On Wednesday morning, the ECB announced an ambitious 2023 Women’s Ashes fixture list, which includes maiden visits to Lord’s, the Oval and Edgbaston; and a five-day Test at Trent Bridge. It is a schedule designed to reflect the apparent preeminence of England and Australia in global women’s cricket: these two teams are the ones who are worth showing up for. By the evening, Harmanpreet Kaur had enjoyed ripping that assumption up into tiny shreds and placing it in a metaphorical wastepaper basket.
In a series-sealing performance at Canterbury, the India captain struck an imperious 143 not out from 111 balls as India stacked up a total of 333 for five – the second highest ever against England in ODIs. Kaur sealed the deal by running out local hero Tammy Beaumont in the second over of England’s chase with a direct hit from mid-on.
“It wasn’t an easy wicket to bat on,” Kaur said. “I didn’t try too many shots, too many things, just kept it very simple.”
England stumbled to 47 for three inside the powerplay – Renuka Singh Thakur (four for 53) picking up Sophia Dunkley and Emma Lamb cheaply – and though a half-century from Danni Wyatt at No 5 offered some resistance, Thakur returned in the 30th over and broke through her defences. England clung on until the 45th over but were finally bowled out for 245, falling to their first series defeat at home to a side other than Australia since 2007.
England had looked to bolster their bowling by bringing in Lauren Bell and the left-armer Freya Kemp, who received her ODI cap from Wyatt before play. But the two young seamers were both left bruised by the Kaur onslaught. Bell conceded an England ODI record of 79 runs from her 10 overs, until Kemp went on to “better” it minutes later, conceding 82.
“It’s been tough,” the stand-in captain Amy Jones admitted, after being reluctantly cast in the role in the absence of Heather Knight. “It’s been very new. In 50-over cricket, it’s something I’ve not done before. There’s a lot longer to make decisions.
“After the second drinks break, they put us under a lot of pressure and found the boundary quite often. It was very tricky to bowl at.”
Strangely, the option to bring the off-spin of Lamb into play was ignored, despite the fact that Charlie Dean was England’s most economical bowler. After asking India to bat first, Kate Cross, opening up from the pavilion end in her 50th ODI, had clean bowled Shafali Verma with her third ball. But Smriti Mandhana and Yastika Bhatia took up where they had left off in the first ODI, sharing another half-century partnership. Along the way, Mandhana became the third Indian (after Mithali Raj and Kaur herself) to bring up 3,000 ODI runs.
Bhatia was caught and bowled by Dean for 26, and while the Decision Review System was only intermittently functional, it managed to make an appearance for long enough to demonstrate that Mandhana was indeed LBW to Sophie Ecclestone in the 20th over. From there, though, Kaur and Harleen Deol (58 from 72) steadied the ship with a 113-run partnership for the fourth wicket; before Kaur ensured the innings ended with a bang. In the final three overs 62 runs were scored as Kaur - having brought up her century at exactly a run a ball in the 47th – took just 11 more deliveries to add a further 43.
“England have a very good batting lineup, and we knew if we scored 300 that may be chaseable,” Kaur said. “That’s why in the last five or six overs we were looking at maximum runs. Whoever was coming to bat with me I was giving them that message - if they can look for boundaries it’s fine, otherwise we have to keep rotating the strike.”
Without the experience of Knight and Nat Sciver this was always going to be a tricky series for England to navigate. Even so, none of this bodes well for next year’s big-arena Ashes series. In that time, England have to negotiate the blooding of a new coach, and hope that Knight returns fit as a fiddle - seeing as no one else seems to want the captaincy hot potato. It could be an interesting nine months.