CricViz analyst Ben Jones looks back on England’s journey to the Women’s World Cup semi-final
England have had a rocky road to the knockout stages of the 2022 ICC Women’s ODI World Cup, but as the tournament heads into its final few matches, Heather Knight’s side are still in the hat, and still with a chance of victory. Three consecutive defeats at the start of the campaign put them firmly on the back foot, and it took quite the turnaround for the defending champions to squeeze through, winning out after that initial setback.
One of the key changes England have made, in order to regain their form, has been moving away from the extremely bat-deep philosophy which has been at the core of their ODI cricket over the last few years. Danni Wyatt slotting in down the order at No.7, giving tremendous depth to the line-up, has allowed Knight to always preach the importance of aggression and front-foot thinking in this form of the game. While they have bowling quality, they have relied on individuals rather than a vast swathe of bowling options.
By dropping Lauren Winfield-Hill ahead of the tournament, England made it clear they needed to go in a different direction, making a statement that the current returns were not good enough – however, Winfield-Hill then returned to the XI for the opening game against Australia, then against the West Indies, before being dropped again. Once again, the Beaumont/Winfield-Hill opening pair was broken up, having produced just 54 runs in the previous four matches.
The change England made for their third game was promoting Danni Wyatt, who’s position down the order has been the most obvious indication of the bat-deep plan, and having her opening alongside Beaumont. On one level, this has not been successful – none of their five opening stands in the World Cup so far have yielded more than 20 runs – but the knock-on effects are rather more positive. England haven’t just changed their personnel, they’ve changed their style of play.
By moving Wyatt up, dropping Winfield-Hill, Knight allows herself the luxury of another bowling option. The arrival of Charlie Dean, the young right-arm spinner, has made a huge difference to the overall strength of the attack, bringing 10 wickets in her four matches, averaging just over 12. The established stars of Sophie Ecclestone, Katherine Brunt and Kate Cross still undoubtedly take the bulk of the work, and provide the lions’ share of the quality, but Dean offers a more consistent contribution than England got from their “11th” player in the previous team set up.
However, this tactical shift was made when staring down the barrel of early elimination. After defeats to Australia and West Indies, the route through to the knockouts was always going to be a rocky one for the defending champions. Radical changes are never more appealing than when you feel as if you have nothing to lose, and at that point – and after the third defeat, to their semi-final opponents South Africa – that is where England were.
Now, things are a little different. Knockout cricket may have been England’s situation in all but name for their last few matches, but the nature of a semi-final does make things different. Going in with a consciously weaker batting order, and a stronger attack, is seemingly the right call to make over a large sample size, and the more forgiving structure of a group stage. Yet in the white-hot ruthlessness of a one-off match, the value of an extra batter, to just warn off any great fears of a collapse, has understandable value.
The question is, in essence, are they better off having Wyatt at the top (and lengthening their tail), or picking Winfield-Hill and having Wyatt back in her luxury spot at No.7, while weakening the bowling.