When England Women returned to play on home soil for the first time since lifting the 2017 World Cup, there were still many questions about the team that needed to be answered.
Mark Robinson’s side has endured a chastening winter, as they suffered one-day international series losses to Australia – with the Southern Stars going on to retain the Women’s Ashes – and India.
Floundering at the bottom of the ICC Women’s Championship – in which the top four teams automatically qualify for the 2021 World Cup – home series against tough opposition in South Africa and New Zealand were an opportunity to see the resolve of the England team, with a mix of experience and youth.
And, with an eye on November’s World T20 in the Caribbean, there was more than just pride to play for, with places in the side still up for grabs for the shortest format of the game.
Despite beginning and ending their summer with ODI losses to the Proteas and the White Ferns respectively, everything in between showed brilliance with the bat and ball, the emergence of young talent and senior players continuing to step up.
Following their victorious World Cup campaign, head coach Robinson was quick to point out that his side were still not the best they could possibly be and they came into this summer having won just two of their last six ODIs since clinching the trophy.
Although their first 50-over match against South Africa in June ended in defeat, the game produced a reminder of Katherine Brunt’s batting prowess, as the senior player held England’s innings together with an unbeaten 72, and the sheer genius of Sarah Taylor behind the stumps.
Former Australia wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist was one of several players to praise Taylor after exceptional work from the 29-year-old saw her pull off two stumpings during the ODI series against South Africa.
The second was a magnificent effort in the third 50-over match to dismiss captain Dane van Niekerk as she took a half-volley from pace bowler Brunt, which proved be the catalyst for an almighty collapse by the visitors.
Taylor excelled with the bat too, striking 13 fours as she scored her seventh ODI century for England at her home ground in Hove, an innings where she dominated from the off – reverse-sweeping with ease and elegance over the fine leg fielder who was posted to stop such a shot.
1:01 England Women wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor completes a sensational stumping down the leg side
Although Knight’s summer with the bat was not all that prolific, managing half-centuries in each series against South Africa and New Zealand, the 27-year-old continued to mature as captain of the national side – not being afraid to change her bowlers and fields regularly.
The all-rounder’s brisk 63 in the first ODI against the White Ferns proved crucial in England’s record-breaking 142-run victory – the hosts’ largest winning margin in a 50-over match.
While talk of Brunt’s eventual retirement endures, the 33-year-old continues to produce performance after performance with the ball and – when given the chance – with the bat.
The seamer produced numerous hostile spells, with no batter able to completely get on top of her pace, change-ups and yorkers – most notably during the run-fest at Hove, where she produced figures of 2-34 from 10 overs in a match that saw three centurions in a Women’s ODI for the first time ever.
But, of the established players in England’s side, the summer undoubtedly belonged to Tammy Beaumont.
After being named player-of-the-tournament during the hosts’ successful World Cup campaign, the 25-year-old had reached 40 in only three of her 17 innings for England in all formats since before the summer began.
Beaumont is no stranger to coming through adversity and tough periods with the bat, having taken 24 matches spanning a little under seven years to score her first half-century for England in June 2016 against Pakistan.
A change in mindset since head coach Robinson came in and belief that playing her own attacking game will not see her dropped, even if it does not always come off, has allowed the opener to flourish.
And, if Beaumont had been feeling under pressure heading into the summer, it took until only her second match to put those worries to bed as she struck her fourth ODI hundred in two years.
1:02 Charlotte Edwards and Ebony Rainford-Brent feel England's depth allow Beaumont and Wyatt to bat without fear
It was a fluent, brisk innings in which the Kent batter combined perfectly-timed drives, with reverse-sweeps and scoops and followed up with a series-winning century in the third game against South Africa, brought up with a nonchalant flick past long-on.
The most impressive aspect of much of Beaumont’s game in the final match against the Proteas and many of her innings throughout the summer was her ability to grind out runs when not at her flowing best.
At times she looked vulnerable to the pace of South Africa’s Shabnim Ismail, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Kaka and New Zealand’s Holly Huddlestone and Lea Tahuhu, playing-and-missing or chopping just over her stumps on a number of occasions.
Having survived those numerous precarious situations, Beaumont showed a ruthless streak to take full advantage – following up her two hundreds against South Africa with a 40 and two half-centuries in the series win over New Zealand.
1:06 Tammy Beaumont says England were eager to break the Women's T20I record
There was also a dazzling maiden T20I century in the Tri-series for the right-hander during England’s record-breaking 250-3, as she finished with 116 off only 52 balls – after smashing 18 fours and four sixes at Taunton.
If last summer was the making of Beaumont, this year showed that the young opener has all the tools in her bag to become of the best batters of the women’s game.
Though it has been clear for some time that the core of England’s side is settled, Robinson used the tour to India as an opportunity to have a look at a crop of younger players, calling up young seamer Katie George, all-rounder Alice Davidson-Richards and batter Bryony Smith.
Spinner Sophie Ecclestone travelled to the sub-continent having stood out against Australia after missing out on the World Cup squad and Amy Jones was handed the gloves, with Taylor remaining in England.
And this summer has seen those younger players become a crucial part of the national side, with Jones cementing her place at the top of the ODI team after displacing the out-of-form Lauren Winfield.
Jones made it almost impossible not to be selected to play against South Africa, after hitting a career-best 94 in the last ODI against India, but she managed a high score of just 29 during the three-match series.
However, she returned with renewed vigour against New Zealand and shared two century stands with Beaumont in the first and third matches, making 63 and 78 respectively in those matches.
Both innings were littered with assured drives and sweeps, with scoring at times coming far easier to the Warwickshire batter than her opening partner.
Much like Jones, young Ecclestone ensured her spot in the team as England’s premier spinner after being the pick of the bowlers in India and displacing World Cup winner Alex Hartley.
It proved to be a mantle the 19-year-old took on with aplomb, finishing the summer with 20 wickets across 10 matches and picking up the player-of-the-series award in the T20 Tri-series.
As precursor to the upcoming World T20 in the Caribbean, it was an exciting showing of her talents, with the New Zealand players in particular struggling to pick Ecclestone’s line and length when she picked up 4-18.
All told this summer provided more than just three series wins for England and a confidence boost when they head to St Lucia and possibly on to Antigua.
We have seen the depth this England Women’s side possess, both with bat and ball, the steel the players hold to come back and the untold talent that has all the hallmarks of a great team.
Coverage of the women’s Super League begins on Sunday July 22 with Heather Knight’s defending champions Western Storm taking on Katherine Brunt’s Yorkshire Diamonds live on Sky Sports Cricket from 2pm.
The Women’s World T20 will be live on Sky Sports Cricket between 9-24 November, with England’s first match on Saturday, 10 November from 4pm.