England women 'aren't fit enough' says coach
Mark Robinson, the head coach of the England women's team, has blamed their five-run defeat against Australia in the World T20 semi-final on the squad's poor standards of fitness, and has challenged his players to improve their running between the wickets in particular, after falling short in yet another major global tournament.
Speaking alongside England's beaten captain, Charlotte Edwards, at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, Robinson said that the defeat was still too raw to contemplate its full implications. However, he exonerated Edwards herself from any criticism, saying that he needed "a few more warriors like the captain" to take the team to the next level.
"We lost by five runs," said Robinson. "There's nothing between these two teams. But we've got to get fitter. We're not fit enough. They out-ran us.
"Athleticism is something you are given by God, but aerobic fitness is something we've got to get better," he added. "We missed out on twos, and we've lost by one boundary. We've got to change our mindset a bit, and toughen up a bit."
Not for the first time this tournament, England appeared to be cruising to victory while Edwards and Tammy Beaumont were adding 67 for the first wicket in the space of ten overs. But a familiar middle-order wobble left them with too much ground to make up in the closing overs, as they drifted out to 117 for 7.
"Both teams got to similar stages," said Robinson. "Both teams struggled to get boundaries in the end. It was all about the first 10 overs. The batting will get all the attention but, with big boundaries, slowish bowlers and no one in front of the wicket, it's hard to find the boundaries."
Since his appointment last summer, Robinson has focused on adding new levels of aggression to England's batting, which manifested itself in the only three sixes of the day, from Beaumont, Sarah Taylor and Katherine Brunt. However, his call for "360 degree" batting proved less successful, with Taylor in particular guilty of a limp dismissal off an attempted reverse-sweep.
Robinson, however, reiterated his original point in defence of such attempts at innovation.
"It was a bit of a problem because we couldn't run our twos," he said. "It was a catch-22 because, if you can't get past the boundary and you can't run twos, you're starting to struggle a bit. But we hit six sixes in the tournament, so I know they're going in the right direction.
"There's a lot of potential in the group," he added. "A lot of girls with a lot to offer, we've got to give them belief and stick with the right players as well and accept there will be some bumps. But we've got to push them and extend them as well, because there's a lot more in the tank."
Though Edwards' place is hardly under scrutiny given her form in the tournament, her 10-year role as captain may yet come under review. Likewise, the place of veteran players such as Lydia Greenway, who played in the 2005 Ashes win, and Jenny Gunn may have to be called into question if the team is to evolve in time for the 2017 World Cup on home soil.
"We're 45 minutes after losing a semi-final by a boundary," said Robinson. "It's too early to get into those situations. You've got to make sure your base is big enough, you've got players to come in, There needs to be competition.
"We're looking for players who can stand up and be counted, and play under the pressure, and have the aerobic fitness to do the job necessary. That will be a necessity for any women's team going forward.
"We need more players like the captain," he added. "She's led fantastically well over the years. She's got a fierceness inside her to keep improving and keep scoring runs. That's something you want in all your players."
Edwards herself reiterated her desire to continue as England captain. "Absolutely," she said. "I've been challenged pretty hard to expand my game and I feel I'm playing as well as I ever have done. Of course I want to keep captaining England. If I'm not the right person, it's not going to be my decision. But I love what I do and I hope to keep giving more to this group."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket