I never thought I’d say this, but… Australia have an Ellyse Perry Problem.
Perry with the bat: superb, glorious, a run-machine. Batting at number 4 for Australia she averages 83.83.
Perry with the ball: nothing special. She has 5 wickets so far in this World Cup, all of which came against West Indies and Sri Lanka. Against New Zealand, Pakistan and England her figures were 0-58, 0-24 and 0-31 respectively.
Four years ago, at the 2013 World Cup, Perry was Australia’s star bowler. Her 3 wickets for 19 runs in the final, as she limped in to give everything for her side, were crucial. As recently as the 2015 women’s Ashes series, she was their leading wicket taker.
She is no longer the same bowler.
This Ellyse Perry can only bowl in 3-over spells. This Ellyse Perry has to bat at 4, sometimes (like yesterday) even at 3, and she is tired. Too often since she was promoted up the order the weight has been entirely on her shoulders: opening the bowling, and then coming in when the openers have both been dismissed cheaply, and doing the hard graft.
Meg Lanning – the consummate professional in press conferences – denies there is a problem. “She can bowl long spells definitely,” she says. “[Bowling her in short spells] is more about the game situation really… It’s just the way that it’s panned out so far.”
Wrong. There is a problem, and Lanning knows it.
Yesterday, bowling in the nets before the England match, Perry couldn’t even muster a run up – she just stepped in off two paces to deliver the ball.
Yesterday, Perry went for 31 runs. She only bowled 7 overs – the last one the 34th, when she was tonked for six by Tammy Beaumont.
Does it matter? It hadn’t before yesterday. Australia had 4 wins from 4 games at this World Cup. But it is starting to.
Australia’s weakness coming into this World Cup was always going to be their pace bowling. Lanning may deny it, but the retirement of Rene Farrell in April and the injury to 18-year-old Lauren Cheatle means they are not exactly overrun with pace options right now. Effectively, with Perry struggling, they are one pace bowler short – quite a burden for Megan Schutt, who wasn’t even selected against Pakistan.
Who are Australia left with? Elyse Villani, apparently, who in the match against England yesterday leaked 42 runs from her 5 overs. Out of options, Lanning even brought her on to bowl the 50th. It went for 13 runs (including 2 wides).
Elyse Villani is a part-time, couple-of-overs-in-the-middle if you want a bit of a change bowler. She is not, and never will be in a million years, a death bowler. Using her as one frankly suggests that all is not rosy in the Australian camp.
So what’s the answer?
Of course you don’t drop Ellyse Perry. If there was one rule of thumb in women’s cricket, it would be: you never drop Ellyse Perry. But why not play her as a batsman only? As Lanning herself acknowledges: “She’d hold her own in the side as a batter.”
It may mean bringing in Sarah Aley, who is probably good enough to enjoy a late-onset international career. It may mean bringing in Belinda Vakarewa. Maybe it means focusing on spin, at the expense of pace. It does mean that you stop tasking Perry with something which she isn’t doing very well anymore. Something which just seems to be making her tired.
The loss to England should tell Australia something important: if they’re going to go on and win this World Cup, they need to sort out their Ellyse Perry problem.
And they need to do it soon.