WOMEN’S ASHES BATTLE AWAITS
Knight’s charges aim to make history
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
Renewing rivalry: England beat Australia at the recent World Cup
Options: Australia may play Lauren Cheatle