England had an eye-opening experience playing their first match of the Commonwealth Games and, Katherine Brunt reckons they will need to learn plenty from it.
The hosts secured a comfortable five-wicket victory with 17 balls to spare against Sri Lanka. That was built largely on an excellent all-round bowling performance, with spinner Sophie Ecclestone taking 3 for 25 while new seamers Issy Wong and Freya Kemp claimed two each, and Brunt opened their campaign with a wicket off the first ball.
Their efforts restricted Sri Lanka to 106 for 9 but when it came to the chase on a slow, turning pitch, which was being used for the fourth time in two days, it fell to Alice Capsey to get them over the line. Capsey, the 17-year-old allrounder playing just her third international, produced a mature innings of 44 that ended only when she was stumped with England two runs away from the target. Maia Bouchier, with whom she shared a 42-run partnership for the fifth wicket and who was playing just her seventh match for England, was their next-highest scorer with 21 not out.
Throw into the mix the fact that England’s bags hadn’t arrived at Edgbaston with them pre-game and that Capsey took a nasty blow to the face during the warm-up, leaving her with a huge black eye, and they’d had a bit to contend with. Then there was the pure realisation that, after a big build-up, the host nation’s Commonwealth Games debut was finally here.
“I can’t explain how it feels,” Brunt said after the match. “I’ve played for a long time, I’ve played in many world events, Ashes series, and they have this certain feeling when you feel a bit sick, a bit nervous, but as soon as you cross the line it’s fine, you’re into the game, into the battle.
“But with this, it’s a bit weird. I can’t explain – there’s a little bit more on top. I think we found that out tonight and we’ve got a bit of learning to do very quickly on what to do with that feeling and how to combat it to be able to then perform as well. So I’m not going to lie, it’s certainly a huge occasion and we did feel it, but it’s not anything we can’t get around.”
Brunt, playing her 100th T20I, set the tone beautifully when she removed opener Vishmi Gunarathne lbw first ball. But despite being an explosive hitter, she wasn’t in a hurry to bat.
“I had a bit of a back spasm,” she said. “So I was kind of saving myself because there are lots of games and not many days, so it’s about being smart and managing me as well.
“We’ve had a lot of travelling, a lot of sitting around waiting and it just gets on me a bit. Not to mention, I’m on the bad side of 30 and nearly 40. But I should be fine. I’ve been here before I’ve managed it before. So nothing new to me.
“I thought that [Capsey’s innings] was brilliant, 17 years old and batting like Heather Knight, just being mature and calm and collected in a really stressful situation, so hats off to Alice, she was brilliant.”
Knight, the England captain, is hopeful of playing the next match, against South Africa on Tuesday, after sitting out the opening game with a hip injury that also prevented her from playing the final two T20Is of their bilateral series in the lead-up to the Games.
Knight’s stand-in skipper, Nat Sciver, was also full of praise for Capsey’s performance.
“She was just warming up doing some underarms into the net and I think she top-edged one into her face,” Sciver explained. “She’s very stubborn. Other people might not have wanted to continue but yeah, it’s hard to get her off the pitch.
“I’ve not seen an innings like that from her [before]. I’ve seen the very explosive side of her batting but she was very calm, collected. It became clear after the powerplay that it wasn’t going to be how we have experienced T20 cricket this summer already, so it was good to see that everyone adapted quite quickly.”
And Sciver echoed Brunt’s sentiments, saying that the Commonwealth Games presented “a different environment to adapt to”.
“It was really, really special,” Sciver said. “Walking out onto the pitch I felt everyone needed to take a moment. We had a little bit of chaos in the warm-up, so actually getting everyone to just focus on what we were doing… The cricket’s the easy part, all the other things that go on in the background are harder.”
Wong, the 20-year-old quick who made her international debut in the Test against South Africa just over a month ago, took 2 for 10 while Freya Kemp, the left-arm seamer who like Capsey is just 17, took 2 for 14 in just her second match in an England shirt.
Wong said the side had hit on a blend of youth and experience they were keen to take forward. “I don’t think it was a flawless performance. I think we probably could have been a bit more disciplined but yeah, we’re pretty happy with it to start the competition. It was pretty level-headed from Alice. She’s incredibly talented.
“I think she was born to be on the big stage, to be honest. She’s that kind of character. Nothing fazes her. She took a ball to the face in the warm-up and she still went out and played a match-winning knock. That just absolutely sums her up. She’s a hard worker and she’s incredibly talented, which makes it a really exciting mix.”