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!