England women's cricket: Five things we learned after Ashes success and Sri Lanka disappointment

England's summer started in the late June sunshine against Australia at Trent Bridge and ended with a rain-affected thrashing of Sri Lanka at Leicester.

There have been record-breaking crowds throughout, with the high of a drawn Ashes series contrasted by a shock T20 series defeat by Sri Lanka.

From Tammy Beaumont's Test double-century to the emergence of a star in fast bowler Mahika Gaur, it has certainly been a memorable summer, but what have we learned about England's team and its future?

1. Seam department in good health

The retirement of legends Katherine Sciver-Brunt and Anya Shrubsole was always going to leave a void in the attack, but 2023 showed the future of England's seam-bowling department is bright.

The experienced Kate Cross is already established as a reliable and economical performer with the new ball for captain Heather Knight, but this was a coming-of-age summer for Lauren Bell.

Bell, 22, took 14 wickets across the Ashes and, while she was on the receiving end of a Georgia Wareham onslaught in the second one-day international at Southampton, which saw Australia retain the Ashes, she still looks a more confident and assured bowler after her second full year in international cricket.

The summer's debutants, Lauren Filer and Gaur, provide the excitement. Filer, 22, hit speeds of 76mph in the Ashes Test, a dream personal debut where she dismissed star Ellyse Perry in both innings and captivated the crowd with her raw pace.

Gaur, the six-foot tall 17-year-old, may not have tested herself against Australia yet but she displayed her bounce, swing and skill against Sri Lanka. She is nowhere near the finished article but the early signs suggest she and Filer, if they can stay injury-free, will be playing international cricket for a long time.

There is still concern around Issy Wong, who went without a game during the Ashes and was dropped by Birmingham Phoenix in The Hundred - eventually only playing once for England all summer in defeat by Sri Lanka in the second T20, when her run-up struggles were evident.

But Wong is still only 21, and has plenty of time to work on her game and slot back into England's fast-bowling cartel, which also includes promising all-rounder Danielle Gibson.

2. Spin goes from strength to strength

The numbers do the talking for Sophie Ecclestone, who took a 10-wicket match haul against Australia in the Test before taking 10 wickets in the white-ball Ashes matches that followed.

While her summer unfortunately ended in surgery on a dislocated shoulder, the 24-year-old remains, alongside Nat Sciver-Brunt, England's most reliable and dangerous player.

Ecclestone's stardom appears to help England's other spinners, off-spinner Charlie Dean and leg-spinner Sarah Glenn, who go about about their work well without much fuss.

Since coach Jon Lewis took over England in November 2022, England's spinners have excelled, taking 18 wickets on the winter tour to the West Indies, 22 in the T20 World Cup in South Africa, and 31 wickets in the Ashes.

Dean, 22, took her first five-wicket haul for England in the final ODI against Sri Lanka to reinforce England's spin depth.

With Alice Capsey also available as a part-time option, England's spin stocks are enviable and could prove crucial in December's tour to India, and next year's T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.

3. Batting concerns against spin

While England's own spinners are in fine form, there are still concerns about the batting line-up's approach to playing slow bowling.

England's success in the Ashes came despite Australia off-spinner Ash Gardner taking 23 wickets across the series, including 12 in the Test.

There was nowhere to hide in the T20 series against Sri Lanka, as an England side with a few key players rested were twice skittled by spin to lose 2-1.

Lewis has worked wonders with England's batting positivity but it gets a little lost in translation against the spinners, with batters looking indecisive about when, and how hard, to attack.

"It's something we are aware of," said Lewis. "In the build-up to the India series, we go to Oman and we will be recreating conditions.

"I will also take five or six of them out to Mumbai to a specialist batting camp. We are going to get out there and work and try and get better."

4. Gap closing on Australia - finally

For more than a decade, Australia have dominated women's cricket. Going into the summer's Ashes, they held the urn, both World Cups, and the Commonwealth Games.

Winning a game or two would have been a triumph for England. Few would have predicted a draw, with England winning both white-ball series, especially after Australia took a 6-0 points lead after winning the Test and the first T20.

But boosted by packed-out crowds, England roared back in style and, while Australia retained the Ashes, it was Knight's side who looked more like winners with grins on their faces after winning the final ODI in Taunton.

England's aggressive style of play was the key, as it seemed to take the world's best by surprise.

"I would say we're not that far apart," said Sciver-Brunt. "As long as we keep our intent and the way that we play there isn't too much of a gap."

5. Next in line with the bat remains unclear

Nat Sciver-Brunt celebrating a century v Australia
All-rounder Nat Sciver-Brunt hit back-to-back centuries as England won the Ashes ODI series 2-1

The bowling attack may be blessed with depth but little has been learned about the future of England's batting line-up.

They do boast enviable experience and skill with Danni Wyatt, Beaumont, Knight and Sciver-Brunt all playing starring roles at some stage during the summer - the latter hitting consecutive ODI centuries against Australia before making England women's fast ODI century in the final match against Sri Lanka.

But while Maia Bouchier saved her best until last after a few white-ball opportunities, scoring a sublime 95 against Sri Lanka, opener Emma Lamb did not make the most of her chances, all-rounder Freya Kemp did not nail down a spot despite a couple of entertaining cameos, and Sophia Dunkley was inconsistent.

Amy Jones has been her usual immaculate self behind the stumps, but her batting is a concern as she has not scored an international half-century since December 2022.

The T20 series defeat by Sri Lanka also hinted at an over-reliance on Sciver-Brunt, as even the experienced players that remained in the side in Knight, Wyatt and Jones struggled, before she returned to give England a masterclass in playing spin in the final ODI.

Capsey, 19, is already a mainstay of the line-up but looking ahead, it is not quite as easy to see who is coming next in the batting department as it is with the bowling.