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Amy Jones finds her spark for the season after rollercoaster England winter

England wicketkeeper has been integral in run to Finals Day, and still keen to improve

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Amy Jones has been a key player in Central Sparks' season  •  Getty Images

Amy Jones has been a key player in Central Sparks' season  •  Getty Images

It didn't take long for Amy Jones to offload the emotions of a long and gruelling winter, and get back to business for the 2022 season. England's wicketkeeper is currently the leading run-scorer in the Charlotte Edwards Cup with 245 runs at 40.83, helping to hoist Central Sparks into Saturday's semi-final showdown with South East Stars at Wantage Road.
It can't have been easy for any of England's players to take stock of a mega tour of the Antipodes, encompassing a multi-format Ashes series and the heartache of defeat in the World Cup final in Christchurch. But Jones' performances since her return to action are proof of her determination to get straight back onto the bandwagon, at what remains an exciting juncture for the women's game.
"It was a big winter, quite a rollercoaster," Jones tells ESPNcricinfo. "At times I felt like I was ageing quite quickly! But it has been great to step away for a bit of a break, see friends and family, and then come back to an English summer feeling really refreshed, and looking forward to hopefully a normal season. It's been good fun to get back with the Sparks. It's nice to just get back with the girls and get stuck in."
Jones' break may have been brief compared with the months of touring that preceded it, but it was an eventful one nonetheless, encompassing a whistlestop tour of Chamonix, Lake Como and Paris ("We had a few trips cancelled last year, so we made sure we rolled several trips into one") and then, as if to underline that sense of new beginnings, the social event of the year - the long-delayed wedding of her England team-mates Nat Sciver and Katherine Brunt.
"That was a really, really special day," says Jones, who was maid of honour, and who had also been present in the team bubble in Derby in September 2020, when the team had laid on a replacement ceremony in the midst of the Covid lockdown. "I don't think it could have gone better. It was all just really, really fun, and great to see those two celebrate their big day. It was a long, long time waiting but yeah, it didn't disappoint. It was an incredible day."
Jones had the best seat in the house during Sciver's other most notable moment of the year - albeit temporarily, as the pair shared a 43-run stand for the fourth wicket in the World Cup final, as England briefly kept alive their hopes of defending their title against the runaway favourites, Australia. In the end, they fell short by 71 runs, but not before Sciver had amassed an outstanding unbeaten 148 from 121 balls - to go along with the unbeaten 109 she had made against the same opponents in their tournament opener.
"She was incredible, wasn't she? To get a hundred in a final is a great achievement anyway, but two hundreds in the last two games against the best in the world in Australia, I think just shows the class that she is. It's a shame she didn't get the support in the final. But it was an incredible innings."
Thanks to that performance, England were able to surrender their title with pride - a prospect that hadn't seemed quite so likely when they slumped to a trio of defeats against Australia, West Indies and South Africa in their opening games of the tournament. Each of the matches was a cliffhanger - defeats by 12 runs, seven runs and three wickets respectively - but it was a setback that tested the team's mettle to the limit, and demanded that they make no further slip-ups. Jones is proud of the way the team responded to adversity.
"At one stage we were looking like we were definitely going home early," she says. "But each of those losses went down to the last over, so they were quite draining games on the back of a big Ashes series as well.
"So it was a lot to keep getting up for each game, and still keep confidence as high as possible within the group, so it was definitely a big achievement in the end to just make the final, to be honest. That isn't the mindset we want as a team, but you've got to adapt to the different situations you find yourself in. and that one was particularly challenging.
"But the way the team came together, and just really looked after each other as people, was a big factor in us turning it around, and getting the wins when we needed them, up until the final. As a group, we are quite proud of how we stuck together and managed to turn it around."
There is a sense, however, that the World Cup marks the end of an era. Anya Shrubsole, the hero of the 2017 final victory, has already retired, and Jones acknowledges that a refreshing of the team is inevitable in the lead-up to the next tournament in 2025 - especially now that the impact of the ECB's new regional contracts is beginning to expand the pool of players whose professional standards are able to match those of the players they may eventually replace.
"The 50-over World Cup comes around every four years, so it does feel a bit like an end of an era," Jones says. "You've seen some retirements from different countries as well, but it's great to be able to play a big part at regional level this year, and see just how far all the girls have come within the space of a year of their contracts. It's great that that's paying off, and hopefully we'll see more and more contracts as the years go by."
"All the contracted girls at the Sparks are just so passionate about this opportunity. A lot of them have trained for years, outside of working hours. And now they can finally put everything into their cricket and it's great that we're seeing really quick improvements as well, with lots of girls challenging for spaces higher up, which is great. That's what every team needs, in terms of England, pressure for places and competition. I think it's brilliant."
Jones is days shy of her 29th birthday, and with 135 international appearances across all three formats, she has long since stepped out of the long shadow of Sarah Taylor to become England's premier wicketkeeper. But she knows she needs to stay on her toes in the prime of her career, not least with such a glut of talented spinners coming through the ranks to test her mettle when standing up to the stumps.
At the age of 23, Sophie Ecclestone has already established herself as the No.1 spinner in the world, while the offspinner Charlie Dean, 21, was England's break-out star at the World Cup. Then there's Sarah Glenn, Jones' Sparks' team-mate, a hugely talented legspinning allrounder who, aged 22, is set to be a central figure in the England team for years to come too.
"The good thing about those three is they are all so different," Jones says. "Glenny and Soph are two very tall bowlers but Glenny's very skiddy, while Soph can get some bounce, which makes it exciting for me. I see a lot of Glenny at Sparks but it's important for me to keep keeping to them all to get to know their different variations.
"I absolutely love having the gloves, and I'm always trying to improve," Jones adds, while crediting Michael Bates, the former Hampshire and Somerset keeper, for keeping her on her toes. "Having Batesy around has been key to that really. We gel really well and if I have something that's slightly off, he'll know what it is.
"That relationship is really important for me and I'm just going to keep trying to improve. The standard of wicketkeeping across the country is pretty good now. It's great to see, throughout the regions and the Hundred, the girls doing so well."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket