England clinched an emphatic win in their first one-day international in 14 months against New Zealand, their first tour match in nearly a year.
They broke boundaries in the process, their eight-wicket win saw England share the wickets between seven different bowlers, with the returning left-arm seamer Tash Farrant claiming two in her first ODI since 2013 and two years after losing her England contract.
“I think that was a massive statement from Tash,” Tammy Beaumont, who hit 72 off 86 balls, said of her team-mate’s performance. “She’s been exceptional since she’s come in on the tour. She’s put pressure on the seam attack, she’s bowling really well and swinging it again, it’s great to see that. She fully deserved to get her second ODI cap after a few years break and she showed why she’s on this tour and deserves to be here. I’m really happy for her.”
Farrant’s wait for her international return has been mirrored in England’s own patience during the coronavirus pandemic. Tuesday marked their first 50-over match since Dec 2019, their longest run without playing the format since 1997.
After last February’s T20 World Cup - where rain prevented them from playing their semi-final clash - England have played just five days of cricket, all at home to the West Indies in a T20 series last summer. It was a wonder that happened at all, after it had to be hastily arranged following South Africa and India pulling out of their respective tours in England due to the pandemic.
All in all, this past year has not been ideal preparation for England's world title defence - now 13 months away, after hosts New Zealand were forced to postpone proceedings and push the tournament to 2022. To return to longer form cricket has been an adjustment, Beaumont admitted, citing their surprise loss in one of the warm-up fixtures last week:
“There was probably a lot of rust in those warm up games, it’s been a very long time since we played any longer format cricket so we really had to work hard in the nets and get back to that idea of batting long and not playing T20 cricket in a 50-over game.
"[Today] is the kind of performance we really want to pride ourselves on, to hit that standard every time. We have a history of not starting very well so it was great we came out and gave a convincing win today."
Playing in such good form at Christchurch's Hagley Oval was a good omen, Beaumont hoped, with the World Cup final scheduled there come April 2022: "We’re desperate to defend our title and hopefully get to that final. The whole tour is brilliant preparation for us to come out here a year ahead the World Cup. Hopefully we’ll be back."
The ECB are planning a path to that Hagley final in 14 months with an ambitious schedule for England. A return series with New Zealand is set to be announced, as well as a visit from South Africa, and in October England will go on a three-match ODI tour to Pakistan in their first ever visit to the country.
The aim is to catch up to world leaders Australia. The T20 world champions swept past New Zealand in their own three-match series last October, and are scheduled to take them on again come April. Despite England being the reigning ODI world champions, Australia are the ones to beat, and are currently one win away from breaking the 2003 Australia Men's side's 21-match winning streak in the format.
Closing the gap on them this past year has been impossible for England with their limited schedule, but news this week of The Hundred pushing the women's matches to the forefront, in a domestic summer that includes three times as many fixtures than ever, is a promising place to push on from. Farrant is one of 41 full-time professionals at regional teams that will help boost standards and make England players less reliant on international touring for top level competition.
This tour of New Zealand, which continues on Thursday, could be the starting block for England's rebuild year.