Birkenshaw confident of Cup glory
Assistant coach Jack Birkenshaw believes England have “the temperament and the class” to win the Women’s World Cup.
The two-time winners will be looking to take the red-hot form they have shown over the past year into the tournament in Australia, which they begin against Group B rivals Sri Lanka in Canberra next Saturday.
They have recorded an Ashes victory over Australia and one-day series victories over New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa and India - all of whom will be at the World Cup - in the last 12 months.
They are currently on a run of 14 one-dayers unbeaten and Birkenshaw, the former Leicestershire and England player, feels such impressive form is proof the team are ready to challenge for the top prize they last won in 1993.
Birkenshaw is well placed to offer advice on winning having overseen Leicestershire’s county championship titles in 1996 and 1998 as cricket manager.
“We have the temperament and the class to do it,” Birkenshaw, who is working alongside head coach Mark Lane, said.
“But Australia and New Zealand will also think that. India have one or two very good players but are not yet playing as a unit. But you can’t relax against anybody.
“We are fielding and bowling well and are batting lower down the order, all the way to number seven.
“I have been really impressed with how hard they work. They have a real passion about their game. They just want to play. They are not frightened of anyone. There is a real pride to play for England and a real passion for winning.
“Some of the girls could play second XI cricket in the men’s game. The standard is so high, especially the captain (Charlotte Edwards), the two Taylors (teenage wicketkeeper-batsman Sarah and batsman Claire) and (bowler) Jenny Gunn.”
England take on Australian state side New South Wales Breakers in their first warm-up match on Friday, followed by games against the hosts and West Indies on Monday.
Their other two group opponents in the tournament proper are India, whom they play on March 10, and Pakistan, their opponents two days later.
Group B includes Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa, with the top three teams from each group progressing to the Super Sixes.
The top two from that stage will contest the final, which is scheduled for March 22 in North Sydney.
Key to England’s success is likely to be Claire Taylor, currently the number one batsman in the world according to the ICC rankings.
The 33-year-old was the leading performer on the tour to Australia and New Zealand last winter, scoring 79 and 64 not out in a one-off Test against Australia to help England retain the Ashes and cracking an unbeaten 111 in the second one-day international against the Kiwis.
Despite that Ashes victory, Taylor believes the hosts will still be the team to beat.
“The favourites are Australia,” she said. “They are playing state cricket and are playing in their back yard.
“New Zealand are an enigma. On their day they can set you 280 and 300 which is real tough chase. Other times they are not so good.”
England’s players have flown out early to Australia in an attempt to acclimatise to the soaring temperatures during the tournament, which could approach 40 degrees.
Birkenshaw, though, whose one-year contract with England is up after the World Twenty20 in England in June, is confident the players will be able to cope.
“A lot of them are very experienced, but some girls have not experienced 40 degrees for 50 overs,” he said. “We have talked to them about saving energy.
“We went to India on a training camp (last November) for 10 days. They all look like proper athletes.”