ENGLAND are now just one win away from confirming their spot at next year’s World Cup – and batting coach Ali Maiden is convinced there is a side taking shape that can win it all on home soil.
Mark Robinson’s women have just returned from the West Indies where they beat the reigning T20 World Champions 3-2 in a tight, if low-scoring, five-match ODI series.
Natalie Sciver was the hero in the fifth and final clash, her 58 not out guiding them to victory – the first won by the team that batted second in the series after losing the toss.
This year has been one of transition for this side under Robinson as they have learned to cope with life after Charlotte Edwards and with Sarah Taylor also on a leave of absence.
But under new skipper Heather Knight, they are now just one victory over Sri Lanka – where they will tour next month – from confirming their spot at their own World Cup next year.
“I would say we have got the makings of a team (that can win the World Cup),” said Maiden.
“Mark said to the team after we had lost the (T20) semi-finals that there are certain things that are God-given. But there are other things that anybody can work on to improve – fitness was obviously a big focus for us.
“We have made big strides in those areas and if we play smart, clever cricket we have got a really good chance of winning it.
“We have not got a huge amount of senior players but we do have a lot of vibrancy and energy and that can take you a long way.
“One win is the key for the World Cup but we are trying to win the series in Sri Lanka – we are not talking about qualification. If we win the series then we qualify anyway and we want to win every game we play in.
“We have been playing on slow, turning wickets in the Caribbean – I think this is the best prepared the team has ever been to go to the Sub-continent and play in those conditions.”
After England’s T20 semi-final exit to Australia in March, much was written and said about their lack of boundary-hitters.
The promotion of skipper Knight to No.3 – where she will likely stay for the Sri Lanka series – halfway through the West Indies tour was further evidence that England’s batting is a work in progress.
But while the low-scoring clashes in the West Indies were not the best evidence of a more positive outlook, Maiden is adamant the changes are bearing fruit every day.
“Batting is ultimately about playing the situation but we have tried to encourage the girls to be on the front foot,” he added.
“I don’t mean that literally but it is about trying to take a positive step, even when defending a ball.
“In the West Indies it is not about boundaries, it was big stadiums and slow pitches.
“It is about rotating the strike, good footwork and about trying to be positive – and you can do that in different ways. Look at someone like Nat Sciver, probably our best boundary-hitter. She does it in practice and has done for the last two years now but we challenged her to go out and take that game into the middle and that has had a clear response.
“Nat hit one of the best shots I have ever seen, a flicked six over long off. For me it has been great to see how they have freed up and they are seeing the benefits of that freedom.”
New skipper and new outlook: Heather Knight hits out
Coach: Ali Maiden