It’s hard to believe it’s only 16 months since England’s error-strewn semi-final defeat to Australia in the 2016 World T20. So what’s changed in the time for them to become World Cup winners?
1. A New Coach
Since his appointment in November 2015, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for Mark Robinson, and he’s had his fair share of doubters. Not any longer. Anyone who can turn around a team at their lowest ebb and transform them into world-beaters, all in the space of 18 months, deserves all the plaudits he can get. He’s made some controversial decisions – most notably the decision to call time on Charlotte Edwards’ international career – but it turns out that he knew best.
Crucially, when you ask the players what’s changed, they consistently point to his influence. “Mark has come in and challenged us,” said captain Heather Knight after her team sailed through to the semi-finals. “He’s made us a lot smarter. He’s made us get away with a lot less, which is what we needed.”
2. A New Approach To Selection
There was a point in the pre-Robinson era where 99 per cent of the time you could guess exactly what the England XI would be long before the team-sheets were given out. It was also pretty clear that if you weren’t one of the original 18 contracted players your chances of putting on an England shirt were nil. Players like Alex Hartley – whose list of scalps in the World Cup was A-list – were close to giving up. But the appointment of Robinson shook England out of their selection rut and brought Hartley and Fran Wilson back in from the cold. Robinson’s selections aren’t obstinate or conservative – they’re about making sure the best XI are out there on the field.
Conversely, there is a sense from the players that if Robinson believes in you then you know that you’re going to get a fair crack of the whip: not constantly moved up and down the order, or dropped the first time you fail with the bat. It creates a relaxed atmosphere – Nat Sciver apparently spends the day before big games cracking jokes about the shortage of builders in the Midlands – and for players like Tammy Beaumont it’s been transformative. “When Robbo came in I almost saw it as a second chance,” said the 26-year-old opener after being named Player of the Tournament. “He saw something in me.”
3. Everyone Contributes
One of the best things about England’s World Cup campaign was that it wasn’t founded on individual brilliance, but a team effort. The team motto – “No sister left behind” – couldn’t be more apt. Four of their top-order batsmen – Nat Sciver, Sarah Taylor, Heather Knight and Tammy Beaumont – hit centuries, the most by any team.
Each bowler had their share of the limelight, too: Laura Marsh took 4-45 v Sri Lanka; Dani Hazell ripped through South Africa’s lower order in the group game; Hartley took 3-44 against New Zealand. Anya Shrubsole had actually had a pretty average tournament before the final, but then turned it on when England needed her most. That’s not forgetting, of course, Shrubsole’s own efforts with the bat – a superb boundary through the covers to take England over the line with just two balls remaining in the semi-final victory over South Africa.
4. They Hit Sixes
England have been consistently behind the eight-ball when it comes to power hitting in recent years. In the T20 leg of the 2015 Ashes series they cleared the ropes just once across the three matches, while Australia’s Grace Harris managed four on her own. The concern was that six hitting was becoming the norm in the women’s game, and England just didn’t have the batsmen capable of keeping up.
But England have risen to the challenge. In this World Cup they struck 20 sixes – 17 more than they managed in the last edition four years ago. Against Pakistan, Nat Sciver let loose three consecutive maximums in one over; Jenny Gunn hit two against the Aussies. Whatever work Robinson has done with them in the gym and the nets over the past 12 months, it has worked.
5. They Rarely Collapse
England’s spectacular batting collapses have been a particular specialism in recent years. I vividly remember the night at Hove two years ago when, chasing just 108, they were bowled out for 87 and surrendered the Ashes in horrible fashion. My faith in England’s middle order was shaken, to say the least.
Not anymore. The key difference between the sides in the final was the fact that India’s last seven wickets fell for 28 runs, whereas Gunn and Marsh were able to put on 32 runs between Katherine Brunt being run out in the 46th over and the end of England’s innings. In fact, aside from their loss to India in game one, England were not bowled in the World Cup, something that has been crucial to their success. In the group match against Australia it was Gunn and Brunt’s stand of 85 for the seventh wicket which dragged them up to a competitive total, and in the semi-final against South Africa, Gunn and Wilson put on 40 for the same. Most teams claim they bat deep. England actually do.
6. They Never Give Up
The other team need 38 runs to win with seven wickets in hand? Pah, the World Cup’s still there for the taking. “We knew if we held our nerve we would be in with a chance,” said Knight in the post-match press conference. “We’ve fought like hell this tournament.” This England team aren’t perfect, but they never, ever give up.