England women will begin an important year in the ICC’s Women’s Championship when they meet South Africa in the first game of their three-match series in Benoni on Sunday.
England sit fifth in the eight-team Women’s Championship table and, with the top four earning direct entry to next year’s home World Cup, there is little room for error as Head Coach Mark Robinson prepares for his first series in charge.
A series victory over the Proteas, who sit fourth in the table, would at least draw England level with them in the table and get Charlotte Edwards’ side back to winning ways after relinquishing the Ashes.
The squad have made ideal preparations for the test ahead with seven of them playing in the first-ever Women’s Big Bash League before securing two wide-margin wins over a South African Emerging XI in their warm-up matches this week.
The litmus test will come, however, when the series begins Sunday before matches at Centurion and Johannesburg.
After those games England will have just three more series left in the first-ever ICC Women’s Championship as they look to confirm a World Cup place and avoid a secondary qualification phase.
Here’s ecb.co.uk takes a look at England’s ICC Women’s Championship campaign so far:
August 2014 – England defeat India 2-0 (home)
Leading runscorer: Charlotte Edwards (165 runs @ 165.00)
Leading wicket-taker: Heather Knight (5 wkts @ 11.40)
England began their ICC Women’s Championship campaign with back-to-back wins in Scarborough before the third match at Lord’s was abandoned without a ball being bowled.
Heather Knight was newly-appointed as vice-captain ahead of the series and proved her all-round quality in the opening 42-run Duckworth-Lewis Method win at North Marine Parade.
Knight claimed 3-28 with her developing off-spin to restrict India to 193 for eight before combining in a century opening stand with skipper Charlotte Edwards to break the back of the chase.
Edwards then hit an unbeaten century in the second game a couple of days later although she was left offering Kate Cross a free dinner after the number 11 stuck around to allow her to reach her ninth ODI ton in a score of 214 for nine.
India’s hopes of running down the target were undermined by Jenny Gunn’s 4-23 while Knight and Anya Shrubsole chipped in with two wickets apiece to secure a 13-run win.
February 2015 – England defeat New Zealand 3-2 (away)
Leading runscorer: Sarah Taylor (243 runs @ 61.25)
Leading wicket-taker: Kate Cross (7 wkts @ 9.42)
England won the five-match series 3-2 in New Zealand, however, only the first three games of each series count towards points for the ICC Women’s Championship.
That meant England only picked up two points after emphatically winning the second game by 90 runs.
Charlotte Edwards picked up the player of the match award in that match as she hit 65 and ran out the dangerous Suzie Bates before she had scored. Anya Shrubsole then took 4-47 to complete the job.
Bates had confirmed her class in the first game when she hit a century to inspire the White Ferns to a 67-run win before it was her opening partner that played the decisive hand in the third game.
Rachel Priest scored an unbeaten 96 – falling just short of a maiden ton – as New Zealand chased down England’s 217 for nine, for which Heather Knight contributed a career-best 79, with nine wickets and eight balls in hand.
England stormed back to win the series by winning the final two games in Lincoln as Sarah Taylor sealed the triumph with 93 in a five-wicket win.
July 2015 – Australia defeat England 2-1 (home)
Leading runscorer: Meg Lanning (195 runs @ 65.00)
Leading wicket-taker: Sarah Coyte (5 wkts @ 22.40)
England made a winning start to their Women’s Ashes defence last summer when they expertly chased down Australia’s 238 for nine at Taunton with four wickets in hand and 26 balls to spare.
Katherine Brunt made an immediate impact with 3-48 – before fuor run-outs – and while the chase then threatened to hit the skids Lydia Greenway and Natalie Sciver eased any nerves in a 122-run stand for the fifth wicket as both contributed vital half-centuries.
Unfortunately, that was England’s only win of the ODI series as they suffered defeats in Bristol and Worcester.
Australia captain Meg Lanning took centre stage in both matches as she hit a century to level the series before her 85 left England needing to chase 241 for seven in a match that had to be played on the reserve day due to rain.
England could only muster 152 all out in reply after Ellyse Perry removed Edwards and Sarah Taylor early on.
February 2016 – South Africa v England (away)
South Africa Ranking: Fourth
Record (W-L-NR): 5-3-1
Mark Robinson’s first series in charge loom as an important one as his side look to climb the Women’s Championship table.
South Africa will be playing their first home series of the tournament – they also host West Indies later this month – after impressive tours of the sub-continent to play Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.
The Proteas claimed a 1-1 series draw against Sri Lanka before 2-1 successes against India and Pakistan has left them well placed to push for direct entry to the World Cup.
Captain Mignon du Preez and Lizelle Lee are their equal top runscorers in the competition with 219 runs each while they have a mix of options with the ball.
Right-arm fast-medium Shabnim Ismail has taken 14 wickets from six games – ranking her fifth on the tournament’s wicket list – while 20-year-old leg-spinner Sune Luus has 10 wickets in three games at a cost of just 7.40.
June 2016 – England v Pakistan (home)
Pakistan Ranking: Sixth
Record (W-L-NR): 4-8-0
Pakistan will arrive in England this summer looking for their first away win of the tournament.
They will, however, have fond memories of these shores after they beat England for the first time ever following a last-gasp one-run Twenty20 win at Loughborough three years ago.
Pakistan were a part of the first game to start the Women’s Championship when Australia beat them by four wickets in Brisbane on August 21, 2014.
They would go on to lose that series 3-0 and were similarly outplayed in the Caribbean last October to leave them winless from six away matches.
Pakistan have picked up their points at their adopted United Arab Emirates home where they thumped Sri Lanka 3-0 and lost 2-1 to South Africa.
Slow left-armer Anam Amin is the second-leading wicket-taker in the competition having taken 16, in only seven games, at an average of 11.25.
2016 – West Indies v England (away)
West Indies Ranking: Second
Record (W-L-NR): 8-4-0
West Indies reached the 2013 Women’s World Cup, after topping the Super Sixes stage, where they lost to Australia by 114 runs.
They are on course to directly qualify for next year’s tournament after home series sweeps of New Zealand and Pakistan.
England’s trip to the Caribbean later this year therefore looms as a testing challenge with a strong batting line-up that includes Stafanie Taylor, the third-highest runscorer in the tournament, as well as Barbados trio Deandra Dottin, Hayley Matthews and Kycia Knight.
Off-spinner Anisa Mohammed is the leading wicket-taker in the Women’s Championship with 20 at an average of 17.55.
2016 – Sri Lanka v England (away)
Sri Lanka Ranking: Eighth
Record (W-L-NR): 2-9-1
England are set to complete their inaugural Women’s Championship campaign with a tour of a Sri Lankan side that currently sit at the bottom of the eight-team table.
No trip to the sub-continent is easy although England’s squad will have experience of the conditions after members of the senior squad and England Women’s Academy went there on a training camp in December.
Sri Lanka’s only two wins of the tournament so far have come at home and they both were noteable scalps.
They beat South Africa by four wickets to level that series in October 2014 before beating World Cup finalists West Indies by six wickets in Colombo.
Left-hander Chamari Jayangani is the competition’s fourth-highest runmaker with 481 at an average of 43.72 while Inoka Ranaweera’s 15 wickets place her fourth on the wicket-taking list.