Fran Wilson prepares for exciting year ahead
Fran Wilson has her sights set firmly on this week’s Test match against India and the white ball series to follow. But there is another landmark game ahead for the England and Sunrisers batter in what is a momentous summer for English cricket. The sport’s newest format, The Hundred, gets underway with a women’s match at south London’s iconic Oval venue next month. It’s a first for any major UK sporting competition.
That historic fixture on 21 July sees Wilson’s Oval Invincibles take on Manchester Originals. They are two of eight brand new teams from seven cities, with the men’s and women’s competitions taking place side by side.
Meanwhile the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, the new professional domestic competition is in its first full season. Not to mention England’s World Cup defence in New Zealand this winter, an Ashes tour and a Commonwealth Games to look forward to over the next 12 months.
Wilson says she could not have imagined such opportunities growing up.
“The Hundred is a really, really cool event, and I’m just really excited to get going,” she told Women’s CricZone. “It’s hopefully a format which can be really friendly towards younger kids. So, it’s very exciting for everyone involved.”
“The fact that we’re headlining is a really, really big step. Just for the tournament, to kind of be moving towards being equal, is a really, really good step for the game.”
“I’m looking forward to supporting our male counterparts and being one team. So yeah, it’s a really good step in the right direction. It will be a really exciting day, and a once-in-a-lifetime thing to be involved in.”
“I guess when I was growing up, I couldn’t have even thought that we’d be playing a new format of cricket and be playing in front of 20,000 people headlining a new tournament. So that is quite amazing to think about. We feel very, very lucky.”
Wilson, who has an England central contract, plays her domestic cricket with Sunrisers. The new regional team which represents London and the East of England has awarded five full-time professional domestic contracts which allows players to train all year round, as well as a number of summer deals.
“It’s something the game has needed for a long time is that strong domestic structure, which is where we’re moving towards now. That alongside the Hundred can give players opportunities to show what they can do,” said the middle-order batter.
“It’s going to create competition, which can only be good for England cricket. So, yes, it’s definitely moving in the right direction. And it’s pretty cool to be part of.”
She believes that further steps are needed though to allow the new professional players to pursue their careers fully.
“I think you’ll probably find that a lot of the teams maybe don’t have like a base because they’re new and they’re using men’s facilities.
“So, I think that’s the next step, is how can we give these women’s teams a proper base? That’s so important because the girls need to be able to move and relocate to their team. Otherwise, they’re just driving around everywhere. So, it’s amazing that players can train all year around, but the next step definitely is creating those bases where people can relocate and actually have a life whilst playing cricket.”
Opportunities to play professional cricket at a regional level – in addition to county cricket, the Hundred and England matches – mean female cricketers can now play cricket across a full season for the first time.
Wilson says that’s crucial if players are to develop further.
“In the women’s game we’ve just not played enough cricket. In order to improve you need to be exposed to different situations, different games, different opponents. So, it’s essential we’re playing more cricket.
“If you look at the men’s game you can see how many matches they play, and we don’t play anything near that. So, with all the increased competitions, it’s just a great opportunity for all of us to play more and learn and get better really. It’s very exciting.”
Wilson is currently with the England squad in Bristol ahead of Wednesday’s one-off Test against India. If she is selected in the final XI, it will be her first Test since her debut against Australia at North Sydney Oval in November 2017.
“My debut was quite a while ago now, but it was a great experience to be part of a Test match. They don’t come around very often, so it’s always an honour to get on the pitch,” she says.
“We’ve got India [this week]. It’s pretty unusual, we don’t play much red-ball cricket. So, that will be really exciting to play in that and just to be playing international cricket again on home soil.”
“Last year was obviously in a bubble, so hopefully we can get some fans at the games. It’s just exciting to be part of England cricket at the moment. Obviously, we’ve got a big winter coming up as well and it’s really important that we start our momentum now for that World Cup and for the Ashes.”
Despite that busy winter schedule, which also includes a tour of Pakistan in October, Wilson warns that it’s important not to think too far ahead.
“I guess every international game you just look to go out and win and every series you want to win, or just play well.”
“So, yeah, not looking too far ahead, not getting too far ahead of ourselves is really important. Because India and New Zealand (England’s other opponents this summer) are very, very good teams, and it will take a lot to beat them over here.”
She takes satisfaction in the progress she made during her winter training programme which culminated in England’s tour of New Zealand.
“I’m really pleased with where I’m at. I did a lot of hard work over the winter in areas that I wanted to improve at, so yeah, my game’s in a really, really good place.”
“I think now it’s just getting out there and doing it in the middle consistently. But most of all I’m just enjoying it and not taking everything too seriously, just getting out there and playing, which is a really nice place to be really.”
Batting behind such a strong England top order often means limited opportunities to show what she can do. Of the four games she played in New Zealand, she batted just twice, top scoring in the T20I at Wellington with an unbeaten 31 which ultimately put the match out of the home team’s grasp.
While Wilson admits that she would like to get more opportunities, she is realistic about her role in the team.
“Obviously, I’m a batter, so I want to bat as high as possible and I want to get as much opportunity as possible. But yeah, there’s not a lot I can control other than just try and score as many runs in the way that I need to score the runs.
“So yeah, there’s not loads I can do about it other than just play and enjoy my cricket and score some runs at a good strike rate and hopefully they’ll bump me up a little bit.”
Within the domestic circuit, Wilson’s team Sunrisers, have yet to get a win under their belt, but she believes there is a lot of talent in their ranks.
“We’re a pretty inexperienced team. Obviously, we weren’t in the KSL like the other teams. But I don’t think we’re too far away from where we should be really.”
“I think it’s just a matter of fact that other teams have more experience in their line-up. So, it’s just about coming back to us to keep learning, keep looking to improve and that inexperience in our team will develop and will learn and will get better and better.”
“So yeah, it’s really exciting place to be, just because there’s so much potential there. And just about not getting too far ahead of ourselves and just working hard, really.”
Wilson has been hugely impressed with the progress made by Sunrisers allrounder Naomi Dattani, one of the team’s five contracted players.
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“She’s always been a really handy player. But she’s come into this season, seems to be just enjoying her cricket. She’s running in fast, left arm quick, and hits the ball really hard as well.
“It’s really nice to see Naomi playing so well and enjoying her cricket and being a really key member of our side. So, I’m really excited by her and hopefully, she can carry on doing what she’s doing.”
At a recent launch event for the Hundred, Wilson, Heather Knight, Mady Villiers and Cordelia Griffith were joined by 100 children taking part in the ECB’s new Dynamos Cricket initiative, a new participation programme for 8-11-year-olds of all abilities. The youngsters will be playing a fast-paced game of countdown cricket designed to mirror The Hundred.
“They were great,” smiles Wilson. “They just love playing, they just loving being out there. It would be really good just to inspire boys and girls, to get into cricket and just play. Especially after the last couple of years with COVID, it’s a great opportunity for kids to play a new format and get outside.”
Personally, she is trying not to overthink the tactics needed in the new format.
“At the end of the day it is cricket and I think a lot of it will be just being out there and reacting to what’s in front of you.
“Strategies 100 per cent will come up. I think it’s going to be almost us learning on the job a little bit, which is part of the excitement of the tournament really. A lot of it is just about trusting your instincts and kind of learning as you go, which is really exciting.”