Eng­land women back in ac­tion at last as West Indies come to res­cue again

Knight ‘grate­ful’ to ri­vals ahead of five-match T20 se­ries Cap­tain says ICC must step up to help the fe­male game

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Is­abelle West­bury

Cricket

Biose­cure bub­bles have been a drain­ing but nec­es­sary sac­ri­fice for Eng­land’s top crick­eters this sum­mer. Some of the hardier mem­bers of the men’s na­tional side en­dured al­most 90 days of it in all, iso­lated from fam­i­lies and friends.

Eng­land’s women are weeks into their own bub­ble. They have been based in Derby, where two of their squad, Natalie Sciver and Kather­ine Brunt were “mar­ried” on Satur­day, fol­low­ing the post­pone­ment of their ac­tual wed­ding. But it is not sim­ply the claus­tro­pho­bia of lock­down that they have had to con­tend with.

Covid-19 has thrown the women’s game into chaos. First, next Fe­bru­ary’s World Cup, set to be played in New Zealand, was can­celled by the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil, the day be­fore the coun­try an­nounced it had gone 100 days with­out a do­mes­tic virus case. Then In­dia pulled out of a tour to Eng­land. And South Africa fol­lowed suit.

This at a time when Eng­land’s men found them­selves on course to, mirac­u­lously, com­plete a full sum­mer of in­ter­na­tional cricket. And the men’s In­dian Premier League was given the green light to be staged in the United Arab Emi­rates come what may. Women’s cricket, by con­trast, had van­ished.

Eng­land’s women faced the real prospect of a sum­mer with­out a fix­ture, and a fu­ture void of any­thing to work towards. The Twenty20 World Cup fi­nal, played to more than 86,000 at the MCG in March, with so much hope for the fu­ture of women’s sport, seemed a long time ago.

“It was tough,” said Eng­land cap­tain Heather Knight. “We were in our first bub­ble in Derby and within [the space of ] two days we found out very least. “We’re very grate­ful to West Indies for fill­ing the void,” said Knight. “I think it was a 10-day turn­around to get them locked in to come over. I prob­a­bly didn’t be­lieve it un­til they landed.”

It is a smart move to sched­ule only T20Is, five in to­tal. The West Indies’ ODI form is some­what leaner; the last time they won an ODI in Eng­land was 41 years ago.

Even in T20Is they have strug­gled re­cently, the crown hav­ing slipped since their thrilling 2016 World T20 tri­umph. In this year’s tour­na­ment they failed to make it out of the group stages.

Eng­land’s des­per­ate search for an op­po­nent there­fore re­minds of us of an­other grow­ing con­cern in world cricket. There is a widen­ing gap be­tween the fund­ing, in­fra­struc­ture and ap­petite for women’s cricket in the likes of Aus­tralia and Eng­land and, well, any­where else.

It con­cerns Knight. “I think now is the real time for the ICC to step up and sup­port coun­tries to get women’s cricket on,” she said. “It’s a huge boost to get us back play­ing but we want peo­ple to play against and we want high com­pe­ti­tion through­out world cricket.

“We knew the ECB were go­ing to do ev­ery­thing to get some cricket on and they’ve done ex­actly what they would have done for the guys, which is real progress. I don’t think that would have hap­pened three or four years ago.” So, here we are. Eng­land have pro­vided the fi­nan­cial ne­ces­si­ties and a biose­cure bub­ble, West Indies an op­po­si­tion.

And Knight, as with her West Indies coun­ter­part, Stafanie Tay­lor, un­der­stands the wider sig­nif­i­cance of this se­ries too. Un­like Eng­land’s men, who have stopped tak­ing the knee in their re­cent fix­tures, Knight’s team in­tend to do so. Both teams will be wear­ing the Black Lives Mat­ter logo on their shirts.

In all-rounders Tay­lor, De­an­dra Dot­tin and Hay­ley Matthews, the tourists have the qual­ity and clout to turn West Indies’ flashes of bril­liance into some­thing more con­sis­tent. They will have to if they want to get a game off Eng­land. Un­der Knight’s lead­er­ship and with a fresh coach in Lisa Keight­ley, the hosts had ap­peared to be just about get­ting go­ing as a new side be­fore rain washed out their last match, the T20 World Cup semi fi­nal against In­dia.

If Sciver can show her best form with the bat and spin­ner So­phie Ec­cle­stone mo­tors on, Eng­land will ex­pect noth­ing less than a clean sweep.

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