No lack of opportunities for England's women
Anyone who berates the standard of women's cricket should watch Lydia Greenway field. With her athleticism, catching ability and cricketing awareness she brings the same intoxicating thrill to any match as Jonty Rhodes used to do.
In England's two Twenty20 victories against India, Greenway took four outstanding catches, both at backward point and at deep midwicket, a position she patrols with vivacity. And she can do much more than just catch, as shown by her awareness to throw the ball back into play after she was about to carry it over the rope after a boundary catch. No wonder the captain, Charlotte Edwards, said the side is "completely in awe" of her fielding ability. Overall, England's fielding oozed professionalism, and the contrast between theirs and India's was perhaps the most obvious difference between the sides.
But there is much more to admire in England's team: they are simply a very fine cricket side. Their second win over India was their 13th consecutive victory in T20 internationals. Add to this their record of seven consecutive one-day international wins and their status as the best women's international side is indisputable.
Katherine Brunt's new-ball bowling, with a steady action, pace in the mid-70s, consistent nip off the seam and a dangerous yorker, is formidable. Edwards is a model of calm - never flustered, and with a knack for canny bowling changes, as well as being a superb batsman in her own right. She has the most international one-day caps of any female cricketer. And then there is Sarah Taylor.
The batting of her namesake Claire, most notably a wonderfully paced 76 not out against Australia in the World T20 semi-final in 2009, earned her the accolade of one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year. Yet Sarah, no relation, increasingly looks an even better player.
Taylor's real strength lies in her exemplary technique. She is imperious driving down the ground, cuts with authority and skilfully uses her feet against spin; few would say there is a better female batsman in the world today. Taylor hit two serene 60s in England's two T20 wins over India - earning the Player-of-the-Match award in both games - as well as 109 not out in England's last ODI, against New Zealand. As if that wasn't enough, she's also a brilliant wicketkeeper whose poise and quick hands contributed to the five Indian run-outs England affected in Chelmsford.
But those who want to see much of Taylor better have a stomach for T20 cricket: ten of England's 15 internationals this summer are T20s. As Edwards says, "The game is so marketable in the T20 format."
One key reason for this is that it is perfect to be played before men's games - as was the case for both T20s against India, which were hosted at Canterbury and Chelmsford and preceded domestic men's T20s. Given the attractive proposition of free entry to the women's international before the Essex-Hampshire T20, well over 1000 supporters were in place for the start of the women's game. And many were attending out of more than curiosity, with England having an outstanding record there in recent years. As Taylor says, "Chelmsford's perfect for us - the crowd keep wanting to see us play, which keeps bringing us back."
Taylor is an enthusiastic champion of the double-header format: "It's definitely a bit more exciting when we play before the men." Edwards emphasises: "The girls react really well to the TV and the crowds; it's a huge boost for us."
Yet England's women also play in some rather more obscure locations. Truro in deepest Cornwall, which has a population of 17,000, will host an England-India ODI on July 8. But Edwards is enthused about the prospect, saying, "We love playing at the outgrounds", and is confident that after a concerted marketing campaign, the game could be watched by as many as 1500 people.
While limited-overs games, especially T20, may attract the crowds, the great frustration for England's women is that they seldom have the opportunity to showcase their skills in the longest form of the game. Indeed, their last Test was in Sydney in January 2011, when they failed to defend the Ashes. The lack of Tests does not owe to any absence of desire on behalf of the players. Edwards says it is frustrating: "We would love to play more Test cricket but we understand that's not where the game's going at the moment."
Still, there is much else to be occupied with. After five ODIs against India, the preparations continue for the World T20 in Sri Lanka in September and October, when England will aim to regain the title they lost in the Caribbean in 2010. Far from being worried about playing in different conditions, Taylor is confident the side will be able to adapt. "Out there it doesn't really do much in terms of movement, so that'll suit my game down to a tee if I'm hitting straight. A lot of our girls hit very well straight, so hopefully we'll come good."
After the World T20 there is not long to wait until the next big challenge: the 50-over World Cup in India in March. While Edwards accepts that T20 is "probably" the priority of most players now, she thinks differently. "For me the 50-over cricket is what women's cricket is judged on and the World Cup is the ultimate prize in the women's game."
It is undeniably a great shame that England's women play so little Test cricket. But happily they are not lacking for stages on which to show off their considerable talents.