@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read
It’s been some time since England tasted Ashes success. Not since Charlotte Edwards’ third and final tour as captain eight years ago have England finished a women’s Ashes series as victors.
In that intervening period, Australia have well and truly established themselves as the dominant force in the women’s game, winning two of the four global tournaments to take place and embarking on a world record winning streak of 26 games in ODI cricket before India put a halt to that run last year. The most recent Ashes series, one that took place on English soil, wasn’t close.
After Australia pipped England in a pair of tight ODIs to kick off the multi-format series, the tourists were supreme, claiming three thumping white-ball victories either side of the drawn Test before England sealed a consolation win at Bristol when the series was long decided.
Two and a half years later, do England have a chance of reversing the recent trend of Australian domination?
Well, their preparation – like so many touring sides in the pandemic era – has been sub-optimal to say the least. To minimise the chance of squad members contracting a COVID infection that would affect travel plans, players endured a 10-day period of ‘safe living’ before they travelled to Australia.
“For those two weeks before we left England, we could only train as individuals and with our households,” captain Heather Knight recently told reporters.“We’ve had mums feeding bowling machines, boyfriends slinging, girlfriends slinging, dads batting and any family members or households supporting our training. As you can imagine it’s been pretty comical, but also not ideal preparation for a series of this magnitude.”
Preparation hasn’t been markedly better upon arrival in Australia. England’s first training session was ruined by the weather and the senior side lost two warm-up T20s on the same day against England A, despite Sophie Ecclestone taking extraordinary figures of 7-14 in one of them. Knight and Nat Sciver were the only England players to register a 30-plus score across the two fixtures.
But while a mixture of recent results and inadequate preparation for the tourists ensures Australia’s status as pre-series favourites, the result of the series is not a foregone conclusion.
For starters, home advantage is considerably less of a factor in recent women’s Ashes contests than it has been in the men’s game. While there have only been three instances of a side not winning a home men’s Ashes series this century, that number rises to seven in the women’s game. In the multi-format era, only England in 2013 have actually won a home Ashes series.
Australia will also be without the service of one of their most established batting stars, while there are doubts over the form of others. Only Mithali Raj has scored more women’s T20I runs at a higher average than Beth Mooney, who will miss the Ashes after injuring her jaw. Mooney was also the leading run-scorer in the most recent edition of the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL).
Meanwhile, as startling a prospect as it would have been in 2019, Ellyse Perry is not guaranteed a spot in the XI for the T20I leg of the series. Her bowling returns since she incurred a serious hamstring injury in early 2020 have fallen off a cliff. In nine white-ball internationals since the 2020 T20 World Cup, Perry has just one wicket in nine games while her recent numbers with the bat – a strike rate of less than 95 over the last two seasons of the WBBL – aren’t what they once were either.
Neither Meg Lanning nor Alyssa Healy – two other top-order stalwarts – enjoyed stellar WBBL campaigns. That said, there is talent coming through that we’ve yet to see in Ashes cricket. Tahlia McGrath enjoyed a breakout 2021 in international cricket while 18-year-old Darcie Brown is one of the most exciting (and quickest) bowlers in the women’s game.
There are new faces in the England squad, too. Charlie Dean, a sharp turner of the ball, was without a professional contract this last year but has impressed already in her short international career while Maia Bouchier is another youngster to force their way into Lisa Keightley’s plans in recent months. Sophia Dunkley, more than three years into her England career, is perhaps the most likely of the Ashes debutants to leave a lasting impact on the series.
After a landmark year for the domestic game back home, this is where it gets serious. This away Ashes trip and their imminent World Cup defence will go some way to defining Knight’s already immense legacy at the helm of the women’s game in England. Australia will rightly start as favourites but this tour is not an insurmountable task for Knight’s team.