Sussex men's coach Mark Robinson has been appointed the new Head Coach of the England Women's Cricket team. A straight-talking Yorkshireman Robinson had a long and successful first-class career, and then proved to be an effective coach at Sussex, winning two county championships and several limited over trophies. He is obviously highly thought of in coaching circles, succesfully coaching the England Lions on recent tours, and was one of the candidates interviewed for the England Men's job. His appointment is a coup for the England Women's team.
He will take over his role at the end of the year, but his first meeting with his full squad will be just before they fly off to South Africa for their tour at the end of January. Nine of the England winter training squad of 21 are currently in Australia. Eight will be playing in the Big Bash and have been told they can stay until the final, which is on 24th January, if their team makes it that far.
Indeed there is likely to be no honeymoon period for the new boss. England are currently languishing in fifth place in the ICC Women's Championship, two points behind South Africa, who they meet in February. England have to finish in the top four to qualify automatically for the World Cup in 2017, which just happens to be on home soil. South Africa, with little game time for the majority of the squad and only T20 games for the rest, will be a tough ask. England really need to be targeting all six ICCWC points, but realistically they will probably accept four as a reasonable return on foreign soil in the middle of winter.
Despite some poor results over the last 18 months - Test Match loss to India; losing two of the ICCWC games in New Zealand and the summer Ashes defeat - England have stuck rigidly with their contracted players. In fact just 16 of their 18 players - neither Tammy Beaumont nor Tash Farrant featured in the England squads selected in 2015. The eighteen players have been "fully professional" now for 19 months and their contracts have been extended until the end of January 2016. It seems increasingly likely that all 18 will have their contracts renewed then for another year. All are in the recently-announced England Women's Winter Performance squad, with Fran Wilson, Beth Langston and Jodie Dibble (all currently uncontracted). The new Head Coach will have to try and get more out of players who have been training as professionals for almost two years, despite that fact that many of them have not put in the sort of performances you would expect over the past 18 months.
In addition a few of the players are reaching the end of their international careers. 35 year old Charlotte Edwards (she will be 36 in December) has clearly stated that she wants to lead the England side in the 2017 World Cup as her career swansong. Whilst she still merits her place as a batsmen (despite having a poor international 2015) many have called into question her captaincy, which was second-best against the Aussies this summer, and frequently appeared to be too formulaic. Heather Knight appears to be being groomed for the position post 2017, but has had precious little experience and needs to nail down her spot as an opener. Her transition into a batting off-spinner has probably been more successful than Moeen Ali's, but the shine is beginning to wear rather thin on her bowling. Perhaps England should be looking to the likes of Anya Shrubsole as a future captain? Whoever it is they need some time in charge, preferably with Edwards at their side.
Also over 30 are Lydia Greenway and Katherine Brunt, with Jenny Gunn 30 in May next year. They have all been in the side for a number of years. Brunt is perhaps bowling as well as ever, but you feel that she cannot go on much longer. Greenway and Gunn's best days are probably behind them and both were dropped for games for England during 2015.
After returning from South Africa, England will be heading almost immediately out to India for the Women's T20 World Cup. The tournament starts on 11th March and finishes on 3rd April 2016. Anything less than a place in the semi-finals will be deemed as failure, in fact many would say anything less than a place in the final.
There should be some respite during the summer as England entertain Pakistan, who they would expect to beat comfortably. In addition to the three ICCWC ODIs let's hope they also play some additional games and that England take the opportunity to try out a few new players and, perhaps, a new captain.
2016 is rounded off with tours to the West Indies and Sri Lanka to complete all the ICCWC games. England will hope that by that time their top four qualification will not be in doubt. If it is then the pressure will really be on. Failing to qualify automatically for your own World Cup would be very embarrassing.
All in all it is going to be a tough year for Robinson, but he has the credentials to succeed, although it could be a bumpy ride for both spectators and the England players.