England’s 17-strong extended squad for their return to women’s Test cricket, against India at Bristol, took more picking than most.
Head coach Lisa Keightley had spoken in the run-up to the announcement of its make-up about the challenges of picking a squad for a format England haven’t played for two years, in which so much has changed.
And clearly, the first three rounds of the 50-over Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy (RHFT) have influenced selection of batters and bowlers alike.
Sophia Dunkley has had quite the week, getting her first central contract and first Test call-up on consecutive days. She has sparkled in the RHFT for the South East Stars, with 104 not out from 93 balls at Chelmsford in week one and 92 (99) at the Oval on Saturday, and the ACE programme ambassador’s fluency and power could see her add a Test cap to her 15 T20Is.
But the headlines, and the social media stardust, belonged to uncapped and uncontracted Emily Arlott. She has powered the Central Sparks to the top of the table with eight wickets at just 15.12, capped by a brilliant hat-trick on Saturday that demonstrated her impressive ability to swing the ball into the right hander.
If she can do that with the white Kookaburra, imagine what she can do with the red that will be used at Bristol (England have chosen not to use the Duke so as to get familiar with the Kookaburra they’ll be wielding in the Ashes this winter).
Her Sparks opening partner Issy Wong had to have been close to selection, and was namechecked by captain Heather Knight for her pace and movement. Knight, classy opener Tammy Beaumont, keeper-batter Amy Jones, all-round powerhouse and new vice-captain Nat Sciver, the world’s best spinner Sophie Ecclestone and the dynamic duo of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole are, injuries permitting, certainties to start in what looks a strong England team.
With Danni Wyatt contracted but not selected, Knight has all but confirmed Lauren Winfield-Hill as Beaumont’s opening partner. Winfield-Hill’s recent form has been feast or famine, with an opening day hundred against the Sparks studding a run of low scores. The only thing the excellent Amy Jones has done wrong in her England career is not be Sarah Taylor.
Happily, Taylor has her anxiety sufficiently under control to feel comfortable playing county cricket and will be part of a scary-looking Welsh Fire top order alongside Beth Mooney and Meg Lanning in the Hundred, but she is not expected to return to international cricket.
Fran Wilson offers world-class fielding and lower-order power, while Georgia Elwiss, back in the England reckoning after two injury-bedevilled years, is a relative long-form veteran with three Tests.
Leg-spinner Sarah Glenn, also part of a stacked Sparks attack, seems the favourite if England want a second spinner, and would be making her Test debut. The other potential red-ball debutants are off-spinner Mady Villiers and seamers Tash Farrant and Freya Davies.
Farrant’s is an intriguing case. She didn’t manage to regain the England contract she lost in 2019, but acquitted herself well on her recall for the ODI series in New Zealand and has been dominant in the RHFT, where she captains the Stars, with figures of five for 33 in week one and four for 58 in week three.
She will compete for a seam-bowling berth with two players who did retain contracts in Kate Cross, who returns to the Test squad for the first time since 2015, and her Stars opening bowling partner Davies.
Left-arm seamer Katie George, who retained her England contract, is not in the squad, with her comeback from the latest of several back stress fractures being carefully managed. She did not tour New Zealand and has yet to play in this year’s RHFT.
The squad, extended to 17 to allow for Covid replacements and to give Knight and Keightley a chance to assess performance and tactical adaptation to red-ball training, will be cut before the Test to allow non-selected players a chance to play in the RHFT.
The four-day Test, which begins a multi-format series with a weighted points system that also includes three ODIs and three T20Is, starts on Friday June 18. While the direct clash with the men’s World Test Championship final is annoying for those of us who’d love to watch every ball of both, let us hope that, unlike the Wormsley and Taunton puddings of 2014 and 2019, Bristol serves up a pitch that can allow the players to show their stuff.
Openers: Tammy Beaumont (Lightning), Lauren Winfield-Hill (Northern Diamonds)
Batters Sophia Dunkley (South East Stars), Fran Wilson (Sunrisers), Heather Knight (Western Storm; captain)
Wicketkeeper Amy Jones (Central Sparks)
All-rounders Georgia Elwiss (Southern Vipers), Nat Sciver (Northern Diamonds; vice captain)
Spinners Sophie Ecclestone (Thunder), Sarah Glenn (Central Sparks), Mady Villiers (Sunrisers)
Seamers: Emily Arlott (Central Sparks), Katherine Brunt (Northern Diamonds), Kate Cross (Thunder), Freya Davies (South East Stars), Tash Farrant (South East Stars), Anya Shrubsole (Western Storm)