Caribbean challenge: England women in paradise with one eye on the Ashes

After regaining the trophy, Charlotte Edwards' side are testing their young players in a tough tour before the return Down Under

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The Independent Online

Sandwiched between two Ashes series, England's women's team have a very different challenge facing them over the coming days. Charlotte Edwards' side are in Barbados at the moment for a Twenty20 triangular series with the West Indies and New Zealand in which the action for them starts on Wednesday night.

It is far away from their ground-breaking Ashes triumph earlier this summer, which was contested for the first time according to a points system across all three formats of the game (they prevailed 12-4 having won the ODIs 2-1 and T20s 3-0 – the Test match was drawn).

They go to Australia to defend the Ashes in January. That, certainly, is the team's main focus and not everyone involved in the summer has travelled to the Caribbean. The pace attack leaders Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, along with Laura Marsh and Heather Knight have stayed at home.

So England have sent a young squad to the West Indies, with untested players including uncapped pair Kate Cross and Beth Langston. This does not mean that the triangular series matters less, though, rather that it matters more, with ferocious competition expected from players desperate to travel to Australia in 2014 for the fiercest cricketing test.

"It is a fantastic opportunity for them to get game experience and to be in and around the squad," Danielle Hazell, the England off-spinner, told The Independent. "We have got some great players in the squad and, hopefully, they can learn from them and then push for a place on that plane to Australia. We are hoping for the young players to push on and take the opportunities leading into the Ashes.

"We've got a few senior players at home injured, so it is a great opportunity for younger players. Like Kate Cross, who is coming on her first tour, or Natasha Farrant, who was involved against Pakistan, it is a great opportunity too. So it is definitely a great chance for these girls to really put their name forward, as competition for places is really strong."

It will certainly be a difficult challenge in the West Indies, on relatively new ground for the England team. "Barbados is a fantastic place to play cricket," Hazell said. "We have been a few times, with mixed success, but it is a place we enjoy coming to play." Hazell is relatively confident there will be enough support for her off-breaks from the Caribbean pitches. "I've been here previously and it does offer something to the spinners, and we have got a few spinners in the squad, all trying to put our names on the flight to Australia."

To earn those precious places on the plane, England will have to succeed against two strong sides. They play each other twice to determine who will contest the final on 26 October. New Zealand and West Indies were – along with Australia and England – in the semi-finals for the ICC Women's World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka last year and so Hazell knows the quality of opposition England are up against.

"We have played New Zealand and West Indies a few times now, obviously they have got some great players," Hazell said. She identified Suzie Bates, New Zealand's star batter, captain and Olympian, having played basketball for her country at the 2008 Beijing Games. From the West Indies, Hazell picked out Stafanie Taylor, the brilliant Jamaican all-rounder, and Deandra Dottin, from Barbados, who was the best teenage athlete in the Caribbean at shot put, discus and javelin before choosing cricket.

England ought to be aware of Dottin. Not only did she score the first century in women's T20 internationals – reached from just 38 deliveries, it is still the fastest on record. On Monday she top-scored with 52 off 50 balls for the West Indies as they beat New Zealand by 23 runs.

If England win, it would be another great step after the glory of the summer. There are signs that women's cricket is becoming more popular, with ECB figures today confirming that more than 60,000 women are now playing the game and more than 600 clubs offer cricket to women and girls – an increase from 90 just 10 years ago. Women's cricket is moving in the right direction, at grass roots and elite level, and it is something Hazell is desperate to continue. "It was great for us to regain the Ashes, all the media hype was brilliant, but now we are focused on this tour and then going back next year to Australia."

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Tour diary: England fixtures

Tri-Nation Twenty20 series (all matches held in Bridgetown, Barbados):

14 Oct West Indies beat New Zealand by 23 runs

16 Oct England v New Zealand

18 Oct West Indies v England

20 Oct West Indies v New Zealand

22 Oct England v New Zealand

24 Oct West Indies v England

26 Oct Final

All matches will be streamed live on the ECB website.

ODI series (all matches held in Port of Spain, Trinidad):

29 Oct First one-day international: West Indies v England

1 Nov Second ODI

3 Nov Third ODI