How will the 50-over champions fare in the more capricious T20 format?

'There's a revolution that's happening now' (1:55)

England head coach Mark Robinson assesses his team's chances ahead of the Women's World T20 (1:55)

It was swelteringly hot at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi. And there was no respite from the stuffy atmosphere as journalists waited in a dark room for the post-match press conference. When England coach Mark Robinson and captain Charlotte Edwards walked in to dissect the five-run loss to Australia, it was hard to tell if the temperature plunged or rose even higher; there was both the heated flush of embarrassment at the manner of England's exit from the tournament and the cool assessment of England's failure - primarily a lack of fitness that left twos untaken and made a modest target unreachable.

"We're looking for players who can stand up and be counted, and play under the pressure, and have the aerobic fitness to do the job necessary," Robinson told the gathered media. "That will be a necessity for any women's team going forward."


The aftermath of England's 2016 Women's World T20 camp was comprehensive. A little more than two years later, seven players from the team that lost in Delhi will head to the Caribbean for this year's edition after the sweep of a broom that also saw the end of Edwards' long tenure as captain.

The current squad also contains three debutants and several players who have pushed their way into the England frame since the 2016 campaign. So that ticks off the old cliché of "a good mix of youth and experience", then, but just how much has this England side changed?

There is certainly a sense that while Heather Knight leads on the field, this is very much Robinson's side. He had limited experience of the women's game before taking up the position of head coach at the end of 2015, and recalls meeting some of the squad for the first time at the airport when they were heading to South Africa for a tour that preceded the World T20 in India.

He has not shied away from making strong selection decisions and has been vocal about the need to improve fitness - a particular bugbear - as well as increasing the players' skill level, and lessening the reliance on slow bowlers who offer little in the way of genuine spin or attacking options. At the same time he has encouraged batsmen to test the limits of their power-hitting. The results can be seen in the improved performances of players such as Tammy Beaumont, Nat Sciver and Dani Wyatt.

"We're definitely fitter, we're definitely more resilient," said Robinson in the weeks leading up to England's departure for the Caribbean. "So, in many ways we've made a move. The key bit is, you've obviously got to do your skills as well. You've got to outscore, outbat and hopefully out-field the opposition.

"The other bit is, we needed to be tougher at big moments and to win more close games and to get over the line when we should get over the line on a more frequent basis, and I think we've done that, which is brilliant."

Winning the big moments was clearly a key to England's success in the 2017 World Cup, a title that probably came earlier than expected in the wake of Robinson's shake-up of the status quo. The consequence is that it has raised expectations for their performance in the shortest format.

The problem, however, with trying to gauge England's form in T20Is is that, like other countries, they simply don't play much of it; in the two and a half years since the last tournament, England have played only 16 T20Is. As a result, Robinson sees a similarity to England's position before the 50-over World Cup: he thinks they have a good chance, but he doesn't know where they truly stand.

"You're having to use the KSL [Women's Super League in England], anything that happens in the women's Big Bash, your own players, to try and formulate a plan and get a handle on where you are," said Robinson. I think the players are ready to show they've made a move, but I don't really know, and we'll know a lot more at the end of the time in the Caribbean.

England will undoubtedly miss the multiple talents of wicketkeeper-batsman Sarah Taylor, who elected not to take part in the tournament as she continues to deal with mental-health issues. And there are concerns over the fitness of one of England's most experienced campaigners and new-ball bowler Katherine Brunt.

Robinson believes Taylor's replacement, Amy Jones, is second in the world to the player she comes in for behind the stumps ("I'll argue that passionately with anyone"), while newcomers Kirstie Gordon, Linsey Smith and Sophia Dunkley have all impressed at domestic level.

"They haven't come out of the cold," said Robinson. "What they haven't been able to do is put on an England shirt yet, and we don't really know how they'll handle that until they get the opportunity."

Although England are the current champions of the 50-over format and West Indies hold the World T20 title, which they earned by beating Australia in the final at Eden Gardens, it is - as ever - the Australians who wear the favourites tag in the Caribbean. And that's not just because their best batsman and captain, Meg Lanning, is free from the shoulder injury that plagued her during last year's World Cup campaign.

One of the key findings in the recently released FICA report on the payment and conditions of female players around the world names Australia as having the only "fully professional" set-up for women, while England and India are listed as "partly professional". Other countries lag even further behind in areas such as central contracts, access to medical care, and multi-year contracts that provide security. The women's game has come a long way, but there is further to go.

Holding England back from becoming fully professional is the fact that the structure of women's domestic competitions is held to ransom by the contentious dealings between the ECB and the counties.

After steadily building a fan following, increased media coverage, and promise as the world's second major women's T20 domestic tournament, the Women's Super League already has a kill-by date. It will cease after next season so that the way is clear for the women to take part in The Hundred. While there may be greater publicity and marketing opportunities involved in pairing with the men's competition, England can simply not afford to not have a women's domestic T20 tournament - the format is too important internationally. And while there have been murmurings that such a competition will emerge, it is worth remembering that when the Super League was originally mooted, the ECB also said a 50-over women's domestic competition, involving the same teams or hosts that made up the Super League, would follow within a year or two. It never did, and England currently have one year of high-level domestic T20s left with no equivalent beyond in the two formats that matter in international competition.

But such things are out of this England team's control in St Lucia, where they must first perform in the group stages against Sri Lanka; Bangladesh, the Asia Cup champions; West Indies, the current World T20I champions; and South Africa, the most improved team of the past few years and the one that came excruciatingly close to knocking England out of the World Cup in their semi-final clash.

And for all the uncertainty surrounding England's current standing in T20Is, Robinson believes the nature of the format renders many predictions irrelevant.

"It's probably going to be a more keenly contested competition from the outside looking in before it starts," he said. "The shorter the format, the more an individual can influence it; the longer the format, the more the collective can come into it. A lot more teams in the world have now got players who individually can influence a game and that's what makes it exciting."