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Tougher Challenges Ahead For England After Dream Start Under Jon Lewis

The England head coach, Jon Lewis, will have been able to rest easy over his turkey and mince pies after his opening tour in charge concluded last week with a clean-sweep against West Indies in three one-day internationals and five Twenty20s – including wiping them out for 43 in the final match, their lowest total in T20 internationals.

With Heather Knight (hip injury) and Nat Sciver (mental health break) both making successful returns, it has proved a dream first assignment for Lewis. England are back to winning ways after the disappointment of a medal-less Commonwealth Games and a 3-0 ODI defeat against India in September; while Knight has been effusive about the psychological impact of the new coach on her team.

“I’m really enjoying working with Jon,” she said. “He’s come from the men’s game, which brings a fresh pair of eyes. Often when someone comes from the men’s game, they see things slightly differently – they don’t know as much about the women’s game, but they also bring a fresh perspective and fresh ideas, which has reinvigorated the group.”

On the other hand, this West Indies team are a shadow of the side which won the T20 World Cup in 2016. Far more formidable challenges lie ahead for England in 2023 – a T20 World Cup in South Africa in February will be followed by an Ashes series starting in June.

Lewis, who has focused on encouraging the team to play “fearlessly”, says that holding on to that approach will be key to success in 2023. “When the pressure ramps up and you get bigger games, and you are put under more pressure by the opposition, the ability to trust that the way that we’re trying to play our cricket will work – that’s the biggest challenge.”

With West Indies bowled out for 165, 118 and 105 in the three ODIs, and looking poor in the field to boot, the tour above all else has laid bare the glaring gap between the haves and the have-nots in international women’s cricket. England are the second-best resourced side in the world; by February, there will be almost 100 female professional cricketers in this country. Meanwhile West Indies have no domestic professionals, and are struggling to retain their best talent at the highest level. The leading all-rounder Deandra Dottin announced her retirement from international cricket in August, preferring to ply her trade in franchise leagues around the world.

Jon Lewis says the biggest challenge for England will be to ‘trust that the way we’re trying to play will work’ in pressurised situations. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PAIf this is a vision of the future, it is a worrying one which could lead to more one-sided encounters similar to the one we have just witnessed in the Caribbean. For England, who have no matches scheduled before the World Cup in February, the more immediate risk is that they go into that tournament under-baked. “We haven’t massively been challenged, which is a bit of a shame,” Knight said. “In terms of growing as a side, you always want to be under pressure because it sharpens you up.”

By contrast, England’s most dangerous rivals in the World Cup – India and Australia – have recently concluded a fiercely competitive T20 series in which both sides regularly scored more than 180; albeit on better batting wickets than England have enjoyed in Antigua and Barbados.

One player who will be critical to Lewis’s plans for 2023 is Alice Capsey who embodies the aggressive outlook he is trying to promote. England will be desperate for her to return in time for the World Cup, after she sustained a broken collarbone in the field during the first ODI and subsequently underwent shoulder reconstruction surgery. “It’s going to be quite tight [to get her fit],” Knight said.

The 17-year-old fast bowler Freya Kemp was also sent home mid-tour and has been ruled out of the World Cup with a confirmed stress fracture in her back, while Issy Wong played just one game because of a quad niggle. But Lewis is confident nonetheless that his fast-bowling stocks are overflowing, ahead of a tournament which is likely to be played on fast, bouncy wickets.

“The fast bowling group is probably the trickiest one to select,” he said. “Katherine [Brunt] has done fantastically well on the tour. She’s been a real leader, she’s been great sharing her knowledge around the group. Lauren [Bell] has had a really good tour.”

Bell, who had played just two T20 internationals before the Caribbean tour, was tasked with opening the bowling alongside Brunt in three of the T20s and claimed a career-best four for 12 in the third. Her prodigious swing means she is seen by England as the natural successor to Anya Shrubsole and it would be surprising if she did not feature in Lewis’s starting XI when England next take to the field.

That will be for their opening World Cup fixture, on 11 February. While the stakes will be higher, the opposition will be familiar – they are scheduled to play West Indies.

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