Friday, 31 January 2014

Ashes done - now on to the World Cup

Well it is all over, bar the shouting. England have won the Ashes after a comprehensive nine wicket victory in the first of the three T20s. Fortunately I managed to watch the game before heading off to Colombo in Sri Lanka (from where I write this) where the England Academy are due to play Sri Lanka in two ODIs (technically they should be called 50 over games as they are not full international games, but you knew that) and four T20s.

I don't think I have ever seen Lottie bat as well. Her timing off her legs and cutting was impeccable. It was a joy to watch her bat and she deserves to be rightly applauded for a fantastic achievement - it is only the third time that the Ashes have been won on Aussie soil, and obviously the first in the new multi-format. Her batting seems to be getting better and better. Perhaps it is the better wickets that she is now being allowed to play on or just maturity and experience. Whatever it is I cannot see her giving up the opener's role for sometime to come.

England were lucky that she and Sarah Taylor found such good form at the right time. That is how T20 cricket works - one or two batsmen come off and they win the game for you. I also think the Aussies were wrong to bat first. They should have put England in. As Lottie said she had no idea what a good score was. Everyone thought 150 was a good score, but in fact 180 would have been nearer the mark due to the insanely short boundaries, a great batting wicket and a lightening outfield. I am not a fan of ridiculously short boundaries, but I guess the Aussies wanted them as they thought it suited their style of play better. Think that one came back to bite them.

England's bowling looked tame without Brunt and Shrubsole. Tash Farrant did well and was accurate, but the pick of the bowler's was Dani Hazell. She has really stepped up in this tour. She used to bowl very flat and frequently dragged the ball down, but is now giving the ball more air and leaving the batsmen to try and put the pace on.

So looking ahead it is the T20 World Cup in about eight weeks time out in Bangladesh. England and Australia will rightly be favourites, but they will have their work cut out to win. England's first worry will be all their injured players. The list now goes like this Brunt, Shrubsole, Knight, Gunn, and Farrant, not to mention Laura Marsh who never made this trip at all. I have no idea how serious any of the injuries are but the second T20 shows how a weakened (and probably hungover) England can perform.

The result of the second T20 was not really unexpected. It is very difficult to get yourself back up to speed so soon after winning a series. I expect England to perform better in the last T20, provided they can get 11 fit players on the field. It will be England's and Australia's last competitive T20 game before the T20 World Cup. Of the other main contenders Sri Lanka and India have just finished a series in India, and Sri Lanka not only play England Academy, but have the Aussie Shooting Stars coming over in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile West Indies (without the suspended Deandra Dottin) will be in New Zealand in three weeks for three ODIs and five T20s.

It will be interesting to see how they all get on. Certainly all the boards are now taking their team's preparation much more seriously than they used to. For England the rest might just do them good.


Monday, 27 January 2014

More than a trophy at stake in Ashes T20 deciders

The Aussies have won the ODI mini-series 2-1, with victories in Melbourne and Hobart, after England had won the Test Match and the first of the ODIs. It means England lead the Ashes Series 8-4, with just the three match T20 mini-series to come.

As Jenny Gunn said in a recent interview "I'd rather be 8-4 up than 4-8 down" and England really need to go into the T20s with that in mind. They should also take heart from the fact that they won all three of the Ashes T20 matches in England last summer.

Have England got what it takes to win at least one of the T20 matches? It is going to be very tight. Remember Australia are the current T20 World Champions. You may also remember that they beat England in the final in the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo by four runs in 2012 to secure the title.

The Aussies' tails are up and they will come out all guns blazing. On paper I think they have the better T20 side with several batsmen very capable of hitting the boundary - Lanning, Bolton, Cameron, Villani, Perry and Osborne (as she showed in the last ODI). They are natural shot-makers and risk-takers, and if one or two of them come off then they can win their team the game. I don't think England have many players in that category, perhaps Edwards, Taylor and the emerging Sciver. The flip-side of course is that they can also get out, as they did in England last summer.

I think this series is definitely going to be decided by the batsmen, not the bowlers. Neither England nor Australia have penetrative bowlers, especially on these Aussie wickets and with the white ball. England will need to try and stifle and frustrate the Aussie batsmen. They will miss Katherine Brunt and Holly Colvin. Brunt offered raw aggression and Colvin left-arm flight and guile. Dani Hazell, who used to try and fire the ball down to the other end, seems to have been working on giving the ball more air, and it is working for her, but she has no spin partner. Danni Wyatt is an option, but she would be a risk. She has not bowled well for some time. The ball just does not seem to be coming out right for her.

England will therefore have to look to their seam bowlers for more accuracy and better lengths than they have bowled in the last two ODIs. Shrubsole is a given, but they may go into at least the first game with left-armer Tash Farrant as her opening partner - she is a left-armer which gives variation, and the Aussies will not have seen much of her. I would keep Cross and also play Elwiss as a batting all-rounder rather than Brindle.

My England team, in batting order, would therefore be :-
Edwards, Knight, Taylor, Sciver, Greenway, Elwiss, Gunn, Hazell, Cross, Shrubsole, Farrant.

Is this the team that England will play? Probably not. I guess that Brindle will play ahead of Elwiss and they may play either Jones or Winfield instead of Farrant or Cross. Bear in mind that had Katherine Brunt not been injured that Kate Cross would have been back in England by now, replaced by Farrant.

I doubt the Aussies will make any changes to the team that won the two ODIs. They will stick with spinners Osborne and Jonassen and the pace of Perry, Ferling and Farrell. Bolton has to play, surely, as she should have done from the start of the series. Meg Lanning looks like she has got her timing back, and Jess Cameron is designed for T20. Alex Blackwell has turned her Ashes Series around with three consecutive 50s after her pair in the Test, and who says Ellyse Perry is batting too high at 6 (oh I did!). Healy has the gloves if Fields remains unfit. With that line up they could score 180 in 20 overs, but then again they might only manage 100. England will be hoping it is the later on at least one occasion, because that is still all they need.

Whatever happens in the next few days this series has been another great advert for the women's game - a brilliant Test Match; close ODIs and now the televised T20s. Hopefully both sides will continue to perform just as well in front of the cameras. There is a series to be won, but there are also tv execs looking on keen on adding a Women's BBL to the current successful men's version. This mini-series and the T20 World Cup in March might just prove that it is a viable option.


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Perry and Osborne sneak another win for Australia

Australia pulled off a remarkable run chase at the Bellerive Oval, chasing down the 269 runs they needed to win, with just three balls to spare and four wickets in hand, thanks to a beautifully judged 90*(94 balls) from Ellyse Perry and a stunning 40*(25 balls) from Erin Osborne. It keeps their Ashes hopes alive, bringing the Series score back to 8-4 to England, with three T20Is to be played, each worth two points.

Having won the toss England, who replaced off-spinner Danni Wyatt with batsman Amy Jones, decided to bat first and posted a respectable 268/4 with all their batsmen making contributions, but on a small ground, a good wicket and lightning outfield it was probably no more than a par score. Charlotte Edwards (34) and Heather Knight (57) got England off to a decent start, putting on 79 for the first wicket inside 20 overs. Knight and Sarah Taylor (64) were again setting down a good platform when Knight was needlessly run out by Rene Farrell at the non-striker’s end, having been sent back by Taylor. It took the wind out England’s sails as Lydia Greenway (25) struggled to find any fluency and the boundaries dried up. But both were still there as the batting powerplay was called in the 36th over. Taylor looked to up the pace off Perry going over the top of mid-off, but the diminutive Jess Cameron timed her leap perfectly and plucked the ball out of the air with her right hand to leave England on 194/3 in the 39th over. Greenway went shortly afterwards missing her trademark sweep shot off Osborne and being adjudged lbw. Nat Sciver (43*) and Arran Brindle (26*) managed to score 64 off the last nine overs, but Brindle only managed to hit one boundary in her 25 balls at the crease. A generous helping of 16 wides from the Aussies allowed England to reach a target that they probably felt confident to defend.

When Meg Lanning raced to 40 off just 30 balls and the Aussies to 57 within the first 10 overs of the Aussie reply the English nerves must have been starting to jangle. Another moment of sublime wicket-keeping by Sarah Taylor, stumping Lanning off a legside wide, seemed to have shifted the momentum back in England’s favour, and when Jess Cameron (5) was run out backing up at the non-striker’s end as Gunn flicked the ball onto the stumps, there was a general exhaling of breath. 64/2 became 81/3 when Nicole Bolton (31) swiped horribly across the line at the immaculate off-spin of Dani Hazell and was bowled. After their lightning start the run rate slowly dipped below 4.5 per over as Hazell and Gunn turned the screw, but Brindle and Kate Cross were more expensive as Alex Blackwell (51) and Ellyse Perry (90*) got the Southern Stars back into the game.

Once again Hazell, this time in partnership with Jenny Gunn, applied the brakes and the required rate steadily climbed, as first Blackwell and then Jess Jonassen, succumbed to the pressure. At the start of the 40th over the required rate had reached eight an over, but Charlotte Edwards was scrabbling around trying to find someone to bowl the last few overs. England’s lack of a second spinner was beginning to show. It would not have been surprising if Ellyse Perry had buckled under the strain, but Erin Osborne came in and took the pressure off Perry with a 25 ball 40*, including five precious boundaries.

They still needed eight an over off the last four overs, but Kate Cross was then hit for 12 runs off the 47th and suddenly it looked on for the Aussies. A sweetly struck six over midwicket by Ellyse Perry in Jenny Gunn’s next over all but sealed the deal. Five came off Shrubsole’s penultimate over, leaving Australia with six to win from the last. Osborne calmly dabbed the third ball of Sciver’s over to the boundary after two singles off the first two balls, and the Aussies were home.

England still need just one more win, but the Aussies will feel that they have England on the ropes after two successive victories. England will need to regroup and refocus ahead of the first T20I on the same ground on Wednesday. It may well be that they will prefer to chase so that they know what they have to score, rather than trying to set a score for the Aussies, whose tails are up, to chase. Worryingly for England Meg Lanning looked to have refound her touch and timing. She will be a key wicket for England as they strive to finish off the resolute Aussies in the T20 tournament.


Thursday, 23 January 2014

8-2 and its off to Tazzie

England will be kicking themselves that they didn't wrap up the Ashes Series at the MCG today. The game was there for them to win, but they just had a very bad day in the field. It happens. Who knows what might have happened if they had removed Nicole Bolton in the first six overs as they should have done?

And speaking of Miss Bolton, where has she been up until now? She has had a great WNCL for Western Fury (averaging over 60) and did well in both the warm-up games. It was madness not to play her in the Test Match given that the Aussies were in desperate need of an opener, and both she and Villani should be playing now in the ODIs. The Aussie batting looks very thin with Ellyse Perry coming in at 5. Well it was better late than never by the Aussie selectors, but you have to think that she might not be quite so lucky in her next match. And England need to target her just outside off. She likes to drive without any great foot movement - slip catching practice needed.

Meanwhile poor Meg Lanning does not look like she can score a run at the moment. I don't think it is the weight of captaincy or people's expectations on her shoulders. It is just something that happens in cricket. She will snap out of it sometime, but I am not sure it will be in this series.

Jess Cameron got a few runs under her belt, but did not look her fluent self. True she did manage a couple of reverse sweeps, which shows her confidence might be returning, but she is the sort of batsman that you always think you have a chance of getting out.

Alex Blackwell has come back magnificently from her pair in the Test Match. She has hit 82* and 55 in the two ODIs and looks comfortable with bat in hand. She is a prize wicket now.

Ellyse Perry got a first ball blob in this second ODI, but has been a thorn in England's side with both bat and ball in hand. However I think her influence is beginning to wain. She looks a little tired, or possibly even slightly injured to me. She was definitely unimpressed and rather rattled by the two ramp shots that Nat Sciver played off her in the dying overs of this game.

England's bowling attack started and finished quite badly. I thought Kate Cross and Nat Sciver got things back together in the middle overs, and again from 42 onwards, but Lotte let things slip by taking them off. The last 5 overs went for 46 runs. And even Lottie seems to have lost any confidence in off-spinner Dani Wyatt, who again bowled too many poor deliveries. She fields well but now offers very little else to the team.

With a bit more composure England could have got a lot closer to the Aussie target. Heather Knight batted well to get to her fifty, but then lost the plot and tried to smash everything. When she failed she got frustrated and got herself out. It was great to see Sarah Taylor back in the runs, but disappointing to see her run herself out. She needs to believe in her own abilities more and cut out the risky singles. It was the 8th time that she has been run out in 80 ODI knocks - not a huge percentage granted, but generally it is an unnecessary way to get yourself out.

And the rest of the England batting line-up need to believe in Nat Sciver. In the last five overs of the England innings she showed that, if she had had the right support, she could have got England home. She had got the equation to just 29 off the last four overs, almost single-handedly. She looks comfortable at the crease and knows her own abilities and limitations. She has a long future in this England side although she will be working hard at her catching over the next couple of days.

So it is off to Tasmania for Sunday's ODI and the first of the T20Is on Wednesday. England still need just one win. The Aussies cannot afford a slip up. If the England Men's warm-up game is anything to go by then it will be the batsmen that decide the games here. England won't bowl and field that badly again and I back them to win at least one of the two games at the Bellerive Oval, also known as the Blundstone Arena. If they don't the score will be back to 8-6 and it will be squeaky bum time for all concerned.

Set your alarms for 2am on Sunday morning and watch the ODI via livestream on the ECB website - It will be worth it.


Aussies cling on

The Aussies have kept their slim Ashes’ hopes alive with a nervey 26 run victory over England in the 2nd day/night ODI at the MCG. It reduces their deficit in the series to 8-2 with one ODI and three T20Is to play.

Having won the toss the Aussies set about the England attack in a much more positive manner than they had done in the first ODI, thanks in no small part to debutant Nicole Bolton, who took the opening spot from struggling Elyse Villani. She punished anything too short and anything over-pitched and opening pair Anya Shrubsole and Kate Cross fed her far too much to hit. But it was in the field that England were the most generous. Arran Brindle missed the stumps on a run out attempt before Bolton had scored; Jenny Gunn put her down at gully off Cross on five; and Nat Sciver shelled a simple chance at midwicket, also off Cross, when she was on 28. Bolton made the most of these chances as she compiled a magnificent debut century, the first ever by an Aussie woman, finishing with 124 off 152 balls, before she tamely attempted an unnecessary reverse sweep to a Nat Sciver full-toss and was bowled. But by then the Aussies had reached 209/3.

Meg Lanning’s poor series had continued, the first to fall when she was bowled by the hard-working Hazell for five. Jess Cameron (44) looked in better touch but was caught by Greenway at midwicket off Hazell as she looked to up the pace. Alex Blackwell (55) helped Bolton achieve her maiden century when at times she looked like succumbing to the inevitable pressure on her. Her first 50 was stylish, the second 50 less so, but nonetheless worthy.

After she fell the Aussies wobbled a bit with Ellyse Perry going first ball lbw to Cross and Alyssa Healy (4) slogging Sciver to Danni Wyatt at deep square leg. Jess Jonassen hit 13 off eight balls before she was stumped by Taylor off Shrubsole, but the Aussies already had 247 on the board and they ended with 266 thanks to Blackwell’s 43 ball 50. She went in the last over caught at cover off Shrubsole and the Aussies finished on 266/7.

It was a poor effort by England in the field. Shrubsole and Sciver dropped two more easy catches and there were numerous fumbles and missed run-outs. Dani Hazell (2/44) and Nat Sciver (2/23) were the pick of the bowlers, with Kate Cross (1/37) coming back well from an indifferent start. Perhaps if Charlotte Edwards had had more faith in her younger bowlers, rather than the experienced Shrubsole, Brindle and Gunn, then the Aussie total may have been less formidable.

England needed a good start to their innings, but it was not to be as Charlotte Edwards allowed a straight ball from Ferling through to hit her stumps first ball and then Lydia Greenway, promoted to three, was adjudged lbw to Perry. England were 13/2 in the 7th over. But slowly Heather Knight (55) and Sarah Taylor (68) brought England back into the game. Both managed to find their timing after slow starts and they took the score to 97/2 in the 23rd over. They had been pushing the singles and hitting the odd boundary, but having reached her 50 Knight seemed to decide that it was down to her to up the ante. For three overs she just tried too hard to hit the ball and eventually the self-imposed pressure told as she advanced to Julie Hunter and was neatly stumped by Healy. 

But Taylor and Arran Brindle (19) kept the score ticking over and while they did so England looked to be in with a shout. But that was not to take into account the “Bolton Factor”. Brindle cut an Osborne deliver straight to Bolton at backward point. Taylor set off from the non-striker’s end without hesitation, but Bolton gathered the ball in and threw down the stumps from 30 metres out with Taylor well short. It looked like England’s hopes had gone too, especially when Brindle, Wyatt (1) and Gunn (5) all followed Taylor back to the pavilion with the score only moving on to 173/7. But Nat Sciver (57 off 42 balls) conjured up one last gasp for England as she added 31 with Hazell, and then 16 with Shrubsole. She had added another 16 with Kate Cross (0*), including two beautiful ramp shots off Perry, before she smashed a long-hop from Osborne straight to Holly Ferling at square leg to bring England’s innings to an end on 240.

The relief on the Aussie faces was palpable. They live to fight another day – the next in Hobart on Sunday. England will need to bowl and field a lot better in Tasmania than they did here at the MCG, but if they can do so they will back themselves to sneak the two points they need to clinch this entertaining Ashes Series.

Martin Davies
23rd January 2014 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Will anyone see England win the Ashes tonight?

The Second Ashes ODI starts tonight (in UK) - actually it starts at 03.20 tomorrow, but that is still the middle of the night here. If England win they will have retained the Ashes, which would be a significant achievement on Aussie soil, and with four games to spare.

Unfortunately for the women's game this will not be available for anyone to see on television - either terrestrial or satellite - as it is not being covered. Only the three T20s that end the series are being shown on television, by which time the Ashes may already have been won.

True you will be able to listen to live radio commentary, provided by the BBC, although they are simply taking the ABC coverage and adding Isa Guha and either Charles Dagnell or Alistair Bruce-Ball to the commentary/summariser's team.

Coverage from Perth of the Test Match was very good, particularly from Daggers and Terry Alderman - knowledgeable, intelligent and fun. Unfortunately the first effort from the MCG was not to the same standard. None of the Melbourne-based male ABC commentators had any knowledge of the women's game and had clearly watched little or no women's cricket. Inevitably they asked Isa Guha the same questions about her career and retirement; became overly-fascinated with the fact that Sarah Taylor had "no pads on"; talked about the men's game; struggled to identify the fielders who "all had blonde pony-tails"; and got excited by the batting power-play (which has little or no relevance in women's cricket). Sorry to say that Alistair Bruce-Ball ("Bless his cotton socks", as my Mum would have said) added nothing, but an English accent. He describes himself as a "football, golf and cricket person" and this clearly showed. I had actually got to the stage where I was about to turn the commentary off, when the livestream feed from the MCG on the Cricket Australia website disappeared. I had no option but to follow the game aurally. It was painful.

Hopefully the livestream will be more robust for the second ODI. It is a great innovation for those of us who are mad enough to want to stay up all night watching women's cricket. Again the stream worked well from the WACA. It was a bit one dimensional and it took me three days to work out that I could replay key moments by winding the stream back, but it worked. At the MCG, when it worked, there were slow-mo replays, which was a plus, although the main camera was not behind the bowler's arm - presumably as the girls were playing on the very edge of the square. I managed to watch only about the first and last hour of play as I swapped between two laptops and a tablet trying to get the streaming to work.

I know I probably shouldn't complain, but I think the women's game deserves better. If you are going to cover the game then get people who know what they are talking about and make sure your systems work. If you do not then you will in fact alienate those who are actual followers and you certainly won't get any new ones.

As I have said the three T20s will be on Sky here in the UK and on free-to-air television in Australia. The guys who commentate on the men will be doing their stuff on the women. Listen out for the incorrectly pronounced names, patronising comparisons to the men's game, and the fact that the men have been hammered in Australia. I will be watching with the sound turned down.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Breakaway Women's T20 Tournament

Saturday saw the official announcement of the creation of the Women's International Cricket League and the launch of the website. To many who follow the women's game it was no great surprise. There had been rumours that something was afoot for a few months. The WICL's stated aims are to create sporting opportunities for females - not only in cricket, but starting with that. The main opportunity it seems is to play sport professionally and to make a living from it.

The faces behind the WICL are former Aussie all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar, and sports and events management specialist Shaun Martyn. Their plan is to host a T20 tournament, probably initially in Singapore, as they have been working with the Singapore Cricket Association, made up of six "franchise" teams, consisting of a mix of players from around the world. In addition to the teams who will be competing in the T20 World Cup in March - Australia, England, New Zealand, West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ireland - players would be drawn from all the cricket playing nations in the world, which might include players from Papua New Guniea, UAE, Holland and Japan for example. They might not be that strong as a team, but they may have individuals who could hold their own against the best in the world. With six teams you would expect the player pool to need to be in the region of 75/85 players.

The website suggests that WICL are still looking for partners - people to sponsor the teams, broadcast partners and the like. They are also presumably looking for players. It is obviously still very early days. Lisa Sthalekar says they are "working with the ICC on a number of matters", and that they "still have some work to do". No dates are yet being publicly banded about for when the tournament might be or how long it might go on for, but one would guess that it would be a three/four week tournament on a league basis, culminating in semi-finals and a final perhaps all played on the same "finals' day". If it is to succeed than you would guess that it will need to be sanctioned by both the ICC and the various boards of the countries involved. That could take some doing. Clare Connor, in reply to a question asking what she thought of the WICL announcement, tweeted that "IF it gets off the ground and stacks up commercially, it could be an exciting addition to the international women's calendar."

It is a big "IF". Some analogies can be drawn to the emergence of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, back in late 1970s, when Packer took on the "establishment" ostensibly to improve the lot of players, but in reality to obtain the exclusive television rights to Australian cricket for his company. The opportunity to make substantial amounts of money lead many leading players to sign up, despite that meaning that they would be banned from playing for their countries. Here too money would be the over-riding factor for the players. Currently very few players in the world actually earn their living from playing cricket, although one or two of the Aussies who are now centrally contracted have the potential to earn $70,000 to $80,000pa. Some are also suggesting that England may also announce some improved central contracts for their players later this year.

It may be quite attractive to some boards to allow their players to play in the WICL, thereby supplementing their Board incomes. It means the risk of the competition flopping falls squarely on WICL, but the best players in the world get paid some decent money, and the profile of women's cricket and women cricketers is enhanced. On the back of that boards may be able to get more people to watch their own international matches, both at the ground and on television. It would be a win, win situation.

As Clare Connor says it is a question of whether it stacks up commercially, which means that a broadcast company has to be involved and has to be willing to pay out some pretty big bucks to get the rights to the tournament. It is a nice idea, but it may just be a little early in the commercial-viability graph of women's cricket. The fact that anyone is even talking about it is testament itself to how far women's cricket has come in the last five years, and it may inspire boards to have the confidence to invest even more in the women's game for the benefit of all players.


Aussies in the Last Chance Saloon

England have one hand on the Ashes Trophy after cruising to a seven wicket win against the Southern Stars at the MCG in the first of three ODIs. It gives them an 8-0 lead in the Ashes Series and means the Aussies need to win all five of the remaining matches (two ODIs and three T20Is) if they are to take back the trophy that England wrestled from them last summer.

Stand-in skipper Meg Lanning, deputising for Jodie Fields who broke a finger in training the previous day, won the toss and decided to bat. She and Elyse Villani again opened the batting, but after ten overs Villani had gone lbw to Shrubsole for a painful eight off twenty three balls and Lanning had just 13. The Aussies had crept to 33/1 in the face of accurate bowling from Shrubsole and Kate Cross, England’s Katherine Brunt sitting out another game due to her recurring back injury. Whether or not the Aussies had decided to target first-change bowler Jenny Gunn is unclear, but Lanning (13) drove hard at her first ball and edged through to Heather Knight in the gully.

Alex Blackwell, coming off a pair in the Test Match, started tentatively as did the out-of-form Jess Cameron. Against Gunn, Nat Sciver and Dani Hazell, they plodded their way to 62/2 at the end of the 23rd over, hitting just four boundaries in the intervening 13 overs. No wonder then that Cameron’s eyes lit up at the introduction of the erratic off-spin of Danni Wyatt. Having taken six off the first four balls Cameron (21) slapped the fifth to Shrubsole at mid-off and had to trudge off. Wyatt was withdrawn from the attack to be replaced by Arran Brindle.

Ellyse Perry joined her former skipper and slowly they went about rebuilding the Aussie innings. The run rate barely crept above three an over as they made steady if unspectacular progress thanks to accurate bowling and conservative field placings from Charlotte Edwards, who seemed very content to restrict the scoring. It worked until the end of the 44th over, where the Aussies stood at 148/3. From there on in Blackwell (82*) and Perry (65*) took 61 runs off the last six overs, including 16 off Danni Wyatt’s only other over, to finish on 209/3. Gunn and Hazell had gone for 30 off their ten overs and Cross, Sciver and Brindle had gone at four an over or less. On a decent pitch and with short boundaries it looked at least 50 runs light.

England’s reply was anything but pedestrian as Charlotte Edwards clipped and drove Perry and Rene Farrell to the boundary in the first few overs. Heather Knight (9) was less convincing and it was no great surprise when she nicked Julie Hunter, in for the injured Sarah Coyte, to Cameron standing alone at fourth slip. Sarah Taylor (9) fell to the spin of Osborne, chipping her to mid-on, and then Edwards (41) played all round a straight ball from Holly Ferling to leave England in exactly the same position as the Aussies had been at 68/3, albeit in the 19th rather than the 25th over of their innings.

Once again Lydia Greenway and Arran Brindle set about stabilising and then rebuilding the England innings. Initially Brindle was the more fluid nudging and nurdling singles, whereas Greenway simply dug-in, taking 17 balls to get off the mark. But what they did not do was panic. They were happy to pick up the singles where they could (in fact often where they should not have), along with the occasional boundary, and slowly the England score crept up. They reached a hundred in the 29th over, in which Jess Jonassen gave Brindle a life dropping a smart caught and bowled chance. From there on the single-taking became more urgent and the Aussie fielding began to slip.

40 overs saw the score at 161/3 and England were effectively home and hosed. Another run out chance came and went and Jonassen dropped Brindle again off her own bowling, but by this time the Aussies were a spent force. Even the talismanic Perry could do nothing for them as she sprayed the ball to off and leg as she strived for the breakthrough.
It never came. Arran Brindle struck the winning runs in the 47th over as she and Greenway shared an unbroken partnership of 142. Greenway, named player of the match, finished unbeaten on 69 and Brindle on 64.
It was a comprehensive victory for England, who seem to have the measure of a rather deflated Aussie team, who seemed hindered by their own lack of confidence. Their chances of making a spectacular comeback in the series look all but dead and buried.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Can the Aussies get back in the Ashes Series?

England lead the Ashes Series 6-0, with three ODIs and three T20Is to be played, each worth just 2 points each. The ODIs kick off at the MCG this Sunday (19th) followed by a repeat fixture four days later, and then the final ODI is on 26th Jan in Hobart. The T20s follow in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney. England need to win just two of the six remaining fixtures to retain the Ashes. That means the Aussies need to win five of the six. It is a tall order, but if they could win all three of the ODIs the score will be back to level pegging at 6-6 and everything will rest on the T20 results.

This has to be the Aussie's target, but how do they achieve it? Here's my Boof-inspired 10 point plan to get them back on even terms:-

1. Bring in Nicole Bolton as opener and drop Elyse Villani down to number 5.
2. Take pace off the ball, so bring in Jess Jonassen for Rene Farrell.
3. And they need to bring in Megan Schutt to replace Holly Ferling.
4. Survive the bowling of Anya Shrubsole and target the bowling of Katherine Brunt and Dani Hazell.
5. Take an off-stump guard to Jenny Gunn.
6. Set better fields especially to the likes of Lydia Greenway.
7. Bowl a foot outside off-stump to Sarah Taylor.
8. Don't rely on Ellyse Perry to get all your runs and wickets.
9. Bat first and score at least 260.
10. Get England out for less.

I think that should be full-proof or should that be fool-proof? Either way three straight wins would be assured and the Aussie public would be back behind their team. BTW Aussies get out there and watch the games live. Your girls need all the help they can get and ours love an audience.

As for England's plans? I cannot see them changing the Test side for the ODIs, provided they have all come through a gruelling four days in the heat OK. England need to be positive, but not reckless, and just bowl tight at the Aussies. The onus is on them to go after the games and win them.

Having suggested that England would shave the Test I am on a bit of a roll, so I'll stick my neck out and say the ODIs will be won 2-1 by either England or Australia. It will all depend on whether the Aussies follow my 10 point plan?


Monday, 13 January 2014

Who did what in the Test Match

Here is a quick review of each player's performance in the Test Match and the unique Women's Cricket Blog (WCB) Rating.


Heather Knight
Batting - 1st - 14; 2nd - 1
Fielding - 2 catches
A quiet game for the 2013 Ashes heroine with the bat, but picked up a couple of good slip catches.
WCB Rating 5/10
Charlotte Edwards
Batting - 1st - 17; 2nd - 56
Fielding - 0
Crucial second innings runs coming in at 7 and putting on 85 runs with Jenny Gunn.
WCB Rating 7/10
Sarah Taylor
Batting - 1st - 1; 2nd - 0
Fielding - 4 catches; 1 stumping
No runs for Sarah, but she should not have opened in the second innings. Kept well including a great legside stumping. One missed catch in second innings diving forward.
WCB Rating 5/10
Lydia Greenway
Batting - 1st - 22; 2nd - 5
Fielding - 0
Excellent in the field at backward point and saved plenty of runs, but failed to score many herself, although batted a long time in the first innings.
WCB Rating 6/10
Arran Brindle
Batting - 1st - 68; 2nd - 35
Fielding - 0
Bowling - 1st - 3-0-14-0; 2nd - dnb
Did a great job with the bat in both innings coming in at 32/3 and 8/2. Good partnerships in both innings with Nat Sciver.
WCB Rating 8/10
Natalie Sciver
Batting - 1st - 49; 2nd - 23
Fielding - 1 catch
Bowling - 1st 9.2-3-30-1; 2nd - dnb
Making her Test Match debut and batted well in both innings. Unfortunate to fall short of maiden Test Match 50 in first dig.
WCB Rating 7/10
Jenny Gunn
Batting - 1st - 0; 2nd - 44
Fielding - 2 catches
Bowling - 1st 18-8-14-1; 2nd - 14-8-13-2
Bowled a bit too wide of the stumps in the first innings, but did a good stifling job for her skipper with the ball and increased pressure on batsmen. Made her highest Test Match score in her 17th Test Match innings in the second innings - vital runs.
WCB Rating 8/10
Dani Hazell
Bowling 1st - 12-2-30-0; 2nd - nil
Batting - 1st - 15; 2nd - 4
Fielding - 0
Bowled OK in first knock after a poor first over. Never going to be her sort of pitch. Perfected the air shot in her first innings, but still managed to get a few.
WCB Rating 6/10
Katherine Brunt
Bowling 1st - 9-2-30-1; 2nd - 6.1-2-25-2
Batting - 1st - 1; 2nd - 4*
Fielding - 0
Dismissed from bowling by the umpire in the first innings for two over-the-waist full tosses. Aggressive but rather wayward in length at times.
WCB Rating 6/10
Anya Shrubsole
Bowling - 1st - 19-5-51-4; 2nd - 14-4-48-3
Batting - 1st - 0; 2nd - 7
Fielding - 1 catch
Produced some prodigious inswingers in both innings with both new and old ball. England's best bowler.
WCB Rating 9/10
Kate Cross

Bowling - 1st - 18-10-35-3; 2nd - 14-5-35-3
Batting - 1st - 3*; 2nd - 0
Fielding - 0
Another great debut for Kate following on from her short-form debuts in WI. Looks comfortable and controlled with the ball in hand.
WCB Rating 8/10


Meg Lanning
Batting - 1st - 5; 2nd - 15
Fielding - 1 catch
Never really settled at the crease and nicked off to the keeper in both knocks.
WCB Rating 5/10
Elyse Villani
Batting - 1st - 4; 2nd - 21
Fielding - 1 catch
Surprising choice to open the innings which did not really pay off. Given licence to go for it in the second innings and went hard, but perhaps a little too hard
WCB Rating 5/10
Sarah Elliott

Batting - 1st - 13; 2nd - 29
Fielding - 0
Bowling - 1st - 8-3-13-0; 2nd 3-1-12-0
The Test Match specialist could not reproduce her hundred from last year or her match-winning 81* from 2011. Dug in in the second knock, but ran out of partners.
WCB Rating 7/10
Jess Cameron
Batting - 1st - 5; 2nd - 0
Fielding - 1 catch
Not a game she will want to remember. Became Kate Cross' first Test victim in the first dig and she got her again, first ball, in the second.
WCB Rating 4/10
Alex Blackwell
Batting - 1st - 0; 2nd - 0
Fielding - 1 catch
Removed as VC before the series started Alex will be fighting for her place after bagging the dreaded pair.
WCB Rating 3/10
Jodie Fields
Batting - 1st - 43; 2nd -13
Fielding - 4 catches
Did well to haul her team out of the mire in the first innings, together with Ellyse Perry, and was neat behind the stumps. Could not repeat her batting heroics in the second innings. Made some "interesting" calls as captain.
WCB Rating 7/10
Ellyse Perry
Bowling - 1st 22-6-41-3; 2nd - 20-6-38-5
Batting - 1st - 71; 2nd - 31
Fielding - 0
Back to something close to her best with the ball, particularly in the second innings, and batted beautifully in the first. It would have been comic-book stuff if she could have manufactured the win from nowhere, but it was not to be. Quite rightly Player of the Match.
WCB Rating 9/10
Erin Osborne
Bowling - 1st 17-8-28-0; 2nd - 12-3-26-1
Batting - 1st - 40 2nd - 0
Fielding - 1 catch
Bowled tidily if without much threat. Took the only wicket for a spinner with Jenny Gunn's leave/no leave edge. Batted well with Perry in the first innings, but blobbed out in the second
WCB Rating 6/10
Sarah Coyte
Bowling - 1st 14-6-23-2; 2nd - 14-3-33-1
Batting - 1st - 9; 2nd -7
Fielding - 0
Bowled tightly and got Edwards and Sciver out in the first innings. Not able to produce much with the bat.
WCB Rating 7/10
Rene Farrell
Bowling - 1st 18.1-4-43-4; 2nd - 17-6-34-3
Batting - 1st - 11; 2nd -0
Fielding - 0
Slightly flattered by her first innings bowling figures when she did not bowl that well. Started England's collapse in the second innings. Expected more from her with the bat.
WCB Rating 8/10
Holly Ferling
Bowling - 1st 12-2-46-1; 2nd - 13-3-39-0
Batting - 1st - 0*; 2nd - 5*
Fielding - 0
Sparingly used by skipper Fields. Generated some decent pace, but did not look that threatening.
WCB Rating 7/10


England wrap up Test Match win

England lead the Ashes Series 6-0 after they wrapped up a 61 run win over the Australians in the Test Match, taking the last five Southern Stars’ wickets this morning for 66 runs. But, as with every other day of this Test, neither side was prepared to stick to the script.

Australia resumed on 57/5, still needing 128 runs to win, with Sarah Elliott (5*) and Ellyse Perry (1*). England chose to open with yesterday’s destroyer Kate Cross, who bowled an uneventful over to Sarah Elliott, with four runs scored. At the other end skipper Edwards threw the ball to Katherine Brunt, rather than the more accurate and penetrating Anya Shrubsole. Perry climbed into Brunt’s full first ball and blasted it through the covers and clipped the next through midwicket for four more. Two more off a high full-toss and a single off the last ball meant the Australians had 11 off the over. When Cross’s next over went for nine as she too overpitched the alarm bells were beginning to ring in the England camp.

Jenny Gunn immediately replaced Brunt, but by this time Perry was in the mood and slashed her first ball for four, before adding a two and a final ball single. The Aussies had raced to 88/5. In the next over Cross again overpitched and Perry drove her for yet another boundary. It was time for Shrubsole. As soon as she came on England appeared to be back in control. She produced a couple of hooping inswingers and then beat Elliott all-ends up outside the off-stump with two successive deliveries. Gunn then took over from Cross and suddenly life was much more difficult for the Aussies.

It was no great surprise when Shrubsole made the vital breakthrough. A full inswinging ball was clipped nicely by Perry off her legs, but straight to Jenny Gunn at square leg, who collapsed over backwards as she clung on to the vital catch. Perry (31) could not quite believe it. While she was at the crease the Aussies still believed, but as soon as she went it seemed that it was just a matter of time. And so it proved. The shift from 99/5 to 99/6 was a significant one.

Erin Osborne, who had batted so well in the first innings, came and went to Shrubsole without troubling the scorers and not long after Sarah Coyte (8) was lbw to Gunn. Rene Farrell (0) drove over the top of another inswinger from Shrubsole, and the Aussies had been reduced to 109/9. Holly Ferling could have been out to either of her first two balls from Shrubsole, but she survived with a resolute smile on her face. It was Elliott’s cue to finally unleash some shots, whilst also trying to retain the strike. She hit a couple of lusty blows but that signalled the return of Brunt, who finally wrapped things up for England when she bowled Elliott (29 off 115 balls) with a full ball. The Southern Stars had been bowled out for 123.

Kate Cross finished with 3/35 and Anya Shrubsole 3/48, with Jenny Gunn and Katherine Brunt taking two wickets apiece. Ellyse Perry who took 8/79 and scored 102 runs in the game was rightly named player of the match.

The Series now moves on to the 50 over ODI format with two games in Melbourne and one in Hobart, before three T20Is. England need to win just two of those games to retain the Ashes. Having won five games on the bounce in the corresponding fixture here in England last year they will be taking nothing for granted, but they have taken a huge stride towards that ultimate goal.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Edwards and Cross put England in the driving seat

England are within touching distance of a fantastic win at the WACA in what has to be one of the most absorbing Test Matches ever played in the women’s game. But no-one will be counting their chickens until they claim that final wicket and with it the six points that will set them up very nicely in this Ashes Series. With half their side already dismissed the Aussies still need 128 runs to win with Sarah Elliott (5*) and Ellyse Perry (1*) at the crease. Either could steal the game from England’s grasp, but it would take a monumental effort and you wonder if Perry in particular has very much more to give.

Earlier in the day she had lead the Australian attack on the English batsmen, who resumed at a precarious 18/3. In fact she was the Australian attack. When she did not have the ball in her hand the Aussie bowling looked pretty toothless. Arran Brindle (35) and Nat Sciver (23) once again set about rebuilding the England innings, but they both eventually fell to Perry’s second spell of the day, having patiently accumulated runs without too many alarms during the morning session. At 73/5 England were still in trouble, but Charlotte Edwards (56) came in at seven, after being off the field for the last few hours of the Aussie innings, and immediately stroked her first ball for four. From there on she and Jenny Gunn (44) proceeded to double the England score and began to take the game away from a flagging Stars’ team.

The crucial period was the hour after lunch when you would have expected Perry and Farrell to have been unleashed by the Aussie skipper Fields at the throats of the England batsmen. England started the session at 92/5. But she did not, and that may have been due to the fact that Perry had been pushed too hard during the rest of the game – required both to carry the bowling attack with spells that were too long, and the batting, where she made an invaluable 71 in over three and a half hours at the crease. By the time she was finally thrown the ball England had made it to the relative safety of 151/5 and Edwards had her fifty. Perry had her lbw a few balls later, but it was too late for the Aussies to claim the high ground in a match which has had more twists and turns than a mountain road. Another came just before tea when Gunn dangled her bat at an innocuously wide delivery from Osborne and managed to edge the ball through to Fields. Her 44 was her highest score in ten Tests, which had seemed unlikely after her poor first innings dig.

After tea Farrell (3/34) and Perry (5/38) wrapped up the England innings with 190 on the board and a lead of 184. Would Australia be able to get the positive start they wanted in chasing down a relatively low total? Elyse Villani had been picked as opener for this very task, and she set about the England attack with gusto pulling Katherine Brunt for consecutive fours off the first two balls of their reply. She should have been caught by a diving Sarah Taylor off the next as she gloved another short ball just behind the stumps, but the ball spilled agonisingly out of the keeper’s gloves as she hit the deck. Brunt was immediately withdrawn from the attack in favour of Kate Cross, probably to calm down, but Villani carried on her merry way hitting three more boundaries in quick succession off Shrubsole. A sizzling Brunt returned to the fray and another short ball accounted for Villani (21) as she skied a top edge high to Sciver at first slip, with the score on 28. After three overs Brunt again made way for Cross, who produced a stunning and match-changing spell of 3/0 claiming the wickets of Meg Lanning (15) wafting outside the off stump and edging through to Taylor; Jess Cameron (0) edging her first ball through to Knight at first slip; and the hapless Alex Blackwell (0) who bagged a pair as she too was caught behind. Australia had been reduced to 40/4.

Sarah Elliott (5* off 53 balls) and Jodie Fields (13) decided to try and dig in with Cross and Gunn giving them very little, but Fields toppled forward slightly when trying to get a bat on a leg-side slider from Gunn, and before she could move Taylor had the bails off. It meant that Perry, who deserved a lie down in a cool dark room, had to trudge out to the wicket and face the last few overs of the day. As she played the last ball out into the covers she immediately took off her helmet and trudged wearily back to the pavilion. The Aussies finished on 57/5.

England will need to be patient in the morning, but you would expect them to wrap up this game probably before lunch. The Aussies will try and dig in. Elliott makes Chris Tavare look attacking so England will not fear her run-making ability. At the other end they need to stifle and then remove Perry, Osborne, Coyte, Farrell and Ferling to grab the vital six point carrot which dangles invitingly over their heads. It has been a great Test Match, but is there yet one last twist in the tail?


Saturday, 11 January 2014

Aussies have their foot on England's neck

Day Two at the WACA was another absorbing day of Test cricket, with the game ebbing and flowing between the two teams. Wickets fell; partnerships were established and then broken; and tension prevailed in the aptly named Furnace as the sun beat down with the temperature rising to over 40 degrees centigrade. Ultimately it was the Southern Stars who will take the advantage into the third day as they reduced England to 18/3 at the close of play nursing a lead of just 12 runs.

The day had started so well for England with Australia resuming their first innings on 9/2. Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole looked threatening, but it was debutant Kate Cross who made the early breakthrough when she came on ostensibly to let England’s openers change ends. Rather than just holding the fort she smashed down the wall as she bowled Jess Cameron (5) with a peach that knocked back her off stump. It was difficult to take her off after she had bowled a wicket maiden and she made it two wickets in her next over as she trapped Alex Blackwell lbw for 0 in her next over. The Aussies were 23/4. Had Jodie Fields’ first ball gone to skipper Charlotte Edwards’ hand at silly point things might have been even worse.

Brunt meanwhile was working up a head of steam and she let Fields know she was there with a couple of decent bouncers and an unfortunate beamer at just above waist height, which Fields actually dealt with well. It did not seem that significant at the time, but it would become so almost immediately after lunch. In the meantime Brunt accounted for the limpet-like Sarah Elliott (13) who dabbed at one outside off stump and was well taken by Sarah Taylor. The Aussies had slumped to 37/5 and England were eyeing a healthy first innings lead. Fields and Ellyse Perry had other ideas. Fields clipped, pulled, cut and drove Brunt for four successive fours to remove her from the attack and just before lunch they brought up the 50 partnership.

Immediately after the break the idea would have been to let the Brunt/Shrubsole combo have another dig at them, but when Brunt bowled another chest-high full-toss the umpires stepped in and she was shown the metaphorical red card for the rest of the innings. Potentially this was a big blow to England but when Jenny Gunn took a great catch in the gully off Cross to remove Fields (43) the Aussies were 92/6 and still had problems. Erin Osborne survived a couple of tough chances to the close fielders and then found her feet and she and Perry began to look more confident as the afternoon wore on and the England bowlers tired. At tea Australia had taken the score onto 159/6 and were firmly back in the game. All the more so as skipper Edwards failed to appear back on the field for the third session due to a knee injury.

Perry (71) finally went after tea when Jenny Gunn actually bowled a ball at the stumps and Perry missed it. Gunn’s relentless outside off line had proved cost-effective if disappointingly negative. 177/7 became 188/8 after England had thrown the new ball to Cross and Shrubsole. Osborne (40) was adjudged lbw to Shrubsole -  one of a few generous lbw decisions by the umpires. As the Aussies scraped a lead Shrubsole took her fourth (4/57) bowling Coyte with the perfect inswinger, and then Farrell heaved Sciver to Shrubsole at deep fine leg to end the innings on 207 and a lead of just six runs. Cross finished with the excellent figures of 3/35 having bowled well all day.

England however had an awkward 45 minutes to negotiate to stumps with no Edwards to open,even if she was fit enough to do so, as she had been off the field since tea. For some reason England chose to promote Sarah Taylor to the openers slot. She had kept all day in the heat, does not like opening and has a tendency to be vulnerable early on. It was a recipe for disaster and so it proved when she flashed at a wide ball from Farrell and was caught at first slip for a duck. To make matters worse Heather Knight (1) and Lydia Greenway (5) had also departed, leaving England in deep strife at 10/3. It was left to the heroines of the first innings, Arran Brindle (3*) and Nat Sciver (6*), to see out the final overs, albeit not without the odd scare, with England teetering on the brink at 18/3.

The two batsmen at the crease will be key to England setting any sort of target for Australia, together with Edwards who you would expect to bat come what may, although she cannot have a runner – another mad ICC rule! England’s tail folded quickly in the first innings once Brindle and Sciver were out and the same could happen again tomorrow. If England could eek out a lead of 150 they would at least have something for Brunt, Shrubsole and Cross to bowl at. Final innings pressure does odd things to batsmen so I wouldn’t rule England out of it yet. But 150 looks an awfully long way off as the firey sun sets over the Furnace.


Friday, 10 January 2014

Thoughts on Day One and ahead to Day Two

England will probably sleep slightly more soundly than the Aussies tonight with a lead of 192 and two key Aussie wickets back in the hutch - Lanning and Villani. Given Nicole Bolton's recent form you would have thought she would have been a shoe-in for this Test Match, but the Aussies decided to gamble on Villani at the top of the order. It is a decision that may come back to bite them. Sarah Elliott may well stick around for sometime tomorrow, but she does not score runs quickly so is unlikely to take the game away from England. The pressure will be on Cameron, Blackwell and Fields to get the Aussies up to or passed the England total. They may well get some help from the tail - Perry, Osborne, Coyte, Farrell and Ferling - but England must fancy their chances if they can remove Cameron, Blackwell and Fields in the first hour or so.

England owe their position in the game to good knocks from Arran Brindle - she looked good up until about 55 and then seemed to get bottled up, and Natalie Sciver, who is proving to be a very valuable and stabilising middle-order bat. There was then the small matter of Anya Shrubsole, who mainly bowls inswingers, getting the wickets of Villani and Lanning caught behind the wicket. One booming inswinger and the next straight ball becomes difficult to play.

But perhaps England owe most to the tactician who sent a message out to Dani Hazell to either get a few runs or get out with 30 minutes to go. Immediately after an impromptu drinks' break for Hazell and Cross, Hazell slapped Farrell to midwicket and walked off. Coincidence? Who knows? It gave the Aussie openers an uncomfortable 30 minutes to bat after a long hot day in the field - a task in which they subsequently failed and the initiative had shifted back to England.

The twists and turns of the day are what make Test cricket so much fun. England 32/3 and in a hole. England 154/4 and looking in good order. That became 154/6 and then 201 all out. Advantage Australia. Aussies lose two early wickets and at 9/2 their whole approach to tomorrow's first session is changed. They cannot afford to lose early wickets. England will come at them hard.

Either way it looks like this Test might actually produce a result and one team or other will be 6-0 up with just 12 more points to play for in six games. The loser will need to win five of those last six games to win the Ashes. That seems too much to me. 4 points for the Test would mean that the series would be drawn if the Test loser won four of the last six games. 3 points for the Test would mean the Test loser would win the series if they won four of the last six games. Either result seems preferable.

Alarm clock set for 2.20am again tomorrow. It is not to be missed.


Shrubsole gives England hope

England ended the first day of the vital six-point Ashes Test with their tails up thanks to two late wickets from Anya Shrubsole, after what had been a disappointing day for them with the bat. Bowled out for just 201 on a pitch that did not look to have too many demons and with an outfield like glass, the Aussies had just six overs to negotiate before stumps. But they lost both openers with just nine runs on the board and they will have to dig in tomorrow if they are not to allow England to take a crucial first-innings lead.

All started well for England as Charlotte Edwards won the toss and had no hesitation in opting to bat. As she struck the first ball of the match off her legs for four she probably thought all was right in the world. England had opted to give right-arm pacer Kate Cross her first Test cap, in preference to either Georgia Elwiss or Danni Wyatt, with Nat Sciver also, less surprisingly, also making her Test debut. Cross’s inclusion suggested a positive approach to the game from England in search of twenty wickets to claim the win. It was an intent matched by the Australian’s who opted for the fast-scoring Elyse Villani as opening partner for Meg Lanning in preference to the hometown Nicole Bolton. They too went with three seamers in Perry, Farrell and Ferling.

Having moved almost untroubled to 28/0 with a string of boundaries off Perry and Ferling it was a surprise when England lost their first wicket, as Heather Knight (14) chased a wide one in Ferling’s first over and was caught at first slip. Things went from bad to worse as first Sarah Taylor (1) and then Charlotte Edwards (17) both played round straight balls from Perry and Sarah Coyte and were adjudged lbw. England were teetering on the brink at 32/3.

Not for the first time Lydia Greenway and Arran Brindle set about rebuilding the England innings. Brindle batted fluently towards a well-deserved half century, punishing the over-pitched and the wide short balls she was offered by Farrell and Ferling. Greenway was more circumspect, but solid in her defence, if occasionally playing well away from her front pad. They survived to lunch taking the score to 69/3.

In the afternoon period they had taken the score to 96/3 when Greenway got an inside edge to a gentle inducker from Perry and was bowled for 22, but Brindle found another willing ally in the icey-cool Nat Sciver and with tea approaching England looked to have taken the upper-hand at 154/4, but Brindle inexplicably played inside a straight ball from Farrell and lost her off stump to the last ball before tea to swing the game back to the Southern Stars. She had made 68.

Post-tea England’s last five wickets could add little more. Jenny Gunn (3) came and went in three balls; Nat Sciver (49) was denied a maiden half-century given out caught down the legside wafting at a shocking delivery from Farrell; Brunt smashed a short ball to gully and Perry pinged Shrubsole plumb in front with a good yorker. Dani Hazell (15) lead a charmed life, missing as many as she hit, before she spooned Farrell to midwicket and England’s innings came to an end with Cross unbeaten on 3. Farrell finsished with a slightly flattering 4/43 and Perry 3/41.

I don’t suppose Aussie openers Lanning and Villani were too chuffed at the prospect of six overs from Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, but both got off the mark with sweetly timed cover drives. Unfortunately Villani then jammed down on a full ball from Shrubsole and edged the ball to a gleeful Knight at first slip. In Shrubsole’s next over, and the last of the day, Lanning chased a wide one and edged through to keeper Taylor to whoops of delight from the England team. At 9/2 and with two in-form batsmen back in the hutch the Aussies are in a spot of bother.

England will be hoping that the Brunt/Shrubsole combo can inflict some more early pain tomorrow before the heat gets too oppressive. Anything more than a lead of 50 could prove to be decisive. With six points on the line the stakes are high.


Monday, 6 January 2014

Ashes 2014 Preview

It is notoriously difficult to predict the outcome of a cricket series, especially when two sides are pretty evenly matched as these two are. Just look at the journalistic carnage following the men's Ashes series! But we all love to speculate and pontificate, so with England due to start yet another Ashes campaign with the Test Match on Friday I will give you my thoughts. Do with them what you will!

The series will once again follow the same multi-game, multi-format formula, with one Test Match worth 6 points to the winner (2 each if it is a draw); three ODIs (worth 2 points each); and three T20s (also worth 2 points each). With the Test Match being the first game played, winning that game and going 6-0 up, would give either side a huge boost  - hence not losing becomes the prime objective and a draw is therefore the most likely outcome. Add to this that the Test is being played at the WACA, which looks a pretty good batting wicket with little in it for the spinners and a draw looks favourite. The series will then come down to the shorter formats to decide the series, with England only needing to draw to retain the Ashes. Effectively the Aussies would need to win four of the six games.

On paper England have taken their strongest squad out to Australia with the notable absence of Holly Colvin, who is currently taking a break from cricket, and Laura Marsh, who remains injured. In the longer formats Heather Knight and Charlotte Edwards will open the batting. Edwards is a class act and has been there and done that many times and can be relied on to score runs. In fact in the past England have relied on her too much. But in Knight they have finally found an opening partner who is just as classy. She had a great summer in domestic cricket and then in the England team, including her memorable innings in the Wormsley Test. Injured in the final T20 she has fought her way back to fitness and has just smashed an unbeaten 123 on the first day of the warm-up game. Good signs for England. At three England have Sarah Taylor. Her front foot driving will be suited by the Aussie wickets, but she can expect plenty of short stuff from Perry, Ferling and Farrell, especially at the WACA. I cannot think of anyone else I would prefer to see coming in at the fall of the first wicket, plus she is great to watch. At four I would expect to see Lydia Greenway. The Aussies will have learned their lessons from the series in England and if they cut off her sweep and reverse sweep options she will need to adapt.

The England middle order looks a bit of a moveable feast with Arran Brindle, Natalie Sciver, Jenny Gunn and Georgia Elwiss all fighting for two or three spots. Brindle and Gunn are the old guard and Sciver and Elwiss the young bucks. Sciver seems a certain pick and Gunn may be picked more as a bowling option than a batting option depending on the format. I'd like to see Elwiss given a go, but she may get limited opportunities. She is a good positive bat and I can see her and Sciver forming a nice partnership in England's longterm.

The spin options are down to just Dani Hazell and Danni Wyatt. I have to admit I think we are a bit thin here. Neither pose a massive spinning threat, but England will hope they can keep a lid on the Aussie batsmen. It would not surprise me to see the Aussies really targeting both players to try and shake their confidence early in the tour. The one advantage both girls have is the presence of Sarah Taylor behind the stumps, which helps keeps the batsmen on their toes. This could be a crucial battleground.

In the fast bowling department Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole are must-plays if fit, and that is a big if. Shrubsole is not in the warm-up game and Brunt admits she is never really 100% fit, but both are gutsy players and if they can play they will. As back-ups there are Gunn, Sciver and Elwiss, plus Kate Cross. I think all of them will play and will get chucked the ball at some stage during the series. Tash Farrant will replace Cross for the T20s and may get a game or two depending on the state of the series.

As for the Aussies they need to find an opening partner for Meg Lanning, Australia's new vice captain. At 21 she already has heaps of experience behind her and seems to like the longer format. It would not surprise me to see her start the series with a classy hundred in the Test. Possible partners in the Aussie squad are Rachael Haynes, Elyse Villani or Nicole Bolton. Haynes has the experience but has not been in great form, whereas both Villani and Bolton have been in great form. I'd give the job to the left-handed Bolton, but it may depend how each of them go in the current warm-up game - a big knock could secure a place. If Villani does not open she could also fit in quite nicely at four or five.

Test specialist Sarah Elliott will almost certainly hold down the number three spot in the Test, but will not feature in the one-day stuff. Jess Cameron will bat at four in the Test and three in the one day games. She likes to hit the ball hard to the leg-side and rarely scores slowly. She has not been in great form so far this season with a highest score of just 56*, but discount her at your peril. If England can get her early in the first couple of games then it will be a big test of her self-confidence.

The experienced pairing of Jodie Fields and Alex Blackwell are likely to be next to the crease. Fields had a pretty poor trip to England last summer and has had injuries at the start of the domestic season. She has had one big knock this summer (150), but otherwise has been struggling a bit. Should the Aussies get behind in the series she will be under the same pressure England's Alastair Cook has faced. England may need to go at her hard. Former captain and vice-captain Blackwell has found some decent form in the T20 format, but looks vulnerable in the longer stuff. Possible options are Villani or moving Haynes down the order. Australia also have Ellyse Perry who is proving to be more than capable with the bat, even if her bowling seems not to have come back to its best following her ankle surgery last year. The recalled Rene Farrell as well as being a viable opening bowling option, knows which end of a bat to hold and what to do with it too. Bowlers Erin Osborne and Sarah Coyte are also handy lower down the order. Generally the Aussies bat all the way down the order, so England will have to keep plugging away.

As for the Aussie pace bowling options I think Perry and Farrell will form the preferred opening partnership backed up by Coyte and Megan Schutt. Holly Ferling is still young and may end up carrying the drinks for much of the series, subject to injuries and bad form of those above her in the pecking order. The two spinners are Erin Osborne, who looks to be the first choice spinner, and Jess Jonassen, who is in the ODI squad only at the moment. Both have had good seasons to date and both may make the Test and ODI teams.

So who is going to win what? I think the Test will be a draw, with a marginal preference for England if Brunt and Shrubsole can play the whole match. In the ODIs I think its pretty much even-stevens, with either team likely to win the mini-series 2-1. Despite the Aussies poor show in the T20s in England I think they will start as marginal favourites for all the T20 matches, but by that stage the pressure may well be on one team or the other to do something spectacular. My forecast, if you really want to push me, is for a tied series at 8-8, but who knows in cricket? It would certainly be great for the women's game.

BTW the Test is apparently being streamed live on the Cricket Australia website at and there will be full radio coverage from TMS and ABC. Lovely jubbly!!