New blood means no resting on laurels for England's World Cup winners

Alice Davidson-Richards in action for Yorkshire Diamonds Getty Images

Sometimes new caps are like buses. You wait ages for one, and then three come along at once.

So it was today at Loughborough, as England Women's squad to tour India in the forthcoming ODI and T20 tri-series was announced, and not one but three new names appeared on the list: Hampshire's 18-year-old left-arm seamer Katie George; Bryony Smith, Surrey's 20-year-old opener; and Alice Davidson-Richards, the 23-year-old all-rounder who has represented Kent for eight years, four times winning the County Championship title, but whose name will still not fit on most scoreboards.

The man pulling the strings is of course coach Mark Robinson, who has plucked the three from county obscurity in a move that nobody - not least George, Smith and Davidson-Richards - was quite expecting.

George is fresh from completing her A levels. Davidson-Richards has a degree from the University of Leeds in Human Physiology, and works as a personal trainer. Smith is a secondary school teacher. These are players who one week were jobbing county amateurs (lest we forget, there is still almost no money to be made in English women's domestic cricket), and the next have had the possibility of a glittering career in international cricket dangled before their eyes.

"It's really weird," Davidson-Richards (known to her team mates as "ADR") said in the ensuing press conference. The three have spent the past two months up in Loughborough training almost full-time with the full England squad, something that is still alien to her: "It's such an odd concept that you train, and then you're done for the day."

It has been a marker of Robinson's tenure as coach that, unlike the previous incumbent, he is prepared to blood new players. Spinners Alex Hartley and Sophie Ecclestone have both made their debuts; Fran Wilson has been brought back in from the cold, after five years' absence from the international scene. All have experienced success, with Hartley and Wilson both integral to England's World Cup win last year.

And yet Robinson's selections, this time around, seem bolder; more unexpected.

Katie George, who debuted for Hampshire in 2013, has spent her entire county career playing in Divisions 2 and 3 of the Women's County Championship; in 38 matches for the county she has taken 32 wickets at a nothing-special (in women's county terms) economy rate of 3.59. Bryony Smith has represented Surrey for the last four seasons, since the age of 16. In that time she has hit 797 runs at an average of 17, with a highest score of 70. On paper, these numbers are far from spectacular.

Davidson-Richards' selection is in some ways the most surprising. Perhaps it shouldn't be, but given the dearth of career opportunities, 23 - in women's cricket terms - is old. Davidson-Richards was one of only a handful of players to survive a recent cull by Robinson of the Women's Senior Academy squad, in which several players of her generation lost out, including Georgia Adams (24), Eve Jones (25) and Sophie Luff (24).

"I definitely thought my time had passed me by," she admitted today. "When I finished university it was like, 'what am I going to do with my life? No idea!' I went and played for six months in Australia, enjoyed the game again, which is the important thing for me. And from there it's somehow got me to here!"

Then there is the fact that should Smith or Davidson-Richards make their debut in India - and with three ODIs and the potential of five tri-series matches (assuming England reach the final), the likelihood is that they will - either one would become the first batsman to debut for England in five years.

So why these three? And why now?

Robinson was, as ever, frank in his assessment: "We've got to address some areas that we haven't done very well in T20. The youngsters are there to wake a few people up. What we're doing at the moment isn't going to win you a World Cup, and we have to change that."

Smith, he suggests, "gives it a good hit"; Davidson-Richards - who bats at No.5 for Kent and Yorkshire Diamonds - offers "power down the order". For an England side which has struggled to acclimatise to the new era of women's T20, in which scores of 160-plus are the new norm, these are potentially crucial assets in what is, after all, a World Cup year.

Of Smith in particular he was clear that her role lay in attempting to answer the as-yet unsettled question of who might open alongside Danni Wyatt in the World T20 in November: "We haven't been able to find that partnership. Bryony will chuck herself into the ring as a potential opener."

His most effusive praise, though, was reserved for George, who he described as "a junior Katherine Brunt". Brunt herself will be missing the India tour with a back injury; and at 32 will in any case not be around forever. There is perhaps no better time to attempt to blood a possible replacement.

Another factor has been the importance of their ongoing performances in the Kia Super League, a competition which has helped expose players to the kind of high-level opposition which has sometimes been lacking from women's domestic cricket. George and Smith both shot to national attention during the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2016: George, at age 16, stood out in particular as being the youngest player to feature, yet still looked right at home in Vipers' world-class bowling attack. For Davidson-Richards her time came last season as, in front of the TV cameras at Headingley, she scored 22 not out and took 3 for 20 for Yorkshire Diamonds, securing the Player of the Match award.

"The KSL's fantastic," Robinson said. "Watching Katie George bowl [for Vipers] in last year's final, I absolutely loved it. She raced in, she bowled quick. She absolutely went round the park" - she bowled three overs and finished with figures of 1 for 34 - "but she kept running in fearlessly and bowling."

"Live on TV, 5000 people at Hove - what brilliant exposure. That wasn't a player shrinking, that was a player having a proper go, and that's what you want."

"And I watched Bryony Smith, again on TV, hit four consecutive fours against Katherine Brunt in that first year. And you're thinking - wow, she's taking on the big girls, it's brilliant!"

Certainly Smith did not shy away from the idea of "taking on the big girls" in today's press conference. Asked what she saw as her role for England, she was unequivocal: "I want to open. That's where I want to be, at the top."

For all three, one thing that will need to be carefully managed is their possible future transition into full-time professionalism. For now, both Davidson-Richards and Smith will continue to juggle paid employment outside cricket with their international commitments. "It's a really big step up," Davidson-Richards admitted. "I like going back to work on a Monday. It brings me back to the centre." It highlights the dilemmas for a women's game which, in England at least, is still caught somewhere between its amateur history and the professional present.

For Robinson, the important thing right now is to broaden the talent pool: "We've got to improve our depth and we've got to get players up and running." For the players concerned, meanwhile, the tour represents nothing more or less than an opportunity to represent their country. That, for now, is more than enough.