New coach of England women's cricket team has one aim: to entertain

England's new head coach Jon Lewis - Jon Lewis takes inspiration from a legendary New Zealand rugby man - Mike Egerton/PA
England's new head coach Jon Lewis - Jon Lewis takes inspiration from a legendary New Zealand rugby man - Mike Egerton/PA

Asked what style of leadership he wants to bring to the England Women's cricket team, new head coach Jon Lewis is taking inspiration from a legendary New Zealand rugby man.

"I read a quote from Wayne Smith the other day, after the Rugby World Cup final, about how he never thought in a million years he could get 40,000 New Zealanders to pay to watch women play rugby," Lewis said, referring to the record-breaking attendance for Smith's Black Ferns's victory over England's Red Roses earlier this month.

"That’s a guy with massive pedigree in men’s sport. When I read that I thought that’s something I’d love to achieve as a coach. It’s a great challenge for me."

To do that, he wants his team to play "great, entertaining cricket". His tinkering will begin in next month's tour of the West Indies, but the real tests are February's T20 World Cup in South Africa and an at-home Ashes next summer.

As for getting bums on seats, 15,000 tickets have already been sold for England's July Edgbaston fixture against Australia, so it appears Lewis's timing is perfect.

This is his first job in women's cricket, after serving as bowling coach in the England men's setup under Chris Silverwood and Brendon McCullum. He has also worked with the junior Lions groups and only flew back from Dubai on Sunday, where he had been with the senior Lions.

He said watching women's sport gain momentum over the past year – with a woman's boxing card packing out Madison Square Garden, a home football Euros and rugby World Cup in New Zealand – drew him to apply for the head coaching job.

"I think when you take over an England cricket team, whatever team that is, World Cups and Ashes series are top of the priorities," Lewis, 47, told reporters on Wednesday.

"But there's a bigger picture as well in terms of entertaining and inspiring. I want our team to play the style or brand of cricket that brings people into the stadium so they really want to come and watch."

He has spent just two days with his new team so far, but the blend of experienced stalwarts and fresh youngsters is already clear to see. England captain Heather Knight is back after a spell out with a hip injury, while Nat Sciver and Katherine Brunt also return to the squad for the West Indies tour – which includes three ODIs and five T20s.

Heather Knight - Jon Lewis takes inspiration from a legendary New Zealand rugby man - Andrew Couldridge/Reuters
Heather Knight - Jon Lewis takes inspiration from a legendary New Zealand rugby man - Andrew Couldridge/Reuters

Alongside them will be talented pace bowler Issy Wong, 18-year-old all-rounder Alice Capsey and Lauren Winfield-Hill, who has been recalled for England following a spell on the sidelines. The top-order batter has not played for the team since she was dropped during the group stages of the 50-over World Cup in New Zealand in April, but a resurgent summer of domestic cricket earned her another shot.

While Lewis was not on the selection panel this time, he is already attuned to the delicate management required with this squad. Sciver took time off this summer to focus on her mental health, while Brunt was also rested, and many of the youngsters are still feeling their way into international cricket.

'You don't coach gender'

"My role immediately is to get to know the players as much as possible. Then make the judgement call with each and every individual in how you’re going to coach them. You coach individuals, you coach people – you don’t coach gender. So it’s about starting to understand people."

While he kept his on-field plans under wraps, learning what makes each individual tick through long walk-and-talk meetings will be his approach off the field. He has already started on that front with captain Knight, who he took on a two-hour wander around the Loughborough grounds on Tuesday, while senior player Brunt also joined him for a walk. With a World Cup only three months away, he has a lot of steps to get in.

"I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, the great thing about touring is you get a lot of time," he said. "So out in Antigua you might see me pacing the beaches and the hotel.

"I generally like to get out on my feet rather than sitting face-to-face, you get a lot more and better style of communication when people aren’t looking you in the eyes."

After coming second to Australia again at the World Cup in April, England's failed Commonwealth Games campaign and mixed bag against India in September – where they missed many of their more experienced players – were not confidence-inducing results.

But Lewis is confident the ingredients are all there to turn them around ahead of a seismic 2023.

"There's nothing the group cannot achieve," he said. "The team’s ready to fly, my job is to take the handbrake off, and free the players to play to their full potential."