Sunday, May 19, 2024

Dunkley, Beaumont ‘still in conversation’ for T20 World Cup despite Pakistan omission

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Sophia Dunkley must rediscover her rhythm and find her best cricket if she is to break back into the England side for this year’s T20 Women’s World Cup after being left out of the squad for home white-ball series against Pakistan.

Dunkley was overlooked for both T20I and ODI squads for Pakistan’s visit, which starts with the first of five T20Is in Birmingham on May 11. Tammy Beaumont was only named in the ODI squad after regaining her T20I spot temporarily during the recent tour of New Zealand, where Maia Bouchier excelled to secure her place in the top order.

Jon Lewis, England Women’s head coach, said Dunkley and Beaumont were still “very much in the conversation around who should be playing in the top three” at the World Cup, which – along with the No. 7 spot – remain the key places up for consideration ahead of the tournament in Bangladesh.

“The message I have sent to Sophia is that I’d like to see her back playing her best cricket,” Lewis said. “When she’s playing her best cricket, she’s one of our best cricketers.

“We’ve decided to try and give her the space away from the bigger limelight in terms of the Pakistan series in both ODI and T20 cricket to go and find some rhythm, go and find the rhythm of batting, get back to your best and then come back to us and see if you can make an impact again in international cricket.

“I still have a really strong belief that Sophia’s got a big future playing for England. I think her talent is as incredible. She just needs a little bit of space to get back to her best cricket and work out how to cope with the situation she’s being put in.”

Dunkley didn’t play in England’s last series at home, against Sri Lanka at the end of the 2023 summer, but subsequently toured India and New Zealand.

In nine T20I innings since scoring a half-century against Australia in Birmingham last July, Dunkley has reached double-figures just three times and has not passed 32. She has played just one ODI since the Women’s Ashes, scoring 1 against New Zealand in Hamilton last month.

Beaumont played her first T20Is in New Zealand since losing her spot following the 2022 Women’s Ashes, scoring 15, 19 and 37 before moving aside to accommodate Danni Wyatt’s late arrival from the WPL.

“What I was really keen to do with Tammy and Dunks in particular was not to carry them around as a spare batters, to give them the opportunities to play regional cricket and play some cricket rather than sitting on the bench as two experienced players,” Lewis said, adding that he was impressed with what he had seen from Beaumont upon her T20I return in NZ.

“Maia pushed her case more than Tammy at that point, and I think Maia deserves, from the performances she put in New Zealand, to hold onto her spot.”

Having batted in the middle-order during limited England appearances over the previous two years, Bouchier was first promoted to open during Sri Lanka’s visit last summer, where she complemented Nat Sciver-Brunt’s century in the third ODI in Leicester with a career-best 95 from 65 balls.

But it was during England’s 4-1 T20I series win in New Zealand that she made her claim at the top of the order. She batted at No. 3 in the first three matches, scoring 43 not out, 12 and 71, then 91 from 56 balls after being promoted to open for the fourth match.

“Maia has always been incredibly talented,” Lewis said. “The bit that I suppose Maia has struggled with in the past is putting regular big scores together. She’s starting to understand how to build bigger innings. The work that we’ve done with her in particular is around controlling emotion and controlling herself in the game and thinking tactically about how she’s going to play. We haven’t done any technical work with Maia because my belief is her technique is really sound. It’s more around the mental approach to the game.

“She’s been working incredibly hard around that part of her game and she’s been working incredibly hard in training around how to train her brain to do things for longer. Now we’re seeing the benefit of that… I think that’s the thing that’s been making the difference. You combine that with a batter scoring runs and in good form and learning how to build innings and play at the right tempo and then you’ve got a crackerjack cricketer, and hopefully she can continue the form that she was on in New Zealand.”

Left-arm spinner Linsey Smith kept her spot after returning to the England T20I line-up for the tour of New Zealand after an absence of nearly five years. She took one wicket from her two appearances there and now has eight wickets from four appearances in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy to sit joint-third on the competition list.

Freya Kemp, who suffered a stress fracture in her back at the end of 2022 and a subsequent flare up, will play as a batter only after being chosen in the T20I squad but England hope to have her bowling and available for selection as an allrounder by the World Cup.

Quick Issy Wong remains on the outer after irregular appearances for England amid some rhythm issues of her own.

“She’s shown real improvement from where she was during last summer, and she’s working incredibly hard on her game,” Lewis said. “My view on Issy is that she just needs a period of time playing consistently and performing consistently to earn the right to come back into the England team.

“Young cricketers, batters and bowlers, their form fluctuates and we are supporting her in and around her bowling. I am hopeful from what I’ve seen over the start of the summer that there’s some improvement there, but I still think she’s got a little way to go to show that she can play at this level consistently.”

England identified a weakness batting against spin during last year’s visit by Sri Lanka, who upset the hosts by winning their T20I series. Lewis responded by holding training camps in Mumbai and he was pleased with how his team put what they had learned into practice during their T20I series against India in December, beating the hosts 2-1.

Amid an increasingly packed schedule, England will head to Abu Dhabi to prepare for the T20 World Cup.

“We’ll try and recreate, as best we can, conditions that we will face,” Lewis said. “Bangladesh is a pretty unique place to play cricket and unfortunately in India at that time of year, the places where the wickets are particular similar, it is rainy season, so we won’t be able to get into India to do that.

“I’ve been impressed with the way the girls have been trying to develop their game. We are working very hard, hard at it. We know it’s going to be a big part of that competition and we’re talking about it and we’re working on it and we’re trying to improve our game against spin. I thought in our series against India, and in the T20 series against India in particular, I thought we showed some real signs of improvement there. Very different conditions in New Zealand, and at times we played the spinners very, very well, so I think there is progress.”

Fitting in another block of overseas preparation before the tournament will likely mean that the vast majority of players heading to the World Cup don’t won’t travel to Ireland for three ODIs and three T20Is in September.

“We’ll use the depth of our squads to play those games,” Lewis said. “It’ll be a real challenge for sure, but we’ve got 21 contracted players. There’s always players that miss out on World Cup selection and there’s always players that are pushing for selection underneath.

“At some point we have to try and work out where our highest priority areas are and how do we fit all those things into our schedule so we’ll be trying to balance that and balance everyone’s workload and balance everyone’s preparation through that period.”

England Women T20I squad: Heather Knight (capt), Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Alice Capsey, Charlie Dean, Sophie Ecclestone, Lauren Filer, Danielle Gibson, Sarah Glenn, Bess Heath, Amy Jones, Freya Kemp, Nat Sciver-Brunt, Linsey Smith, Danielle Wyatt

England Women ODI squad: Heather Knight (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Alice Capsey, Kate Cross, Charlie Dean, Sophie Ecclestone, Lauren Filer, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Nat Sciver-Brunt, Danielle Wyatt

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women’s cricket, at ESPNcricinfo

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