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.