Jon Lewis challenges England Women to keep up with their world-class stars

Head coach admits top three remains a concern as Sciver-Brunt, Ecclestone remain cut above

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Jon Lewis, England Women's head coach, has hailed the impact of Nat Sciver-Brunt and Sophie Ecclestone as "two of the best cricketers in the world", but admits that the rest of the squad has a challenge to keep up with their standards, as they finalise their preparations for October's T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.
Speaking at Chelmsford in the aftermath of England's 178-run victory in the third ODI against Pakistan, Lewis insisted that the team was "tracking really well" after victories in all five of their completed matches in the 20- and 50-over formats, but acknowledged there remain a number of unresolved issues ahead of next month's visit of New Zealand, particularly on the batting front.
"We came into both series as really firm favourites," Lewis said. "With due respect to Pakistan, they were a team we should beat. We played some good cricket at times, we were unconvincing at times, but today was a very convincing victory."
It was made all the more convincing by a stand-out display from Sciver-Brunt, whose ninth ODI century propelled England's total past 300, before her two middle-order wickets wrecked any hope of Pakistan recovering from a slow start in their powerplay. By the time Ecclestone had swept through the tail with three late wickets, including her 100th in ODIs, the gulf between the teams was plain to see.
"Sophie very, very rarely bowls poorly," Lewis said. "I've not seen anyone get the better of her yet. We've got two of the best cricketers in the world playing in our team, which is a really fantastic thing for us as a cricket team."
Although it counts as a good problem to have, Lewis was mindful of the need for the rest of England's line-up to raise their games, to mitigate against the off-days that can strike even the most consistent of batters.
Even allowing for the truncated nature of the ODI series, Sciver-Brunt's century was the only time that any batter in the series past fifty, while Danni Wyatt's 87 in the T20I leg similarly stood out from the crowd.
"They've got a tough act to follow, but they are tracking really well," Lewis said of the rest of England's batting line-up. "We've got a really talented group of young cricketers that we're trying to develop. Would I like more consistent performance from our more senior players? For sure. But the competition between the players in the squad is really fierce. Our training sessions are really competitive. I'm really excited about where this group could go, but there's always room for us to improve."
England's main focus since the start of the year has been on their top three. Maia Bouchier emerged from a breakthrough winter in New Zealand as Wyatt's preferred opening partner for the T20 World Cup, but her promising knock of 34 from 33 balls at Chelmsford was her highest score in five attempts.
Sophia Dunkley, meanwhile, was initially dropped from the squad after a collapse in her form over the winter, but was back as No.12 for the last two ODIs in Taunton and Chelmsford, after a run of impressive scores for South East Stars in the regional competitions. The other key consideration is Tammy Beaumont, England's senior opener in the longer formats, whose bid to up her tempo, T20-style, at Chelmsford, ended in her being bowled for 11 from 22 balls via an ill-conceived ramp shot.
"We're getting there, but I could do with some of them putting our hands up a bit more, to be honest," Lewis said, when asked whether the series just gone had helped or hindered his thought processes. "Batting in the top three, in T20 cricket in particular, is a really tricky thing to do. You have to take risks, but it's about managing the amount of risk you take.
On Beaumont's shot selection, he added: "There was a big space on the ground [behind square]. It was a nice option, and I've seen her play that shot lots of times, it's a strength of hers. Obviously, you'd like your players to hit the ball and not miss it, but what I don't mind is the thinking behind the shot and the timing of the shot. I'm more than more than happy with that."
Lewis cited a recent ESPNcricinfo interview with Phil Salt, conducted during his break-out campaign with Kolkata Knight Riders at the IPL, as a template that he wanted his top-order to follow, particularly faced with potentially challenging conditions on slow, spinning wickets in Bangladesh at the World Cup.
"[Salt] talked about the confidence of taking the risk from the first ball, and taking the powerplay on, and I would love our players to be able to do that," he said. "We're learning to do it, but managing and balancing risk is fundamental to those top three spaces. But the great thing that we have is depth at four, five and six in Nat, Heather [Knight] and Amy [Jones]. It feels like a really good combination of players to be able to play the spin bowlers in Bangladesh."
When it comes to the anticipated World Cup conditions, England have a trio of trump cards in their spin attack, with Charlie Dean and Sarah Glenn also ranked in the ICC's top five for women's T20I bowlers, alongside the world No.1, Ecclestone.
At the age of 25, Lewis admitted that the sky is the limit for what Ecclestone could hope to achieve in the rest of her career. However, he warned that the biggest challenge might be to ensure she remains motivated, particularly in contests such as the one just gone when the gulf between the teams is so pronounced.
"She has an incredible talent and now our job is to is to make sure that she keeps enjoying her cricket," he said. "She talks about that a lot about how much it needs to be fun for her. I never had this problem myself, but I can imagine that, when you're one of the best players in the world and you're playing against a team that isn't challenging you as much as you as you would like, it can actually can get a little bit frustrating for you."
"So it's important we keep challenging her, and pushing her on, whilst making sure that she's having a lot of fun along the way."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket