England’s women completed a successful international summer last week, adding a comfortable series win against New Zealand to their earlier victories over South Africa in the ODIs and both teams in the inaugural T20 triangular series.
And now attention turns to the domestic front, with the return of an expanded Kia Super League – a competition whose future may be in some doubt as the ECB debates the sport’s post-2020 landscape, but whose importance in the immediate future could hardly be more relevant.
After all, England, World Cup winners in the 50-over format last year, have a World T20 to prepare for in November, and for several fringe members of the squad – not to mention the star names who will want to hit the Caribbean with form and confidence brimming over – the events of the coming weeks will be critical to their preparation.
The KSL, now in its third season, kicks off on Sunday with a televised opening match between the champions Western Storm and Yorkshire Diamonds at Taunton. On the same day, there is an early meeting of the other two finalists from 2017 when Surrey Stars take on Southern Vipers at Guildford, while at Southport, Lancashire Thunder host Loughborough Lightning.
“What an opportunity it is for those on the fringes,” England head coach, Mark Robinson, said. “Every squad is full of world-class players – people you can learn from, look up to in a way and soak up their knowledge. It’s not for me to make a prediction on who’s going to win but I’m really looking forward to the tournament.”
In a bid to improve the competitiveness of the six teams, Robinson instigated a rejig ahead of this edition, most notably with Tammy Beaumont switching from Surrey to the Vipers, and Sarah Taylor heading from the Thunder to take her place.
“The teams have changed a bit this year and all look as if they’ve got a good chance. We have moved some of our better players around to give them the best opportunity to express themselves. It can be hard for a young batter coming in at seven or eight in a T20 in a team where the top order is full of world-class players to make much of an impression. The same applies to our young bowlers, they need as many opportunities as possible to bowl in pressure situations and more games hopefully allows them that.”
One batter in particular who has plenty to prove in the coming contests is the Yorkshire Diamonds captain, Lauren Winfield, a World Cup winner last year, but who has been pushed to the margins in the past few months, with Amy Jones being given the opportunity to partner Beaumont at the top of the order.
After a brief innings at No. 7 in the first ODI against New Zealand, Winfield was given a chance to make a mark when she came in at No. 3 in the dead-rubber third game, but made just 5 from nine balls before holing out to deep midwicket. However, the KSL – with its expansion to ten group games instead of five – will give her ample opportunity to find form against quality opposition.
“I’ve had a bit of a dry time with runs and opportunity for England,” Winfield said. “This summer I’ve felt I’ve been playing really well, but there’s just no gap to get into that line-up. T20 isn’t something I’ve played a lot of internationally, so 10 games is a fantastic opportunity to expose myself in this format looking ahead to the World Cup in the Caribbean.”
“I think expanding the competition is such a good idea,” Robinson said. “Western Storm won last year because they played the better cricket at Finals Day but it can be difficult to judge a team over five games, because you might lose a game or two to the weather.
“It helps all our England-qualified players, even the experienced ones because if a team doesn’t get going in the first couple of games they still have enough opportunities for their quality to come through. They don’t have to go chasing form if you know what I mean.”
Another player who hopes to benefit from the expanded exposure is Kate Cross, the Lancashire Thunder seamer who feared she might never play for England again when she took time away from the game in 2016, a move that affecting her chances of featuring in last year’s World Cup.
However, Cross returned to England colours during the New Zealand series – a call-up that she said “felt like I made my debut all over again”.
“I’m going into this Super League in a good place,” Cross said. “We’ve also got a World Cup around the corner, and I think I’m going to go back to Australia this winter to play domestic cricket.
“There’s a lot for me to look forward to.”
With input from ECB Reporters Network