England's so-called Academy team are three matches in to their six match series with the Aussie Shooting Stars out in Dubai and they find themselves 2-1 down, with one ODI and two T20s to come.
The three matches to date have all followed a fairly similar pattern. England have won the toss and batted first, scored about 260 thanks to major contributions with the bat from Georgia Elwiss and Fran Wilson, and the Aussies have chased them down on two occasions and fallen just short on the other.
Both contracted Elwiss and non-contracted Wilson have been in fine form. Elwiss has scored 100(81), 65(42) and 50(39). She has also taken 1/21, 3/46 and 1/22. Wilson has scored 57(60), 50(42), and 45(54). It is not only the fact that they have scored runs, but that they have scored them at a good pace (Elwiss in particular). The only other batsmen to have gone past 50 have been Tammy Beaumont 59(82) and Evelyn Jones 50(104), in an opening stand of 118 in the second game, which consumed nearly 30 overs.
With England's senior middle order still looking like their biggest problem, both Elwiss and Wilson must be in the frame to make it into the Ashes squad (or more likely squads) for the summer. If they are to make the final 11 then realistically they will have to displace one of the current incumbents - Lauren Winfield, Lydia Greenway, Nat Sciver or Jenny Gunn.
Winfield was promoted to number three in England's recent series against New Zealand. She made 3,14 and 29 in the three ODIs she played and 1 and 48 in two T20s. She was not convincing. She had apparently been hitting the ball well in the nets, but as we know, hitting it well in the nets and out in the middle are two very different things. She was then injured (quad muscle). She was due to go to Dubai with the Academy, but pulled out a week before when her injury failed to clear up. She will therefore have games for Yorkshire against Kent, Warwickshire, and Berkshire in May to prove she is fit and in form. She really needs to find some runs soon.
Greenway had an indifferent tour to New Zealand too. She struggled with the bat in the first few games and was dropped for the third ODI after scores of a scratchy 27 and 0. She came back into the side for the T20s and two great catches seemed to restore her confidence. She batted better after that but still only scored 18*, 25 and 23. She has only one score over 50 in her last 25 ODI innings (going back 3 years), and averages 26 over that period. England are unlikely to jettison her without more thought, but her outstanding fielding cannot be allowed to dictate her automatic selection.
Sciver came into the England set-up as a bowling all-rounder, but has developed into a stylish, but somewhat frustrating batsmen. She looks the part with the bat in her hand, but tends to find ways to get out. It is early days in her career and she has been described as "the future of England cricket". Her knock of 65* in the last game against New Zealand suggested that could be true, but her performances to date in Dubai (1, 11 and 23) leave something to be desired. It would be good to see her come to the party in Dubai in the next few days.
Gunn averages less than 20 with the bat in ODIs after 96 innings, but she does have the small matter of 115 ODI wickets to her name. She has fulfilled the "reliable second change bowler who can bat a bit" role for some time now. In fact there was a period in her England career when she batted in the top three. However those days seem to have long gone. In New Zealand she started the ODI series at 7, but was soon demoted to 10, behind Brunt, Marsh and Shrubsole. She looked out of sorts with the bat scoring 1, 5 and 1 in the first three games. She also only bowled 14.4 overs during the five match series taking no wickets. Early county form could again be a key indicator.
That is not to say that Elwiss and/or Wilson are the panacea to all England's middle-order batting woes. It is worth noting the standard of the opposition they are facing out in Dubai. Australia are clearly treating this tour as an experience for some of their younger players. The Shooting Stars have seven teenagers in their squad. In contrast England have just one (the centrally-contracted Tash Farrant at 18). Three of the ten Aussie bowlers used in the last OD game did not even bowl in the WNCL (senior state cricket in Australia) in 2014/15 - opener Lauren Cheatle (16), first-change Nicola Hancock (19) and off-spinner Ashleigh Gardner (17). There is also the fact that the wickets in Dubai are great to bat on, with little movement, even bounce and lightning outfields. Having said that Elwiss and Wilson have outshone both Sciver and Beaumont, who are playing in the same games, on the same wickets and against the same bowlers. They can do no more than that.
Certainly on the batting front both Elwiss's and Wilson's stock has risen at just the right time. It will be for the England management to decide if it has sufficient upside to require a significant investment.