England coach offers blunt WT20 assessment

Robinson says his side needs to be fitter and faster after semi-final defeat to Southern Stars

After a five-run defeat, a cricket coach can normally find excuses easily. An umpiring decision here, an inside-edge for four there, and just plain bad luck.

All of which makes Mark Robinson’s reaction to England women’s semi-final defeat by the Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars so interesting. He refused to embrace clichés or hard luck stories, and instead accepted an inconvenient truth.

"We've got to get fitter. We're not fit enough. They out-ran us," he said.

"Athleticism is something you are given by God but fitness is something we've got to get better, because we missed out on twos. We've got to change our mindset a bit, toughen up a bit."

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England’s collapse in their semi-final was spectacular and dramatic; from needing 45 from 42 balls with nine wickets in hand, they were beaten before the final ball.

It would be tempting to write it off as an aberration, but it was nothing of the sort.

England had collapses against Australia in being well-beaten in the Ashes last English summer, and displayed a knack for self-implosion all tournament.

Against India, 1-42 became 8-87 before England squeezed home by two wickets. Against the West Indies, 0-59 became 9-106 before England eked out a one-wicket win off the last ball. Such scares are meant to harden a team; instead they only gave notice of England’s vulnerabilities.

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Against Australia, their third ignominious collapse of the tournament finally resulted in a defeat that extends England’s run since their last victorious ICC event to seven years.

In the halcyon days of 2009, England won the 50-over World Cup, the World T20 and the Ashes within six months.

Something has gone badly awry since.

Yet in one crucial respect English women’s cricket is in an infinitely better state today. In May 2014 the side turned professional, awarding 18 professional contracts, a number that has now ticked up to 19.

But professionalism has brought no such revolution in the quality of England’s cricket: hence Robinson’s comments on their fitness. 

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then England have not been sane for two years. We have seen regular middle order collapses and not enough sharp running.

But that is what happens when you pick the same players.

Since becoming professional, England have not selected a single debutant in T20 cricket.

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Here England have been left behind. Australian professional contracts were introduced in May 2013, a year before the English equivalent. But the instructive difference lies underneath.

While Australia have recognised that creating a professional structure counts for little without insuring that there are opportunities for those just underneath to improve and put pressure on those with contracts, England have neglected the need to build depth in the system.

In terms of opportunity and funding, there is a chasm between the 19th best female cricketer in England and the 20th, which acts as a roadblock to creating competition in the national squad.

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Thanks to the Women’s Big Bash and the Women's National Cricket League, those bubbling under the Australian squad have the chance to force their way into the set-up and receive pay that, while far less than they would like, dwarfs their equivalents in England.

The creation of the Super League this summer is welcome, and should help bridge the gap between domestic and international cricket, especially as Meg Lanning has suggested that several Australians will be involved.

But it will only count for so much unless Robinson and the England set-up dare to trust those who emerge.

The current team have been a great generation, but the time to forge a new era is overdue.

Next summer England host the next 50-over World Cup. If they are to have a chance of ending their rut in global events, tinkering around the edges will not be enough.