The glorious uncertainties of the Danielle Wyatt way

Danielle Wyatt © Getty Images

Danielle Wyatt is England’s most capped T20I player and only three players have played more T20I matches than her in the the women’s game. Since her debut against India in India in 2010, she has donned the England cap in the format 119 times. That’s 15 more than the next best, former allrounder Jenny Gunn. Wyatt has two centuries in the format – joint-most by any player in the world – and both of them came in successful chases.

Despite all the records, she isn’t spoken in the same high regard as some of the other prominent players of the format. Even in the current England side, Heather Knight and allrounder Natalie Sciver are spoken in much higher regard. Despite the experience, she isn’t considered as part of the leadership group. All these things are not without any reason; Wyatt can be highly fluctuating with her performances and that’s not just because of the format. Her easy-going nature sometimes can be mistaken for lack of seriousness to address her form issues. She has had a mixed bag of an ODI career as well so far. After reaching a career-high of scoring her maiden hundred against Pakistan in 2019, she had a miserable tour of New Zealand this year. She was subsequently dropped from the ODI squad for the India series.

When 30-year-old Wyatt returned for the T20I-leg of India’s tour, she must have been feeling some pressure. It wasn’t just to do with the omission from the ODI side but she went 18 T20Is without scoring a fifty in the format after having scored one in her 100th match. But that was way back in 2019 against Pakistan during England’s tour of Malaysia. Before the third T20I against India, she had only scored 214 runs at an average of 12.58 and a strike rate of 102.39 – both well below her career average of 20.43 and 123.40 – from 17 innings since January 2020. That phase included a tri-series and the T20 World Cup in Australia, a home series against West Indies, and the tour to New Zealand.

“Pressure” is a word casually thrown around in cricket without giving much thought to it. But in the case of Wyatt, she was under some pressure to perform in the decider against India at the County Ground in Chelmsford on Wednesday (July 15). Somewhere else in England, Emma Lamb is scoring a mountain of runs in domestic cricket and banging the door real hard. If Wyatt continued her poor form, Lauren Winfield-Hill – who opened the innings in ODIs – could potentially make a case for the slot in T20Is. England also have someone like Amy Jones in their line up, who could take up the job.

Given her erratic performances and England’s constant desire to be ruthless, not many would have batted an eyelid if they were to look past Wyatt after another failure. But Wyatt seems to have the trust of her skipper Knight, who spoke highly of her ability to give them fast starts. While others were considering her knock in the first match as a failure Knight saw it as something that worked as a foundation for their eventual huge score.

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“Wyatt is so important to us, particularly in T20 cricket. She played very well and did her job in the first T20I in Northants. She is a very big part of our T20 plans,” Knight said at the post-match media interaction after the third T20I.

“She has struggled a bit over the last year and a half or so and obviously missing out on that score. She has really knuckled down and worked really hard.”

Why is Wyatt so important to England when there are many others waiting in the wings? How many chances are too many? To answer this question, we go back to that number – her strike rate of 123.40 – again. It is the best for England (among those who played a minimum of 250 balls). But strike rate is nothing if you are not making it into your 20s and more alarmingly for Wyatt, her strike rate has been only 102.39 since the start of last year. So how do you come out of this slump? Do you slog your way out of it? Can you play a patient knock giving up your USP?

When England set out to chase 153 against India, all these questions had to wait. There was no time to think about these external factors, for Wyatt had an immediate task at hand. With a series win in sight, she had to provide the side with a confident start to make sure they banished the blues of the collapse that happened two days back in Hove on the face of another similar chase.

“We have always been really clear that we want her to go out and be aggressive and take on the teams,” Knight added. “She’s got that role for us at the top of the order. We wanted her to be positive, aggressive and take the game away from teams like we know she can. She’s not going to come off every time.”

Come off she did and how!

Danielle Wyatt gets a pat from Heather Knight after her 89* against India in the third T20I. © Getty Images

Wyatt’s innings didn’t start in the usual trademark fashion nor did she give England a fast start in the first five overs. She also saw her in-form partner Tammy Beaumont depart for 11 off 15. With Sciver at number three, she was in good company. The newly crowned number one allrounder in the world started with a powerful cover drive and looked poised to do her job. But it was time for Wyatt to do her job or do more than her job and show why she belonged there.

In came Sneh Rana to bowl the last of the power play overs, Wyatt skipped down the track and whacked her over cover for a boundary. Rana fired the next ball fuller, Wyatt adjusted to guide it through third man for another four. The fifth ball of the over went over cover once again. Wyatt was back in her elements.

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But a new challenge arrived in the form of diminutive Poonam Yadav in the next over. Wyatt didn’t make it this far in the last match and her teammates struggled against Poonam that prompted Knight’s talk about players needing to have individual plans to counter the leg-spinner. Wyatt needed a plan and that plan is usually ‘attack.’ One of the ways batters have been countering Poonam in recent times was by staying back at the crease but Wyatt wanted none of those. She wore her dancing shoes on and slapped the bowler straight back over her head with all the power she could generate from her wrists to target the short straight boundary.

In the next over, Poonam came around the wicket, Wyatt stepped out again and was almost caught with a miscued shot. With another single from Sciver, Wyatt was back on strike and she swept one hard behind the square. She backed it up with another ferocious shot down the ground in a repeat of the shot from the previous over. Poonam’s figures read 2-0-23-0. Wyatt had taken down the main threat and it was only a matter of time for the England opener to feast on the rest of the bowlers from her favourite opponents.

There was no stopping Wyatt from that instance. She took on Radha Yadav and smashed her through long-off and raced through to her fifty off just 33 balls when she cut Shikha Pandey through point. She dabbed the next delivery through third man for another four. A loss seemed inevitable for India as the bowlers bled boundaries. Even the dismissal of Sciver didn’t give them any respite. With 13 needed off the last two overs, Wyatt got down on her knee and launched Deepti Sharma way over deep square-leg and swept the next one for four. Scores were levelled and deservingly, Wyatt scored the winning run with a single to mid-wicket. She finished unbeaten on 89 off 56, her third-highest score in the format. Fittingly Knight was there for company.

When the next series comes around, Wyatt might go on to score big, fast runs or go on another prolonged struggle. But when she comes off it’s a sight to behold and her teammates will certainly agree. Feast or famine, Wyatt way is the right way!

“I have always encouraged her to try and play her natural game and she has gone back to that brilliantly. To see her play like that tonight and to finish the game off, more importantly, was a massive boost for her and will give her the word of confidence,” Knight concluded about her mercurial opener’s ways.