Lisa Keightley targets place in T20 World Cup final as England women begin new era

Lisa Keightley believes her new England team can be a cool, confident outfit capable of reaching the Women’s T20 World Cup final in less than two months’ time.

Keightley, the first woman to be appointed full-time head coach of the England Women’s team, has had mere weeks in the role, but already she is preparing the side for a high-pressure tournament in her native Australia, where the hosts will be favourites to defend the title.

“I’m planning to be in the final and I know the players are planning to be in the final,” Keightley said at Lord’s on the eve of England’s squad announcement.

“I want us to bowl teams out. I want us to put pressure back on the bowlers as soon as we can and put teams under pressure as early as we can. We play different teams so that could look different at different times, but I want us to be positive, I want them to play with confidence and freedom because they know their game and they know their strengths and, under pressure, I’d hope that they’d go to their strengths.”

At home in June, England thrashed West Indies in three ODIs and won the only one of their three T20Is that wasn’t washed out. They swept their three T20Is against Pakistan in Malaysia at the end of last year and won two of their three ODIs with the other one abandoned because of rain.

But while they secured one consolation victory in the final T20I of the multi-format Ashes series on home soil in between, England were at times comprehensively outplayed by Australia, as the 12-4 scoreline suggests.

Keightley believes that Australia gained a crucial edge by holding their nerve in a tense first ODI, before overhauling a challenging target in the next 50-overs match, although much was made after the series of England’s desire and need to catch up with their Ashes rivals.

“Australia are really strong,” Keightley said on Thursday. “They got on a roll and England lost key moments in the first two games which went Australia’s way. If England win those key moments, it could have been slightly different. So what I’ll be looking for as a coach is working out, are players doing their strengths really well, in key moments? Are they really clear what they want to go to and the strengths they have and are they converting?

“That’s what we’ll need to do in the World Cup. There’s going to be key moments and in those key moments, are we really clear on what strategies and match-ups we’re going to do to give ourselves the best chance to win those moments, and then making sure we’ve got the right players and players that can hold their nerve.”

England have shown they can do it in the past. They are the reigning 50-over World Cup champions, having defeated India by nine runs in a thrilling final at Lord’s in 2017 when Anya Shrubsole claimed her sixth wicket for the match with just eight balls to spare. They reached the final of the 2018 T20 World Cup, losing to Australia, whom they are not due to meet until at least the semi-finals of this year’s edition, having been drawn in opposite pools.

England leave on Wednesday for a T20 tri-series against Australia and India in Australia and Keightley is adamant that will be more about fine-tuning World Cup plans than giving everyone in the squad a run.

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“It should be hard to get into a team and if the team’s playing well, I don’t want to give away caps, I think people need to earn it,” she said. “That gives them confidence. When they’ve earned their cap it gives them confidence that they’re playing well and in good form.

“If it works out like that and we need to rest people because we’ve picked up a few niggles or someone’s not right with illness, they may get games but I wouldn’t say we’ll be giving everyone a go.”

A coach with 15 years’ full-time experience, having finished her decade-long international playing career, Keightley walked straight into a job as NSW coach before becoming the first woman to coach the Australian national women’s team during 2007-08. She was the England Academy women’s coach from 2011-15, gaining valuable knowledge of many of the current England players, and led Perth Scorchers to two WBBL finals in 2017 and 2018.

She left the Scorchers to take up her current role, having initially been appointed coach of the London Spirit women’s team for the new Hundred competition starting in July. And it is her experience rather than gender that she really draws upon as she embarks on another international job.

“I feel really fortunate and grateful to come through at a really nice time where I’ve been able to learn and coach and then get the opportunity to apply for jobs and get the roles,” she said. “The exciting thing was actually, I have no doubt I would have been competing with male coaches, so to get this role when it was level-pegging, I suppose that just shows the opportunity I have to get the experience to put my hat in the ring.

“I just want to coach and to get the England job is fantastic.

“I understand the players well and I think being male or female, it doesn’t really matter, it’s how you can connect with your players and work with them individually on where they’re at and what’s important to them. We all know in coaching, the closer you can get to your players and understand them well, the better off you’ll be in getting them to perform out in the middle.”