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World T20: Sciver’s all-round talents even more vital to England without Brunt

The Guardian logo The Guardian 09/11/2018 Raf Nicholson in St Lucia
a baseball player pitching a ball on a field: Nat Sciver plays an important role in a squad dominated by spinners. © ProSports/REX/Shutterstock Nat Sciver plays an important role in a squad dominated by spinners.

The last time England played Sri Lanka in a major tournament opener, at the 2013 World Cup, they lost in embarrassing fashion to the tournament’s bottom-ranked team. Five years on, as they gear up for their opening game against the same opposition in St Lucia on Saturday, this time in a World T20, they will be hoping to avoid a similar fate.

This time around, the personnel look rather different. Of England’s 15-strong squad, eight did not play in the last World T20 in 2016, and the batter Sophia Dunkley and left-arm spinners Kirstie Gordon and Linsey Smith have never worn an England shirt.

In particular, England will feel the loss of their world-class wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor, who is staying at home in an effort to manage her anxiety condition and Katherine Brunt, the allrounder who has been ruled out the tournament after scans confirmed a flare-up of her long-standing back problem would not allow her to participate.

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Brunt will be replaced by the Middlesex batter Fran Wilson, who will not arrive in time for the opening match, but given that the pitches in St Lucia are expected to suit pace, Brunt’s departure is a significant blow. Moreover, Taylor’s reserve, Amy Jones, may be almost equally as deft but has yet to prove herself with the bat in the shortest form, with a highest score of 30 to her name.

England are the 50-over champions and ranked third in T20, so go into the tournament as strong contenders but much will hang on the performance of their batters. In June, against South Africa at Taunton, the world record total in women’s T20s was broken twice in the same day: women’s T20 cricket is rapidly becoming a batter’s game. England will take heart from that performance, in which they reached 250 for three, thanks to a 47-ball century from Tammy Beaumont. Her opening partner Danni Wyatt has also flourished of late, having hit two T20 centuries in the past 12 months and the Wisden cricketer of the year, Nat Sciver, has also been in fine form, leading Surrey Stars to victory in the Kia Super League.

Given Brunt’s absence Sciver, the all-rounder who took 10 wickets in the KSL with her medium pace, is also likely to play an important role with the ball in a squad dominated by spinners. The loss of Brunt may open the way for either Gordon or Smith to make their debut, with the coach Mark Robinson hoping his surfeit of left-arm spinners – the 19-year-old Sophie Ecclestone makes up the trio – will make up for any failings in the fast-bowling department.

“We’ve got a bit of a union going on,” Ecclestone said. “We help each other out in training with field settings and general left-arm spinner chat.”

England are somewhat fortunate in that they have been drawn in the relatively easy Group A, alongside West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Australia, New Zealand and India (plus Pakistan and Ireland) make up Group B, with their matches taking place in Guyana. England’s biggest group challenge looks to be against the defending champions, West Indies, who dismissed them for 116 in their warm-up, winning by five wickets.

Should England top the group they are likely to face New Zealand at the semi-final stage in Antigua. While the Kiwis sit above them in the rankings, England’s utter dominance over them in the summer, culminating in a seven-wicket win in the Tri-series final, should leave them confident of victory. A bigger concern will be ensuring they avoid a semi-final against Australia and thus any chance of a repeat of their 2016 WWT20 encounter in India, whereby they collapsed horribly and lost by five runs.

As three-times champions and the No 1 ranked side, Australia pose a formidable threat. With a batting lineup so long the Guardian’s top-rated female cricketer of 2018, Ellyse Perry, features only at No 7, it is easy to see why they are the favourites. Their bowling unit is also threatening, with the young left-arm spinner Sophie Molineux, who finished as leading wicket-taker in their whitewash of Pakistan last month, looking to make her name during the tournament.

All 23 matches will be broadcast live, with the decision review system in use for the first time at a T20 World Cup. The standalone tournament, the first of its kind, should be another step forward for the women’s game.

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