Facing a do-or-die scenario, England have a sliver of hope they can defend the Cricket World Cup. LockerRoom’s cricket columnist, Kristy Havill, examines what’s gone wrong, and if it spells good news for the White Ferns. 

England’s chances of making the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 semifinals were as slim as a dying duck’s in a thunderstorm before their match against India yesterday. 

Win their last four remaining matches, and hope for some favourable results.

Lose to India, and pray for a miracle.

It’s a curious case, this one. Scaling the summit of women’s cricket on their home ground at the theatre that is Lord’s in 2017, England found themselves on the verge of crashing out unceremoniously nearly five years later. But no England team has ever gone back-to-back in a World Cup.

The root cause of this team’s downward slide at the beginning of the tournament is tricky to put a finger on. Certainly, there have been a number of on-field areas where things have gone horribly wrong. But as to what led to that is up for speculation. 

But they’ve clawed themselves back from the brink after skittling India for 134 to set up a four-wicket victory.

One down, three wins to go – including against the White Ferns on Sunday at Eden Park.

Regardless of the outcome of this tournament, there’s no doubt the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) will be conducting a thorough review with the coaching staff and senior players soon after they touch down at Heathrow.

But for now, it all provides a humdinger of a talking point, and most importantly, there’s a possibility it frees up a previously nailed-down spot in the semifinals for our White Ferns.

There’s no need for any doom and gloom finals permutations for New Zealand after yesterday’s result. The White Ferns are still very much in charge of their own destiny.

Win today against South Africa, and things are looking positive. Lose? Well we’ll get to that in Friday’s debrief.

If anything, India losing to England gives New Zealand a helping hand by halting their ascent up the table, with India also yet to face the so-far unbeaten Australia and South Africa.

English allrounder Nat Sciver scored a quick 45 to help her side to their first win of this World Cup, over India. Photo: ICC Media. 

Anyway, back to England.

To recap, the English women suffered a hammering against Australia in the Ashes across the Tasman preceding this World Cup, including defeats in all three ODIs at the end of the series.

Having been in a bubble away from home since early January, England were notably frustrated when they had to spend another week in isolation on their way into New Zealand. It’s an understandable argument – bubble life is extremely hard, and more and more athletes are speaking out about the travails of it.

But they’ve known for over a year they’d need to back up from the Ashes and head straight into a World Cup. It also shouldn’t have come as a surprise to any team about what lay in wait, holding a tournament under Covid-19 conditions. You’d hope good planning was done around refreshing players physically and mentally in between times.

On the flip side, they arrived in Aotearoa with plenty of match preparation under their belt – a luxury not afforded to Bangladesh or Pakistan.

Following their stint in MIQ, the English side enjoyed a weeklong sojourn to Queenstown to rejuvenate and begin light training duties before linking up with the other teams in Lincoln for warm-up week.

Completing strong victories in their two-warm up matches against Bangladesh and South Africa, all eyes were then on their tournament opener against (lo and behold) Australia.

England were already facing a selection predicament, with opener Lauren Winfield-Hill having not scored over 50 since 2016. Cries for her to be dropped from the line-up were growing louder by the day, and yet they persevered with her.

The side had always insisted that bowling was their strength, with a four-prong pace attack of Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, Kate Cross and Nat Sciver, and with the world’s No.1 ODI and T20 bowler Sophie Ecclestone causing headaches with her left-arm orthodox.

But playing only one spinner on a Seddon Park surface that traditionally offers a lot of turn was a head-scratcher to begin with, unless captain Heather Knight (a somewhat reluctant off-spin bowling option) fronted up with a few overs too.

She didn’t, and the attack failed to fire against the Aussies, who piled on over 100 runs in the last 10 overs alone, storming to a whopping 310. The fact England only used five bowlers on the receiving end of such an onslaught was mind-blowing.

Nevertheless, England made a good fist of things in their chase but fell short by 12 runs. While it was disappointing not to snare the two points, there were encouraging signs for the rest of their tournament.

But what started out with promise deteriorated rapidly.

A subdued English celebration after Anya Shrubsole (left) took the wicket of Marizanne Kapp in their loss to South Africa. Photo: ICC Media. 

Before we drill down further, it’s worth noting that across the globe in Ye Old Blighty, the preparation of both the men’s and women’s international cricket sides is heavily geared towards performing in Ashes series and beating Australia.

As soon as one Ashes series finishes, the scrutiny and hype immediately pivots to the next instalment. We witnessed it last year when the England men’s test side insisted the two series against our Black Caps and India were great preparation for the Ashes down under later in the year.

But what about taking every series and the opposition on its merits? Why must so much of England’s narrative be about beating Australia?

The English men were thoroughly outplayed by New Zealand, then comprehensively beaten by India. And went on to lose the Ashes in abysmal fashion which has seen the resignation of the big wigs at the top of the tree.

England women appear to have fallen into the same trap.

All of their planning and preparation throughout 2021 was with the Ashes and the World Cup in mind. But it wasn’t the World Cup as a whole. It was about how they could beat Australia at the World Cup.

Not just how could they beat their old foes in their opening match in Hamilton, but how could they beat them in the final at Hagley Oval on April 3?

Unfortunately, it appears they neglected the other six opponents in round robin play.

England shrunk in the face of adversity in their first outings, which they were seemingly unprepared for.

England’s second loss was to a West Indies side incredibly buoyant after their clutch win over the White Ferns in the opening match.

After seeing the White Ferns bounce back at University Oval against Bangladesh following an exemplary display from spin trio Frankie Mackay, Amelia Kerr and Amy Satterthwaite, you’d think England would’ve jotted down some notes.

The way the Ferns spinners slowed the run-rate down and got plenty of turn out of the pitch (the same wicket England would play on) ultimately turned the match on its head.

And yet England staggeringly went ahead and named the same playing XI. It screamed conservativeness. Especially after Winfield-Hill was out for a duck in the opening game. How many chances does an opening batter get?

Thankfully Knight bowled seven overs to chip into the cause, and she and Ecclestone were the most economical of the England bowlers. Shock.

There were a few fielding errors and dropped chances against Australia they would have been eager to rectify, but that soon got blown out of the water by a calamitous display against the women in maroon.

Catching has been a big talking point of this tournament so far, with an unbelievable amount of straightforward and half chances being shelled across the board. Make no mistake, there have been some absolute speccies taken. But at this level a lot more regulation catches should be safely pouched.

England dropped six chances and botched a run-out against the West Indies, including a catch by Winfield-Hill off the first ball of the match, as well as conceding a horrific amount of wides – something they did against Australia too.

A total of 225 on a tiring University Oval wicket proved to be a bridge too far for England, despite a late rearguard effort. Winfield-Hill fell victim to a Dottin screamer at backward point – a frontrunner for catch of the tournament – before the top and middle order faded as well.

West Indies were flying high, while England remained rooted near the bottom of the table.

Onwards to Mount Maunganui, saying all the right things about not instantly becoming a bad cricket team overnight, and there were plenty of positives in taking both games so close.

Cross fronted up in the pre-match presser before they took on South Africa, defiantly saying England could still win the tournament by taking matters into their own hands and start chalking up wins.

England captain Heather Knight scored 40 in their unsuccessful chase-down of 311 against Australia. Photo: ICC Media.

Coach Lisa Keightley finally made changes, dropping Winfield-Hill and elevating T20 opener Danni Wyatt. Offspinner Charlie Dean came into the line-up to provide another bowling option.

Commentators and pundits were in disbelief as South Africa captain Sune Luus won the toss and put England into bat first. The majority of the teams who’ve won the toss so far in the tournament have opted to bat first and defend with the ball, with teams batting second struggling to close out wins.

Luus wasn’t fazed, saying their strengths lay with their bowling attack restricting England to a gettable total. How right she was.

England lost early wickets, and it was up to Tammy Beaumont and Amy Jones to repair the damage, but ultimately South Africa’s Marizanne Kapp had the last laugh snaring her first five-wicket bag in ODI cricket (and the first of this World Cup).

England claimed the key scalp of Lizelle Lee early, but their fielding woes continued, dropping Laura Wolvaardt three times on her way to 77, while Jones – widely regarded as the best wicketkeeper in the world – missed a straightforward stumping.

It was another grandstand finish at Bay Oval, and while England to their credit fought hard until the very end, the experience and batting prowess of Kapp carried her side home.

Three matches. Zero wins. England’s World Cup campaign as defending champions was on life support.

Going into yesterday’s match, they were needing to win all three of their remaining matches against New Zealand (at Eden Park on Sunday), Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as having other results go their way. It’s a big stretch.

How could they turn it around from here?

It was all going to come down to bravery and courage.

England couldn’t afford to persist with the same bowling combinations. The class of Brunt and Shrubsole is undisputed, but it was clear the match-ups weren’t working. They needed bold selection decisions.

We’re seeing it with Australia, who are regularly rotating their seamers and spinners depending on the surface and the opposition. New Zealand, too, demonstrated the merits of using alternative tactics and methods, opting to open the bowling with Mackay against India in Hamilton.

It proved a masterstroke, as they pinned down India’s openers, and freed up Lea Tahuhu to attack with venom out of the powerplay, where she had the luxury of more fielders out while she found her way back into rhythm.

But the shocks kept coming, as England named an unchanged lineup to face India. It sent a clear message: we got ourselves into this mess, we’re going to dig ourselves out of it.

And that’s why we love the game of cricket. For all of the predictions, debates and analysis, it’s the gift that keeps on giving and making pundits look silly.

England emphatically dispatched a class Indian side, who wilted under the shadow of Mount Maunganui, and kept their faint play-off hopes alive.

Charlie Dean, the 21-year-old offspinner took a superb 4-23 from eight-and-a-half overs – career-best figures, and in her second World Cup game, no less.

Who knows what might have been for England had they played a second specialist spinner in Dean right from day dot against Australia and West Indies.

England shrunk in the face of adversity in their first outings, which they were seemingly unprepared for. Have they turned the corner? Can they continue a turnaround for the ages?

* The White Ferns v South Africa match at Seddon Park, Hamilton, today will be live on Sky Sport 1 from 1.30pm.

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