Knight’s charges aim to make his­tory

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Ali­son Mitchell takes a look at how both teams are shap­ing up with the Women’s Ashes get­ting un­der­way this week­end

The last time Eng­land con­tested the Ashes as World Cup win­ners, they drew a Test in Worces­ter to re­tain the cov­eted tro­phy. Back in 2009, the Ashes was very dif­fer­ent to the cur­rent multi-se­ries for­mat, in that the prize was de­cided over one soli­tary Test match.

How­ever, Eng­land also won the One Day se­ries 4-0 that year, and now, as world cham­pi­ons, they should feel that they have an ex­cel­lent chance of re­gain­ing the tro­phy that was lost on home soil in 2015. Eng­land’s at­ti­tude to­wards the 2017 World Cup was al­ways that it was ‘part of the jour­ney’ not ‘the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion’ and this Ashes se­ries, which starts on Sun­day, is the next step on that jour­ney.

The se­ries con­sists of three ODIs (one at Al­lan Bor­der Field and two at Coffs Har­bour), a day-night Test over four days at North Syd­ney Oval, which will be the first ever flood­lit Test for women, and three T20s (one at North Syd­ney and two in Can­berra).

Eng­land are at full strength, with 18-year-old spin­ner So­phie Ec­cle­stone fin­ish­ing school and be­ing added to the squad that tri­umphed in front of a packed house at Lord’s and a TV au­di­ence of mil­lions on Sun­day, July 23.

The Aussies are al­ready on the back foot with­out their tal­is­manic cap­tain Meg Lan­ning, who sto­ically nursed a shoul­der in­jury through the World Cup but has since suc­cumbed to the need for surgery. She is out for the en­tire sum­mer, and her runs at the top of the or­der as the world’s un­de­ni­able best batter will in­evitably be missed, as will her tac­ti­cal nous and lead­er­ship.

In Lan­ning’s place as cap­tain is Rachael Haynes. Haynes is a top-or­der bat and cap­tained the side twice when Lan­ning sat out dur­ing the World Cup, but a change in lead­er­ship for such a big se­ries can take a while to bed in. Her team mates say she is an un­flap­pable char­ac­ter, a bit like Lan­ning, so per­haps there won’t be much change in at­mos­phere. She’s had a de­cent warm up too, hav­ing scored a cen­tury on the open­ing week­end of the Na­tional League.

Pres­sure on both cap­tains? The ex­pec­ta­tions Haynes will feel cap­tain­ing the team in an Ashes se­ries on home soil are likely to be matched by the ex­pec­ta­tion placed on Heather Knight, bring­ing her team Down Un­der as world cham­pi­ons – a team who thrived on de­scrib­ing them­selves as un­der­dogs in the build-up to the World Cup. It’s a tag they can lay claim to no more.

Aus­tralia be­lieve their chances of suc­cess will in­crease rapidly if they’re able to nul­lify the threat posed by Eng­land’s new ball pair­ing Anya Shrub­sole and Kather­ine Brunt. Shrub­sole’s 6 for 46 in the World Cup fi­nal pro­pelled her to the top of the wicket-tak­ing charts. The 25-year-old was also Eng­land’s lead­ing wicket-taker in the Ashes se­ries of 2015 and 2013/14 Down Un­der – although she didn’t take as many in 2015 as Aus­tralia’s Ell­yse Perry, who shone in Eng­land with 16 wick­ets at 13.43, cou­pled with be­ing lead­ing run-scorer.

The task of fac­ing the new white ball in the ODIs will fall to Ni­cole Bolton and Beth Mooney. Bolton plays along­side Brunt and Shrub­sole at Perth Scorchers, as does El­yse Vil­lani. Vil­lani says she has learnt more about both of them by be­ing on the same team. The Women’s Big Bash and the Kia Su­per League mean play­ers from the two sides have never known each other bet­ter. This can work to ei­ther team’s ad­van­tage, but it does add a fur­ther de­li­cious el­e­ment to the ri­valry.

The last time the two teams met was their World Cup match in Bris­tol, when left-arm spin­ner Alex Hart­ley dis­missed both Mooney and Lan­ning and fin­ished with 2-31, as Eng­land went on to claim an ex­cit­ing three-run win. The ef­fect that a vic­tory like that has is im­mea­sur­able go­ing into an Ashes. Eng­land don’t fear Aus­tralia in the way they once used to; they know they can beat them.

The World Cup cam­paign was dis­ap­point­ing for Aus­tralia, as they ex­ited in the semi-fi­nals at the hands of In­dia’s Har­man­preet Kaur. Through­out the tour­na­ment though, it looked as though the bal­ance of the team was never quite right, and their lack of a gen­uine third pace bowler was ex­posed when Har­man­preet took the at­tack apart on her to way to a jaw drop­ping 171 not out.

Coach Matthew Mott has since ad­mit­ted that the bal­ance was “out of whack”. Their front­line at­tack con­sisted of Perry and Me­gan Schutt, along­side spin­ners Jess Jonassen, Kris­ten Beams and Ash Gard­ner. When need­ing a sixth bowler, Lan­ning turned to the part-time seam of Vil­lani, who of­ten strug­gled to con­tain or threaten. If one of the top six, or one of the spin­ners makes way for an ex­tra seamer at Alan Bor­der Field on

The Women’s Big Bash and the Kia Su­per League mean play­ers from the two sides have never known each other bet­ter. This can work to ei­ther team’s ad­van­tage

Sun­day, Haynes will have the op­tions of ei­ther all-rounder Tahlia McGrath or lef­t­armer Lau­ren Chea­tle.

Chea­tle is a lythe and ath­letic 18-yearold quick. She missed the World Cup af­ter hav­ing shoul­der surgery ear­lier this year (wor­ry­ing that one so young al­ready needs surgery) and has been re­called to the squad off the back of just one game on her re­turn, where she bowled only seven overs, tak­ing 0-31. Mott sees mas­sive po­ten­tial in her, though, and is hop­ing her abil­ity to swing the ball in to the right han­ders will prove a big wicket-tak­ing as­set if she gets her chance. She has only played two ODIs to date, hav­ing made her de­but on the tour of New Zealand in Fe­bru­ary.

McGrath can also swing the ball, although she is also on the come­back from in­jury, hav­ing suf­fered stress frac­tures to her back on tour with Aus­tralia ‘A’ in April. She too was ruled out of World Cup con­tention but used her time pro­duc­tively to work on her bat­ting, the ben­e­fits of which have al­ready been felt by her state side, South Aus­tralia.

The day-night Test in Syd­ney will be new for both teams, so some­thing of an un­known. Mean­while, both of Eng­land’s warm-up matches in Bris­bane were scup­pered by rain so lo­cal match prac­tice ahead of the ODIs has been lim­ited. Eng­land are, how­ever, a side who have only known win­ning of late. We are yet to see the true po­ten­tial of opener Lau­ren Win­field, who in­jured her wrist early on in the World Cup and ad­mit­ted to only feel­ing com­fort­able again by the fi­nal.

Some of Eng­land’s World Cup stars had very quiet KSL sea­sons – in­clud­ing lead­ing run-scorer Tammy Beau­mont – but if the team have stayed true to their word about the World Cup only be­ing part of the jour­ney, and if they have kept their eye on this se­ries as much as en­joy­ing the suc­cess of the sum­mer, the Ashes should be a prize within their grasp.

School’s out: So­phie Ec­cle­stone is Down Un­der with Eng­land

PIC­TURES: Getty Images

Re­new­ing ri­valry: Eng­land beat Aus­tralia at the re­cent World Cup

Op­tions: Aus­tralia may play Lau­ren Chea­tle

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