Feature

England keep their game-faces straight despite distractions of WPL auction

Six England players pick up deals while sealing the deal against Ireland in Paarl

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
13-Feb-2023
Alice Capsey capped a memorable day off the field with a matchwinning 22-ball 51  •  ICC/Getty Images

Alice Capsey capped a memorable day off the field with a matchwinning 22-ball 51  •  ICC/Getty Images

England and Ireland entered their World Cup contest on Monday in the most bizarre circumstances of any side at the tournament, with many of its participants walking onto the field with virtual price tags hanging over their heads like thought bubbles - some stamped "sold" and others not.
The WPL auction had been the "elephant in the room", according to Sophie Devine, the New Zealand captain who was eventually sold to Royal Challengers Bangalore for her base price of 50 lakh (£50,000). But all of a sudden it was adding weight to every shot, every wicket, and every catch at the picturesque Boland Park in Paarl, even while playing out 8,000km away in Mumbai.
Sophie Ecclestone duly wore her price tag as a badge of honour, striding onto the pitch as a marquee spinner for UP Warriorz after being picked up for the equivalent of £180,000, before taking two wickets in two balls among her 3 for 13. Leg-spinner Sarah Glenn's 3 for 19, however, couldn't sway the buyers, as she went unsold for her asking price of 30 lakh.
What about the six Alice Capsey heaved onto the grass banks beyond backward square leg to bring up a 21-ball fifty, the equal fastest at a World Cup and equal third-highest in all Women's T20Is? Delhi Capitals would like more of that please - for 75 lakh (£75,000), thank you - although Capsey herself might have earned a fair bit more had she been able to produce that innings before the hammer went down.
Then there was Nat Sciver-Brunt, who took the field knowing that she had fetched a cool £320,000 from Mumbai Indians, the equal second-highest price alongside Australian allrounder Ashleigh Gardner (Gujarat Giants), and behind only Smriti Mandhana, who went to Royal Challengers Bangalore for about £20,000 more.
Heather Knight, England's captain, could not deny that the auction had been on the players' minds. She had even had to move a team meeting because the India squad are staying at the same hotel in Stellenbosch and, because they aren't due to play until Tuesday, were able to enjoy the occasion accordingly.
And such was the game-face that England had to wear - particularly in light of Ireland's remarkable victory over Australia in last week's warm-ups - Knight herself was given no inkling that she'd picked up a deal with RCB midway through the run-chase, not even when she was greeted by her coach, Jon Lewis, at the top of the pavilion steps after the match.
"No not at all. It's probably a good thing the way I batted," Knight said, after an uncharacteristically scratchy 14 from 22 balls. "If they'd seen that I don't think I would have got picked up at all, it made it a little bit hard work out there, but no, when we were at the ground it was all about just focusing on the game, and I just got told afterwards and obviously who'd been picked up and who's missed out."
The England camp left it up to individuals to decide when they wanted to find out the results of the auction, with 10 of their playing XI having put their names forward. Six of them, plus reserve Issy Wong, secured deals worth nearly £800,000 combined.
"It was strange, it's something we've never experienced and you don't often get it in the men's game, I don't think, when it's on match day," Knight said. "It was all about trying to manage it as best we could, trying to do what individuals wanted and also trying to, when we got here, our main focus obviously was on the game.
"Some of the girls would have known going into it, the ones picked up early. I think Soph knew and she's someone that really thrives on that pressure. A few of the girls would have known arriving but, during the game, our self-focus was on trying to obviously get the two points."
Knight wasn't the least bit surprised that Sciver-Brunt had fetched such a high price, and she was conscious of ensuring that her vice-captain was as comfortable as possible with being in the limelight again, after taking a mental health break last year.
"I think she's one of the best, if not the best, cricketer in the world and Nat probably won't like all the attention," Knight said. "She's very humble and she's just very, very good at cricket. I'm super glad she's on our team.
"I think also it's about making sure that Nat's able to deal with that, because it's not potentially just a positive, the pressure that comes with that. But also I think hopefully it'll be something that she thrives on and she's at the top of her game at the moment, so yeah, it's not a surprise at all."
Sciver-Brunt's wife, veteran seamer Katherine, went unsold, as did wicketkeeper Amy Jones and Danni Wyatt, while fellow opener Sophia Dunkley was a bargain for Giants at £60,000, given her recent form. Quicks Lauren Bell and Wong went to Warriorz and Mumbai Indians respectively for £37,000 each, while Knight's 40 lakh (£40,000) base-price deal came after being overlooked in the initial draw.
Knight said it was also important to make sure those who hadn't secured a place in the competition, beginning on March 4, were doing okay too.
"I think the whole team will make sure individuals are looked after, that's really important and what we're about as a side," she said. "The value of players to the England team doesn't change because they haven't been picked up, they're still very valuable, everyone in the squad is hugely valuable to us trying to win a World Cup, so that doesn't change.
"They'll certainly be looked after and given space if needed, to deal with anything and try and refocus and get back on it. Every individual will be given that support and ultimately we want to get the best out of every player, however we do that. The main thing is making sure they're okay and then trying to refocus on cricket and get the best out of all the individuals in our team."
In the end, England managed to retain their focus to secure a comfortable win, after bowling Ireland out for 105 with 1.5 overs to spare, even if they made their run-chase a little harder than it might have been, with only Capsey passing 16 thanks to Cara Murray's 3 for 15 on a golden day for spinners. Auction-wise, no Ireland players were chosen, despite expectations that Gaby Lewis - their top-scorer with 36 off 37 - might spark some interest.
For 18-year-old Capsey, a fine (pay)day was made sweeter by the fact that she only recently returned from a broken collarbone suffered in December.
"We were expecting to not have her available, so to see her come back and overcome that sort of injury - and mentally it can be quite tricky as well - so the fact that she's worked her way through that and come back is brilliant," Knight said. "She fits with exactly how I want to play the game, that fearlessness, she goes out and plays in one way and really takes on the powerplay, which is what we want from our top three players."
At least by the time South Africa and New Zealand lined up for a crunch match in the evening, with both sides looking to avoid a second straight - and potentially tournament-ending - defeat, there was no auction hanging over them, just a stunning Paarl sunset.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo