Emma Lamb a possible solution to long term pain point for England

Emma Lamb scored a hundred in the opening ODI against South Africa. © Getty Images

During the final of the Cricket World Cup on April 3, immediately after the toss, broadcasters displayed a graphic that showed the average opening stands by all the teams. Unsurprisingly, Australia topped the list with 63.87, while England, the defending Champions, were last with 12.50. If there were any doubts about the helplessness of their opening stand, a 12 run opening stand in the final sealed their fate.

After many experiments and shuffles in the batting order, England’s search for the opening partner for Tammy Beaumont led to more questions than answers. Emma Lamb’s recent success against South Africa might lead the team management to a long-term solution.

Since winning the World Cup in 2017, England have used four opening pairs in 51 innings, with Tammy Beaumont being the constant. When the then number one ranked side went to Australia to regain the Ashes, they stuck with their opening pair from the World Cup, Beaumont and Lauren Winfield-Hill. The pair scored 47 runs in the opening game but could not continue the momentum in the remaining ODIs. 

By the time England landed on Indian shores in 2018, Heather Knight’s team had a brand new opening pair in Beaumont and Danielle Wyatt. The duo showed some promise with two 50+ partnerships, but India bagged the series 2-1. The Beaumont-Wyatt experiment only lasted for a series against India as Beaumont was partnered with wicketkeeper Amy Jones starting with the home series against South Africa. 

The Beaumont-Jones trial run lasted longer than anticipated, and England witnessed their first century opening partnership in two years against New Zealand. The series against New Zealand exceeded the expectations as this budding partnership managed two century opening stands within a week. It felt like this duet was set to fine-tune the English batting line-up for years, but one flat series changed the composition all over again for the World Cup champions. 

Despite providing the batting order unprecedented stability at the top with their consistency, the opening pair could not crack the code against Australia in the Women’s Ashes. In the clean sweep at home, the openers were helpless as England’s highest opening partnership was only seven. In the aftermath of the 12-4 loss to their closest rivals, coach Mark Robinson bid adieu to the team, and that was the end of another experiment.

ALSO READ: Katherine Brunt: Ageing like fine wine in twilight of her career

After 18 innings and 942 runs at an average of 52.33, interim head coach, Ali Maiden, broke the partnership and trusted Wyatt to support Beaumont. After the gloom and doom of the Ashes, the change of scenery against Pakistan led to their highest opening partnership of the last World Cup cycle. In Kuala Lumpur, Wyatt and Beaumont scored a ton each en route to a mammoth partnership of 188. 

The forced pandemic break due to COVID-19 delayed the ODI take over by head coach Lisa Keightley. When she finally took charge of the ODI side, with the World Cup less than a year away, Keightley backed Wyatt, the opener, despite her lack of form at the top. “When Dan (Wyatt) is going, with Dan and Tammy up the front, it will be a really exciting time when that happens and I’m backing them in that we’ll see that throughout the summer,” Keightley told media after England bagged the ODI leg of the series against New Zealand.

“Dan up front, I’m really confident she’s a player who can take on teams and that’s what we want. We want her to be able to play free-flowing cricket and take it to teams and I’m really confident that she’ll come good in this [ODI] format,” she reassured. 

Four months after those supportive words from the head coach, England faced India at home in an ODI series without Wyatt in the squad. With the first match of their title defense just months away, England went back to the pair that won them the World Cup. Beaumont continued to score runs aplenty, but the support from the other end was lacking again as the duo went past 50 runs only twice in the eight innings they played in 2021. 

Even with the below-par performances, England faced Australia with the same opening pair and expected a different result. Beaumont, who was churning out some decent numbers without much support from the other end, could not continue to do the same in the Ashes. With opening scores of 10 and 11 in the first two ODIs and the multi-format series long gone, England had to hit the panic button. 

Emma Lamb made her international debut when England were mere 25 days from facing Australia in their opening match at the World Cup. Her debut innings lasted for just two balls as a cracker of a delivery from Ellyse Perry uprooted her middle stump. The out-of-the-blue Beaumont-Lamb experiment received a setback minutes after its initial release. 

Panic escalated quickly when the defending champions lost the first three matches of the tournament in New Zealand. Two innings into the World Cup, Wyatt was pushed up the order with Beaumont, who was slowly gaining her mojo back. These two could not give England the blistering start they were expected to provide, but England weathered that glitch to reach the final. 

With a new and shorter World Cup cycle, every team has the opportunity to start with a clean slate. England has decided to utilize the power-hitting of Wyatt in the middle-overs and in Lamb, they have found another partner for Beaumont. Despite the chopping and changing around her, no other opener has scored more runs than Beaumont between August 2017 and February 2022. England need that reliable opening partner for Beaumont to make the expected impact at the top and take the additional weight off the shoulders of Knight and Natalie Sciver. 

Lamb’s first century in just her second innings for England should give the team management enough confidence to stick with her for some time. Her numbers in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and Charlotte Edwards Cup back up what was on display at the County Ground in Northampton. It is too early to determine England’s opening pair for the next World Cup, but for now, the doubts around Tammy Beaumont’s potential opening partner are silenced by Lamb.