On Wednesday morning the ECB announced an ambitious 2023 Women’s Ashes fixture list, which includes maiden visits to Lord’s, The Oval and Edgbaston and a five-day Test at Trent Bridge. It’s a schedule designed to reflect the apparent global preeminence of England and Australia in women’s cricket: these two teams are the ones who are worth showing up for. By Wednesday evening, Harmanpreet Kaur had enjoyed ripping that assumption up into tiny shreds and placing it in a metaphorical wastepaper basket.
In a series-sealing performance at Canterbury, the India captain struck an unbeaten 143 from 111 balls, as India stacked up a total of 333 for 5 – the second highest against England in ODIs. Harmanpreet sealed the deal by running out local hero Tammy Beaumont in the second over of England’s chase with a direct hit from mid-on, as England stumbled to 47 for 3 in the powerplay – Renuka Singh Thakur, who finished with four for 57, picking up Sophia Dunkley and Emma Lamb cheaply.
Left requiring a record run-chase, England had inexplicably omitted Alice Davidson-Richards, their top-scorer from the first ODI at Hove. Though a half-century from Danni Wyatt at No 5 offered some resistance, Thakur returned in the 30th over and broke through her defences. Despite a valiant but futile 33-run partnership between Charlie Dean and Lauren Bell for the final wicket, England were all out for 245 in the 45th, falling to their first home series defeat to a side other than Australia since 2007.
England had looked to bolster their bowling by bringing in Bell to open, along with left-armer Freya Kemp, who received her ODI cap from Danni Wyatt before play began. But after warning signs during the first ODI at Hove, this was a second rudderless showing which left the two young seamers battered and bruised. Bell conceded an England ODI record of 79 runs from her 10 overs, until Kemp went on to surpass it minutes later, conceding 82.
“I’m not sure I’ll be throwing my hat in the ring,” Jones had said, days before being handed the role for this series in the absence of Heather Knight. “I think 50 overs is a whole other ball game.” If that helps explain the lack of a clear plan for her seamers against Harmanpreet, it does not excuse it. Strangely, too, the option to bring the off-spin of Emma Lamb into play was ignored, despite the fact that Dean was England’s most economical bowler of the day.
After asking India to bat first, England had made one early indentation: Kate Cross, opening up from the Pavilion End in her 50th ODI, clean bowled Shafali Verma with her third ball of the day. But Smriti Mandhana and Yastika Bhatia took up where they had left off in the first ODI, sharing another half-century partnership. Along the way, Mandhana became the third Indian (after Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet herself) to bring up 3,000 ODI runs.
Neither could touch the 50 mark today: Bhatia was caught and bowled by Dean for 26, and while the Decision Review System was only intermittently functional, it managed to make an appearance for long enough to demonstrate that Mandhana was indeed lbw to Sophie Ecclestone in the 20th over. From there, though, Harmanpreet and Harleen Deol (58 from 72) steadied the ship with a 113-run partnership for the fourth wicket; before Harmanpreet ensured the innings ended with a bang. 62 runs were scored in the final three overs, while Harmanpreet – having brought up her century at exactly a run a ball in the 47th – took just 11 more deliveries to add a further 43.
Without the experience and temperament of Knight and Nat Sciver, and with Lisa Keightley heading to pastures new in October, this was always going to be a tricky series for England to navigate. Even so, none of this bodes well for next year’s big-arena Ashes series. In that time, England have to negotiate the blooding of a new coach, and hope that Knight returns fit as a fiddle – seeing as no one else seems to want the captaincy hot potato. It could be an interesting nine months.