With less than 5 weeks to go until the start of the women’s Ashes, Australian vice-captain Alex Blackwell is quietly confident about her team’s chances. “We know we performed well in the last series in Australia in the shorter formats. We’re feeling very positive about it.”
Her confidence is understandable. Though England are the current holders of the women’s Ashes – having won back-to-back series’ in England in 2013 and Australia in 2014 – it was Australia who came out on top in both the ODI and T20 legs in the last series, winning 4 out of 6 of the limited-overs games. Only England’s early victory in the Test – worth 6 points (compared with 2 for each ODI and T20) – saw them home.
Since then, Australia have whitewashed both West Indies and Pakistan in ODI series’ – and more to the point they resoundingly beat England in the World Twenty20 final last April, by 6 wickets.
This time around, too, the multi-format points system has been rejigged. The Test match will be worth only 4 points, and will also be played mid-series, between the ODIs and T20s – a move Blackwell thoroughly approves of.
“The 4 points for the Test is really positive, because last Ashes to lose the Test and then win more of the limited overs games than England was really tough for us. To have the Test in the middle probably helps that scenario. If someone does take the Test match, the series is still very much alive.”
Blackwell herself is likely to be one of Australia’s key threats in the forthcoming series. Now aged 31, she has been a mainstay of Australia’s middle-order batting since her debut against England back in 2003, and since 2011 has averaged over 50 against England in ODIs.
And by the time the series begins on July 21 at Taunton, she will already have been in the UK for over 2 months, playing for Berkshire in the Women’s County Championship.
It’s meant time in the middle adjusting to English conditions, and the chance to face England bowlers Dani Hazell, Danni Wyatt, Jenny Gunn, Laura Marsh, and Tash Farrant (in matches against Yorkshire, Notts and Kent).
“It’s been a big advantage to see how the England girls are progressing,” Blackwell says. “Everyone goes about adding to their game and improving, so to see where they’re at now is really good.”
For Blackwell, too, who previously spent a season with Berkshire back in 2008, it’s been a chance to reconnect with her roots. She says Berkshire was always a natural choice for her when deciding to spend time in the UK this summer:
“I have family from Berkshire. My aunt and uncle are here, and my Dad is from Berkshire as well. He was born here. So for me to be able to represent my home county (if I was going to have one over here) is really special.”
Additionally, both Blackwell and fellow Aussie Erin Osborne – who has also been playing in England this season, representing Sussex – have enjoyed the unique opportunity to train with the Elite International Cricket Academy, based at the Ageas Bowl, alongside male cricketers from Australia and New Zealand.
“We’re getting to play in some really high-level practice matches. We actually played the New Zealand ODI squad the other day. I faced Grant Elliott and Mitchell Santner, and Santner tied me down pretty well! I found him more difficult than the fast bowlers.”
“These opportunities are incredible. It’s all an experience. That’s something new for us, and it’s made us very excited about cricket. Obviously the ball comes quicker to us in the field, so hopefully when it comes to the Ashes we can see that ball like a watermelon cos it’s coming a bit slower!”
Blackwell and Osborne’s early arrival in England might be thought to be simply a clever tactic on behalf of Cricket Australia to ensure that two of their top players have experience of English conditions before the biggest event in women’s world cricket kicks off in July, but Blackwell says that both she and Osborne wanted the experience for themselves as much as anything else.
“Both of us were searching for the best way to prepare for us, and we felt that playing matches and being over here in a new environment was something very worthwhile. Both of us have been in the team for a long time – I’ve been around since making my debut at 19 and I’m now 31. So you’re always looking for new ways to prepare better and stay enthusiastic about the game.”
Nonetheless, Blackwell stresses that her time in England has been crucial Ashes preparation: “I know that every match I get to play is part of my preparation. I’m not going to be warming up in the Ashes. I would have had all those ups and downs, working out how to best play in these conditions, and I think there’s probably no better way to prepare.”
Having recently hit a solid 42* for Berkshire against Ireland – an innings in which Blackwell did indeed appear to be seeing the ball like a watermelon (!) – there’s no doubt that England’s bowlers had better watch out this summer.