Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 3rd ODI

Never Say Die

With England already 4-0 down on points in this series, today’s game really was do or die – fortunately one thing we know about Mark Robinson’s England is that they never say die! With Australia 159-2 after 30 overs, chasing 278 with 8 wickets in hand, it really seemed (to us at least!) like the end might be nigh; but a combination of economical bowling and, eventually, some key wickets paid dividends. If England can win the Test they are right back in this series.

England’s Batting

This was, overall, a much improved performance with the bat from England, helped by the fact that they reverted to playing to their strengths, and choosing to bat when they won the toss. With 3 players – Taylor, Beaumont and Knight – all making 50, England’s best batsmen are at last showing some form.

Of the 3, Heather Knight’s innings was probably the most important. Having lost 3 wickets for 9 runs in the middle overs, England really needed her both to weather the storm and remain in until the end, AND to ensure that she kept the strike rate up above 100, so that they had time to set a competitive total – she managed both, finishing 88 not out from 80 balls.

One concern for England is their incomprehensible zeal for the ramp shot. Taylor whipped it out when still on 0* and was lucky not to be dismissed – Beaumont later followed suit, missed it completely and promptly found herself stumped on 74. Either the England coaches are giving some quite unhelpful advice, or the England batsmen are ignoring the advice they’re getting – either way, it’s a shot that doesn’t come off nearly enough for it to be worth the risk!

Wickets Early Doors

Robinson’s England are not known for their ability to build early foundations. In 2017 they’ve had only one 1st wicket partnership of over 50, largely because Lauren Winfield hasn’t backed up her excellent 2016 summer with subsequent consistent performances. In the 3 ODIs this series England’s first wicket has fallen with 47, 2 and 2 runs on the board, respectively.

Meanwhile Australia have racked up opening stands of 14, 98 and 118. In fact during today’s game Channel 9 brought up the following stat, which is rather concerning for a side who have generally been stronger with the ball than the bat:

It’s a stat backed up by the fact that today, of the five 10-over periods in the game, Australia were ahead in only the first 10:

Fighting back is a hallmark of this England side – but perhaps some early consistency might negate some of that need to always be playing catch up.

It should certainly provide food for thought going into the Test match, which England need to win to ensure the series is kept alive.

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Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 2nd ODI

Game Set & Match?

With two games played, the Australians are already 4-0 up in this Women’s Ashes series, so (assuming all matches are completed) England now need to win the Test and three of the four remaining limited overs games to bring home the trophy which started life in a wok at Lords, back in 1998.

Can they do it? Yes, of course they can – England haven’t become a bad team overnight!

Will they? Um… let’s just say it doesn’t look as easy as it did this time last week!

England: Taking The Positives

  1. England didn’t bowl too badly; and Sophie Ecclestone looked “born to run”, bowling 10 overs and going at under 5 runs per over, the only England bowler to do so.
  2. Katherine Brunt passed 50 for only the second time in her long international career – fully 12 years after the first – an Ashes Test at Worcester, way back in 2005, when she came in at 10 and batted for over two hours, putting on 85 for England’s final 1st innings wicket in partnership with Isa Guha.
  3. Alex Hartley still hasn’t been dismissed in international cricket. And she took a very good catch to dismiss Tahlia McGrath, proving that she really isn’t a complete numpty! (Not pointing fingers, but it is telling that when Katherine Brunt dropped a pretty straightforward Caught & Bowled, it was all “There are no easy catches!” and “It happens – move on!”; whereas when Alex Hartley did it, it was more like “That was easy!” and “She’s rubbish – drop her!”)

England: Taking The … Not Quite So Positives

  1. If Hartley’s catch was good, Knight’s to dismiss Villani was even better, but Villani and McGrath were both dismissed on 1; and when it really mattered (Perry, on 41; and Haynes on 60) England dropped two relatively unexacting chances. Perry went on to make 67, and Haynes 89 – that’s 55 runs gone begging, which wouldn’t quite have won the game, but would have made it a damn sight closer!
  2. Brunt’s dismissalThat’s a paddlin’! Gunn’s dismissalThat’s a paddlin’! Wrap us up in woolly socks and call us Granddad, but sometimes the paddle-sweep isn’t the right shot to play… and those sometimes are ALL THE TIME when you are trying to save the game with only the tail still to come.
  3. Last time out, none of England’s batsmen exactly “failed” – they just didn’t “succeed” by going big or long. This time around, several of them failed, whilst none of them (the “recognised” batsmen) went big or long. We’re not calling for anyone to be dropped or anything at this stage in the series; but even with the best bowling in the world, if we don’t make the runs we won’t win too many matches.

Australia

Australia definitely “won” this game more than England “lost” it – 4 of their top 5 batsmen made 50s, and their innings was perfectly paced – building and building towards a total which was probably always going to be a bit too much for England, even without the dropped catches.

And then they finished England off with the ball, without Ellyse Perry, who it looks like didn’t deserve to be taken off – though she didn’t appear to realise this, as she didn’t even wait for the umpire’s say-so before reaching for her cap. But it seems that the playing conditions override the laws – so although the laws have changed to say that a delivery only has to be “high” for the bowler to be warned and then subsequently taken off; the playing conditions say that it also has to be “dangerous”, which the second of Perry’s deliveries really wasn’t.

NEWS: England Set For 2018 Tri-Series v South Africa & New Zealand

England are looking set to host South Africa and New Zealand in a packed summer of international cricket in 2018.

England’s season will begin with the 3 ICC Women’s Championship ODIs against South Africa in June, before New Zealand come to the party for a 6-match round-robin T20 Tri-Series, culminating in a final on 1st July, at the County Ground in Chelmsford.

New Zealand will then play their 3 Championship ODIs versus England in mid-July, prior to the Kia Super League, which all of the top players are of course expected to stay on for.

With the World T20 coming up in the Caribbean that autumn, the T20 Tri-Series will act as both an early warm-up and an important yardstick of the teams’ progress in the game’s shortest format. South Africa and New Zealand will both be among the leading teams challenging for the World T20 trophy, so next summer will represent a stern test for England as they look to add a second world crown to the World Cup they won last summer!

ICC Women’s Championship ODIs v South Africa

9 June – First ODI v South Africa – New Road, Worcester, 11am

12 June – Second ODI v South Africa – The 1st Central County Ground, Hove (D/N), 1pm

15 June – Third ODI v South Africa – Canterbury (D/N), 2pm

T20 Tri-Series – England, South Africa & New Zealand

20 June – The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton, South Africa v New Zealand, 1pm start; England v South Africa, 5:40pm

23 June – The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton, England v South Africa, 1pm start; England v New Zealand, 5:40pm

28 June – The Brightside Ground, Bristol, South Africa v New Zealand, 1pm start; England v New Zealand, 5:40pm

1 July – Final – The Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford, 3pm

ICC Women’s Championship ODIs v New Zealand

7 July – First ODI v New Zealand – Emerald Headingley, 11am

10 July – Second ODI v New Zealand – The 3aaa County Ground, Derby (D/N), 1pm

13 July – Third ODI v New Zealand – The Fischer County Ground, Grace Road (D/N), 2pm

Kia Super League Finals Day

27 August – The 1st Central County Ground, Hove

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 1st ODI

A Close Game?

The scoreboard will tell you this was a close match, won with just 5 balls to spare; but on the pitch Australia’s margin of victory felt a lot more convincing than that – more like 5 overs than 5 balls! This is partly down to the completely unflappable nature of Alex Blackwell – most players would have pressed the panic button watching Tahlia McGrath make 7 off 26 balls at the other end; but Blackwell just kept playing like it was never in doubt… and in the end she was right – it wasn’t!

A Low Scoring Game?

On what all the experts reckoned was a good pitch, England’s 228 – a run rate of 4.6 – felt a little short; and indeed it was well short of the 5.7 an over England averaged at the World Cup. But Australia also fell well short of the 5.4 per over they averaged at WWC17, chasing England’s total at 4.7 an over, so by recent standards it was a fairly low-scoring game. Was this to do with all the rain they’ve had in Brisbane? Perhaps – both teams had their warm-up preparations severely disrupted; but the field of play itself looked okay – remarkably, given the pictures we saw of the rain falling and the super-soppers at work yesterday – so was there something else at work?

Two Balls Better?

This was the first time these teams have played an ODI under the new playing conditions, with two balls – one at either end – and you can tell the players aren’t used to it: more than once the bowler went to return the ball to the captain at the end of the over, only to be reminded by the umpire that he (as it was in both cases here) holds on to it now!

The men have been playing with two balls for a while now – since 2011 – and there is still debate about the effect, made all the more hazy by the pull-through of T20-style power-hitting into the 50-over game. But the change was designed to benefit the bowlers, and in the immediate short term, it does seem to have caused run-rates to fall a bit – from 5.23 an over in the year before the change, to 5.18 in the year after*.

Is that what we are seeing here? Certainly when you talk to the bowlers, the ball getting old quickly has been a constant complaint, so you’d guess they feel like it should benefit them; but obviously this is just one game, so who knows? But it is definitely something to add to the list of things to investigate in a year or so’s time!

Call The Plod!

From an England fan’s perspective, if you want to Take the Positives™ then they didn’t collapse – the top 6 all got starts, and all looked reasonably comfortable; but the problem was than none of them pushed on and they all plodded… with big, ploddy boots on!

Ideally you want players to score big runs, and if they can’t do that then you want them to score quick runs; but nobody quite did either – nobody got past 50, and the highest strike rate (of the batsmen) was Fran Wilson’s 84. Contrast Heather Knight’s innings with Alyssa Healy’s: they made similar runs (15 vs 18) but Healy made her 18 in 15 balls at a strike rate of 120; Knight made her 15 in 33 balls at a strike rate of 45 – that is a big, big difference at this (or I guess any other) level of cricket; and that’s where England really must do better.

———–

* Top 8 teams in men’s ODIs, the years before & after October 2011.

Women’s Ashes Preview Part 2 – Australia

It’s been interesting to observe in the build-up to this women’s Ashes series the reluctance the Australians have shown to accept the “underdog” label. Jess Jonassen, for example, has been quoted as saying: “I wouldn’t say [England are] favourites.”

Syd’s piece yesterdaysuggested England have the slight edge. But for what it’s worth, I’m inclined to agree with Jonassen.

Firstly, let’s take the ODI leg of the series. Of course it’s true that England are reigning world champions, while Australia were sent home, abashed, after losing their semi-final to India. But let’s not forget that England’s margin of victory in the round robin game against Australia was a mere 3 runs.

Overall, the stats are pretty clear: home advantage is enormous in women’s ODI cricket – 66% of the matches in the last cycle of the Women’s International Championship were won by the home side.

That’s likely to be enhanced in this instance, because both of England’s warm-up 50-over matches were rained off, so they’ve had very little game time going into the series opener on Sunday.

Secondly, because the ODI leg of the series comes first, whoever gets their noses in front in those games has a big tactical advantage going into the 4-point Test match. They’ll feel much more able to take risks, much more able to play the kind of cricket that is likely to win you a four-day game. Let’s not forget that, being the current holders of the Ashes, Australia have only to win two ODIs and the Test and the trophy is theirs once again.

Thirdly, I wouldn’t want to bet against this Australian batting attack, even if the odds were in my favour (which as Syd highlighted yesterday, they aren’t). Losing Meg Lanning is a blow, of course; but reading the (likely) Australian team sheet is still enough to make one’s mouth water with anticipation.

This Australian team have both the brains of Nicole Bolton and the brawn of Elyse Villani and Alyssa Healy at their disposal. I will never forget watching Bolton’s ODI debut against England in the 2014 Ashes in Australia: she made 124 and the England bowlers just didn’t know what to do with themselves.

Ellyse Perry is, well, Ellyse Perry.

And if I was Alex Blackwell I’d be fired up with a point to prove after being apparently snubbed for the captaincy in favour of Rachael Haynes. It was overlooked by many because of Harmanpreet Kaur’s superhuman innings – of course it was – but the way Blackwell fought back with the bat in the semi-final against India, remaining at the crease when all around her were flailing, was a feat of sheer stubbornness.

Australia’s main weakness is their pace bowling. It’ll be interesting to see what they’ve done between now and the World Cup to try to resolve this hole in their armoury (will we still see Elyse Villani bowling at the death?!) but I can’t think that Matthew Mott will have stood idle on this one. Bringing in Lauren Cheatle and Tahlia McGrath could be an astute move: at the very least it brings in new blood, and leaves the England batsmen wondering what to expect.

Final point: beating Australia in Australia has always been one of the biggest challenges faced by any English cricket team. In 83 years of international women’s cricket, it’s a feat that’s been achieved only 3 times. Mark Robinson’s England are a very good side – but they are going to have to overcome some serious odds to bring home that Ashes trophy.

If you ask me, it’s going to be their toughest test yet.

NEWS: England Women’s Pathway Squads Announced

The ECB have today announced the players who will make up both the England Women’s Senior Academy (EWSA) and the England Women’s Academy (EWA), the two squads that form the pathway towards selection for the full England side.

The EWSA has been reduced in size from 18 players to 14 players this year, with Izzy Cloke, Lauren Bell and Charlie Dean making the step up from the EWA to take up places in the Senior Academy.

Meanwhile a number of senior players who have played a key role in the KSL appear to have lost out in the overhaul, including Georgia Adams, Thea Brookes, Georgia Hennessy, Eve Jones, Sophie Luff and Paige Scholfield.

There has been a bit of a shake-up in terms of personnel, too, with EWA head coach Salliann Briggs stepping down from her role due to “wider work commitments” (presumably not least her role as head coach of the Loughborough Lightning KSL side).

John Stanworth, as head coach of the EWSA, will now also oversee the EWA.

Both groups will be attending a series of camps over the winter and playing a number of competitive matches in the summer to enhance their development and help them become more effective performers.

Full squads:

England Women’s Senior Academy

  • Hollie Armitage (Yorkshire)
  • Ellen Burt (Sussex)
  • Lauren Bell (Berkshire)
  • Georgie Boyce (Nottinghamshire)
  • Izzy Cloke (Kent)
  • Alice Davidson-Richards (Kent)
  • Freya Davies (Sussex)
  • Charlie Dean (Hampshire)
  • Sophie Dunkley (Middlesex)
  • Katie George (Hampshire)
  • Emma Lamb (Lancashire)
  • Bryony Smith (Surrey)
  • Linsey Smith (Sussex)
  • Ellie Threlkeld (Lancashire)

England Women’s Academy

  • Alice Dyson (Derbyshire)
  • Danielle Gibson (Gloucestershire)
  • Sarah Glenn (Derbyshire)
  • Amy Gordon (Surrey)
  • Eva Gray (Surrey)
  • Rhianna Southby (Surrey)
  • Alexandra Travers (Surrey)
  • Katie Wolfe (Middlesex)

Women’s Ashes Preview Part 1 – England

The Women’s Ashes begins with the 1st ODI, at Allan Border Field in Brisbane, on Sunday morning – starting at just after midnight UK time, with live coverage on BT Sport and BBC 5 Live.

Instinctively, you might feel England are the favourites, having just won a World Cup at which Australia under-performed, but that isn’t how the bookies see it – at time of writing, both William Hill (11/8) and Bet365 (6/4) have England and Australia at identical odds.

The ICC’s own rankings seem to agree that it is a very close call between the two sides: both have a “rating” of 128, and you have to drill down to the second decimal place before you find England ahead by 0.05 “ratings” to claim top spot.

For me, I think the rankings have a point – England are favourites… but only just!

For the first time in what feels like forever, England have a truly settled team of players who you feel all deserve to be there. At the top of the order, Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield can write their own names on the team sheet; and although Winfield has looked slightly the lesser player recently, that is perhaps only because Beaumont has been so prolific, as she has transformed herself from a solid “county pro” to a World Cup-winning Player of the Tournament.

Then a middle-order of Sarah Taylor, Nat Sciver and Heather Knight is a middle order that has some serious runs in it. It says something that if you were forced to name a “weak link” here, it would be Knight, who has actually been by some way the most successful England player in Australian domestic cricket in recent years, captaining the Hobart Hurricanes to an over-achieving semi-final qualification spot in both editions of the WBBL.

Fran Wilson rounds off the batting, with the ability to play a variety of different games according to the state of the match, and her athleticism in the field at cover/ point means you can add another 2o runs to whatever she scores with the bat.

And yet for all this quality in the batting department, that is not even England’s real strength – Australia have some good bats too! But every single one of England’s bowlers would walk into Australia’s team without question.

Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole have proved themselves time and again to be warhorses on the field of play; and whilst Jenny Gunn might not “look” too threatening these days, she weaves all her years of experience into every ball and you underestimate her at your peril!

There is one question mark over England’s starting XI though – which of the four (!!) world class spinners misses out? Laura Marsh, Dani Hazell, Alex Hartley and Sophie Ecclestone can’t all play… but you’d bet Mark Robinson wishes they could!

And then… speak of the devil… there is Mark Robinson himself – the calm, gently-spoken man, who took basically the same team that never quite convinced under the previous regime – tweaked it here and there – and won the World Cup at the first time of asking!

It is still going to be close – Australia will hit some big totals and England wouldn’t be England if they didn’t collapse at least once! But overall, there is a quiet confidence about England – they have the edge, and Australia know it – hence all the “bringing the bitch back” nonsense – they can bring back all the bitch they want… but it is England who will be bringing back the Ashes!

NEWS: England Beaten By The Rain… Again… In Brisbane

With the Women’s Ashes starting on Sunday, England suffered another exasperating day in Brisbane, as their second ODI warm-up was rained-off without a ball being bowled.

Following Monday’s severely curtailed match against a young Australia XI, England were due to take on the local WNCL team – the Queensland Fire – but the rain meant the players were unable to take the field.

Head Coach Mark Robinson said: “It’s obviously hugely frustrating but there isn’t much you can do about the weather. We’re itching to be out on grass and be competitive.”

England’s only consolation is that Australia’s own preparations have been similarly affected, as they too have struggled to get time in the middle, with their match against the Fire also totally washed-out, and then their game against the youngsters abandoned after 30 overs.

We are told England are still hopeful of scheduling another warm-up prior to Sunday’s 1st ODI, which starts at just after midnight UK time.

NEWS: England Warm-Up Abandoned Due To Rain

The first of England’s two “official” Women’s Ashes ODI warm-ups – against a young “Cricket Australia XI” – was abandoned due to rain in Brisbane.

England named 12 players – adding Sophie Ecclestone to the XI they fielded in the World Cup final at Lords – but Ecclestone didn’t even get a chance to bowl a ball, as the match was rained-off after just 18.1 overs.

With Australia having won the toss and chosen to bat, Katherine Brunt took the early wickets of Sophie Molineux and Katie Mack, before Georgia Redmayne and Heather Graham dug-in to take the Aussies to 67-2. Graham was Caught & Bowled by Laura Marsh for 28, bringing Nicola Carey to the crease, but not for long, as the rain set in and play was abandoned, with Australia on 77-3.

England will get another warm-up chance on Wednesday against the same opposition, prior to the 1st ODI next Sunday.

THE GREAT DEBATE: Women’s Tests – The Case In Favour

Heather Knight has just won a World Cup. But if you ask her to tell you about her favourite innings for England, she will tell you straight: it was making 157 in the 2013 Ashes Test match at Wormsley. “It was the making of me as a player,” she told me in a recent interview.

There are many reasons not to abandon women’s Test match cricket. I have previously articulated them here. TLDR:

  1. Multi-day cricket provides a tactical and physical challenge different to any other format. When else will female players get the chance to bat for an entire day?
  2. Women’s Tests have been played since 1934 – ODIs have only been played since 1973, T20Is since 2004. History matters in women’s cricket just as much as in the men’s version.
  3. Are you a fan of men’s Tests? If we let women’s Test cricket die, you can bet that men’s Test cricket won’t be far behind. England, Australia and New Zealand Women have all been playing Test cricket far longer than men’s teams from Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

But perhaps the most important reason is the attitude of the players themselves.

Mithali Raj recently captained her team to the final of a World Cup, but even at an event celebrating that very fact, she was quoted as saying the following: “Test matches are the ultimate test for cricketers, whether it is your temperament, skill or endurance… I feel Test matches should be played as frequently as limited over games because they churn out quality players.”

Suzie Bates, one of the most talented female cricketers there has ever been, made her debut back in 2006; she has played in global finals, was Player of the Tournament at the 2013 World Cup, but when she retires there is one thing she will rue, despite everything: “Probably as I’ve got older I feel a bit cheated that I haven’t had the opportunity to play in a Test… Test matches are the pinnacle of cricket.”

If you get the chance, just ask any of the players in the England Ashes squad right now – a squad who have just won a World Cup – what it is that they are most excited about this winter. They will all tell you the same thing: the four-day encounter against the old enemy at the North Sydney Oval. Putting on that white shirt with the three lions. That’s what they will all be hoping they get to do.

Richard Clark makes an excellent point: the players know limited overs cricket far better than they know Test match cricket. But the answer isn’t to throw away the oldest – the pinnacle – format. The answer is to play more Tests.

Over to you, ICC.