181 all out, to win the series 2-1. There were runs again for Beaumont, Winfield and Sciver, and the emergence of left-arm spinner Alex Hartley with 13 wickets in the five match series, with the management showing their confidence in the newbie ahead of some of the more seasoned spinners.

Final stop before the World Cup was Sri Lanka in November 2016 (a massive seven months before the competition was due to start). England secured their spot in the World Cup winning all three ICCWC ODIs, with Nat Sciver again shining with the bat.

After many had plied their trade (some more successfully than others) in the WBBL, it was back to winter training indoors at Loughborough, and then a tour to UAE over Easter to try and get some game time outside. A local boys’ team and a poor Ireland side were not ideal opposition, but beggars can’t be choosers.

The England WWC squad will be selected next week and all the girls will be told if they have made the final 15. The recent successful return to cricket of Sarah Taylor for Sussex means her name will be in the mix. If she is back, and at her best with the bat and behind the stumps, it would be an enormous fillip to the England camp. Preparation for the selected squad will then involve an internal game; a game against Sussex Boys u16s; two unofficial friendlies against India and the West Indies, and two official warm-up games against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, before England play their first game of the tournament, a tricky encounter against India at Derby. That game could well set the tone for England's World Cup campaign.

Asked what his expectations were for his team, Robinson replied, “Look you want to win it. You can’t shy away from that.” Since that semi-final defeat in India Robinson says “the girls have made amazing strides”. 

Only time will tell if Robinson, and his assistants, have fashioned a young team with enough self-belief to get themselves out of difficult situations, and to win important games. Mental toughness and making the right decisions are what makes a winning team. They are a tight-knit group with a personable and passionate coach at the helm. You get the feeling that they will give it everything. It is all that Robinson asks of his players. That and "to do the simple things well". If that is not enough, then so be it.

Martin Davies 

Comments

  1. We'll be tested all right! With a relatively small squad of just 15 allowed, England need to be very sure of their approach tactically, and carefully maximise batting and bowling capacity. Some contracted players will be left out and will surely feel disappointed. But every player selected will need to be ready to potentially play. An injury or two is bound to stretch resources, and England won't be able to afford any passengers or players out of form. At least, all the other international sides will be in the same boat.

    Leaving her comeback so late might mean it is close for Taylor as to whether she gets in the squad or not, but any other player probably wouldn't stand a chance. On her side is her ability both as an experienced, big game batsman and wicket keeper which might seal the deal.

    I do worry about India coming into that first game - their form in SA is ominous and they are putting Zimbabwe, Ireland and even South Africa to the sword in a similar way England did to Pakistan last year. But it's a stronger SA side, and India are away from home. If they can acclimatise rapidly enough they will be outside bets for a big upset in July. But will England be able to assert themselves at Derby on 24 June? As you say that first match could be vital for both sides.

    The weight of expectation seems to be too heavy with what I've seen in the media so far. Expecting England in the final is a big ask. The way they approach their game will also be very important, and you can't tell how well our rivals will play. With other strong sides like WI, India, Australia and New Zealand around, I feel a good but losing semi-final performance from England would still be a decent showing.

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