Cricket

Concerns over Katherine Brunt


England’s 15-player squad for next month’s Women’s World T20 has been selected in the knowledge that Katherine Brunt, the squad’s senior allrounder, may not be fit enough to play a full part when the tournament gets underway in the Caribbean in just over a month’s time.

Brunt, Player of the Match when England last lifted the trophy against New Zealand in 2009, has been managing a back problem that she first sustained in this year’s Big Bash, and would be an “impossible” player to replace, according to the head coach, Mark Robinson.

“We hope she’s fit but we’ve got to be ready and prepared if she’s not,” said Robinson. “She’s an impossible batter to replace because she bats 5 or 6 and opens the bowling as well so she’s two players in one.”

Now aged 33, Brunt reiterated her enduring value to England this summer, producing another Player-of-the-Match performance against New Zealand to seal the tri-series T20 final at Chelmsford, and providing vital middle-order runs at key moments of the summer, including a career-best 72 not out against South Africa in the first ODI.

“She had her back flare up in the Big Bash in Australia last year, and played on with it, which caused some issues,” said Robinson. “It settled down a bit in the summer then flared up again, so we don’t know at this stage obviously. But we’ve tried to get her in the squad, and it does help that we’ve got some cover to do her role as well, which had a bearing on selection.”

Of the three uncapped players in England’s squad, two have been picked specifically with Brunt’s condition in mind – Sophia Dunkley, a hard-hitter middle-order batsman for Surrey Stars who can bowl the occasional spell of legspin, and Linsey Smith, a left-arm spinner who started her career as a seamer and is therefore adept at bowling at various different stages of the innings.

“You’ve got to be ready for two things, Anya [Shrubsole] and Katherine going down,” said Robinson. “How do you cover their spots as opening bowlers? That’s where Linsey comes in as she can bowl in all parts of the game, which not many bowlers can do. She’s different to all the other bowlers we’ve got and she can do some of the uglier parts of the game pretty well as well.”

The concerns over Brunt’s fitness follow on from last week’s withdrawal of Sarah Taylor due to her ongoing anxiety condition, and her potential absence would leave Jenny Gunn as the last remaining veteran of the 2009 World T20 squad. However, England’s captain, Heather Knight, is confident that the lessons learnt during an incredible World Cup final victory over India in 2017 will translate to the shorter format.

“It’s a nice mix of players, which is what is needed to win tournaments,” said Knight. “In T20 cricket we’ve got a core of eight or nine players who have played a lot. And it feels at the moment like it’s just about adding those little bits, ways we can get better as a team. They’ve got no scars, no fear – I’ve said to them ‘keep doing what you’re doing, keep doing what’s got you here’ and enjoy it. You’ve got to go out there and show no fear.”

Nevertheless, the absence of Taylor in particular is a blow. Though Robinson reiterated that her condition needed to be handled as if it was a physical ailment, he did concede that it had been a disruption to their preparation.

“Look, it is a little bit [disruptive], but you have to be honest,” he said. “You don’t want to be dependent on one player. But she’s a world-class player. It’s not easy to replace. If Katherine or Tammy [Beaumont] goes down, what do you do? You don’t want to be caught short there. It makes it real. It makes you do your proper planning.

“We’ve got options, and that’s what you’re trying to do. I reckon Amy Jones is the best keeper in the world after Sarah, as a pure gloveperson. I’ll argue that with anybody. So we’re covered there.”

“What Heather and I have tried to do is get a team for all conditions, on all wickets, all boundary sizes,” Robinson added. “You don’t want to be a one-dimensional team. People can label us what they want: favourites, not favourites. What we will be is well-planned, well-drilled, brilliantly led, and we’ll see where that gets us.”

In spite of their own insistence that they will not travel to the tournament as favourites, it hasn’t been lost on the England team management that the last time they were 50-over World Champions, in that heady year of 2009, they cleaned up over 20 overs too.

“There’s always that pressure and expectation. It’s not very often you in your career that you get a chance to win both white-ball trophies,” said Knight. “Obviously I wasn’t involved in 2009. Some of the girls were, and hearing their experiences and memories is great.

“It’s a very unique opportunity we’ve got. The good thing is that we’ve got a bigger pool of players it’s making sure everyone’s pushing to make get on that plane. There’s no room for complacency. Players are battling for places.”

Whatever does transpire, however, it is highly unlikely that Robinson will find himself criticising his squad for their lack of basic fitness, as was the case when they were eliminated by Australia in Delhi in the semi-finals of the last tournament back in 2016.

“There were certain things you just had to draw a line under,” he said. “Athleticism is something you’re given or you’re not, you can’t really make someone into a gun athlete. But actual fitness, that’s just a prerequisite.

“There’ll always be times when we’ll get it wrong as teams and individuals,” he added. “We’re all human. We’re not the perfect team, by any stretch of the imagination. But this summer we went 1-0 down [against South Africa] and we come back 2-1. We’ve shown that as long as we stay together and stay tight we’ve got a courage about us. We stay tight. It will always give you a chance.

“I think a lot of what happened in the last T20 World Cup was the making of this side,” added Knight. “A lot of differences that we are as a group will hopefully be shown. We’ll have the bit between our teeth.”



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