|West Indies v England (3 ODIs, 5 T20s)|
|Venues: Antigua and Barbados Dates: 4-22 December|
|Coverage: Match reports and analysis on BBC Sport website|
“When you take over an England cricket team, World Cups and Ashes series are at the top of that priority list.”
Those are the words of Jon Lewis, the newly-appointed head coach of England women, who has both within his first 10 months in the job.
The T20 World Cup awaits in South Africa in February, before a dominant Australia come to England for a multi-format Ashes series in June and July.
The state of the team is Lewis’ first port of call after a disappointing summer in which they finished fourth in the Commonwealth Games and were swept aside 3-0 by India in a one-day international series.
He begins with a white-ball tour of the Caribbean, with England facing West Indies in three ODIs followed by five T20s. The first ODI is in Antigua on Sunday.
It is unclear how much of a challenge West Indies will present, especially with star all-rounder Deandra Dottin having stepped away from the international game, but the tour should still be beneficial for Lewis and captain Heather Knight as they prepare for the T20 World Cup.
How to blend youth and experience
England endured several painful moments during the summer, from New Zealand clinching the bronze medal in an eight-wicket thrashing at the Commonwealth Games to India’s Harmanpreet Kaur flogging their attack round Canterbury with ease.
But it was an inexperienced England side missing its stars in Knight, Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver. And while that was clearly a huge contributing factor in the results, they have learned they cannot afford to rely on them as heavily as they had been.
Knight has now recovered from a hip injury and is back to lead the side for the West Indies series, Sciver is back after taking a break because of mental health issues and Brunt is in for the T20 leg of the tour.
“We’ve got a really nice blend of youth and experience so pulling those players together is going to be important,” Knight told the BBC Stumped podcast.
“It’s going to be like a reset for us. It’s been a strange summer with a lot of our senior players missing.
“The young girls have brought in a real freshness and freedom, and this tour will be about making sure players are clear on their roles and working out what is going to be our best combination for the World Cup.”
Despite Knight’s reference to a “reset”, the squad consists of the same players we saw throughout the summer – just with the return of their three established names.
So for Lewis, the challenge will be making sure that “blend of youth and experience” comes to fruition – preparing his young guns to step up if the experienced names do not.
And the young talent is certainly there to work with. The likes of Issy Wong, Alice Capsey and Lauren Bell showed plenty of potential during the summer, and while they may be raw at the moment, they are exciting prospects.
Chance to develop more leaders
While the West Indies is the immediate focus for Lewis and Knight, it feels inevitable that one eye should be looking to the future given how much England struggled in the summer without their experienced campaigners.
The bright spark was beating India 2-1 in the T20 series, which will give confidence going into the World Cup, but the ODI drubbing was perhaps a bit of a wake-up call to the fact preparations need to be made for when the team’s stalwarts step aside, and the need to develop more leadership skills in the side.
Sciver stepped in as skipper for the Commonwealths, but took a break from the game after and has decided not to take the vice-captaincy for the West Indies.
It was then over to wicketkeeper Amy Jones for India, who admitted captaincy was not something she had planned on doing for England and through no fault of her own, looked out of her depth – but she has been named as Knight’s deputy for the upcoming series.
England must now start developing some other leaders in the side in preparation for Knight’s retirement.
Charlie Dean stepped in for London Spirit in Knight’s absence, a positive move that suggested the management consider her a potential future captain.
The opening partnership has fluctuated over the past year, with Tammy Beaumont being paired with Lauren Winfield-Hill, Danni Wyatt and Emma Lamb. The latter impressed at the start of the summer, scoring her maiden international century against South Africa, and has the chance to nail down her place and provide the line-up with more stability.
Brunt, though, is nearing the end of her career and during 2022 lost her long-term bowling partner in Anya Shrubsole.
Kate Cross is the obvious answer to lead the attack, but the series presents Lewis with a great opportunity to give Freya Davies more responsibility while developing the likes of Bell, Wong and Kemp.
And while there are unanswered questions for Lewis, he remains excited by the challenge and has already set them a high bar, saying there is “nothing this group can’t achieve”.
“We’ve got a beautifully balanced side now and this summer we saw the emergence of some players who might not have got those opportunities had all our senior players been fit and firing,” said Lewis.
“I’m very fortunate they have tasted international cricket now, and know what it takes to win at international level.”