England start favourites as New Zealand look to Smash Sisters for inspiration

England celebrate a wicket © Getty Images

17 years ago, England and New Zealand played the first ever T20 international when they met in Hove in August 2004. Since then, the shortest format has caught up the imagination of everyone and has been one of the driving forces behind the popularity of women’s cricket. Now England will be facing New Zealand again in the format immediately after the introduction of a new form of cricket in The Hundred that grabbed lot of eyeballs.

England have always been a very good T20I side but they are on a high in the format with some impressive performances since their rain-affected exit from the T20 World Cup 2020 in Australia last year. They are now five points behind the table toppers and world champions Australia in the ICC team rankings. They have lost only one T20I since the world event having whitewashed West Indies 5-0 at home before repeating the same against New Zealand away with a 3-0 win and claimed the multi-format series and T20I cup against India with a 2-1 win in the last series they played.

New Zealand on the other hand haven’t had a great time in the either of the shorter formats. After their first-round exit from the T20 World Cup, they suffered a series loss against their Trans-Tasman rivals at away and before getting whitewashed by England at home. Rain helped them level the last series they played 1-1 when they faced Australia at home.

But none of those these things would matter when England take on New Zealand in Chelmsford on September 1. New Zealand are bolstered by the return of their talismanic skipper Sophie Devine – having taken a mental health break – and their veteran batter Suzie Bates. Amy Satterthwaite, the third member of the experienced trio, is happy to see the return of Devine and Bates as she hopes New Zealand to turn the tide in limited over cricket.

“It’s been awesome to have Suze back in the group. I think we forget in a way how much energy she brings to this team,” Satterthwaite said. “It’s not just what she brings on the field but the energy and the standards that she sets as a player and an athlete on and off the field and at training. It’s lifted us as a group up another level.”

ALSO READ: Grandmaster Leigh Kasperek

“Soph as well, we all know what a world-class player she is and to see her back amongst the group and in a really good space and again hitting the ball really well. I’m excited to hopefully see the three of us be able to form some big combinations.”

While the return of Devine and Bates along with pacer Lea Tahuhu will help the side they will miss the all-round abilities of Amelia Kerr as the 20-year-old opted out of the tour to take care of her mental health and well-being.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to probably have our full-strength side together for a while and get those combinations going and it’s no excuse as to why we haven’t then performed, but I think more importantly the exciting thing for me is that we have got all of us here, obviously bar Amelia for this trip, and to think that we can hopefully get back together and put some performances on the park that we have in the past and know that we’re capable of,” Satterthwaite added.

In the absence of Amelia, wily Leigh Kasperek will take charge of the spin attack with Jess Kerr, Tahuhu forming the pace group along with uncapped Claudia Green and Molly Penfold, who replaced injured Rosemary Mair in the squad. While their bowlers haven’t faltered largely in recent times, it’s the top-order batting that let down New Zealand in recent times. They will be hoping for the “three wise women” to come good when they get into the field against England.

On the other hand, England seem to have a problem of plenty as far as their line-up is concerned. Their batting is pretty much sorted that Sophia Dunkley, one of the stars of The Hundred batting at three for runners-up Southern Brave, won’t be able to get into the top four and will be playing the role of a finisher as she did against India.

ALSO READ: England series a stepping stone of a pillar towards the World Cup: Sophie Devine

“It is quite a hard line-up to get into. It’s (about) trying to focus on what I’m doing and score as many runs as possible and hopefully put my hat in the ring to be in that top four further down the line,” Dunkley said.

Tammy Beaumont, Danielle Wyatt, Natalie Sciver, Heather Knight and Amy Jones will form the top five with Dunkley best placed to take the number six spot. In the bowling, Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole will continue their opening pace combination while Sophie Ecclestone will lead the spin attack.

England have called up off-spinner Charlie Dean and batter Maia Bouchier but both won’t be available till the second T20I on account of being identified as potential close contacts according to COVID-19 protocols. Emma Lamb has been called up to the squad in their absence but the allrounder is unlikely to get a game with the hosts are expected to go with their regular line-up.

Can the Smash Sisters inspire New Zealand to start the series on a winning note or will England continue their good recent form? All eyes will be glued to Chelmsford with Heather Knight – playing in her 200th match for England – and Co hoping the success of The Hundred transpires into more eyeballs whenever they play from now on.

“Hopefully it’s given people a good insight into women’s cricket and how good it is. It was an exciting competition and we hope that’s drawn a lot more people in,” Dunkley added.

England: Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver, Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Freya Davies, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Natasha Farrant, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Anya Shrubsole, Mady Villiers, Danielle Wyatt, Emma Lamb (1st T20I) Maia Bouchier, Charlie Dean (From 2nd T20I)

New Zealand: Sophie Devine (c), Amy Satterthwaite, Suzie Bates, Lauren Down, Claudia Green, Maddy Green, Brooke Halliday, Hayley Jensen, Jess Kerr, Katey Martin (wk), Leigh Kasperek, Molly Penfold, Jessica McFadyen (wk), Thamsyn Newton, Hannah Rowe, Lea Tahuhu