Winter magic sold role to Birkenshaw
Jack Birkenshaw has revealed that it was the momentous performances of England women during the winter, as they retained the Ashes and swept New Zealand aside 3-1 in the one-day international series, which convinced him to take a long-term role with the side.
“I was invited to work with the spin bowlers during the winter. I really enjoyed the girls’ commitment and passion and everything just progressed from there," the new assistant coach told ecb.co.uk.
“I thought the cricket was high-class. It was a tough campaign but the main players always contributed. In the future we want some of the younger, less experienced girls to step up to the plate when our big guns aren’t firing. We can’t expect them to do so every time.
The former England, Leicestershire, Worcestershire and Yorkshire player is hopeful that this will not be a major problem, adding: “You can see in this year’s Super 4s that some of those younger players are beginning to show more expertise. Women’s cricket is becoming a very tough game and we need players to stay cool and hang in there when necessary.”
Birkenshaw is looking forward to working again with head coach Mark Lane and being a part of women’s cricket in general.
“Mark’s a good lad," he said. "He’s very enthusiastic, has a thorough cricket knowledge and a great sense of humour.
“The girls enjoy his no-pressure, fun approach to the game and it’s helping them to enjoy their cricket and ultimately win matches.”
Having played for three first-class counties, as well as representing England in five Tests, the Yorkshireman brings valuable experience to the set-up.
He will work alongside Lane in all areas of coaching as England look for glory in this summer’s series against the West Indies, South Africa and India, and in 2009 during the Ashes, World Cup and World Twenty20.
“There’s so much cricket to be played. There will be occasions when we need to raise our standards against very tough opposition to win games. My goal is to make sure that everyone contributes,” he added.
It is not just as a player where Birkenshaw is experienced; he was head coach at Leicestershire CCC, and also had stints with Northamptonshire and Durham.
The attitude of the players was a key reason in him accepting the job with the women's team.
“All of them are easy to work with," he admitted. "They’re enthusiastic and always try what you ask them.
“They respect your knowledge and take it on board. But we also encourage them to think for themselves, especially in a game situation. They’re easy to coach because they’re not playing for money, just out of their love of the game.”
Birkenshaw has primarily coached spin bowlers, which is one of the main reasons for his inclusion, and the former Test and ODI umpire believes England have great options in that area.
“Boggy (Laura Marsh) is coming on really well. She’s only been spinning for a year or so after starting off as a seamer and is doing brilliantly.
“There’s also Holly Colvin who came on really well in Australia. She’s learned to increase her pace, energy and variation.
“Those two will be a force for any side to reckon with and, at such a young age, can only get better. Charlotte Edwards is also as good as anybody. She’s got a solid action and is a real tiger with the ball in her hands.”
It isn’t just Edwards’ bowling which has caught the new assistant coach’s eye.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Charlotte," he said. "She’s a terrific batsman who could probably come close to playing second XI-standard men’s cricket.
“She is fantastic technically and has great cricket awareness. I’ve seen nobody better in world cricket. The same goes for Claire Taylor, she’s a brilliant player, and young Sarah Taylor is a very exciting talent too.”
The large increase in participation and growing popularity make this an exciting time for women’s cricket – something that has not been lost on Birkenshaw, who added: “I think people are realising that it’s a game ladies can play to a high standard without needing to be massive – Isa Guha is only slight but can really play.
“There’s also a lot more media coverage as they are realising that the England women are great ambassadors and a winning team.”
Birkenshaw believes that women’s cricket has an excellent future, but feels more needs to be done until the women’s game can reach a level approaching the men’s.
“I don’t see why we can’t keep improving," he said. "The standards of batting, fielding and spin bowling are all very high.
"We need to strengthen the pace bowling to mirror the men’s game, aside from the girls just putting the balls in the right areas and bowling good line and length.”