No more Misses Nice Girls

Ruthlessness is the name of England women's game these days and it's paying off, with their most successful tour of Australasia ever this winter and the recent destruction of West Indies. Smiling sweetly, the pint-sized pace bowler Isa Guha announces innocently, but with a glint: "It's something that needs to come out of you." South Africa are next in their sights.

The genial Guha, who recently graduated in biochemistry, looks like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth but when she and her side cross the line they, like other athletes, take on white-line fever. In their case, though, it's been something they've had to learn. England have traditionally been seen as something of a soft touch, but gradually the team has learned to harness their killer instincts - the disastrous Quadrangular in India in 2006-07 was both low point and in some ways turning point. Now they are shaping up to be a force come the next World Cup.

Their hard-nosed approach has gradually filtered through from the determined Clare Connor who was the most professional of amateur captains, and latterly with the committed, inspirational Charlotte Edwards who led her young side on their most successful ever tour of Australia and New Zealand this winter. Talk to any of the current England players now and they buzz with a quiet, yet fierce, resolution and self-belief that is coursing through their veins and should have South Africa needing to play at their best to compete when the series kicks off at Canterbury on Wednesday.

How did the change come about? "That's something we've learned to do," says Guha. "We've always been seen as a nice team but over the last few years we've become tougher as cricketers and we do need to be ruthless. We pinpointed certain things from the quadrangular tour and things we could take out of that tour and we knew that we had to be tougher as cricketers, mentally tough. We knew we had the talent - it was about taking responsibility. A lot of games we lost in the last five overs. It was about getting into those situations again and being ruthless."

England were accused of sledging by India's captain Mithali Raj in the summer series which preceded the Quadrangular, but Guha denies that England need to engage in such activity to gain the mental edge. "Once you get on the pitch you know you've got a job to do," says Guha. "We won't necessarily sledge so much but we do have that attitude of 'They're not going to score the runs, we're going to take the wickets'. We believe that we can win no matter what situation."

They're not really sure what to expect from South Africa, after not playing them for three years. "They will be unknown to us because we've not played them for such a long time. We are just going to go out there and play as we would any other team - play the best cricket we can and if we do everything we know we can do we will come out as winners."

Having an opposition as an unknown quantity can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, but they will adopt the same approach they took in their recent destruction of West Indies, most of whom were making their debut on that European tour. "We just went out there and tried to continue on as we did in the winter. We had a buzz, we were confident. We tried to put in some clinical performances and be ruthless."

Guha, whose bowling star is ever rising, took 5 for 14 to help remove them for 41. It's a special year for her, too, taking a leading role in keeping the Ashes in the Test win in Australia - she took nine wickets in the match - and taking regular victims in the one-dayers.

South Africa are made of stern stuff, too, but they will have to be at the peak of their game against an England who are firing on all cylinders, both mentally, physically and with plenty of team chemistry.