CricViz analyst Ben Jones looks at the chances for Heather Knight’s side going into the competition.
England’s women begin the defence of their ODI World Cup title this week, as the 2022 tournament kicks off in New Zealand. Heather Knight’s side memorably triumphed in the 2017, defeating India in a dramatic contest at a packed out Lord’s, and they will begin this competition as one of the favourites. While Meg Lanning’s Australia will be most people’s tip for the title – and with good reason – there are still plenty of reasons for optimism among the ranks of English supporters. The champions can retain that title – and here are a few reasons why.
Beaumont’s Recent Form
One of the key architects of England’s 2017 win was Tammy Beaumont. The right-handed opening batter was a constant presence throughout the tournament, averaging over 45 and at a healthy scoring rate, with a memorable 148 (145) against South Africa the highlight.
This time around, Beaumont remains one of England’s trump cards, still one of the best batters around in this form of the game. A disappointing Ashes campaign may have dulled appreciation of her recent excellence, but a century against New Zealand at Canterbury last summer was the perfect display of what Beaumont can offer at her best. What’s more, she’s been offering it extremely frequently of late – in ODIs since the start of 2021, she’s averaging 51, with a strike rate of 71. Five fifties stand alongside that century as evidence of her consistency throughout the 14 innings which run to the start of last year, and England fans will be keen to see the diminutive opener continuing her run of positive returns throughout the competition. She can take a little while to get set at the crease, like any player – a strike rate of 50 in her first 10 deliveries is on the slow side – but once Beaumont gets going, it’s a short list of those that can match her.
Across their last few series, England have found it difficult to consistently take wickets in the middle overs of matches. When the swing has started to fall away and the field is back, there is often very little pressure on the batters at the crease, and it can take a different approach to force wickets – or it can take a different level of ability. That’s why, in these overs, England often turn to their best premier spinner, the left-armer Sophie Ecclestone.
On paper, Ecclestone’s threat is obvious. The joint leading wicket-taker in ODIs since the last World Cup – with 52 wickets in 36 matches, and an economy rate of just 3.7rpo – the Lancashire spinner is world-renowned as one of the most classical, technically gifted operators in the women’s game. However, her importance to this England side is disproportionate, given how little spin they do tend to bowl, and how difficult their seamers find it to make breakthroughs in those middle overs. Ecclestone has a huge weight on her shoulders, but luckily for England she’s one of the few who can cope.
Early Batting Aggression
Since the last World Cup, one constant for England’s ODI side has been their effectiveness scoring briskly against the new ball. Those five years have seen Knight’s side maintain an average scoring rate of 4.6rpo during Overs 1-10 – only the all-conquering Australia have scored faster. The aforementioned Beaumont is a key reason for this, but others (Amy Jones, Lauren Winfield-Hill, Danni Wyatt) have helped contribute to the assertive approach in Powerplay 1.
Importantly, that aggression has not come with an increased level of risk. Attacking but equally assured, England have averaged 50 in these early overs, ensuring that the new ball is disappearing but without undue concern for the batters at the crease. At their best, Beaumont and co have been destructively chanceless – a brutal combination.
New Ball Wickets
In any form of cricket, taking wickets with the new ball is a crucial element of success. In white ball matches the effect of such early dismissals is exaggerated further, forcing batting teams into retreat and reducing the effect of the initial fielding restrictions. Get teams on the back foot, and you are in a great spot.
As we head into the World Cup, very few bowling attacks have a better record in this regard than England. Since the 2017 edition of the tournament, England’s bowlers average 25.22 in the opening Powerplay (Overs 1-10), the second best record of any bowling attack in the world. Only South Africa – defeated by England in the semi-final five years ago – can boast a superior average in those opening overs. The key threats for England are the swing of Anya Shrubsole (19 wickets, 3.5rpo) Katherine Brunt, and Kate Cross, each of whom offers a slightly different mode of attack for Knight to deploy.
Final Over Flourishes
ODI cricket has seen many tactical fads in its long existence, but the most traditional and long-standing approach with the bat – conserve wickets, and explode in the last 10 overs – still remains as effective as any other. It’s not a tactic that Knight’s England have often worked towards, generally preferring to maintain a healthy rate throughout the day, but their power at the end of the innings is still hugely impressive. Only Australia and New Zealand score faster than England’s (who go at 6.4rpo) in the final 10 overs. As well as finisher Danni Wyatt (striking at 144 in the death overs), the captain herself is key to England’s strength in this phase, with Knight’s strike rate rising to 136 when she reaches those final 10 overs.
This late power does give England a few different routes through the tougher situations in which they may find themselves, across this tournament. If they wish to push on through early wickets or middle order collapses, then they have the skill and backing to do so, but if they want to hold off, rebuild, then go hard at the finish of the innings then they know they have the ability to go in that direction. You rarely win a World Cup without a few things going wrong along the way – it’s good to have something up your sleeve.
Ultimately, England know they can win. Their record stands up among the best in the world in recent years, and – for all the reasons listed – they have the ability and opportunity to hurt teams in various different ways. However, in any tournament you need your fair share of luck if you are to come through as winners, just as England had in 2017, and even with all the preparation and planning in the world, you need those elements of fortune to go your way. Someone may need to play a Harmanpreet Kaur innings to knock Australia out, and they might not have to be English. Not everything is in your control.
So as Heather Knight’s side step out for their first game, against Australia on Saturday night, they know that they need the wind of fortune behind them. What they can rest assured knowing is that, in a wide range of different disciplines and across a long period of time, they are among the very best in the world – and they are good enough to win this World Cup.