Lisa Keightley: England women's head coach confident of closing gap to Australia

By Jack SkeltonBBC Sport
New coach Keightley 'ready' for England job

How to catch Australia is a recurrent concern in English cricket and incoming women's head coach Lisa Keightley is the latest figure tasked with closing the gap on her native country.

England were heavily beaten 12-4 in the multi-format Women's Ashes in the summer, leading to the customary introspection and overhaul.

Respected World Cup-winning head coach Mark Robinson stepped down and former Australia batter and head coach Keightley was appointed in his place.

Perhaps even more importantly, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced a new £20m investment in women's cricket to help fund 40 new full-time professional contracts.

The effects of that investment may take a while to be felt, but Keightley says she can get England, ranked second in the world in T20s, ready to contend against favourites and hosts Australia at the T20 World Cup in February.

"I'm ready to get an international team to be the best they can be and I feel really confident in what I can bring to the team," she told Test Match Special.

"It's easy when you lose an Ashes series to go hard on why, and Australia won convincingly, but the first two ODIs were close - Australia just won the key moments and could then play with freedom and got on a roll.

"They are really good at the moment and it's up to us to reflect, work out a plan and try to challenge them.

"But I really don't think there is too much between the sides."

'Of course we can beat Australia'

Australia batter Lisa Keightley plays a shot in a one-day international against England in 2005
Keightley became the first female player to hit a century at Lord's in an ODI against England in 1998

Keightley was in Malaysia for England's ODI and T20 series victories over Pakistan this month but will not officially take charge until January, in time for a T20 tri-series against Australia and New Zealand before the 10-team T20 World Cup.

England, who were beaten by Australia in the 2018 World T20 final, will not face the hosts until the semi-finals at the earliest, having been drawn alongside South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan and Thailand in Group B.

"In one-off matches England and Australia are so close it just depends on whether you have that player to win you a match or as a team you can do enough to get a score or restrict the opposition," said Keightley.

"Of course we can beat Australia - Australia would say that as well.

"But there are other teams you have to be well prepared to face - New Zealand have strong batting up front and bowling options, South Africa's seam bowling is quality, West Indies have Deandra Dottin coming back to the fore and India are looking really good."

Keightley has left her role as Perth Scorchers coach in the women's Big Bash League to become England's first full-time female head coach.

Having worked with several current England players during her time as head of the England Women's Academy, as well as extensive experience of the Australian set-up, Keightley says her approach is a combination of the "good bits of both organisations".

"I'm more in the background, I like to know my players really well and help them get to where they want to be," she said.

"Sometimes that's outside of cricket as well - as a coach you have the opportunity to shape the player and the person and that's what I love.

"Heather Knight will be a great leader as captain so for me it's about getting her to the forefront and then having senior players create the right environment.

"I'm there to facilitate, set a really good programme behind the scenes, provide clarity and get the players enjoying what they do with the confidence to execute their skills under pressure."

Will The Hundred boost England?

Western Storm captain Heather Knight holds up the trophy after beating Southern Vipers in the 2019 Kia Super League final
England captain Heather Knight will skipper London Spirit in The Hundred, having led Western Storm to the final Kia Super League title in September

Talk of executing skills under pressure, forming well-rounded individuals and senior players taking responsibility is reminiscent of the approach former England men's coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Eoin Morgan advocated in turning a dismal white-ball outfit into world champions.

Bayliss and Morgan valued their players gaining experience in high-pressure T20 competitions like the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League, the women's equivalent of which has been a big factor in Australia's recent strength.

Can The Hundred prove a similar boost to England's women when it succeeds the former Kia Super League T20 competition next year?

"Hopefully The Hundred will give players more opportunity to play a high standard of cricket," said Keightley, who was due to take charge of London Spirit in the competition before taking the England job.

"The chance for more players to be in a professional environment outside the England system is really exciting.

"The investment the ECB are putting in is similar to Australia and the investment in the domestic game there has allowed players to come from nowhere because of the opportunity to play a game where you can actually compare and see who is good enough to move up.

"It's so exciting for the women's game."

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