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Match Analysis

England still searching for their ruthless streak

The margins of victory against Pakistan are looking comfortable on paper, but the home side still need to find an extra gear

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Alice Capsey played a key hand in England's innings, England vs Pakistan, 1st Women's ODI, Derby, May 23, 2024

No one passed fifty for England, with Alice Capsey's 44 the top score  •  ECB/Getty Images

Ruthlessness. If you could bottle and sell it, most teams would be buying. Making it last forever is harder, as Australia glimpsed during the Women's Ashes last year. So is manufacturing it, as England are finding against Pakistan now.
Having pushed Australia in an eight-all draw by winning both white-ball series at home less than a year ago, England's 3-0 sweep of their T20Is against Pakistan and a 37-run victory in the first of their three ODIs in Derby look convincing on the scorecards. But anyone who has watched the matches against Pakistan will know they have largely lacked a killer punch.
England were 11 for 4 in the first T20I at Edgbaston before winning by a flattering 53 runs. They won the second by 65 runs but no one passed 31 and Pakistan crumbled to 79 as their lack of batting depth was fully exposed by an all-round England bowling performance. Danni Wyatt's 48-ball 87 was by far the standout in the third match as Pakistan gave a much-improved showing with the bat before losing by 34 runs.
At a chilly, blustery Derby before a crowd of 1,500 on Thursday, the tourists stuck it out for 50 overs and got within three runs of their highest ODI score against England at 206 for 9, albeit in a 37-run defeat. The margin should have been greater for a side ranked No. 2 in the world, eight places higher than Pakistan, who are struggling to qualify directly for next year's ODI World Cup.
Alice Capsey top-scored with her ODI career-best of 44 as England posted 243 for 9 but Pakistan matched them in the first powerplay and the hosts couldn't bowl them out despite the best efforts of spinners Sophie Ecclestone and Charlie Dean, who took five wickets between them.
Much has been made of England's new, fearlessly aggressive approach under head coach Jon Lewis but, Wyatt's innings aside, there hasn't been much evidence of it in this series against a side they have had on the ropes but only really crushed once, in the second T20I in Northampton. In fairness, England rightly took encouragement from the fact that that victory was an all-round effort iced by 3 for 11 by Ecclestone, who has been at the top of her game for years.
It feels like they are stuck between establishing a new identity for themselves - their 'inspire and entertain' ethos - and imposing it on other teams.
Offspinner Dean, part of England's enviable three-pronged spin attack with left-armer Ecclestone and legspinner Sarah Glenn, made her international debut at home to New Zealand in 2021 and became the fastest woman to 50 ODI wickets by matches (26) on the return tour in April, finishing England's trip to New Zealand as the leading wicket-taker in the T20I series with seven at 19.14 and an economy rate of 6.70.
Overall she had a leaner ODI series in New Zealand, taking four wickets at 39.75, but memorably combined with Amy Jones for a record 130-run partnership that won them the opening match.
Dean said she was working hard to develop her skills as an allrounder and was frustrated not to press on with a handy 20-run cameo from 21 balls which might have helped England to a more imposing total. She also took 2 for 39 from her 10 overs and had finished her allocation with seven overs remaining in the Pakistan innings as Najiha Alvi and Nashra Sandhu staged an stubborn unbroken stand of 28 for the 10th wicket.
"That's exactly what we want to be, we want to be ruthless when we're on top," Dean said. "We want to stay there against teams like Australia and New Zealand and South Africa who maybe have a bit more depth in batting line-ups. We need to make sure that partnerships don't form near the back end of innings and how we go about that is something that we're exploring.
"Equally it doesn't need to come too far away from our basics. Sometimes when you search for things, then you don't string your best balls together as much. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't, but not for lack of trying today."
Credit, too, must be given to Pakistan, who are growing through this tour and have direct World Cup qualification at stake over the remaining two matches, at Taunton on Sunday and Chelmsford on Wednesday.
"They took us all the way to 50 overs and we certainly were trying lots of different things to try and get that end wicket or the last two, but I guess that's just part of the game," Dean added. "You can't hold back or take your foot off the gas. You've got to keep trying to go through all the way to the end, even if maybe the result looks like it's going a certain way. I don't think we're complacent in that way. You never know, a couple of them could have got hold of it and we've got to keep executing."
Sri Lanka exposed cracks in England's batting against spin during their historic T20I series victory in England last year and, despite working to address this during training camps and a winter tour of India, Pakistan looked to target this area on a pitch their top-scorer with 34, Muneeba Ali, said demanded it.
Dean said England were still learning in this respect. "We've spoken a lot about how we want to format our batting innings," she said. "The girls really looked to be positive in the powerplay and maybe hit a few fielders, but it really looked like they were trying to take the game forward. I guess we lost a few wickets, but managed to get a decent total on the board, something that we knew that we could defend.
"Capsey played a brilliant innings, being able to soak up the pressure that we'd probably put on ourselves, but Pakistan bowled fairly well. We know that maybe slow bowling with the offside up is a bit of our nemesis, but I think if we could all play like Nat [Sciver-Brunt] does off the back foot and smash it through cover, that would be amazing. We're just looking to find our ways to be as productive as possible against that bowling."
There is a valid argument that sides perform better against those that represent a tougher contest without being complacent against weaker sides. England and Australia would both proudly admit to their clashes inspiring them to play at their best level. And while this series has less hype around it than the Ashes, with a T20 World Cup in spin-friendly conditions just over four months away, unearthing a ruthless streak now can only stand England in good stead on the global stage.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo