England's senior allrounder Katherine Brunt broke down while bowling her first competitive over since aggravating a recurring back injury, leaving her almost certain to miss England's opening match of the Women's World T20. Brunt will be assessed on Thursday and England are desperately hoping the injury won't rule her out for the entire tournament.
Brunt was brought into the attack in the eighth over of England's final warm-up match against India at Providence Stadium but was able to complete just five deliveries before leaving the field in obvious discomfort.
The 33-year-old has been dogged by back problems in recent years but the current issue is a recurrence of the injury she sustained during the Women's Big Bash League last year. Brunt has been in an uphill race to recover ahead of the World T20 since aggravating her back in September. And while England had only tentative hopes she would be fit for their opening match against Sri Lanka on Saturday they were prepared to give her every chance to prove her fitness.
But, bowling off a shortened run-up, Brunt was clearly struggling before she walked off, and while head coach Mark Robinson said he wouldn't rule her out of the tournament before she was assessed tomorrow, Brunt's own frustrated and emotional demeanour spoke volumes.
"It didn't look great at that point, did it?" Robinson said. "She hasn't been able to take any part in the competition so far, she's been practising, and today was a game to get her up and running. She's on a reduced run-up. It's hard for us, she's an important player.
"Two of the players that bat in our top five in the summer are out. We've prepared for that as well, something we have to take on the chin, back the other players.
"I think it was a bit of a shock in there as well, from her point of work. She's an emotional girl anyway. She put a lot into trying to get out today and she played, and suddenly she feels like she's going into spasms as such. And you've got NZ watching, you've got the press with the cameraman, everything going on, a lot of emotion, so that's where we need to take stock and see where we are."
England's plans without Brunt centre around two of three debutants in the squad who are hardly like-for-like replacements for the seaming allrounder. Linsey Smith is a left-arm spinner - although she has bowled seam in the past - while Sophia Dunkley is a middle-order batsman who bowls part-time legspin. Smith has been particularly impressive in the warm-up fixtures and appears to be the most likely replacement for Brunt against Sri Lanka in Saint Lucia.
"You can't replace Katherine because she bats and bowls," Robinson said. "We haven't got a genuine allrounder who can do that role so we're going to have to pick either a bowler or we have to pick a batter. So we're going to have to go in with four bowlers and your Nat [Sciver] and Heather [Knight] and if Dunks [Sophia Dunkley] is playing and Dani Wyatt to fill in, or we go five specialist bowlers and we play six batsmen and that's your dilemma. We planned that she might not make it but we had to give her every chance."
England finished 11 runs short of India's total in the final warm-up for both sides before the tournament begins on Friday. Harmanpreet Kaur was in imperious form for India, smiting 62 off 32 deliveries in setting England 145 for victory. But despite a sprightly half-century from Dani Wyatt, England struggled to get India's spinners away.
"We've had three games over here since July," Robinson said. "Tonight was really, really good. We played West Indies in front of 4000 people, that was really good as well. South Africa was a quite convincing win. Tonight was a great learner for us. Their spinners outbowled us. They bowled into the wicket and protected the short boundary.
"We bowled all length and got hit, gave the batter a chance to hit over somebody's head, which you can't do in these conditions. It shows here that if you bowl back of a length as a spinner, with leg side back, it's old-fashioned women's cricket, it's hard to clear the boundary."