Defeat ‘will not define’ England’s entertainers says Heather Knight
The ‘Jon-ball’ moniker is far less catchy, but there are clear parallels between the approach of England’s women under coach Jon Lewis and that of ‘Bazball’ and the England men’s Test team.
Taking the positive option and looking to assert themselves on the game, England’s batters followed the blueprint in Friday’s semi-final at Cape Town, with openers Sophia Dunkley and Danni Wyatt tearing out of the blocks.
England’s opening pair smashed 53 in five overs before Dunkley was dismissed, and the attacking shots kept on coming as England tried and ultimately failed in the face of a brilliant bowling and fielding performance from South Africa.
Just days earlier, England had racked up 213 against Pakistan in the biggest total ever seen at a Women’s T20 World Cup, and captain Heather Knight believes that performance helped prove that the strategy is the right one, even if the execution against the Proteas was perhaps not.
“I think we got pretty close to chasing the world record score, so I think it proves that it's a pretty good strategy,” Knight said in her media conference after the semi-final loss.
“I think Sophia and Danni at the top of the order were outstanding, got us ahead of the game. We were well ahead of where South Africa were, but they were able to obviously pile runs on at the back end as we weren't able to take the wickets, unfortunately.
“But, yeah, I think the mentality has been outstanding, particularly in the batting group. We've really looked to adopt something a little bit different.”
Playing such positive cricket isn’t a completely new thing for an England side who have been impressing in both white-ball formats in recent years, reaching the final of last year’s Women’s Cricket World Cup.
But the appointment of Lewis in November saw attacking intent given even more weight, with the coach keen to back a mantra that is sweeping through the game.
“It's something we laid the foundations for I think before Jon came in, but we've noticed a real shift and I think it's proving that it's entertaining,” Knight said.
“It's good to watch and we always talk about trying to fit the mindset to the conditions as well and being smart with it.
"It's not purely about risk-taking and as a batter, it's always about weighing up your risks to reward.
“But in T20 cricket, you don't have too much time to not take risks in my opinion.”
England consolidated against South Africa when Knight and Nat Sciver-Brunt eased off the throttle a little through the middle overs following the loss of three wickets.
And the pair had England in a decent position heading towards the innings' final few overs.
But the fall of the tournament’s top-scorer Sciver-Brunt gave South Africa’s excellent bowling attack a way into the game, and Ayabonga Khaka took full advantage, picking up three wickets in an over as England’s lower-middle order struck out.
Requiring a big last two overs, England weren’t quite able to get over the line, ending up six runs short as a packed home crowd celebrated South Africa’s win.
But Knight believes that the experience will be of great benefit to a squad that contains plenty of young talent.
“I think the younger players in particular will learn a lot from that. A lot of them have played in front of big crowds, but when there's so much on it and when it's a World Cup semi-final, that does add to it.
“I think we'll keep faith in T20 cricket, sometimes you're going to lose games unfortunately. And today wasn't our day.”
England will no doubt assess what went right and what went wrong at a tournament where they finished the group stage with the highest Net Run Rate of all ten teams before crashing out at the next hurdle.
But changing the attacking approach will not be one of the options on the table, with Knight believing that their style is the best chance possible of future major-tournament success.
“I think it's been a brilliant tournament, but I think it won't define us as a group,” she said. “I think the way we've been playing and progressing, there's certainly been a mentality shift. And how we want to do things.
“There's always ways you can do better. But I think the way we've played has certainly been entertaining and it's certainly the way forward I think to being successful as well.
“There's always risk in playing that way, but I think it shows that we've nearly chased that down. That is the right strategy to go forward.
"And I think the balance of youth and experience in this group is a really nice one. I think we're building something nicely.
“Obviously it hasn't quite come off in this tournament, unfortunately, but I think the future looks bright.”
England have 18 months to wait until their next opportunity to test themselves against the world’s best, with the next ICC Women’s T20 World Cup scheduled to be held in Bangladesh in September of 2024.
And England will have a chance to regain the 50-over trophy a year later when the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup heads to India in 2025.