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“I’m Really Engaged In Trying To Grow This Team And Inspire The Next Generation” – Jon Lewis

As the international cricketing summer looms, Jon Lewis, the Head Coach of the English Women’s Cricket Team, sat down to offer insights into the team’s preparations, challenges, and aspirations ahead of their series against Pakistan and looked at discourses beyond the series.

Jon Lewis first reflected on the significance of having the England men’s team and the women’s team playing side by side again.

He said, “It was something that was decided to do last summer during the ashes. I thought it worked well. However, I’m engaged in trying to grow this team and inspire the next generation. Having the men’s and women’s series against Pakistan work concurrently, From what I can gather from all the people in the know– that it helps us grow the game and it exposes our players to more hits and more, the more hits we get, the more chance we have of bringing more people into the ground to watch us play. The media is a big part in terms of growing the game and we’re aware of that. That’s why I think it’s useful to have the two working together. There is a spillover of people who watch men’s cricket now starting to come to watch the women’s game, which I think is a really great thing for the girls. I heard that a lot of the grounds are pretty much sold out which is again really exciting for us.”

The crowds have been thronging the stadiums to support England [Image: ECB]
The crowds have been thronging the stadiums to support England [Image: ECB]
Elucidating on the depth of the women’s game in England, looking at the commendable performances of the England U19 team in the just concluded Tri-Series in Sri Lanka and the overall domestic set-up, the coach echoed sentiments of pride. “I’ve been really impressed with our domestic cricket so far this summer. I’ve watched pretty much all the games we got brilliant live streams and I’m able to sit here and watch four games at the same time.”

Talking more, he said, “Sometimes I’ve been out to a couple of grounds as well and watched a few games live in really, really cold at Wormsley last week. Not long, it was too pleasurable, but I saw some good cricket. I was actually talking to our coaches this week about how much I think the domestic game has improved over the year, over a year that I’ve been in charge of since the second domestic season I’ve seen. I’ve been really impressed with the quality at the start of the season.”

Looking at the robust quality of the domestic system in England, he said, “We’re really fortunate we’ve got some really good people working in the domestic game in England. Our pathways are working incredibly hard. We had under-19s and two A tours this winter and obviously two full tours as well. We’re starting to develop a really strong pathway structure within the England setup within the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] and obviously the domestic set-up as well. I’m really excited about how the women’s games moving forward in this country and the depth that that is creating. I thought the Under-19s played some fantastic cricket. It was quite tricky to keep up with the time zone difference in New Zealand while they were there. But it was some really good cricket and probably the hardest conditions to play. I’ve played cricket in Sri Lanka in March and it is incredibly hot and humid. They’ve done amazingly well,” he quipped.

With India recently reviving the red ball tournament in a bid to push and support the growth of test cricket, Jon offered his two cents and shared his assessment of how England will look to buckle up in the test arena. He said, “A lot of that will be down to the scheduling and how whether or not we’re able to fit a lot of the lots of more test cricket in. I think we will play more test cricket.”

For test cricket to flourish, having a strong domestic system is of paramount importance and acknowledging the same, he said, “From my opinion and from a coaching point of view is if we do want to play more test cricket, we need to play more multi-day cricket at the domestic level. So the players are able to experience it and understand the differences of playing multi-day cricket. I actually do strongly believe that playing multi-day cricket will improve our white ball skills as well and will improve our understanding of the game and the tactics of the game in particular.”

England will look to up their game in the test arena [Image: Getty]
England will look to up their game in the test arena [Image: Getty]
He also echoed sentiments of how test cricket will largely help the England team build on their game overall, “We will become a better white-ball team because we play multi-day cricket. The bit that would be my major concern is if we just play test cricket or multi-day cricket at the international level, it will be incredibly hard for our players to adjust. We saw that in India when the conditions were very different to what we’re used to. And the players find it very hard and that’s really understandable from a coaching point of view.”

Answering other questions posed by the journalists, with a blend of tactical acumen and developmental focus, Lewis outlined the team’s progress, highlighting individual players’ growth and the broader strategy for success in the press conference.

Lewis began by reflecting on the recent series against New Zealand, emphasizing the importance of depth in talent and the team’s resilience. “New Zealand was a really interesting series for us across both formats. T20 and 50 over cricket. It really helped us in terms of just understanding the depth of talent and helping grow the depth of talent in English from his cricket. I was really pleased with how the T20 series went,” Lewis remarked, noting the standout performances of players like Maia Bouchier.

“The first bit of it when we were missing a lot of our senior players, WPL, I was really pleased that players were able to step up and show what they could do. Maia Bouchier in particular played very well over there in conditions that were actually a little bit different and a bit trickier than I thought they were going to be in terms of especially around the bounce of the ball. The wickets we played on really were quite bouncy and the grounds we played on were very big for women’s cricket or to what we would be used to playing on in this country. It was tactically and technically a really good challenge for our players and I thought they stood up really well.”

He commended the team’s adaptability, particularly in unfamiliar conditions, underscoring the pivotal role of emerging talents in shaping the squad’s identity.

Speaking about the squad selection and player management ahead of the marquee event, the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, he said, “In terms of this squad in particular, again, I feel like we’re getting closer to knowing what our best 11 is going into a World Cup and then we’ve just got obviously decide what our best 15 is by the end of this summer. So we have three games against Pakistan and then five games against New Zealand and we’ll try and create as many opportunities as we can for all the people who are vying for spots.”

Addressing queries about selection dilemmas, Lewis emphasised the competitive nature of spots, especially in the top order and the number seven position.

“I suppose the spots that are more obviously up for consideration are probably around our number seven spot and around the top order and when they are top order can actually fulfil the potential that they definitely have.”

One player under the spotlight was Freya Kemp, whose return to the squad as a batting option marked a significant milestone in her recovery journey. “She will only bat in this series. She’s a really young cricketer and she’s a really exciting cricketer. We hope to have her back up and running, fit and firing to bowl and bat by the time we get around to the World Cup without putting too much pressure on all the staff who will be working incredibly hard to get her back up and running.”

Freya Kemp will look to have an injury free period [Image: Getty]
Freya Kemp will look to have an injury-free period [Image: Getty]
“She had a pretty bad stress fracture a couple of years ago and she did not have a recurrence of the injury, but a flare-up in that area that we were really conscious that we needed to manage through New Zealand and through the early part of this year. So she hasn’t got a stress fracture, she hasn’t had a new stress fracture. She’s had what you would call a hotspot in her back where we regularly scan her back just because she’s a young fast bowler and we, that’s pretty much the duty of care that we put with all our players, all our young fast bowlers. So she was a little bit angry. We thought actually, let’s just really manage her through this period. She’s back bowling at the moment and she’s working her way back to full fitness.”

Lewis shed light on Kemp’s challenges, navigating through injuries and managing her workload cautiously.

“We’ll manage her through this next part of the summer and hopefully by the time we get towards the 100 and the back end of the New Zealand series, we’ll have her back up and running fully fit to play probably T20 internationals a butler, maybe not 50 overs yet. And she’s a really exciting young cricketer and we felt that she could play a role as a batter in this series. So what I was really keen to do with Tammy [Beaumont] and Dunks [Sophia Dunkley], in particular, was not to carry them around as spare batters, a batter to give them the opportunities to play regional cricket and play some cricket rather than sitting on the bench as two experienced players.”

He expressed optimism about her gradual return to full fitness, acknowledging her potential to contribute to the team’s success in the future.

Tammy Beaumont’s absence from the squad raised eyebrows, but Lewis reiterated her significance and assured that she remains a strong contender for the World Cup squad.

“She’s a really good cricketer. What I would say about what I saw in her in New Zealand, of her in New Zealand was I was impressed with how she went. Maia Bouchier pushed her case more than Tammy at that point and I think Maia deserves from the performance she put in in New Zealand to hold on to a spot. Tammy [Beaumont] and Sophia Dunkley will be very much in the conversation around who should be part of the top three for England at the World Cup.”

Maia Bouchier was in supreme form in the New Zealand series, speaking on the same he said, “A lot of the work is primarily done by the player. The player takes a lot of responsibility for their own for their own gains. Maia has always been incredibly talented. Since I’ve been watching her play cricket, I’m like, wow, this is a really talented cricketer. The bit that I suppose Maia has struggled with in the past is putting regular big scores together. I don’t think she scored 100 for a domestic level so far. She’s been in the 90s twice for England now. So she’s starting to understand how to build bigger innings. The work that we’ve done with her in particular is around controlling emotion and controlling herself in the game and thinking tactically about how she’s going to play. We haven’t done any technical work with Maia Bouchier because my belief is that her technique is really sound.”

Tammy Beaumont and Maia Bouchier in action [Image: Getty]
Tammy Beaumont and Maia Bouchier in action [Image: Getty]
Elucidating more, he added, “It’s more about the mental approach to the game and we’ve been helping her understand how to separate each moment in the game, which is probably the hardest thing to do in batting is to be able to separate deliveries and play one ball at a time and live very much in the moment that she’s in. We’ve been helping Maia Bouchier with techniques around that. She’s been working incredibly hard around that part of her game and she’s been working incredibly hard in training around how to train her brain to do things for longer and now we’re seeing the benefit of that. So that’s something we’ve been working really hard with Maia Bouchier. I think that’s the thing that’s been making the difference. You combine that with a bat that’s scoring runs and in good form and learning how to build innings and play at the right tempo and then you’ve got a crackerjack curriculum and hopefully, she could continue the form that she was on in New Zealand.”

Speaking a little more on Sophia Dunkley, he said, “The message I have sent to Sophia is that I’d like to see her back playing her best cricket. When she’s playing her best cricket, she’s one of our best cricketers. So my view on Sophia at the moment if you look at it from a bowling perspective, she’s just a little bit out of rhythm. I suppose we’ve decided to try and give her the space away from, I suppose, the bigger limelight in terms of the Pakistan series to go and find some rhythm, and get back to your best and then come back to us and see if you can make an impact again in international cricket. I still have a really strong belief that Sophia’s got a big future playing for England, I think her talent is as incredible. She just needs a little bit of space to get back to her best cricket and work out how to, how to cope with the situation she’s been putting.”

Another player in focus was Izzy Wong, whose progress and potential for selection were discussed.

“Izzy’s, she went to WPL and she played a couple of games there. She’s been working kind of getting back to form at the Central Sparks. I think they were on a pre-season tour in India following the WPL. She’s shown real improvement from where she was at during the last summer and she’s working incredibly hard in the game. My view on Izzy is that she just needs a period of time playing consistently and performing consistently to earn the right to come back into the England team.”

Lewis emphasized the importance of consistency and performance, indicating Wong’s need for sustained excellence to secure a spot in the national team.

“We’ve got a group of young fast bowlers and their form will always fluctuate. Young cricketers, batters and bowlers, their form fluctuates. And we’re supporting her in and around her bowling and I’m hopeful from what I’ve seen over the start of the summer that there’s some improvement there. She’s got a little way to go to show that she can play at this level consistently.”

Talking more about another emerging talent– Mahika Gaur, Lewis said, “She’s still doing her A-levels, Henry. First of all, we all are very keen for her to get her education. As a coach, I think it’s really important that she goes and finishes her education first. In terms of her England selection, she’s an incredibly exciting talent. And I would expect to play some more cricket for England this summer at some point if she can get herself through her exams in one piece. It’s a big time in anyone’s life, that part of your life. But she’s obviously got the double, the double one may have been an international cricketer and doing that at the same time. So we’re just trying to manage it through that period at the moment by giving her some space to play some domestic cricket near where she’s at school. And then hopefully by the time she’s finished her exams, she’ll be available for selection and playing well for the New Zealand series.”

Issy Wong will look to make a strong comeback [Image: ECB]
Issy Wong will look to make a strong comeback [Image: ECB]
With the upcoming series against Pakistan and New Zealand, Lewis highlighted the strategic importance of spinners, particularly in anticipation of the subcontinental conditions in Bangladesh.

“We’ve obviously gone to Bangladesh and my experience of touring there is especially the place that we’re going to play the ground at Mirpur. It’s very, it’s very spin friendly. What we don’t know is whether the ICC take control of the grounds in the World Cups and whether or not the wickets will be as spin-friendly because the ICC has instructed the grounds people to create the wickets in a certain way. But you would expect spin to be a big part of what we do over there. We’ve got three unbelievably world-class spin bowlers. So you will probably serve the course of the summer as playing those three spin bowlers together in T20 cricket to try and give the captain in particular the best opportunity to use those bowlers throughout all phases of the game. Because I think as we move forward towards Bangladesh, those three three players in particular will be very valuable to us.”

Charlie Dean has been a breakout star for England in recent times and looking at her growth and performance, Lewis said, “Charlie is incredibly important. She’s a really fantastic cricketer. She’s bowling really well at the moment. Actually, I’ve seen a huge amount of growth in Charlie off the field in and around our group over the last year. She’s becoming a lot more confident and I feel like she really, I think she feels like she really belongs at the international level now. Whereas I think maybe a year ago, there was still some lingering doubts about whether or not she was able to, I suppose, perform consistently or up to the standards that she sets herself in international cricket. But now I feel I see a really confident young bowler, someone who’s become even more and more accurate in the areas that she hits on the wicket. And she’s a really talented and cricketer and I think we’ve seen some real improvement in her batting as well over the last year. We’ve been pushing her hard to do that. And she’s been working hard at that as well. And combined that with the fact that she’s a really athletic fielder, she’s a really good cricketer for us.”

Reflecting on the preparations for the spin conditions that England will encounter at the World Cup and how they intend to deal with it, Lewis said, “We will do a trip to prepare for the World Cup before we go out there and we’ll be out in, I think we’re going to Abu Dhabi to do that. And before we go to Bangladesh and we’ll try and recreate as best we can the conditions that we will face. Bangladesh is a pretty unique place to play cricket. Unfortunately in India at that time of year, the places where the wickets are, in particular, are similar in the rainy season. So we won’t be able to get into India to do that. And before that point, the girls are obviously playing domestic cricket here in England.”

Delving deeper into England’s schedule, he added. “Our schedule is pretty round now, which is why we did a lot of our work over the past sort of six months. In terms of how we play spin, I’ve been impressed with the way the girls have been trying to develop the game. We’re working very hard at it. We know it’s going to be a big part of that competition. And we’re talking about it and we’re working on it and we’re trying to improve our game against spin. In our series against India and in the T20 series against India in particular, I thought we showed some real signs of improvement there. Then again, very different conditions in New Zealand and at times we played the spinners very, very well. I think there is progress. The challenge of a World Cup in those conditions will always be hard for English cricketers, men and women. So it will be an interesting challenge for us when we get there.”

In a departure from on-field discussions, Lewis delved into the team’s off-field dynamics, addressing the significance of mental resilience and team bonding. “I suppose as a coach, you look at all the aspects of your team, and you try and work out how do we address any sort of areas that we feel that we need to improve. So we continually work really hard at developing our skills. There are cricketers and a lot that we spent a lot of time in the net and we spent a lot of time thinking and practising about how to improve those parts of our game. However, cricket is a real tactical game almost like a game of chess. And to do that, you need to be able to really be a really clear thinker under pressure. And you need to be able to manage the anxieties that are around cricket, not only on the field but the anxieties that all players face off the field as well. And especially in the modern world, those anxieties, I think for a lot of our younger players in particular, are greater than they were in the past and they keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger.” 

He shared insights into a recent team-building retreat, emphasizing its role in fostering camaraderie and addressing anxiety and pressure management. “So we worked a lot on how to manage anxiety and to do that, and how to manage pressure and to do that. I think sometimes you’ve got to take players out of the environment that they’re normally in. And so when you do that, you take away, I suppose, the hierarchy of the group a little bit, and everyone becomes very even. And then what you start to see is different people voicing opinions, different people giving advice to each other. I suppose the group connected at a different level than they would do around cricket.”

“We did a really powerful session around facing our fears, and the girls were honest about what their fears were around being part of the England cricket team. There was some really interesting stuff that came out of that. And that will really help us as a coaching group manage our players and help them become, I suppose, more rounded people first, and better cricketers at the same time. So it was a really powerful experience. I think the players, some of them liked the activities that we were doing and some of them didn’t, and that caused different types of stresses. And hopefully, we helped them with some ways to deal with those things. It was quite a cool couple of days we spent there.”

He underscored the team’s preparation efforts, including simulated matches using AI technology to analyze matchups and strategize effectively.

The talent in the domestic set-up has certainly not gone unnoticed [Image: ECB]
The talent in the domestic set-up has certainly not gone unnoticed [Image: ECB]
“It’s a company called PSI based in London. They work with the England Rugby Team and they work with Wigan Warriors and Wigan Athletic. And we can run simulated teams versus the simulated opposition. It gives us an idea about how those teams may match up against each other. I can send multiple different lineups to the company in PSI in London. And they run about 250,000 simulations per team that I send with all the different permutations that could happen through the game. It’s something that is quite commonly used throughout cricket. Across the world in franchise cricket, I first came across it during my time at the UP Warriorz in India. And it’s something that I looked at and I thought, actually, this could add some value to the England women’s cricket team.”

Talking more about it, he said, “What I would say is it’s not how we select the side, but it’s one part of the selection that we use to help understand what could possibly happen in the future. So it’s really interesting. And we used it very successfully in the ashes last summer with matchups against the Australian side. The one thing that I suppose is missing at the moment is the quality of historical data on the women’s game. And I think as we move forward with more and more competitions being played, especially at franchise level and international level, we’ll be able to get much more accurate data.”

Elaborating on the discourse of the role that AI is going to play in the future of women’s cricket when it comes to team selections, he said, “I would always go with a people-first approach. Understand your people, understand your players, understand how they’re playing, understand where they’re at in their own minds, and then be supported by data and information. And what data can do can give you a really obviously objective view of what could happen and what has happened previously. So obviously data from the past and what data could happen in the future. And I think it will help with borderline decisions in terms of selections and matchups. Will it ever be the front, the thing that selects a team? I would say my view is ‘no’. Other coaches may feel very differently. It’s really interesting.”

Looking at the Ashes 2023, he said, “I suppose there’s one selection in particular last year and one period of the Ashes that we targeted as a team around. We saw a real strength in Australia. We matched up our strength that is our best bowlers to that part of the game against Australia last year. And that worked well for us and that helped us win the T20 series in particular. And that got us back in the ashes. And there was a couple of selections there that AI helped because the players were both players that I was thinking about picking were both in really good form and were both really selectable. So it did help me with those selections. It turned out it worked out really well.”

“It can help selections, but my go-to would be to get your people right first, get them all in the right headspace, get their games in order and then use data to support the selection. I suppose the experience I had with the UP Warriors over the first WPL really helped me understand how it all worked. It was actually post-ashes that I spoke to the other people who use it. It was a really interesting discussion about how they use that company in particular. It’s an ever-evolving industry and it’s something that has aided us across all our selections. But like I said at the start, it’s not something that is the primary thing we use to select a team.”

Heather Knight is scaling greater heights above and beyond [Image: ECB]
Heather Knight is scaling greater heights above and beyond [Image: ECB]
Lewis also touched upon recent developments within the squad, including Heather Knight’s advisory role with Somerset Cricket Club. He said, “I think it’s a really exciting thing for Heather to go and do and we’re always looking for opportunities to help players grow. And this I think will help Heather grow an understanding, but I think actually Somerset has made a really smart decision in getting someone involved in their board who’s got a real intrinsic knowledge of women’s cricket and will help them set up a new team. I don’t think it’s going to affect her involvement or responsibilities as an England captain. I think it will be Heather’s very, very adept at managing her time and she’s an incredibly smart woman and she’ll be able to manage that, I think, without any problem whatsoever. I think Somerset has made a really good sign.”

Looking at Bess Heath’s selection as a reserve keeper, he said. “Bess is a really exciting young cricketer. At the moment, she is Amy Jones’ understudy. We always need a reserve keeper in our squad. And with Tammy not being around, who could step in at the last minute if we needed to, Amy got injured in the 50 over cricket and Tammy’s not around. So Bess retains that position as reserve keeper. I’m keen for this coming in and out of our squad and playing as much cricket as possible. I don’t want to stop Bess’s development by being a squad player for England and just moving around the world carrying the drinks and just training.” 

Reflecting more, he said, “We need to balance her development with as equal a dose of playing as we can whilst also having cover for Amy Jones because we would look a little bit silly if Amy, had her finger during a game or during warm-ups and we didn’t have a keeper around. I’m really excited about Bess. I think she’s a really cool person. She’s a great person to have around. She’s a really enthusiastic young cricketer and she’s got a lot to learn and a lot to develop and hopefully, we can do that in and around her England involvement.”

The conversation veered towards the team’s aspirations for the upcoming World Cups– the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh and the ODI World Cup in India in 2025. Lewis exuded confidence in the team’s capabilities, emphasizing their readiness and hunger for success.

“I think they’ve always been fired up. I don’t doubt that at any point, any World Cup, the England team has always fired up to try and win that competition. In terms of where they’re at right now, we’ve got a really confident team, especially in T20 cricket. I think the players probably feel this is our strongest format. I would say that both white ball formats we’re really strong in.”

“I think they took a lot of confidence out of the Ashes series last summer. But there’s still a lot of willingness for improvement and a lot of growth in the side. I think the balance of ages in the side is really important and that they’re able to. The younger players push the older players on and make sure that they’re not drifting through the latter stages of their careers. So the balance of the youth and experience in the side is great and we’ve got some really improving cricketers, especially our younger cranes. So we’ll be more than ready for Bangladesh and I hope we’ll be incredibly competitive.”

He acknowledged past disappointments but emphasized the team’s resilience and determination to claim glory on the global stage.

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