Let’s give credit to the Aussies for pro­duc­ing such fine young tal­ent

The Cricket Paper - - WOMEN’S ASHES -

Ali­son Mitchell dis­cov­ers that the re­cent era of pro­fes­sion­al­ism in the women’s game Down Un­der is get­ting re­sults

The im­pact of Cricket Aus­tralia’s pro­fes­sional pro­gramme for do­mes­tic women could make it­self ap­par­ent dur­ing the cur­rent multi-for­mat Ashes se­ries.

The first ODI in Bris­bane was a close, fluc­tu­at­ing af­fair, with Aus­tralia com­ing away vic­tors by just two runs with five balls to spare, thanks to vet­eran Alex Black­well hit­ting a mas­ter­ful, steely, 67 not out. How­ever vic­tory would have been much more dif­fi­cult for Aus­tralia were it not for the per­for­mances of two 20-year-olds, who had only 16 ODI caps be­tween them.

There is some­thing thrilling, in­trigu­ing and com­pelling about watch­ing a young leg-spin­ner rip and spin the ball, bam­boo­zling the world’s best, and South Aus­tralia’s Aman­daJade Welling­ton had Eng­land in knots when she was in­tro­duced into the at­tack in the 14th over at Al­lan Border Field.

She beat the edge of the bat, then found ex­tra bounce, pass­ing the shoul­der of the blade as well. She was un­lucky not to take a wicket in her 10-over spell, where she bowled a maiden and con­ceded just 39 runs.

On pa­per, it was a sur­prise that Welling­ton was cho­sen ahead of fel­low leg­gie Kris­ten Beams, 32, who was Aus­tralia’s lead­ing wicket taker at the re­cent World Cup. Welling­ton is, how­ever, one of the most ex­cit­ing tal­ents in the world game at the mo­ment, and she showed that she isn’t in awe of bat­ting stars such as Sarah Tay­lor in the Eng­land line up.

Two years ago, at just 18, Welling­ton was in fact bowl­ing into Tay­lor’s gloves when Tay­lor was keep­ing wicket for the Ade­laide Strik­ers in the Women’s Big Bash. The fact that Tay­lor strug­gled to read her in the 1st ODI, de­spite hav­ing kept to her, spoke vol­umes about the young­ster’s flight and con­trol. She had the clas­sic leg-spin­ner’s shape, dip, drift and turn. Tay­lor and Lau­ren Win­field had to knuckle down and play watch­fully. They stopped tak­ing risks against her.

Mean­while, at the other end, pres­sure to score was grow­ing on Eng­land, and off-spin­ning all-rounder Ash­leigh Gard­ner, 20, started pick­ing up wick­ets. Her 3-47 in­cluded the wick­ets of Tay­lor – lbw with Gard­ner bowl­ing around the wicket – Na­talie Sciver and Fran Wil­son, for whom the ne­ces­sity to score re­sulted in them both be­ing caught in the deep try­ing to go on the at­tack.

Gard­ner’s fi­nal, im­pres­sive, con­tri­bu­tion to the win was to join Alex Black­well in the 43rd over of the run chase and nerve­lessly strike 27 off 18 balls to bring the tar­get back within Aus­tralia’s sights and al­le­vi­ate some of the pres­sure on Black­well.

Whilst Gard­ner was a reg­u­lar in Aus­tralia’s World Cup cam­paign, Welling­ton watched most of it from the side­lines. She frac­tured her fin­ger in a warm-up match, mean­ing Beams played in the open­ing match against the West Indies, per­formed well, kept tak­ing wick­ets, and kept Welling­ton out for the du­ra­tion.

De­spite her lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence at in­ter­na­tional level, though, Welling­ton looked at home on the big stage of a tele­vised Ashes se­ries – a se­ries that has the big­gest pro­file of any in­ter­na­tional women’s cricket se­ries ever played on Aus­tralian soil.

For this, one must ac­knowl­edge the im­pact of the Women’s Big Bash and the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of all Aus­tralian women’s do­mes­tic cricket. The Women’s BBL will en­ter its third sea­son in De­cem­ber. The pro­mo­tional ef­forts of Cricket Aus­tralia and Chan­nel Ten have en­sured that matches are played in front of large crowds – in one in­stance 24,000 for the Mel­bourne derby on New Year’s Day. This means that by the time do­mes­tic play­ers make the step up to in­ter­na­tional level, they are al­ready ac­cus­tomed to play­ing in front of TV cam­eras, with crowd noise and the as­so­ci­ated pres­sure of a big match day.

The pro­fes­sion­al­ism, which stretches across all state teams, not just the WBBL, means that the skills of a 20-year-old can now be as ad­vanced and well honed as you might have ex­pected of a 24-year-old un­der the old sys­tem.

Welling­ton also has an undis­puted nat­u­ral tal­ent. This se­ries could yet shape up as a tan­ta­lis­ing bat­tle of the spin­ner. For Welling­ton’s leg-spin, Eng­land have 24-year-old Alex Hart­ley’s left-arm spin. Both turn the

The skills of a 20-yearold can now be as well honed as you might have ex­pected of a 24-yearold un­der the old sys­tem

ball away from the right han­der and Hart­ley has al­ready picked up a rep­u­ta­tion as a taker of big scalps, af­ter dis­miss­ing both Meg Lan­ning and Beth Mooney dur­ing the World Cup.

In the first ODI she en­hanced that rep­u­ta­tion by hav­ing Ell­yse Perry stumped off a de­li­cious de­liv­ery that turned past the bat when she short­ened her length as Perry ad­vanced. The re­main­ing matches ought to be mouth­wa­ter­ing con­tests.

The se­ries started in front of a sell­out crowd – partly a legacy of the tele­vis­ing and public­ity of the World Cup and partly an ex­ten­sion of the mo­men­tum built around the first two sea­sons of the WBBL Down Un­der.

Cricket Aus­tralia are to be ap­plauded for the bold and brazen way they are pro­mot­ing this Ashes se­ries. A se­ri­ous mar­ket­ing bud­get has gone into it, ex­tend­ing even to a Women’s Ashes choco­late bar be­ing pro­duced.

Their so­cial me­dia hash­tag, #beat­Eng­land, might have been vindicated in the open­ing match of the se­ries, but Eng­land’s aim must be to em­bar­rass the Aussies into wish­ing they’d never thought of it.

Got you! Ash­leigh Gard­ner af­ter dis­miss­ing Sarah Tay­lor

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

It’s all in the wrist: Aus­tralia's Aman­daJade Welling­ton bowl­ing her leg-spin dur­ing the 1st ODI

English tal­ent: Alex Hart­ley, left, cel­e­brates the wicket of Meg Lan­ning in the World Cup

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