Lauren Winfield-Hill has admitted to losing her way as a batter while "trying to be a good team person" and is targeting a return to opening for England in ODI cricket in their upcoming one-day series against India.
Winfield-Hill was restored to the Test team last week, putting on a 69-run opening stand alongside Tammy Beaumont as England laid a strong foundation in the one-off match at Bristol. Her partnership with Beaumont was a feature of England's 2017 World Cup success, but Winfield-Hill has not opened in ODIs since the Ashes tour later that year, with Amy Jones and Danni Wyatt given chances at the top of the order.
In that period, Winfield-Hill found herself filling in at No. 3 and even batting in the lower-middle order for the T20 side. But having been diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2019, she has been rejuvenated by starting a new course of medication and retains ambitions of returning to her preferred spot ahead of England's 50-over title defence in New Zealand next year.
"Yeah, I can't hide from that, I'm pretty keen [to open]," she said. "It's no secret I sort of lost my way in the last couple of years with trying to be a good team person and playing lots of roles but not do any of them particularly well, and not be true to myself in what I want to do and where I want to be.
"The last year or so I've gone back to what's familiar and tried to do that as well as I can, and that's opening the batting. So if that opportunity arises it's one I would be massively excited for and what I want to do."
Winfield-Hill's best year in international cricket came in 2016, when she and Beaumont were united at the top of the order. In only their second innings as an opening pair, they both raised aggressive hundreds during a 235-run stand against Pakistan, setting the tone for England under Heather Knight's captaincy; but despite Winfield-Hill making three half-centuries in her next eight innings, she has not passed 50 since.
After her struggles with Crohn's, which led Winfield-Hill to consider giving up on international cricket, she began the 2021 summer in good form, making 140 for England Women A in a pre-season warm-up game and then kicking off the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy with another century for Yorkshire Diamonds. Although she said the subject of opening was "not a conversation that we've had so far", she was hopeful of winning the nod from Knight and head coach Lisa Keightley.
"I've scored big runs. When I've got in I've gone big, which is probably the most consistently I've been able to produce big scores - I've had a couple of decent hundreds this year, which is something we speak about as a batting group: 'When you're getting in, go big.' So it's probably the ability I've shown to do that. We all know in ODI cricket especially, if you're getting players scoring decent hundreds that's going to put the team in a really good position. That's probably what I guess has been encouraging for Heather and the reason she wanted to go with me in the Test."
While England are the reigning 50-over champions, they are currently ranked No. 3 in women's ODI cricket - and lie a full 47 points behind pace-setters Australia, who recently established a new record for consecutive wins in the format.
Since the 2019 Ashes, which Australia won comfortably, England have only played six ODIs - in part due to preparations for last year's 20-over World Cup, as well as the depredation of the women's schedule brought about by Covid-19. But Winfield-Hill said the upcoming three-match series with India would mark "a shift" towards planning for the 2022 tournament.
"I don't think we're far away at all," Winfield-Hill said. "We played some pretty good one-day cricket in New Zealand. Over the last year or so, we've played an awful lot of T20 cricket, with the World Cup [in Australia] that was the focus. Last summer we only played T20 cricket against the West Indies. There's a bit of a shift again to 50-over cricket for us as a group, with the World Cup on the horizon, and that's our focus at the minute.
"We're a good side, we've got a lot of world-class players and I think it's a real start to build some momentum towards that World Cup and grow this side to make sure we are closing the gap."
After India batted their way to safety in the Test, defying collapses in each innings to secure a draw at Bristol, Winfield-Hill said England's players had been "pleasantly surprised" with how they had pulled up after the unfamiliar physical exertions of four-day cricket. Despite being on top for large parts, she suggested England were expecting further battles to come during the ODI and T20I legs of the tour.
"It was nice to potentially open a few wounds to some of their middle-order players who didn't get away," she said. "It's nice to throw those punches early on. But they also had some players who had good success against us, so we will go back to the drawing board and make sure we can come hard at those players. It's nothing different to what we thought coming in, we knew we were going to have to play well, and continue to play well, because India are a good side. There's been some good little battles already and I'm sure that will continue."
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick