Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Who will win the Ashes?

The 15 woman England squad fly out to Australia at the end of this week, and play their first warm-up game in just 12 days time.

The Ashes Series starts for real with the first of three ODIs at Allan Border Field in Queensland on 22nd October. It will end on 21st November with the last of the three T20Is. In between will be the lone four day day/night Test Match. There are two points for each of the ODIs and T20s, and four points for the Test Match. With Australia currently holding the Ashes this means that England must get at least 9 points to win the Ashes back. If the teams are tied on eight points each at the end of the series then the Ashes will remain with Australia.

Effectively then if England were to lose the Test Match they would have to win five of the six ODIs and T20Is. If they were to win the Test then they would only need to win three more games. The Test could, of course, be drawn, in which case each team would get two points each. England would then need to win four of the other games.

England are, of course, the current holders of the 50 over World Cup, which they picked up in July, defeating India in the final. Australia had already lost to India in the semi-final stage of the competition. England also beat Australia (albeit only by three runs) in the league stage of the same competition. The advantage you would say therefore was with England then. Add to this the fact that Meg Lanning, the premier batsmen in women's cricket at the moment, will miss the entire series for Australia as she recovers from shoulder surgery, and England have to be favourites, you'd think.

But, with so much riding on the four points from the first ever day/night, pink ball Test Match; new ODI regulations to be used for the first time in women's cricket (two white balls); and with the series being played in Australia, both sides look pretty even to me.

Here are some of the key areas for both sides as they head into the series.

* Some of the England batsmen found some decent form in the WWC.  Nat Sciver (2), Tammy Beaumont, Sarah Taylor and Heather Knight all hit centuries during the tournament, with Beaumont being the leading run scorer and named Player of the Tournament. Only Nicole Bolton and the missing Lanning scored centuries for Australia.

* However Ellyse Perry was the third highest run scorer in the tournament with 404 runs - her scores were 5*, 39*, 71, 66, 70, 60*, 55, and 38. It was no surprise really as she has been the most consistent batsman in the world for the last four years. Amazingly she is yet to hit her first century, despite averaging over 50. If there is one criticism that can be made of her, it is that she frequently bats too slowly. Her strike rate during the WWC was 77.5. While she may be the Aussie Rock she puts pressure on others to score more quickly.

* England opener Lauren Winfield has had a hard time of it of late. She missed the opening two games of the WWC and then only scored 117 runs in the seven games she played. Her top score was just 26. Unfortunately she did not fair much better in the KSL. Playing for the Yorkshire Diamonds she scored 135 runs in five innings at an average of 27, including one score of 58. England could do with her finding some form with the bat.

* The Aussies have their own opener problems, with Beth Mooney also struggling to recapture the form that she had when she burst into the Aussie team in New Zealand in 2016. In eight knocks at the WWC she scored a respectable, if unspectacular, 232 runs at an average of 29 and a strike rate of 71. She subsequently pulled out of the KSL citing an ongoing shoulder injury problem. It will be interesting to see how she gets on for Queensland in the opening matches of the WNCL (the Aussie domestic 50 over tournament), which starts this weekend.

* The fast bowling stocks for both sides look rather depleted. England have chosen frontline duo Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, but have no other genuine new ball bowlers in the squad. No doubt Nat Sciver and Jenny Gunn will be called upon to bolster the England seam attack. As for the Aussies they resorted to bowling Elyse Villani at the WWC, a player who hardly bowls for Western Fury, her state team. It was not an experiment that you would think they will want to repeat. They have Ellyse Perry and Megan Schutt as their frontline seamers, who may well be joined by left-armer Lauren Cheatle, coming back from injury. Their back ups are veteran Sarah Aley and youngster Belinda Vakerewa, neither of who they seem too inclined to play. It is an ongoing area of concern for the Aussies.

* Both squads do however have a surfeit of spinners - England have off-spinning stalwarts Dani Hazell and Laura Marsh, plus skipper Heather Knight, and left-armers Alex Hartley and newbie Sophie Ecclestone. Hartley has been the star of the show for England recently taking 27 wickets in her 17 ODIs to date. I think she will keep her place in the ODI format, but may lose it to Ecclestone in the T20Is and even in the Test Match.
For the Aussies they have left-armer Jess Jonassen, who has been their go-to bowler for some time now, leggie Kristen Beams, and newbie off-spinning all-rounder Ash Gardner, who they rate highly. They also have 20 year old leg-spinner Amanda-Jade Wellington on the bench as back-up for the 32 year old Beams. Also on the reserve list is off-spinner Molly Strano, who has been pretty successful in both the WNCL and WBBL with Victoria and the Melbourne Renegades.

* With Meg Lanning sidelined the Aussies have parachuted in 30 year old Rachel Haynes to skipper them, and presumably bat at three or four. When Lanning is available she does not make the team, and only made it back into the squad at the beginning of 2017 (after three and a half years out) due to a number of injuries. It looks an odd decision, and one the Aussies may well come to rue as the series goes on. Her batting style is slow and steady and she may be a burden with the bat. I can see her working her way lower and lower down the order and not batting in the T20Is at all.

* England on the other hand will be led by Heather Knight. It will be her first Ashes as captain, but she has already skippered England through a nail-biting World Cup semi-final and final, and she has just skippered the unfancied Western Storm to a KSL triumph. She is a strong and popular leader of a very united team.

England will feel that they have never had a better chance of taking the Ashes in Australia, provided they can get over their metaphorical World Cup "hangover". Key players for England will be Nat Sciver and Sophie Ecclestone. For the Aussies the pressure is once again all on Ellyse Perry, both with bat and ball. It might just be too much for her.


1 comment:

  1. I'm not quite so optimistic about England's chances Martin. They will have do very well to win the Ashes back and will probably need the Aussies to be under par as well. I think Australia's more measured batting approach, which proved such a liability in the WWC, will serve them better in a 3 match ODI series and particularly in the Test.

    During the WWC England lost a lot of wickets against the better sides and they won't always be able to rely on the lower-middle order to rescue them, particularly away from home. In a Test match I'm not sure I can see the aggressive, risk-taking batting styles of our top order lasting 4 days (or 2 days) in the Aussie sun. Can the players adjust their games to keep their wickets intact for longer? Sarah Taylor for instance has not the best Test record. The Aussie top order of Haynes, Bolton, Blackwell all look in ominous form, they are not getting dismissed much, and you can't discount Perry or Villani either. Perry might be a slow starter but once she gets in she can score runs quickly. Australia have some dashers like Healy and Gardner too. Let's not forget that for England, both Baeumont and Knight sometimes struggle early on as well. I can really see us being under the kosh in the Test to be honest. A draw in that game will certainly be a great result for England which means we will have to perform well in the other 2 formats and outscore Australia in the points tally - it's a huge ask. England may well fare better in the final T20 portion of the series but it might be all over by that point anyway.

    The ODIs will be vital to set the tone for the series and England will have to try and stay competitive. Not sure we'll be seeing the 370+ scores from England we've almost become accustomed to in recent years, but I think we'll need something high enough as the Aussies are expert chasers. I think you're being a bit harsh to Haynes. She's a good player and captain, although the fact that she only comes in when Lanning is away does seem strange. They also have a number of up-and-coming players like Wellington and Strano who I can see being a real threat as well with both bat and ball.

    England have a good spin attack but I am concerned about where the next off-spinner is going to come from. After Marsh and Hazell call it a day, we only have Knight, there are no young off-spinners around the side which is a bit of a problem.