By  Michael Stafford-Jones

  • England Women face Australia in the only Women’s Ashes Test starting on 9 October
  • Australia Women lead multi-format series 4-2 after winning two of the three ODIs
  • England must avoid defeat in the Test to have any chance of regaining the Ashes
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – After captain Heather Knight scored 88 to guide her England team to victory in the Third ODI, the visitors are hoping to build on that momentum and achieve victory in the only Test during the Women’s Ashes.

 

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The start of an Ashes tour is often the most difficult part

An Ashes tour is challenging throughout, but the combination of alien conditions and fired-up opponents makes it particularly difficult to flourish in the early matches of a series. On the last occasion when England Women started an Ashes series in Australia by playing three ODIs, in 2010-11, they lost the first two and then won the third. And history has duly repeated itself in 2017, leaving England with it all to do in the rest of the multi-format series if they are to regain the Ashes.

The Three Lions’ task in the ODIs became even trickier when heavy rain reduced one of their two warm-up matches to just 18 overs and wiped out the other one altogether. Consequently, it was not surprising at all to see most of the England players looking rusty in the First ODI.

Despite having not yet fully acclimatised to conditions, England Women almost pulled off an unlikely-looking victory with some good bowling and fielding after a below-par batting performance. That comeback of sorts left them feeling optimistic after the First ODI – Head Coach Mark Robinson told ESPN Cricinfo that they ‘should have won that game’ – but the Second ODI could hardly have gone much worse as they were heavily beaten by 75 runs.

 

Captains are usually even more vital in Ashes series

England Women were probably hoping the loss of regular captain Meg Lanning to injury would weaken Australia significantly. However, Lanning’s replacement Rachael Haynes soon dashed those hopes with some intelligent and bold decisions in the field in the opening match followed by a spectacular 89 off 56 balls in the second.

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Fortunately for England, their captain Heather Knight responded in the best possible style when she hit an unbeaten 88 off 80 balls in the third ODI to lead England to victory by 20 runs. It was a real innings of character and skill from Knight and exactly what her team needed in a difficult situation in the series. If England go on to regain the Women’s Ashes, they may look back on their captain’s contribution as the turning point.

Recent Women’s Ashes history tells us that captain’s contributions can often decide the series. In the second ODI in 2011, Charlotte Edwards made 90 to propel England to a total of 214/8, only to be outdone by Lanning, who made 104 to lead Australia to victory and give them an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.

Lanning repeated the trick in 2015 when she made 104 in the second ODI and 85 in the third to guide Australia to consecutive victories en route to an eventual 10-6 multi-format scoreline in their favour. In between, Edwards scored a total of 280 runs during the multi-format series (the second most of any player and 59 more than Lanning) to help England achieve a narrow 10-8 victory margin.

So which captain will come out on top this time around? In terms of match-winning contributions in this series, it is currently 1-1 between Knight and Haynes, but the England skipper has the edge in terms of Test pedigree thanks to her brilliant 157 during the drawn match in the 2013 Ashes. However, Haynes scored 98 in a Test against England in 2009, so she also knows what to takes to succeed in the longer format of the game. It could be a fascinating contest between the leaders.

 

Can Sciver match Perry in battle of the all-rounders?

It is not just the captains who will be determined to outperform their closest equivalents on the opposing team. Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt will do their best to eclipse the achievements of Australia’s premier seamers Megan Schutt and Ellyse Perry, and Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield will try and outdo Wallabies’ opening batters Alyssa Healy and Nicole Bolton.

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However, arguably the most important player on each side is an outstanding all-rounder. Perry is consistently one of the best performers anywhere in the world and her statistics in batting and bowling stand up to comparison with almost anyone else in world cricket. England’s Natalie Sciver is less experienced but is rapidly carving out a reputation as a superb operator and has become a real talisman for her side.

Considering Sciver has played about half as many matches as Perry and has not made many previous appearances in Australia, the odds are heavily stacked against her if she wants to outperform the Wallabies’ all-rounder. But England might not need her to do that, because Perry is often one of the top performers in Ashes contests and that has not stopped the Three Lions from winning several series. What England will need from Sciver is several significant contributions – particularly with the bat – and she will under pressure to deliver more than she has so far, starting in the Test on Thursday.

 

How big a difference could Test specialist Kate Cross make?

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England added three players, Kate Cross, Amy Jones and Tash Farrant, to their squad ahead of the only Test match. Jones and Farrant will probably remain merely back-up options, but Cross took three wickets in the England Women’s warm-up match against Cricket Australia XI this week and has a good chance of being selected.

If Cross is chosen in the team, she could make a significant impact if her past Test performances are anything to go by. The last time England toured Australia in 2013/14, she took three wickets in each innings of the only Test in Perth and dismissed good players both times, including Alex Blackwell (twice) and Lanning. The seamer also took six wickets in the Test against India in 2014 and typically boasts a good economy rate, so she could be a good option for the tourists.

 

One outstanding performance could swing the match

Two of the last five Women’s Ashes Tests have been decided by an outstanding individual performance, and one of the other three was the draw that featured Knight’s brilliant 157 – an innings worthy of winning a match. In 2011, Rene Farrell’s 5-23 ripped apart England’s batting order in the second innings and, in 2015, Jess Jonassen scored 99 and 54 to guide Australia to victory.

It will be fascinating to see which players step and perform this time around, and there could hardly be any better motivation on offer. The 22 women who walk out on to the pitch on Thursday have a fantastic chance to write their names into Ashes history and give their team the advantage in the 2017 series. It is a match that is too close to call and one amazing performance from an inspired individual could make all the difference.

 

The only Women’s Ashes Test between England and Australia begins at North Sydney Oval at 03:30 GMT on Thursday 9th November.

 

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