Adam Collins discovers that England women’s coach has thrown down a challenge to his team
Adam Collins looks at the squad to travel Down Under
They are going to be tired after a demanding summer both on and off the field, but don’t doubt the resilience of the world champion England women as they board the plane to Australia. This is the message from their coach Mark Robinson, in a week their Ashes squad was announced with only one change to the team that lifted the World Cup in July, 18-year-old left-arm tweaker Sophie Ecclestone brought in to bolster their spin division.
Winning the title ahead of their time in the most spectacular circumstances, this next assignment is invariably the hardest for any England team: an away Ashes tour. Despite the hosts losing their captain and best player, Meg Lanning, Robinson is reluctant to buy into talk that they arrive as favourites. Instead, he explained to
The Cricket Paper that it should not be underestimated just how much the home season took out of his charges.
“It has been a brilliant summer but emotional,” he said. “So it will be interesting to see how much it has taken out of everyone because of all the excitement and build-up of a home World Cup. The girls did brilliantly to manage themselves to try to keep in that bubble, and all of that release of playing in front of 26,000 people, then straight into the Super League.”
In the domestic KSL competition, players are moved around the country staying in university accommodation. For those who were also part of the World Cup through July, it means they have spent the better part of three months away from their own beds.
“I’m curious to see what toll that has taken,” Robinson continued. “We might have to dig into some reserves both physical and mental. But if you can’t get excited about playing in an Ashes summer then you shouldn’t be playing. And we might be brilliant, I don’t know. It’s a bit like when we were waiting for the World Cup to start.”
Heather Knight’s team will also fly out sporting “a few niggles” for their trouble. “We’ll have players taped up more than they were in the World Cup,” Robinson said. “It’s not an excuse, you’ve always got a bit of that. Our challenge will be how much have the previous months now taken out of us. We talk about being as resilient as possible and we need to be as fit to cope when it is tough. This will be another test of our resilience.”
For Robinson, the month-long series serves as another helpful guide on where his developing team are at. World beaters they were on the big stage, but will that translate to consistent performances and ultimately allow them to overtake Australia as the world’s No.1 side?
During the 2015 Ashes, when England conceded the Urn on home soil with Lanning’s side winning four of the seven rubbers across the formats, Robinson was a spectator from his living room. He recalls the margin being “enough, but not huge” on that occasion.
“The fear was that it was beginning to grow,” he adds of that misadventure. “What we will find out in the next month is whether we have addressed that balance and if we are closing the gap. Or have we gone past them? We are probably a bit ahead of schedule and that is exciting. What we have managed to do really well is come together as a group and dig deep.”
England triumphed over Australia in their one World Cup meeting – a thriller. The top-billed side failed to make the Lord’s final when India overcame them in the semi-final. Now they have lost Lanning to unavoidable shoulder surgery. It has necessitated a handing over of the captain’s armband to Rachael Haynes, who has not played against England since 2013.
For once, it is the hosts with plenty of questions to ponder.
But asked whether the decision to go with the left-handed batsman surprised him when she wasn’t in Australia’s best XI at the World Cup, Robinson wouldn’t be drawn.
“I hadn’t given it any thought,” he said. “You look at it with curiosity about what they might do. In my time we haven’t played against her, so we are asking the girls and getting as much information as we can to see what sort of player she is.”
Losing a big-time player is something Robinson knows all about, having done without Sarah Taylor for his first year in the England job. With her anxiety issues well documented, team management has put in place a plan for the superstar keeper/ batsman to give her the best chance of success on what can be a gruelling tour.
“The most important thing is always her health and happiness,” he said. “She has done brilliantly to do the World Cup and playing international cricket again, but going straight into the Super League without much time and now an Ashes summer, there will be anxiety issues.
“Most of it won’t be cricket, it will be around flights and things like that. We are fully aware, trying to support her, but we won’t take it for granted.”
While Taylor’s body of work speaks for itself over a long period of time, Robinson says this is the chance for this group of World Cup match-winners to again prove their credentials. “It is a chance for them to enhance their reputations as world-class players,” he said. “Not just international players, but world class.”
With a sold-out first ODI in Brisbane now confirmed, there is no better stage for them to do just that.
What we will find out in the next month is if we are closing the gap... or have we gone past them?
Now hear this: Mark Robinson talks to his team this summer