OPINION: Is Alex Hartley’s Ashes Star Rising?

With England’s squad for the women’s Ashes due to be announced very soon, speculation has already begun as to who we might see in England’s starting XI come July 21.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions is whether we will see any players from outside of the contracted 18 included in the squad.

This might seem unlikely given that those 18 are, by definition, perceived to be the best players in the country, and that their opportunity to train regularly far exceeds that of any uncontracted players.

On the other hand, England’s tour of New Zealand this winter didn’t exactly go to plan (whatever anyone says about England “winning both series”, they would certainly have been expecting to win all 3 Championship matches. Winning 1 wasn’t a brilliant result.)

And the selectors showed in picking Sonia Odedra for the Test squad last August that they are prepared to look outside of the 18 when a player has shown consistent form in both Academy games and in the county championship.

On that basis, if they were to look outside of the contracted players, you’d have to think that there would be one player in particular currently on their radar: Middlesex’s Alex Hartley.

Alex Hartley

Alex Hartley

The 21-year-old left-arm spinner is one of the few players in either the England or the Academy squads to survive the past winter with her reputation not just intact but enhanced.

In the England Academy’s recent one-day matches against Australia’s Shooting Stars in Dubai, she finished as the leading wicket-taker, with 10 wickets at an average of 19.30 across the four games.

And you can’t argue with Hartley’s recent form for Middlesex. It’s not very often that you see a bowler bowl two successive maidens in a Twenty20 game, as Hartley did against Surrey in the inaugural Pemberton Greenish Cup game.

It’s been a tough few years for her. Having originally been selected for the England Academy when she was just 15, she was dropped soon afterwards, being told that her batting and fielding needed to improve.

Her recent selection in the winter Academy tour was her first recall to the side for six years.

Last summer she spent her weekends commuting from her home in Clitheroe down to London, having moved from playing for her home county, Lancashire, to representing Middlesex. She felt that playing for a Division 1 team would give her the best chance of playing for England.

Might that chance finally come this summer against the Australians?

When CRICKETher spoke to Sarah Taylor during England’s Ashes warm-up match against Hampstead CC on Sunday, she told us:

“[Games like this are] good practice for us. There’s people moving in and out of the squad and it’s a good opportunity for them to come and show us what they’re about.”

Could Alex Hartley – the only non-contracted player present at that game – be the one “moving in”? At the very least, it seems that the other players take the possibility seriously.

Though I suspect Hartley would only get a game against the Aussies if other players fall injured, it would certainly be refreshing to see her name in the squad. The selectors need to keep one eye on the future, and players like Alex Hartley are that future.