Entertainment value key to drive women's cricket - Robinson

Natalie Sciver scored a 42-ball 50 AFP

"It's entertainment, isn't it?"

Rarely does a coach pose a question of this sort soon after a hiding, of the kind Australia meted out to England in the tri-series final in Mumbai on March 31.

This wasn't a tongue-in-cheek remark from England coach Mark Robinson. Nor was he aiming for hyperbole when he threw the question. He then jogged his mind back to the semi-final of the World T20 in March 2016 in New Delhi, where Australia beat England by only five runs on a slow surface. There, Australia didn't hit a six in the last 10 overs; England managed two.

"Here, it was just the opposite," he said, referring to the final where a record fourth-wicket stand of 139 between Meg Lanning and Elyse Villani set the tone for a dominating win. Australia's 209 was the highest T20I total in women's matches, achieved largely because of 32 fours, the most in a T20I innings. Lanning alone smashed half the number of those fours in her 45-ball 88*.

"Australia were absolutely outstanding. They fielded well, and that partnership between Lanning and Villani was outstanding," Robinson said. "I mean, 120 (129) in the last 10? I mean, that's how we learn; that's brilliant. That's going to bring people in. If I was a young person, I'd want to play such kind of cricket and come [to the stadium to watch]."

Robinson hoped he wouldn't see surfaces of the kinds that hosted the inaugural women's day-night Ashes Test. He called for conducive batting conditions and quick outfields which could bring about a significant shift in viewership, in a year when the Women's World T20 is set to become a standalone event.

"What you want is the game to give credit to these fantastic female athletes. And I don't think previously it was the case," he said. "What you had in this tournament was the groundsmen go out of their way to produce the best surfaces possible, and that's all you ask for wherever you go in the world. I would like to congratulate the BCCI getting these things right during the tri-series."

In Robinson's assessment, the tri-series lent testimony to the ever-increasing prowess of batsmen, who also somewhat benefitted from the new playing conditions that restrict the number of fielders outside the 30-yard circle to four. He cited Megan Schutt's example to explain what bowlers needed to do to outfox batsmen in such conditions.

"In this game, if you keep playing in these kind of wickets, you have to have a big legspinner somewhere, you have to have a yard of pace, you have to have a spinner who can get her fingers around it and the standards will go up, it will have to," he said. "My criticism of the female game previously was the average wickets we'd play on and the standard of bowling wouldn't be good enough.

"I still feel the standard of bowling in the tournament hasn't matched the standard of batting, and it will only go up. So the intent for the bowlers would mean they'll have to hang in there and know what they want to do. Megan Schutt's bowled really well, hasn't she? So, you'll need great changes of pace, or an extra yard of pace or something different. The game of cricket always evolves and we got to allow it to evolve and the bowling will start to catch up."

Robinson felt every team had a few marquee players who had to take it upon themselves to embed this brand of aggressive cricket to make the women's game more attractive. "It's about the big players scoring runs, isn't it?" he asked. "Every team's got such players. If Lanning got out in that game, it would have been different. But she didn't, she had a partnership and that's how she takes the game away from you, doesn't she?

"It's about your best players: if [Harmanpreet] Kaur comes off, she can win the game by herself, we've seen it. The two games we won, we made mockery of two [huge] scores. Danielle Wyatt gets a big one and Nat Sciver does etc. So it's always about the big players. So the shorter the game is, the less the big players you need, because the shortness of the game allows you to dictate terms."

While he conceded that going down in the final hurt, the "bigger agenda" was to identify the next generation of internationals, many of whom learnt plenty playing in conditions far different to the ones they've grown up on.

The build-up to the tri-series wasn't as promising for England, though. A back injury ruled out frontline fast bowler Katherine Brunt, while wicketkeeper-batsman Sarah Taylor was rested to "manage her long-term health." Their pace bowling resources were further depleted when vice-captain Anya Shrubsole was forced to sit out all five games due to a shoulder strain.

Reflecting on the loss, even as they prepare for three ODIs in Nagpur, Robinson was enthused by Wyatt's performance. The opener finished atop of the run charts with 213 runs in five matches. Sciver and Tammy Beaumont too propped up much of the batting with half-centuries. He also appreciated the effort of the three debutants on tour.

"From a selfish point of view, you've seen Nat Sciver look good as anybody in the world. You've seen Tammy Beaumont look as good as anybody I'm the world and you've seen Danny Waytt beginning to emerge as a cricketer to be feared. That's really exciting," he said. "We know we've got some bigger players to put back in but we've also got one eye on the future as well.

"With Sarah, we can't take her health for granted; Katherine, the age she's in, we've got Lauren Winfield and Georgia Elwis working independently here trying to move their game on. That's what we are doing. Trying to move our game on."

The upcoming series will be England's first against India in the 50-over format since beating them in the World Cup final in July last year. Apart from spelling out the mantra for his side, Robinson also put himself in the Indian management's shoes and felt they needed to "try and extract little more" out of their senior players. The talent among the youngsters wasn't lost upon him either.

"If I was their coach, I would be excited, by the age of them. They've obviously got two stalwarts [Raj and Goswami] who need to try and bring a bit more out of them. But India have got so much promise. And sometimes, with the brutality of sport you can only see warts and not the beauty spots," he said.

"If I was coach of that team, I'd need some patience and require my bosses to give me some patience as well, should I want to coach them because they've got some exciting talent. The young batters (Jemimah) Rodrigues and the young fast bowler [Pooja Vastrakar] and [Deepti] Sharma, there are a lot of great ages to work with."