In the second and final part of Isa Guha’s analysis into the success of the all-conquering England Women team, the former England seamer discusses the steps that have been put in place to ensure the next generation of players are ready for the challenge of keeping the national team on top of the world.
Critical to underpinning long-term success has been the resource that the ECB has committed to developing players beneath the full England squad in the England Women’s Academy environment. In short, the Academy is where players learn what it takes to play for England so that their transition up, if and when it happens, is as seamless as possible. Players experience exactly the same environment (methods, specialist coaches, fitness screenings) as the England players. In 2011, I captained the Academy side that beat the full Australia and New Zealand teams, which showed just how far we had come in terms of strength-in-depth.
Off spinner Danni Wyatt, who came up through the Academy system says: “It gives you a taste of being part of the England set-up, and it meant that when I got into the team it wasn’t such a huge jump. When I played I felt pretty comfortable within the surroundings.’’
Another avenue for player development is the MCC Women’s Young Cricketers set-up based alongside the boys at Lord’s. This is a full-time programme that runs from April to September and in 2012, the ECB and MCC started to work more collaboratively on the delivery of the programme. Heather Knight is one of several players who have benefitted from it. “I’ve been on the MCC YC scheme for three years now and it’s really helped me to get to know my game better and push on. It lets us train like professional cricketers for the summer and it certainly is a privilege to be training at Lord’s every day. I expect a number of future graduates of the programme will gain full England honours.”
This being sport, tough times were around the corner following that golden 2009. We lost in the West Indies, then in India, and failed to make the semi-finals at the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies the following April. After hunting for so long we were now being hunted. During this time Knight made her debut and recalls her first tour in India: “It felt like the team was in a bit of a transition with a few younger players coming into the side such as myself and Danielle Wyatt. As things weren’t quite going 100 per cent for the team it wasn’t the easiest time to come in, but that tough period acted as a building block to achieve the success we have done in the last year.”
Danni Wyatt has come through the Academy and is now a regular fixture for England
Our resurgence began at the start of 2011. We beat the World Twenty20 champions Australia, regained our No.1 status in ODI cricket and won the Twenty20 Quadrangular series. We were back to winning ways, but at a cost. Claire Taylor, who had been such an important cog in the wheel of England’s successes over the years, decided to retire. “I felt I could leave happy to have achieved most of what I hoped for,” she says. “England are back at the top of the tree, and the squad is full of youngsters with natural talent, a taste for hard work and ambition.”
Since that watershed 2009, we have enjoyed the benefits of a full-time physio and strength and conditioning coach, as well as specialist coaches to work with the girls on various camps and tours. Other support in the form of nutrition, psychology and medicine continued to increase, but moving with the times meant there were more demands placed on us in terms of touring and training – not to mention the skills and fitness levels that were required to maintain a high standard. In response, the ECB introduced tour fees and match fees in the autumn of 2011, another huge development. As a result of this much needed financial resource, the current England squad is now the fittest and most skilful it has ever been. As captain Charlotte Edwards says: “You’re only going to get the success if you invest money and that’s what the ECB have done. That’s why we are the best team in the world.”
There are still challenges to be faced as semi-professional cricketers. My decision to retire in April 2012 came about because I was juggling a part-time PhD along with other work commitments while trying to maintain playing at the highest level. Going forward it was time to think about a career outside of playing sport. Other girls continue to manage their time, and make serious life choices along the way. Holly Colvin made herself unavailable for the 2011/12 winter tour to focus on her final year at Durham University while Knight decided to risk her results and join the team.
Overall, though, today’s squad is in rude health. Having been almost unbeaten for 12 months, the 3-2 NatWest ODI series result against India in summer 2012 was the first time England had been really tested in a year. With two world tournaments in quick succession – the ICC World Twenty20 in September 2012 and the ICC World Cup in India in January 2013 – England are well placed to strengthen their hold on the world game. “One of the key lessons we learnt from 2009,” Edwards says, “was that we kept a group of players together and it really paid dividends for us, with everyone knowing their roles. We’ve had this group together for a good 18 months and I hope that’s going to pay off for us moving forward.”
And what about the future, longer-term? “If I was being really honest,” says Edwards, “I would like to see it become professional. A lot has happened in the last 10 years. Who would have thought I’d be making a career out of cricket? That’s the thing that spurs me on.”
Professionalism is certainly within our grasp and something that we all wish for. Yes, viewership needs to improve, but with the ever-growing success of Twenty20 cricket, and increased media coverage and advertising sponsorship, it is certainly heading in the right direction. “Having come so far, we want to leave a legacy for women’s cricket,” Edwards says. “I want to be able to say in 10 years’ time that we’re still world champions and No.1 in the world.”