Rufus Bullough looks back at a successful but unfulfilled campaign for Heather Knight’s side.
All in all, England’s winter in Australasia was a tough one. Winless and outclassed in Australia, the team would have been very low on confidence going into the World Cup, a tournament which on paper they had a decent chance of winning. The lack of confidence showed and after falling foul to a top heavy fixture list, England found themselves needing to win out to reach the knockout stages.
Heather Knight and her troops firmly delivered on their promise however, and cemented their place as ‘best of the rest’ after finishing runners up to a dominant Australian side, who steam rolled all teams in their path.
Knight and her team will have plenty of positives that they can take from their performances, but will also know that if they are the challenge in South Africa next year, certain creases will have to be ironed out if they are to mount a successful campaign.
One such positive was the performance of England’s attack leader, Sophie Ecclestone. She finished the tournament with 21 wickets, seven ahead of the next best Shabnim Ismail of South Africa (14) and former number one ranked ODI bowler, Jess Jonassen of Australia (13).
Not only did Ecclestone pose the most significant wicket threat of any bowler in the tournament, she was also one of the most economical too, finishing the tournament with an economy rate of 3.83. Out of the top 20 wicket takers in the competition, only Salma Khatun of Bangladesh conceded runs at a lower rate (3.79).
Ecclestone was also a handy performer for Heather Knight in the final ten overs of the innings, a phase of the innings in which typically spinners tend to go the distance. 17% of her overs were bowled at the death, in which she conceded runs at just 6.68 and took three wickets. She bowled more overs than any other England bowler in this phase. This versatility is crucial for the make up of the side, and Ecclestone being effective at the death gives Knight immense flexibility with her bowling attack.
Three aspects of Ecclestone’s game make her an absolute nightmare for batters to firstly, survive against and secondly score quickly; her height, her speed and her accuracy. During the WC, Ecclestone’s average release height was 2.17m, comfortably the highest of any bowler in the competition, let alone any spinner. She is also quick through the air, with an average speed of 80.7 kph through the tournament – second only to West Indian Hayley Watthews (81.5 kph), who is a bowler with a similar M.O, quick through the air with a high release point. The final piece of the Ecclestone puzzle has been her relentless accuracy. Through the tournament 69.9% of her deliveries bowled were pitching on a ‘good’ line (middle & leg to fourth stump). Only Jess Jonassen of Australia was more controlled with her line, bowling 73.3% of her balls in this ‘good’ zone.
Put all of these three things together, and you have one hell of a bowler. A bowler who at just 22 already has over 150 international wickets, and could yet reach another level. England’s bowling attack going forward needs to be built around her.
SEAM BOWLING COHORT
Whilst England’s seam bowlers did not blow teams away with their wicket taking threat, they bowled with great control and discipline through the various stages of the innings. Their average was the third highest of all teams, but their economy rate remained on the low side. The benefit of the seamers keeping it tight from one end allows Ecclestone to come into the game from the other. If sides are unable to find the boundary from the other end, they will have to change their plan of attack against Ecclestone, which makes her even more dangerous. The importance of England’s seam bowling quartet keeping it tight cannot be overstated.
Kate Cross particularly embraced her middle overs metronome role, hitting a good line and length with 50.7% of her balls bowled. No bowler in the history of Women’s World Cups has ever been more accurate than Cross. England’s seamers made up the top four most accurate pace bowlers in the competition in terms of hitting a good line and length most often.
Anya Shrubsole was England’s pick of the pace bowlers, taking nine wickets in the competition whilst returning the lowest economy rate of the quartet (4.68). Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver endured tournaments to forget with the ball however, taking just four wickets each, with averages north of 70. They will be disappointed they did not pose more of a wicket taking threat, but will be happy overall at their ability to keep it tight.
England’s stand out performer with the bat throughout the tournament was undoubtedly Nat Sciver. She scored 436 runs through the at a strike rate of 93, passing fifty on three occasions, converting two of those knocks into hundreds. She often pulls it out of the bag in World Cups, and improved on her 2017 performance considerably.
In 2017 she averaged 46 with two hundreds. This year her average was 73 with those two big hundreds, including her unbeaten 148 in the final. She was dominant against spin, averaging 100 against it, twice her career average, and was equally as impressive against the quicker bowlers, averaging 59. She is a player who is going from strength to strength for England, and her performance is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the winter.
One of the poorest aspects of England’s performances through the tournament was their inability to form any significant opening partnerships. England made the change to Dani Wyatt from Lauren Winfield-Hill after their second match to partner up with Tammy Beaumont up at the top, but the first pair failed to really make any inroads into the opposition bowlers on any occasion.
England’s average opening partnership was worth just 12 runs, and lasted just 19 deliveries, with a highest opening stand (31) coming against West Indies in their second loss of the group stage in Dunedin. SInce making the change to Beaumont/Wyatt they failed to score above 20 and never made it unscathed past the fifth over. Their average of 12.44 was the worst of any team in the competition, and the fifth worst of any side to compete in a world cup this century.
Australia, the eventual winners of the competition were the complete other end of the spectrum, averaging 74.55 for an opening partnership through the tournament, passing 100 on three occasions. It is the highest average opening partnership by any team to compete in the World Cup this century.
England’s catching throughout the tournament was not to the standard Lisa Keightley and the coaching staff would have been expecting from their players. England held onto just 63.1% of their chances through the tournament. Only the West Indies and Bangladesh have had a lower catching percentage through the tournament.
The cliché ‘Catches win matches’ is often thrown around cricketing circles, but never has it been more pertinent for England during this tournament. Against the West Indies, a game which England were expected to win, five catches went down in the outfield and arguably contributed to West Indies reaching an unassailable total. Against Australia in the final, three catches went down including two in the 21st over when Healy and Haynes were going well. A wicket there may have enabled a far more reasonable chase for England.
Players drop catches, it’s inevitable and nobody means to do it. But at points during the tournament it seemed to be spreading around the team like a plague, heads dropped and standards along with them.
Overall, eventually after an initial wobble, England gave an excellent account of themselves through the tournament, with plenty of positives emerging from the overriding narrative. They didn’t win it, but no team in history can counter the dominance of this current Australian crop. England pushed them close in their opening game and again in the final, and should be very proud of their performance.