For England to keep their women’s Ashes hopes alive, they 100% need to win this Test match.* Can they do it? It will all depend on whether they can find an answer to the following questions:
1. What is their best Test XI?
Mark Robinson has several selectorial decisions to weigh up right now. As Syd suggested the other day, the big one is the choice between batting Georgia Elwiss or Fran Wilson at number 6. It’s a tough call – one might argue that Elwiss’s medium-pace could be valuable as a back-up bowling option for Knight to have up her sleeve. Personally I’d probably go with Wilson – she’s showed better form with the bat of late, and England are going to need all the batting they can get over the next 4 days (see below!)
The other tough call is going to be the ever-present Alex Hartley v Sophie Ecclestone dilemma. As Martin points out, playing two left-arm spinners is probably a bit too much of a luxury in a Test situation, plus England might well need Laura “The Wall” Marsh’s runs. Personally I’d keep the faith in World-Cup-winning Hartley (she has 6 wickets so far this series, vs Ecclestone’s 2) – but given that she didn’t play in the warm-up game, I’m not sure Robinson will see eye to eye with me on that one!
2. Can anyone “do a Heather Knight”?
Whoever makes the final team sheet, the key thing that England will need to do is bat long. Easy to say, and not so easy to do. My chief worry for England, in fact, is their batting – recent history does not portend well. Nobody has made a Test century for England since Knight’s famous innings at Wormsley in 2013 – in fact, only one current England player has even made a half-century in a Test since then. (Guess who? – Jenny Gunn of course!) “Starts” are no good in a Test match – at least two England players are going to have to get their heads down and dig in, if England are to have any chance of winning this match.
3. Can they stop Australia batting them out of the game?
If Australia win the toss tomorrow morning, they will bat – that’s certain. The worry is that England will revert to type, not make early breakthroughs, and be left facing an uphill struggle: the suggestion seems to be that the pink ball wears a lot quicker than the red / white ones, and that this Test will end up being a batsman’s game. It’s going to take some skilled captaincy by Knight, and persistence and accuracy by the England bowlers, to stop Australia’s mouth-watering batting line-up in its tracks.
4. Can they avoid a draw?
If Australia race away, bat for the first day and a half and England are left playing catch-up, there might well be a temptation to revert to defensive cricket – batten down the hatches and avoid defeat. In this instance, that would be tantamount to accepting defeat in the series.* England have to attack, attack, attack, from the start of day 1 to the end of day 4. Hopefully that’s exactly what Robinson is currently telling his players!
*NB: A draw would still keep England in the series (just), but they’d then have to win all 3 T20s – a format which hasn’t been their forte of late.