With the Ashes Points Series starting with the four day Test Match in just a little over eight weeks how are England's preparations for the series going?
Well looking back to the T20 and 50 over World Cups England have already conceded the high ground to the Australians. They lost in the final of the T20 World Cup to their main foes, having looked good all the way through the tournament. In the final they simply did not perform as they had in previous games - with bat, ball or in the field. In the 50 over version of the game England did not even make the final, having lost to Sri Lanka after underestimating the opposition, and again losing to Australia when they should have won.
Fast forward to mid-May and England Head Coach Mark Lane suddenly resigns with immediate effect. He says that he felt the time was right, allowing the new man or woman time to build up to the next T20 World Cup in 2014, but it is somewhat destabilizing only three months before the Ashes series. Paul Shaw is swiftly appointed the new Head of Women's Performance in early June. Another assistant coach is to be appointed below him to work with current assistant coach Carl Crowe, but no time scale is put on this appointment. It seems unlikely to happen before the Ashes series.
And so we find ourselves here in mid-June with England having named a senior and an academy squad to face the Pakistanis in two week's time. The senior squad is without Katherine Brunt (foot injury), Laura Marsh (shoulder injury) - both of whom are yet to bowl a ball in anger this season - and Holly Colvin, who has broken her thumb and is likely to miss some, if not all, of the Ashes series. Only three new faces are in the senior squad of fifteen - Tash Farrant - a raw 17 year old left arm talent (figures of 4/16, 0/38, 1/22, 3/8 and 0/32 in county championship games so far this season); Lauren Winfield - another wicketkeeper and a hard hitting bat (scores of 96, 27, 38 and 18 in the county championship this year), and Nat Sciver - a decent right hand bat (scores of 68, 96, 4 and 32 in the county championship so far this year) and right arm medium pace bowler (just 3 wickets in 28 championship overs so far). They may get their chance to show what they can do against Pakistan in early July, but this is only two T20s and two ODIs against opposition who you would expect the Academy side to beat comfortably a few days earlier. It is international experience but not at the highest level. It would be tough to throw any of these girls into an Ashes series against the best side in the world, but they may be needed.
Assuming none of the injured players return I could see the Test Match side looking like this - Edwards, Jones, Taylor, Brindle, Greenway, Gunn, Wyatt, Hazell, Elwiss, Shrubsole - the more astute amongst you will realise this is only ten names. Who do they name as the eleventh player? I would like another seamer in there, but who? Maybe someone will put their hand up and claim this slot over the next few weeks, but there is just one more Super 4 game to go next Saturday, and then three county games, plus the Pakistan games, before the Ashes series kicks off. That is very few matches.
Is this a side that will defeat Australia in a one-off Test? I have to say that I think not. I don't think they have enough wicket-taking bowlers and I think the batting is potentially fragile. As for the shorter versions of the game I think Lauren Winfield may get a chance with the bat at some stage, and you would guess that Heather Knight (ODIs) and Susie Rowe (T20s) may also get a chance.It may depend on how many points are needed from which games.
Australia too have their problems. Ellyse Perry is still to recover from her ankle surgery. She has been named in the Aussie squad, but her participation in the four day Test must be in doubt. They may save her for the shorter versions of the game if she is not 100%. I am also not sure that the Aussies are suited to the longest version of the game. Jess Cameron and Meg Lanning are explosive in the shorter format, but can they bat for a long time if they need to?
The six points awarded for winning the Test Match will be massive, if one side can win. Ten points will secure the Ashes for England (nine for Australia as they already hold them). If the weather holds I don't see either side being able to hold out for a draw, unless Wormsley is a complete road. It is going to be a very interesting summer.