Thursday, 19 May 2016

Robinson's Brave New World

Mark Robinson, formerly the first-team coach at Sussex, took over the role of Head Coach of the England Women at the end of 2015, just 139 days ago.

A month into his new regime the 18 players who had first been contracted by the ECB in May 2014, all had their contracts renewed for another 12 months, with Middlesex's Fran Wilson being the only addition to the contracted pool. This despite poor performances from many on the tour to New Zealand, and during the unsuccessful defence of the Ashes in the summer of 2015, which led to the exit of Paul Shaw as England's Head of Performance and Robinson's ultimate appointment.

Before he had even met most of the team Robinson was plunged into a tour to South Africa, with a squad he could not have picked for himself. England have no selectors, so you can only assume it had been chosen by the outgoing Shaw and his two coaches, David Capel and Carl Crowe, with input from skipper Charlotte Edwards. England won the ODI series 2-1, and then the T20 series by the same score. It summed up where they were at the time - inconsistent.

The squad returned to England with just four weeks before the WWT20 started in India, and with the WWT20 squad having already been announced before the T20 games against South African had even been played. Quite how much input Robinson had had into that squad selection is not clear, but it seems that the squad was probably already selected before the South Africa tour even started. Suffice to say there were no real surprises, apart, perhaps, from the omission of the hard-hitting Lauren Winfield and the inclusion of left-arm seamer Tash Farrant, who would go on to play no part in the tournament.

England under-whelmed at the WWT20 with their batting again looking fragile and their bowling and fielding not much better. In the semi-final, against a jaded and misfiring Aussie team, they only need to chase down 132. They failed. Miserably. In the post-match press conference, the Head Coach sat alongside his dejected captain, Charlotte Edwards. He knew it was a game they should have won. She knew it was a game they should have won. Robinson blamed lack of fitness and failure to turn ones into twos. Edwards found it hard to speak at all.

And so no triumphant return to England at the beginning of April, before three weeks off for the England girls, ahead of a demanding schedule in 2016, starting with a home series against Pakistan, the inaugural KSL, and then away series to West Indies and Sri Lanka, with qualification for the home-staged Women's World Cup on the line.

The England girls reappeared with the start of the women's county championship at the beginning of May. Well some of them did. Sarah Taylor was mysteriously missing from the Sussex team, despite the fact that they were playing Kent in their second game of the weekend. It subsequently transpired that the world's best woman keeper, and one of the most talented batsmen, was taking her second break from cricket. How long for no-one knows.

Robinson was at that game and chatted amiably with all and sundry as the teams waited for the rain to stop and the pitch to dry out. However all and sundry did not appear to include Charlotte Edwards, who went out and scored just 1 before being bowled as Kent lost to their bitter rivals. The next day she received a text message from Clare Connor saying they needed to talk. Her career as England captain was over and she was not going to be selected for the three series in 2016, to allow Robinson to develop a new team. She decided it was time to call it a day on the international front.

There is no doubt that Edwards has been a huge influence in English women's cricket, but perhaps that influence had been allowed to become too pervasive and introspective. Just before the Ashes series England sacked their selectors. Squad and team selection was left to the management and Edwards. There seemed to be no place for new blood. No new T20 players were tried in the two years before the WWT20.

In South Africa Robinson had moved Edwards to bat at number three in the three ODIs against South Africa, which allowed youngsters Lauren Winfield and Amy Jones to open the batting with a more aggressive mindset. But with the WWT20 looming Edwards was back at number 1 for the T20 series - she made 13, 34 and 2. She took the same role at the WWT20 with her opening partner being her Kent team-mate Tammy Beaumont. Beaumont took the lead, hitting four 6s, until the fateful semi-final when she went back into her shell scoring 32 off 40 balls. It was to be Edwards last game in an England shirt.

So Robinson is now looking to rebuild the England team, around a new captain, who will be named in the next few weeks. It is a difficult balancing act as England also need ICC Women's Championship wins to get them into the top four for the 2017 World Cup. Under the Shaw/Edwards regime England have stumbled to just six wins out of the 12 scheduled games, with two losses to both New Zealand and Australia, and one to South Africa, with one game rained-off. They probably need to win at least five of their last nine games to be sure of qualifying. They are expected to beat Pakistan and Sri Lanka 3-0, but Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka could be a tough gig. In between they have to go to Jamaica to play the Windies, still on a high from their WWT20 triumph. It won't be easy.

Robinson will undoubtedly try a few new players this summer, which is what England should have been doing over the past two years. Instead they declined to look outside their pool of 18 contracted players, even when their international records failed to warrant their selection. It means that Robinson has an awful lot to do in a very short space of time, during which he, and his players, will be under intense scrutiny. Should they lose an ODI to Pakistan you can imagine the tabloid headlines.

Robinson is a smart cookie though, and he knew that he had to make the break with Edwards and the old-style regime now, if he were to have any chance in the 2017 World Cup. If not now then when would it have been? It may still not be long enough to prove effective for 2017, but it could be for the WWT20 in the West Indies in 2018. That has to be his goal. If his new-style England can perform admirably in the meantime then that has to be a bonus.

Robinson's problem will not be with his players, but with the press, and with public perception. They will not care two hoots that he has inherited a team that was allowed to stagnate horribly during Paul Shaw's three year tenure. He is the man in the hot seat and they will demand results. I hope he gets them, but even more, I hope he is allowed time to rebuild his team, even if he doesn't.



  1. Some would say a smart coach makes the best use of resources at his disposal. Yes captains and players have a shelf life but what we will never know is whether the transition could've been smoother by making it clear that CE would have to fight for a place.

    There is also one other worrying scenario - what if the earlier assessment of the academy is right (the WSL is not the solution if only the overseas players star)?

    It is certainly a huge opportunity for youth but the number who have fallen by the wayside while waiting for this new dawn may mean a lengthy rebuild for Mr Robinson and without selectors. We wait in hope....

  2. Nice article, well written and I generally agree, however...

    Para 5: " In the semi-final, against a jaded and misfiring Aussie team". They are still the Aussies though. They certainly bowled better at us than they did West Indies. They did enough against us. Farrell and Schutt are a regular problem for England, Farrell cheap and Schutt getting wickets, and we've not yet learnt how to deal with them. The main problem was we didn't maintain a high enough run rate, despite the much focussed-on "collapse", we were only 7 down and it was ultimately the low run rate that lost us the game.

    Para 10 "Beaumont ... went back into her shell scoring 32 off 40 balls". Beaumont would have had a few more if Edwards could have run them with her. Also taking the better standard of bowling into account, her strike rate was only a bit worse than the other matches, not really worth dwelling on. Main culprits were Taylor and Knight, they needed to hit out or get out, so a partial "collapse" could have actually worked for us if you think about it.

    Para 12 "Should they lose an ODI to Pakistan you can imagine the tabloid headlines". It's a serious possibility now. But, in my view, excusable given no Edwards and a new captain. We just need a bad day with the bat, and that is definitely possible without CE or ST. Best to prepare for the worst...

    Para 13 "Robinson ... knew that he had to make the break with Edwards and the old-style regime now, if he were to have any chance in the 2017 World Cup." I'd say that the loss of Edwards (and hard to see how Taylor's recess not connected to the former either) makes us less likely to win 2017 WC, not more likely. Maybe post-2017 WCs wins are more likely. We will have to bear witness to the fastest period of improvement in the modern era in order to make up for those losses, something that has been conspicuous by its absence in recent years. It could take a lot longer for this to pay off. But without results in the short term, MR could be forced out by the end of the year. I hope that doesn't happen but unless he can weather any short-term storms it may be difficult for him to see out his full tenure.