T20 WORLD CUP TEAM GUIDE: Jon Lewis has taken over as head coach, and rising young stars like Alice Capsey and Lauren Bell fill the ranks. But NICK FRIEND highlights just how important the experienced heads in the squad will be in South Africa...
Coach: Jon Lewis
Lewis is heading into his first tournament in charge after replacing Lisa Keightley, who departed at the end of the summer. This is Lewis's first foray into women's cricket after a varied coaching journey in the men's game, which ended with the former seamer working under Chris Silverwood, Brendon McCullum and Matthew Mott as bowling coach.
The Cricketer understands that Lewis spoke at length with Silverwood, as well as Andy Flower and former England Women's head coach Mark Robinson before accepting the role. He has set his stall out early, with a determination for his team to adopt an aggressive brand of cricket.
Captain: Heather Knight
Knight is back fit after a hip injury ended her summer prematurely. She returned in the Caribbean for England's straightforward whitewash of a poor West Indies side. Knight is England's only female cricketer with hundreds in all three international formats, completing the set at the last T20 World Cup when she went to three figures against Thailand.
That campaign was a failure for England, who lost against South Africa in the group stage to miss out on top spot, which came back to bite them when rain washed out their semi-final against India. Knight has Nat Sciver-Brunt back as her second-in-command; she took a break over the summer to look after her mental health and stepped away from the vice-captaincy, with Amy Jones taking over.
Heather Knight leads England at the T20 World Cup [Getty Images]
Nat Sciver-Brunt: The return of the allrounder is a major fillip for England ahead of the tournament in South Africa. There were no guarantees that would be the case when she stepped away from the game following The Hundred, but her comeback against West Indies saw an immediate return to form.
She is pivotal to this England team, not only with the bat – she smashed two fantastic centuries against Australia (both in losing causes) at last year's 50-over World Cup – but also in balancing up the line-up with her bowling.
Having a world-class allrounder in their top six allows England to field an extra batter. Sciver-Brunt has opened the bowling on occasion in recent times – a legacy of Keightley's tenure – but it remains to be seen whether Lewis opts for a similar strategy.
Alice Capsey: England's wildcard in a sense. Capsey has never played in a global ICC tournament before but made her international-competition debut at last year's Commonwealth Games, where England missed out on a medal after going down in meek fashion against New Zealand, who claimed bronze instead.
There was a worry at one stage that Capsey wouldn't be fit for this T20 World Cup after landing awkwardly after diving at fine leg in the first ODI of the series in Antigua back in December. She had to be helped off the field with a broken collarbone but has recovered with time to spare. Where she bats will be interesting: there are valid arguments for her to open up, come in at No.3 or be used as a finisher. Her off-spin gives Knight another bowling option.
Sophie Ecclestone: Ten wickets short of 200 for England – still only 23 years of age – Ecclestone is the best at what she does in the world. Charlotte Edwards' appointment as Sydney Sixers head coach was met almost immediately with the signing of Ecclestone, picked as her first-choice overseas player to compliment a team that was already star-studded.
Sixers lost out in the final, but Ecclestone had a super tournament; only seven bowlers were more prolific. Ecclestone struggled during last year's World Cup against Australia, but otherwise the left-arm spinner is as dominant as they come in the women's game and a cheat-code for Knight. All being well, she will break all kinds of records in the next decade.
Capsey is the obvious answer, but Lauren Bell, the 22-year-old seamer, has everything to become a major part of England's plans for the foreseeable future. Lewis told The Cricketer before flying to South Africa that he considered lateral movement and bounce to be the two most important assets for a bowler in the women's game.
Bell has both in abundance: a natural replacement for Anya Shrubsole with her hooping inswing and the added bonus of being six-foot tall. She is already quicker than Shrubsole, who works with her at regional level and expects her to add pace in the years to come. Bell has usurped fellow youngster Issy Wong in Lewis's plans.
Alice Capsey is a rising star for England [Getty Images]
It's Knight's firm belief that no one in the women's game hits the ball harder off the back foot than Sciver-Brunt, and you'd be hard-pushed to disagree. Not necessarily the biggest six-hitter in England's squad – she has only hit 13 in 103 T20Is – she hits into the legside better than any of her teammates.
It remains to be seen where she bats, with Capsey and Knight also to slot into the middle order, but England would be missing a trick if they didn't give their star allrounder maximum opportunity to impact the game.
Sophia Dunkley has been promoted to open the innings with Danni Wyatt, with that decision – at the expense of Tammy Beaumont – made by Keightley as she looked for a more powerful start. Few in the game hit straight better than Dunkley, while Wyatt's super-strength is to back away and hit through the off-side.
Traditionally, that would be Knight's job – certainly she is the England player with the best technique – but if you take Lewis's words at face value, there won't be much anchoring. Knight has worked at length on her short-format game in recent years. She sweeps better than most.
In a sense, England are spoilt for choice in this department, mainly because they bat so deep. Amy Jones has been deployed lower down the order under Lewis in ODIs and could reprise that job at the T20 World Cup. She perhaps isn't a natural choice, but few time the ball better in English cricket.
Ecclestone displayed her lower-order prowess during her time with Sydney and is arguably now among England's longest hitters – one six against South Africa last summer cleared the stand on the legside at Derby. Katherine Sciver-Brunt has always hit a clean ball, while Sarah Glenn has a hockey background and hits the ball powerfully. Charlie Dean, less of a six-hitter than her fellow bowlers, began life primarily as a batter.
Wyatt averages just 21.4 through 138 matches and has a vulnerability early on against inswing, while Dunkley is still young to opening the innings and has just two half centuries in 16 innings. Elsewhere, Jones looked in better nick in the Caribbean than during any of the last few years, so they will hope for that version of the wicketkeeper-batter.
Nat Sciver-Brunt is integral with bat and ball[Getty Images]
Even in the latter years of her career, Katherine Sciver-Brunt is England's linchpin – they have wrapped her in cotton wool to be ready for this tournament; she remains their best defensive bowler. The omission of Wong goes against the general mantra of attacking at all costs, but Kate Cross is a deserving beneficiary of her absence.
The Cricketer understands that Cross, who last played a T20I before Keightley's appointment but seemingly has everything you'd need to be successful in the format, has effectively been picked as Katherine Sciver-Brunt's deputy. Bell will take the new ball in search for early swing, while Freya Davies is a wily seamer through the middle and death overs, with a range of slower balls.
England have three specialist spinners to call upon, all of whom do something different: Glenn is the wrist-spinner, Ecclestone the left-armer, Dean the off-spinner. Ecclestone is the top-ranked bowler in the world in T20Is, while Glenn is fourth. Expect Dean to force her way into the team, though. Capsey and Knight add alternative options.
A stress fracture has prevented Freya Kemp's participation, while Tash Farrant is in the final stages of her own injury recovery. Those absences mean England are without a left-arm seamer. Otherwise, they need Katherine Sciver-Brunt on-song and have to manage Nat Sciver-Brunt's workload closely, given her all-round importance and England's big year ahead.
Sophie Ecclestone is the best spin bowler in the world [Getty Images]
Who takes the gloves?
Jones has established herself as England's wicketkeeper since Sarah Taylor's international retirement, with Lauren Winfield-Hill in reserve if needed.
Squad: Heather Knight, Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Katherine Sciver-Brunt, Alice Capsey, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Nat Sciver-Brunt, Lauren Winfield-Hill, Danni Wyatt
Fixtures:February 11 – West Indies; February 13 – Ireland; February 18 – India; February 21 – Pakistan
Possible starting XI: Wyatt, Dunkley, Capsey, N Sciver-Brunt, Knight, Jones, Ecclestone, K Sciver-Brunt, Dean, Glenn, Bell
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