NOT THE ‘OTHER’ ASHES
The Australian women’s cricket team (don’t call us the Southern Stars anymore) could set the tone for a huge Ashes summer. The women’s version of the old rivalry is played over all three formats: three ODIs, the first in Brisbane on October 22, the one day-night Test to be held at North Sydney Oval, and three T20s, finishing up in Canberra on November 21.
A lot has changed since the last series in 2015, when the Aussies were victorious. England beat Australia in the recent World Cup for the first time since 1993, and then went on to win the World Cup in front of a packed home crowd at Lord's.
To retain the Ashes, Australia is going to have to change the momentum that the English players have recently gained, and that certainly isn’t going to be an easy feat. Aussie captain Meg Lanning will be missing; as a group, the Aussies have been quite vocal around the fact that they are a side that doesn’t rely on one or two players. With the best batter on the sidelines, the proof will be in their performances.
You can expect the usual brilliance from Ellyse Perry, whose record with the bat since 2014 has been outstanding. Also expect a huge series for new captain Rachel Haynes. Her resurgence back into international cricket is a timely one, as she now has an opportunity to secure her spot for future tours and potentially win an Ashes series as captain.
The middle order of Elyse Villani, Alex Blackwell and Alyssa Healy will be the key to Australia posting or chasing substantial totals. But it is the bowling department that the Australians need to sort out before the first delivery is bowled. Twice during the World Cup, the attack was challenged and didn’t have the answers – in the end, Harmanpreet Kaur’s 171 for India in the semi-final was what ended their campaign.
The Aussies will need to find a way to squeeze in another bowler, most likely a seamer, given the consistency of spinners Jess Jonassen and Kristen Beams. The tricky question is how – expect a batter to miss out.
England is on cloud nine and rightly so. Under the calm guidance of Heather Knight, who has an ability to get the best out of her players, the entire English team was able to perform under immense pressure during the World Cup.
Tammy Beaumont enjoyed a breakout performance, finishing as the leading-run scorer and eventually being named player of the tournament. Anya Shrubsole’s spell of 6/46 in the final was the defining moment that swung the game in favour of England. And let’s not forget that Sarah Taylor, England’s no.3 and wicket-keeper, made a return to international cricket after a year out of the game and performed admirably. The scary thing is that everyone knows that she has another gear to go in terms of her batting.
The biggest challenge for this team is a hangover from the World Cup. The first game of this points-based series is crucial. Just like a tournament, momentum for each team is vital and both teams will be wanting to exert their ascendancy from the outset.
Another deciding factor will be the fans. The early-round match in the World Cup between these two sides was sold out, and when it came down to the wire, the crowd in Bristol rode every ball. England eventually won by only four runs.
The Australian fans seemed to have received the message – the first ODI in Brisbane sold out Allan Border Field a month in advance. Maybe it’s the fans wanting to get their Ashes fix early, but it will also remind the Poms that they are in Australia, and it isn’t going to be an easy ride.