What have England learned from this summer – and how is their World Cup defence shaping up?

This has been a summer like no other for women’s cricket in England.

England finish their home summer having drawn a Test match, won six of their eight one-day internationals and lost only two of their six Twenty20 games.

This summer has also featured the introduction of The Hundred, with the majority of women’s games attracting huge crowds and giving players such as Alice Capsey and Maia Bouchier the chance to perform on a bigger stage.

But what have we learned from this summer? And how is England’s World Cup title defence shaping up?

Women’s Test cricket has so much potential…

This summer was the first time in seven years that England played a home Test against someone other than Australia, when they faced India at Bristol.

The build-up was marred by the fact that the women would not be playing on a fresh pitch – an oversight for which the England and Wales Cricket Board later apologised – but the cricket itself was, for the large part, excellent.

Sophia Dunkley’s sparkling, unbeaten 74 set the tone for a summer in which she grew and grew as a batter – and, crucially, saved the game for England who were in trouble when she arrived at the crease.

The battle of the summer, Shafali Verma versus Katherine Brunt, began in that Test, and it was impossible not to just gawk, open-mouthed, at the bravery and brilliance with which the 17-year-old India batter went about her Test debut.

This was a Test that England played positively from the start. Sophie Ecclestone shone with the ball, England’s fielding was sharp and their batting contained a quiet aggression that has been missing in the past few Women’s Ashes series.

With India set to face Australia in a one-off Test at the end of September, there seems to be more of an appetite than ever for women’s Test cricket.

Provided they get the right pitches, that is…

…but we can’t rest on our laurels

There has been a huge amount of growth of the women’s game this summer, at domestic and international level. But this must be seen as a platform to build on, rather than the pinnacle of what the sport has to offer.

Crowds at The Hundred women’s competition were brilliant, and the fact that the matches were staged at big grounds such as the Kia Oval and Lord’s was key to the message that The Hundred is a competition about equality.

But England have not played an international match at Lord’s since they won the World Cup in 2017. That is not right. This summer showed that the appetite is there, and to see England play at such venues as regularly as their male counterparts do would send an important message.

England’s series against India also showed the value of the multi-format series. Each match had something hanging on it, be it points or pride, and it provided a narrative thread throughout.

It is a shame the New Zealand series did not follow a similar structure, especially as most of their players have never featured in a Test match, as the Kiwis have not played in the format since 2004.

It would be bitterly disappointing to see a world-class player such as Suzie Bates, who has given so much for the White Ferns and women’s cricket as a whole, to go through her whole career without pulling on the Test whites.

While the multi-format series has its positives, and the growth of women’s cricket in England bodes well for the future, it is important that other countries do not get left behind.

The future is bright

You can be forgiven for feeling a little bit emotional about your own lost youth when you see Alice Capsey tearing apart attacks in The Hundred at only 16 years old.

Capsey is part of a new generation benefiting from the professionalisation of the women’s game.

Off-spinner Charlie Dean’s performances in The Hundred and the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy led to her making her England debut against New Zealand in September, while left-arm seamer Tash Farrant’s re-emergence over the summer, having lost her central contract in 2019, gives England more attacking bowling options.

The fear has always been that the gap between international and domestic cricket is too big, and players have struggled to make the step up.

But the domestic standard has been steadily rising. It started with the Kia Super League and has improved year on year, and with The Hundred, players can get experiences of big crowds and larger venues before making their England bow.

England’s World Cup defence could be bumpy

Although England ended their summer with victories in both their ODI series, it has not been the smoothest ride.

There are still questions over the batting. Against New Zealand they collapsed to 145-9, 59-6 and 71-3 before some tail-end performances and a brilliant innings by Heather Knight rescued them.

They have also been bowled out in the five of the six ODIs where they have batted first, although New Zealand often let them off the hook during these collapses. It is hard to see sides like Australia and South Africa, who are full of confidence, letting them get away with these stop-start innings.

But there are undoubtedly positives. Kate Cross’ superb form with the ball has brought 15 wickets in her seven ODIs this summer, and has established her as England’s go-to first-change bowler.

Danni Wyatt looks more settled batting at seven, a position that gives her licence to just go out and play her shots, and Knight, somehow, is improving even more as a white-ball batter.

The talent is there – and it is important to remember that the New Zealand matches came at the end of the longest season in which the majority of these players have ever participated. England could still defend their World Cup title in New Zealand in March and April, but it will not be easy.

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