England Women in the Caribbean

Lauren Bell stands to embody the fearless style of play England Women are aiming to carry into next year’s T20 World Cup and beyond.

Bell, the 21-year-old right-arm swing bowler, will mark six months since her international debut just after Christmas as part of a group of youngsters awarded an opportunity over the English summer by former head coach Lisa Keightley.

The thing that has stood out about Bell, 20-year-old quick Issy Wong and teenage allrounders Alice Capsey and Freya Kemp since taking the step up is their apparent refusal to be intimidated by the opposition.

It’s an approach new head coach Jon Lewis has doubled down on, calling for his entire England squad to stop playing safe. Lewis is also big on encouraging players to trust in the skills and talent that got them into the elite set-up as opposed to constantly telling them what to do, and Bell seems to be embracing that faith.

“It’s been great to have new coaches in around the squad and John has come in and really drove us to be inspiring and entertaining for anyone who’s watching women’s cricket,” she said from Barbados on Tuesday, a day after arriving from Antigua for the remaining four fixtures in a five-match T20I series with West Indies. “It’s a really good way to view the game and it’s moving in the right direction.

“The West Indies has been a good tour so far. The confidence I have from the coaches, the backing of the coaches, and the backing of Heather [Knight], the captain, it’s just put me in a really good place. I feel like I know my role in this team and I know where I where I stand. Being really valued and part of the team has played a big role in that.”

Bell made her debut in the drawn Test against South Africa in Taunton, where she took two first-innings wickets and bowled an economical if wicketless 14 overs in the visitors’ second innings.

Going into last Tuesday’s second ODI against West Indies, she had three wickets from four matches in the format before claiming a devastating 4 for 33 as England crushed the hosts by 142 runs. Then, on Sunday, in just her third T20I, she claimed 3 for 26 to set up an eight-wicket victory which leaves the home side staring down the prospect of another England clean sweep after the ODIs finished 3-0.

West Indies’ batting has been poor, while Bell has reveled in the conditions producing some wonderful swinging deliveries that have left them flummoxed. And while she will come up against tougher opposition, Bell has her sights set on earning place in the squad for February’s T20 World Cup in South Africa.

“That’s a big focus for us,” Bell said. “I think the next four T20s are a good chance to really put a stamp to the rest of the world about where we are with our cricket and how good a T20 squad we can be.

“It will also be a good chance to play some the girls who have maybe not played so much T20 cricket and see what our different options are against different players.”

Bell got her chance in T20Is when veteran seamer Katherine Brunt was rested for India’s tour of England in September – she played two of their three matches for no return. Having shared new-ball duties with the experienced Kate Cross during the ODIs in Antigua, Bell finally had the chance to open the bowling with Brunt in the first T20I.

“That’s actually the first time I’ve played with Katherine in my career so that was pretty special,” Bell said. “Not many people can say they’ve done that so that was really good.

“Having her around, having Crossy around in the ODIs, I think I can just learn so much. They’re really open just helping me with anything. It was a good experience.”

Being on the big stage is not alien to Bell, which is another notable thing in favor of England’s youngsters. She was the second-highest wicket-taker in this year’s Women’s Hundred behind Southern Brave team-mate and Australia legspinner Amanda-Jade Wellington and sixth on the list in 2021, the inaugural season of the competition, which has been credited with giving young players valuable experience against top-level opponents in front of big crowds.

With Kemp and Capsey returning home from the Caribbean early due to back and collarbone injuries respectively, it is down to Bell and Wong – who was not part of the ODI squad and is yet to feature in the T20I series – to fly the flag for England’s newest crop. If they can play with what is becoming a collective trademark of freedom, it should be a breeze.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo

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