The rain of the last couple of days has given me a chance to reflect on two very different ODI performances by both England and Australia. Fingers crossed they will get a chance tomorrow to complete the third game in the series.
The Aussies came to the first game luke-warm at best. They had only been in England for seven days, and they had been flayed by a men's side early on and then beat the England Women's Academy by just 15 runs just two days before the first ODI. It was not ideal preparation given that most of their players had not played a competitive game for several months. England had exactly the same problem when they toured New Zealand. Given that the girls do not currently play all-year round, better warm-up games in out of season tours seem to be a must.
It meant that the Aussie batting was timid and their score of 238/9 was under-par on a great wicket, where the ball thumped into the boundary markers almost as soon as it beat the in-field. It also meant that their bowlers were off the mark, bowling far too many short balls, which Nat Sciver, in particular, latched onto with relish. The Aussies were also hampered by poor and unfortunate team selection. Nicole Bolton missed the game after being hit on the head the day before in the nets. Jess Jonassen was promoted to open, presumably on the basis that she was a left-hander more than anything else. She did not look comfortable and used up 17 balls scoring her five runs, before she was one of Katherine Brunt's three victims.
The poor selections were Kristen Beams and Holly Ferling. Beams is a thirty year old leg-spinner who made her debut for Australia just last year against Pakistan, and was then selected for the successful Southern Stars series against the West Indies. She had been the leading wicket taker in the WNCL the summer before and had apparently performed well in warm-up games against the touring English team that summer. Her selection into the Stars team, and giving her a Southern Stars contract, seemed a great leap of faith. On hard turning Aussie wickets she may have proved remarkably economical for a leg-spinner. In England on lifeless, slow English wickets, her threat seems minimal, and, as with all leg-spinners, she bowls plenty of bad balls. Her selection for the first ODI, and indeed for the tour, seemed rather optimistic.
Holly Ferling is a separate issue. I first saw her when she was 17 when she first toured with the Aussies in 2013. She bounded in off a long and loping run and bowled pretty quickly, albeit somewhat erratically. She was a bit of a loose cannon on that tour, but there looked to be plenty of potential. Now, after back surgery and with a modified run-up and delivery, she looks mundane. She kept her place for the second ODI but I don't think she will keep it for the third.
In the second ODI the Aussie team was much better balanced. Nicole Bolton returned to open with her partner, Elyse Villani. Villani has curbed her thrash at everything style and they seem to make a sound opening partnership, with a disruptive left-hand/right-hand combination. Bolton took Jess Cameron's place, which seemed tough on Cameron. She has not been in the best of nick over the past year or so, but she looked good at Taunton and was unfortunate to be run out. Had she gone on and made 50 the Aussies would really have had a selection dilemma. Beams was also dropped and replaced by the steady seam of Megan Schutt, who is very used to English wickets having played 13 games for Notts in county cricket last season. It turned out to be an inspired selection as she ended the game with figures of 4/47. Her secret....she bowled straight. Not that much of a secret really.
Having won the toss England decided to bowl at Bristol. The perceived wisdom was that it was a good idea. I have to say, and I said at the time, that I would have batted. It was a good wicket and runs on the board add a pressure to batting, which tends to result in batsmen looking to play forcing shots across the line. Nine England batsmen either lbw or bowled suggests this is what happened to England.
The Aussies certainly batted better in the second ODI (plus we bowled too short and too wide), helped by Meg Lanning getting her mojo back. As she said after the game it is her job at number three to get a big score. Thursday was the thirteenth time in 38 innings that she has gone past 50 in ODIs and it was the sixth time she has gone on to make a hundred. Compare that with Sarah Taylor who has gone past 50 on 21 occasions but in 90 innings, and converted only five of those into hundreds. She has not had an ODI hundred against the Aussies since 2009. England desperately needed one on Thursday and she was well set at the half-way mark with England apparently cruising at 122/1. But it was not to be. Lottie was deceived by a Schutt slower ball and there then followed a procession of batsmen failing to play straight. "Play straight" has to be the mantra for the third ODI tomorrow. True Schutt and Sarah Coyte bowled good lines, but there was little or no movement again and at this level the batsmen need to be able to score without going across the line.
I am guessing that Worcester will be a decent batting track again and that means that it is likely to be the side that bats best that will win the third ODI. You would hope that England could not bat that badly again, but we have seen it before, so it is possible we might see it again.
Will Amy Jones keep her place at number 4? I hope she does and that she is given the support of the team and the management. Her main failing is a lack of self-confidence, not a failing of technique. If she were replaced by Lauren Winfield then the pressure on Winfield to justify her selection would be huge, which could be just as stifling. I don't think bringing her in would be fair to her or Jones.
I think the Aussies will drop Ferling and bring in Rene Farrell, and I think they will win the third ODI, but it will be close.