Women’s Ashes

Adam Collins dis­cov­ers that Eng­land women’s coach has thrown down a chal­lenge to his team

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

Adam Collins looks at the squad to travel Down Un­der

They are go­ing to be tired af­ter a de­mand­ing sum­mer both on and off the field, but don’t doubt the re­silience of the world cham­pion Eng­land women as they board the plane to Aus­tralia. This is the mes­sage from their coach Mark Robin­son, in a week their Ashes squad was an­nounced with only one change to the team that lifted the World Cup in July, 18-year-old left-arm tweaker So­phie Ec­cle­stone brought in to bol­ster their spin di­vi­sion.

Win­ning the ti­tle ahead of their time in the most spec­tac­u­lar cir­cum­stances, this next as­sign­ment is in­vari­ably the hard­est for any Eng­land team: an away Ashes tour. De­spite the hosts los­ing their cap­tain and best player, Meg Lan­ning, Robin­son is re­luc­tant to buy into talk that they ar­rive as favourites. In­stead, he ex­plained to

The Cricket Pa­per that it should not be un­der­es­ti­mated just how much the home sea­son took out of his charges.

“It has been a bril­liant sum­mer but emo­tional,” he said. “So it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how much it has taken out of ev­ery­one be­cause of all the ex­cite­ment and build-up of a home World Cup. The girls did bril­liantly to man­age them­selves to try to keep in that bub­ble, and all of that re­lease of play­ing in front of 26,000 peo­ple, then straight into the Su­per League.”

In the do­mes­tic KSL com­pe­ti­tion, play­ers are moved around the coun­try stay­ing in univer­sity ac­com­mo­da­tion. For those who were also part of the World Cup through July, it means they have spent the bet­ter part of three months away from their own beds.

“I’m cu­ri­ous to see what toll that has taken,” Robin­son con­tin­ued. “We might have to dig into some re­serves both phys­i­cal and men­tal. But if you can’t get ex­cited about play­ing in an Ashes sum­mer then you shouldn’t be play­ing. And we might be bril­liant, I don’t know. It’s a bit like when we were wait­ing for the World Cup to start.”

Heather Knight’s team will also fly out sport­ing “a few nig­gles” for their trou­ble. “We’ll have play­ers taped up more than they were in the World Cup,” Robin­son said. “It’s not an ex­cuse, you’ve al­ways got a bit of that. Our chal­lenge will be how much have the pre­vi­ous months now taken out of us. We talk about be­ing as re­silient as pos­si­ble and we need to be as fit to cope when it is tough. This will be an­other test of our re­silience.”

For Robin­son, the month-long se­ries serves as an­other help­ful guide on where his de­vel­op­ing team are at. World beat­ers they were on the big stage, but will that trans­late to con­sis­tent per­for­mances and ul­ti­mately al­low them to over­take Aus­tralia as the world’s No.1 side?

Dur­ing the 2015 Ashes, when Eng­land con­ceded the Urn on home soil with Lan­ning’s side win­ning four of the seven rub­bers across the for­mats, Robin­son was a spec­ta­tor from his liv­ing room. He re­calls the mar­gin be­ing “enough, but not huge” on that oc­ca­sion.

“The fear was that it was be­gin­ning to grow,” he adds of that mis­ad­ven­ture. “What we will find out in the next month is whether we have ad­dressed that bal­ance and if we are clos­ing the gap. Or have we gone past them? We are prob­a­bly a bit ahead of sched­ule and that is ex­cit­ing. What we have man­aged to do re­ally well is come to­gether as a group and dig deep.”

Eng­land tri­umphed over Aus­tralia in their one World Cup meet­ing – a thriller. The top-billed side failed to make the Lord’s fi­nal when In­dia over­came them in the semi-fi­nal. Now they have lost Lan­ning to un­avoid­able shoul­der surgery. It has ne­ces­si­tated a hand­ing over of the cap­tain’s arm­band to Rachael Haynes, who has not played against Eng­land since 2013.

For once, it is the hosts with plenty of ques­tions to pon­der.

But asked whether the de­ci­sion to go with the left-handed bats­man sur­prised him when she wasn’t in Aus­tralia’s best XI at the World Cup, Robin­son wouldn’t be drawn.

“I hadn’t given it any thought,” he said. “You look at it with cu­rios­ity about what they might do. In my time we haven’t played against her, so we are ask­ing the girls and get­ting as much in­for­ma­tion as we can to see what sort of player she is.”

Los­ing a big-time player is some­thing Robin­son knows all about, hav­ing done with­out Sarah Tay­lor for his first year in the Eng­land job. With her anx­i­ety is­sues well doc­u­mented, team man­age­ment has put in place a plan for the su­per­star keeper/ bats­man to give her the best chance of suc­cess on what can be a gru­elling tour.

“The most im­por­tant thing is al­ways her health and hap­pi­ness,” he said. “She has done bril­liantly to do the World Cup and play­ing in­ter­na­tional cricket again, but go­ing straight into the Su­per League with­out much time and now an Ashes sum­mer, there will be anx­i­ety is­sues.

“Most of it won’t be cricket, it will be around flights and things like that. We are fully aware, try­ing to support her, but we won’t take it for granted.”

While Tay­lor’s body of work speaks for it­self over a long pe­riod of time, Robin­son says this is the chance for this group of World Cup match-win­ners to again prove their cre­den­tials. “It is a chance for them to en­hance their rep­u­ta­tions as world-class play­ers,” he said. “Not just in­ter­na­tional play­ers, but world class.”

With a sold-out first ODI in Bris­bane now con­firmed, there is no bet­ter stage for them to do just that.

What we will find out in the next month is if we are clos­ing the gap... or have we gone past them?

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Now hear this: Mark Robin­son talks to his team this sum­mer

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