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Issy Wong's woes put a dent in the optimism of England youth policy

Troubling display from out-of-sorts quick leads to questions about wisdom of selection

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Issy Wong was playing for England for the first time this year, England vs Sri Lanka, 2nd women's T20I, Chelmsford, September 2, 2023

Issy Wong was playing for England for the first time this year  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Heather Knight, England's captain, admitted her young team had been handed some "humble pie" after a chastening eight-wicket defeat against Sri Lanka in the second T20I at Chelmsford. However, she defended the decision to give a recall to the visibly out-of-sorts Issy Wong, whose troublingly erratic display put an extra dampener on what Knight admitted had been a case of her team "all [having] a bad day at the same time, unfortunately".
England had come into the contest brimful of optimism after an emphatic victory in the series opener at Hove on Thursday. However, faced with a sensational captain's performance from Chamari Athapaththu, they were this time routed for 104 in 18 overs, then clubbed to defeat with a massive 40 balls to spare. Athapaththu herself led from the front with 55 from 40 balls, as Sri Lanka secured a famous maiden T20I victory over England at the tenth time of asking.
"We've had a bad day, we've lost a game of cricket," Knight said. "There's not going to be a big inquiry about it. We haven't played well and Sri Lanka have played very well, and given us a bit of humble pie to be honest.
"Credit to Sri Lanka, but sometimes that happens in cricket," she added. "We've got a very inexperienced side, a lot of guys are learning their trade, and we can identify some areas we can get better at. It's obviously quite a humbling day, but also an opportunity for us to really home in on what we need to do better, moving forward."
England's batting was clearly to blame for the defeat, as a succession of players succumbed to the hard lengths of Sri Lanka's spinners - most notably the recalled Inoshi Fernando, who offered little width on a hybrid wicket and turned the screw relentlessly after a dominant powerplay.
However, it was Wong's performance with the ball that attracted the most attention after the match. She was visibly struggling with her run-up in a grim first over that contained a wide and three front-foot no-balls, and it was something of a surprise when Knight entrusted her with a second over with Sri Lanka needing just 13 runs to win. Three driven fours later, the scores were level and Wong's comeback figures read 2-0-24-0.
"It was a tough day and sometimes, when you're exposed to that sort of pressure situation, it can make it tougher, but she's a pretty resilient character," Knight said. "She's a pretty positive person, so I don't think it will affect her too much."
Nevertheless, Wong's display - in her first international appearance since December - was an alarming one for those who recall the ebullience and optimism of her initial England performances, particularly her three-for on her ODI debut against South Africa in July 2022, when she was being earmarked as the obvious pace-bowling successor to Katherine Sciver-Brunt.
Since then, however, Wong was a notable omission from England's T20 World Cup squad in South Africa, and this summer she has seen the likes of Lauren Filer and, latterly, Mahika Gaur leapfrog her in the pace pecking order.
And though she remains a hugely marketable asset for English cricket, as evidenced by her memorable hat-trick for Mumbai Indians in the inaugural WPL in India earlier this year, Wong's performance in this year's Hundred - a total of 30 balls and one wicket across five matches as Birmingham Phoenix finished rock-bottom and winless - left England, as Knight put it, "looking for a bit of context for where she's at".
"She's been struggling a little bit for rhythm the whole summer," Knight said. "She's been given five balls at a time in the Hundred. She hasn't had a chance to come back from spells, and that's probably put a lot of pressure on how she starts.
"She has been trying a few things and listening to a lot of different voices, which has probably led to her run-up issues. She didn't really have those earlier in the summer. We know what sort of cricketer she can be, which is why we've backed her when she's been struggling a little bit."
Knight added that Wong's next step would be to work closely with Matt Mason, England women's bowling coach, "to get back to where we know she can be".
"Issy's got a clear plan over the next month about what she's going to do. Matt Mason's an outstanding bowling coach. We wanted to get a bit of context of where she's at, and Issy wanted a bit of context of where she's at as well. She had a few good sessions, and don't regret playing her at all."
Overall, however, Knight insisted that the lessons that Sri Lanka had meted out at Chelmsford would be valuable ones for her young team, and far from exposing the limitations of an untested group of players, the added jeopardy of a series decider in Derby on Wednesday would be a further chance to fast-track their growth.
"It wasn't about underestimating Sri Lanka at all," Knight said. "It was about what's best for us as a side, moving forward. We want to expose people to international cricket, we were pretty clear that that was the goal at the start of this series, and no one was [complaining] at Hove when we were smashing 180 off 17 overs, so I wouldn't change anything.
"It's a good lesson for youngsters that, if you're not able to execute your skills how you want to, you're going to get punished. Unfortunately it's gone wrong for pretty much everyone, so it's a bad day at the office. But we'll go to Derby, still looking to play exactly how we want to play, and obviously it's a series decider, which is exciting."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket