Friday, 20 October 2017

Aussies under pressure

Saturday night here in the UK (well Sunday morning technically - 12:15am to be precise) sees the start of the 22nd Ashes Series between England and Australia. So far it is the Aussies who hold the advantage with eight series wins under their belts. England have six, and there have been seven drawn series.

Of course the Women's Ashes used to be just a Test Match series, but in 2013 it was decided that it should become a multi-format series with one Test, three ODIs and three T20s. Frankly the series being decided by just one Test Match, as they had been in 2008, 2009 and 2011 had become a bit of a nonsense.

There have now been three multi-format Ashes series with England claiming the first two (when the Test was worth a whopping 6 points!) and the Aussies the last one, in England in 2015, when the Test win was reduced to just four points. It is still the crux of the series, but, with each limited over game worth two points (so there are 12 more points on offer), it is not the be all and end all.

I'm not a big fan of previews and forecasts. They are just one person's view, and we all have our favourites and our not-so favourites. As outsiders we don't know all the details on players in form, players with injuries, players in a "good place", nor even who the starting XIs are going to be for the first match, let alone the Test and the T20 series.

From my perspective it looks like the Aussies are the team under pressure. They no longer hold a World title - they lost to the West Indies in the 2016 WWT20 Final and to India in the 2017 WWC semi-final. They are not used to losing and they seem to be a team in a bit of a muddle at the moment, not helped by the loss of their talismanic captain Meg Lanning, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.

Even without her their batting line-up still looks pretty decent - Bolton, Mooney, Perry, Villani, Blackwell, Healy, Gardner. Perry is now the rock in the Aussie batting - since the end of the 2013 Ashes series she has scored 22 50s in her last 32 innings. She has turned herself into one of the best ODI batsmen in the world (currently third in the ODI batting rankings). But without Lanning there is significantly more pressure on her to perform with the bat. We will come on to her performance with the ball shortly, but first we need to look at Rachael Haynes.

Haynes has been parachuted back into the squad after nearly four years in the wilderness specifically to captain in Meg Lanning's absence. Had Lanning been fit she would not be in Australia's starting XI, and, most likely, not even in the squad. It is an interesting decision. If the Aussies win the series then it will have been the right one, but should they lose then questions will be asked. It means there is a great deal riding on this series for Aussie coach Matthew Mott. Haynes will probably slip into the batting order at four or five, but she has a very poor record against England. She ended her previous international career against them with two ducks and averages just 11.28 in nine ODIs against England with a top score of 26, back in 2009. Seven years on the pressure will be on her to perform with the bat, as well as on the field as captain.

And so finally to the Aussie bowling attack. The same bowling attack that was taken to the cleaners by Chamari Attapatu (178*) and Harmanpreet Kaur (171*) in the WWC 2017. The bowling additions to the Aussie squad at the World Cup are seamers Lauren Cheatle and Tahlia MacGrath, both very young, inexperienced and only just back from injury. If one of them is going to play, then who do the Aussies drop? More pressure then on Perry to lead the bowling attack, as well as the batting. It is a lot to ask of one player.

England too will have their demons, but mentally they are in good shape, particularly after unexpectedly being crowned 50 over World Champions. Their coach, Mark Robinson, always said that that tournament was just the first step in the journey of his young, re-fashioned team, post the 2015 Ashes defeat and a disappointing WWT20 in 2016. Its a step that they took with some swagger. This Ashes series is another step on that journey.

80% of cricket is played in the mind. England may just be coming into this series with sufficient confidence in their own abilities, and the abilities of their team-mates, to take the Ashes back to England.


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