OPINION: Women’s Ashes Test – England Beaten By Perry, Not The Pitch

Following the drawn Women’s Ashes Test in Sydney, England coach Mark Robinson talked a lot about the pitch in his post-match interviews:

“We want to play on better wickets,” he said. “It wasn’t a fresh wicket [and] fresh wickets make such a difference.” He then went on to draw a contrast between Coffs Harbour, where England won the 3rd ODI – “a great wicket [with] bounce and carry” – and North Sydney Oval where “the bowlers ran in hard [but] in the end, the wicket beat us.”

His comments have been echoed by many in the media, with for example Charlotte Edwards tweeting “pitches need to be looked at moving forward”.

But was the pitch that bad? Or was it just that one batsman was that good?

Ellyse Perry’s monumental innings – which Robinson rightly praised as “something special” – was 213 off 374 balls. If Perry had “only” scored a hundred, rather than a double, this would still have been by some way the biggest innings in the game. But Australia would have posted a lead of only around 50 and there would also have been an additional 70-odd overs in the match, if you include the overs “lost” in the final session when they called it quits.

Under those circumstances, England could (and likely would) have taken a few more risks to bat themselves into a position where they could have declared, with either result then still a genuine possibility.

It’s all “ifs and buts” of course – it is true that there have been better pitches, and maybe we need to also look at having more “new balls” in pink-ball Tests; but in all honestly England were not beaten by the pitch – they were of course not beaten at all – but if they were beaten by anything, they were beaten by Ellyse Perry, not the pitch.

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Pink Ball Review: Did England Find Any Answers?

Last week I posed four big questions ahead of the Ashes Test match. Now that Test cricket is – sadly – behind them for another two years, did England find any answers?

1. What is their best Test XI?

Mark Robinson’s big call was to not only select Georgia Elwiss ahead of Jenny Gunn, but to bat her at 4, a position she’s never before occupied in her England career. At a crucial time for England, she came good. Her unbeaten 41 was, in my book, even more impressive than Knight’s own stoic effort – Elwiss was under more pressure (she must have known she was playing for her place in the side), and much rustier, having played no international cricket at all over the past 12 months. It’s perhaps too early to say whether she’s done enough to retain her place for the foreseeable future, but you’d have to conclude that she’s put herself back in strong contention.

Would having Gunn in the side have made any difference to the result? Probably not. Her great talent is bowling for long periods very economically, but that wasn’t really the issue here – England managed to restrict the Australian run rate reasonably successfully. What they really needed was wickets, and it’s difficult on this pitch to see Gunn having been much more successful than her counterparts there.

2. Can anyone “do a Heather Knight”?

Yes – sadly her name is Ellyse Perry, and she plays for the opposition (despite my job share suggestion!)

England lost this match by not batting long enough in the first innings. Though Tammy Beaumont and Heather Knight both passed 50, once again none of the England batting line-up could push on to 3 figures. Last week I said that at least two England players would have to get their heads down and dig in, if they were to have any chance of winning this match – that didn’t happen.

Somehow, with the limited opportunities available for multi-day practice before the next Test comes around, England need to resolve this. If they can’t, they aren’t going to win very many Tests!

3. Can they stop Australia batting them out of the game?

Yes, but it was perhaps more down to luck than judgement! England were fortunate enough to win the toss, which prevented the somewhat nightmare scenario of the follow-on rearing its ugly head. Australia then essentially ran out of time to bowl England out. Had Perry arrived at the crease on day one, who knows what might have happened?

4. Can they avoid a draw?

No. Obviously.

Of course, a draw actually looks like a good result, given what might have happened at the start of day 4! Even better, England have got the Canterbury 2015 monkey off their backs – they didn’t fold, they fought, and there’s no shame at all in the way that they dug in today.

Having said that, I still stick by my belief that it isn’t a good enough result for England. Above all else, it’s going to be very tough mentally for them to go into the T20 leg of the series knowing they have to win all 3 games.

Let’s hope they can prove me wrong!

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes Test – Day 4

Knight In Shining Armour

This is the second time in her career that Heather Knight has saved a Test for England, albeit in quite different circumstances. In 2013 at Wormsley, England were staring down the barrel of the follow-on at 113-6, after Australia had posted 330 in the 1st innings; this time the circumstances were perhaps a little less dramatic, but no less perilous – with the Ashes at stake, Knight had to dig in, and her and Georgia Elwiss did what they had to do. It was a “proper cricket” innings from Knight, demanding all her mental and physical steel – the only disappointment being that she didn’t get the chance to put the seal on it by going on to 100. (We’d have liked to see her bat on at the end; but apparently we were alone in that regard!)

The Winner On Points

You’d have to say in one way that this was a clear “points victory” for Australia, having forced England into batting for the draw; but this is also a bit odd, because two of the four days clearly went to England – Day 2, when they had Australia 5-down and still 100 behind; and today, when the Aussies huffed and puffed but couldn’t get anywhere near blowing England’s house down. In fact, ultimately it would perhaps have been Australia who were slightly disappointed – they definitely felt they had the glimmer of victory in their sights with both the openers gone and England still a long way from safety – but in the end they didn’t have the bowling to force the win.

Pitch (Im)Perfect?

Was the pitch to blame for a “boring” end to the game? We don’t think so – it was the same pitch that gave us Ellyse Perry’s double-hundred yesterday, and we don’t remember hearing too many complaints about it then!! Obviously both sides played quite low-risk cricket, with the 10-over run rate averaging around 2.5, and only once climbing above 4 – but if you want to blame anything for that, blame the points system which, even at 4 points for a win, with only a single Test massively punishes defeat. Anyways… it was only boring if you didn’t really care about the outcome – speak for yourselves, we were glued to it!

Another Win For Robinson

Although England were once again outplayed by Australia… or outplayed by Ellyse Perry, at least… there was a difference from Canterbury in 2015 – England didn’t look like amateurs, out of their depth at this level. And lest we forget, this isn’t because they have played a pile of Tests in the meantime – having in fact played no Tests in the intervening two years. It is because they were well-prepared this time, by a coach with 20 years of experience playing and coaching tough, declaration cricket in the (Men’s) County Championship. And you have to chalk this up as another win for Mark Robinson, who has taken basically the same team, with 70% of the same players, and turned them up a notch – they aren’t up at 11 yet, but they are no longer at 2 or 3!

Random Thoughts – Women’s Ashes Test – Day 3

The day England lost the Ashes?

England can’t now win this Test – that much was apparent even before the third session of the day began. Their best hope now is to hang on for the draw, but that means that in order to win the series, they’ll have to go on and win all 3 T20s, which is a big ask.

Given that England “won” day 2, and had set themselves up nicely with some late wickets falling last night, that’s quite a disappointing result.

… or the day Australia won them?

Having said that, did England do a lot wrong today? The ball wasn’t doing much, the pitch wasn’t doing much, and Australia just didn’t give them many chances. That was always the worry – Australia’s batting order is like waiting for a bus – you get one wicket and then two more world-class batsmen come to the crease!

People often seem to forget that at Canterbury in 2015, for example, England actually had Australia 99-5 – then Jess Jonassen walked in… and they ended up racking up 274-9! It was a similar story today.

Syd’s Worms [Ed: he really needs to go to the doctor’s about that] make the point pretty clearly: it wasn’t that Australia were ahead of the eight-ball the whole way through – they just bat longer than England, and in Tests, that’s crucial.

It’s looking more and more, in fact, like England really lost this match during the last session of the first day, with the mini-collapse where they lost those 3 wickets for 13 runs. That stat about 280 being a good 1st innings score in a women’s Test is actually quite an illusive one – the game has come on so much, even since that last Test in 2015, that I always had an inkling that 280 wasn’t going to be enough to put England into a winning position. Once again, for England, it’s the batting that’s been the real issue, not the bowling.

Ellyse Perry

There really isn’t much to say, is there? The craziest stat in cricket is that Ellyse Perry had never made an international century before today. But when Perry gets it right, she is unrivalled. She didn’t offer a single chance in the first 100 runs. There was barely a chance in the second.

It makes it even more poignant, in a way, that she might not get very many more opportunities in her career to bat with that level of depth, concentration and duration. The ICC don’t think Tests matter – they think people don’t care about women’s Test cricket.

The reactions today; the cheering of every dot ball that Megan Schutt faced while Perry was on 199* at the other end; Perry’s response (twice!) to hitting her 200th run – it matters. Please take note, ICC.

Can England survive?

They’ve made a decent start by not losing any wickets before the close, but if they’re going to save the game from here then England need to bat out at least two sessions tomorrow. The best advice Mark Robinson can give to his players is to play their natural game – going into their shells isn’t going to do anyone any favours (it didn’t work at Canterbury!) They definitely have the capability – it’s going to come down to whether they have the mental toughness to see it out.

NEWS: Belinda Clark Confirms ICC Position On Women’s Tests – “I’m not sure that Test cricket holds a place in people’s hearts”

Member of ICC Women’s Committee and leading voice at Cricket Australia Belinda Clark has confirmed that the ICC’s policy going forward is to continue to focus on the shorter formats of the game, with no intention to increase the amount of Test cricket played.

Speaking on commentary during the third day of the Ashes Test at the North Sydney Oval, Clark said:

“If we’re thinking about growth of the international game, the answer to that question is T20.”

“The one-day game also has a place – the World Cup in England shows that.”

The current match has already broken recent records for attendance at a women’s Test in Australia, with over 6000 people present over the first two days, but Clark nonetheless rejected the suggestion that the ICC might seek to encourage the playing of more women’s Tests:

“This game is absolutely critical for these two nations [England and Australia], but beyond that, I’m not sure that Test cricket holds a place in people’s hearts.”

ECB’s director of women’s cricket Clare Connor has previously placed her full support behind the longer-format, stating:

“I would never want to be part of an administration that strikes a line through Test cricket. I would hate that.”

“I will fight to continue to [keep Tests alive].”

Nonetheless Cricket Australia has consistently refused the ECB’s suggestion that the Women’s Ashes might be expanded to incorporate two or even more Test matches.

The statement by Clark today appears to confirm that policy, at least for the immediate future.

Random Thoughts – Women’s Ashes Test – Day 2

Two-Hundred-And-Eighhhhhhhhhty?

Word from inside the England camp is that they were pretty happy with their 1st innings total of 280 – in the entire history of women’s Tests, only one side has ever lost after posting a higher 1st innings total – New Zealand, back in 1969. [That’s so long ago it’s before you were born… just sayin’ – Ed.]

However, England have to have been a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a few more – no blame on the tail this morning, more on the batsmen who didn’t push on yesterday.

But having now seen the Aussies bat, it is clear that maybe this pitch isn’t the road everyone thought it was, as it has actually been England who have set the pace, as the worm shows:

🎵 Walking In A Perry Wonderland 🎵

(Yes… it is stuck in my head – and if it wasn’t stuck in yours before… it is now!!)

As the chart also shows, Ellyse Perry is the key player for Australia – they only started to catch up with the run rate when she got motoring in the period leading up to the new ball. England need to get her out not once, but twice, to win this Test match – that’s the key challenge – if they can do that, they will be in with a shout.

Aussies Under Marshal Law

Laura Marsh was exceptional today – bowling at the left-handers at the top of the innings, she got into a trance-like rhythm, and then just kept it there – tick-tocking through 23 overs for just 28 runs.

Bowling props also to Sophie Ecclestone (2-51) and Georgia Elwiss. (In fact, given her figures – 5 overs, 2 maidens, 0-7 – I’m surprised Heather Knight didn’t find a few more overs for Elwiss, with Nat Sciver not really looking like she was troubling the Australians too much.)

A Tail To Tell Tomorrow?

England need just one more wicket tomorrow morning and they are into the tail, with the Aussies still currently over 100 behind. Admittedly it is a tail that includes Jess Jonassen (99 in the last Test) and Amanda Wellington (116 just the other week for South Australia in the WNCL) but if England can grab almost any first-innings lead they will rightly be pretty chuffed with that, and they will certainly be the ones sleeping easier tonight after having a winning day today.

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes Test – Day 1

Gunn Fired

[That’s enough Jenny Gunn puns now Syd – Ed.]

We debated whether Fran Wilson would have to make way for Georgia Elwiss; but in the end it was Jenny Gunn who was left on the sidelines, with Mark Robinson clearly deciding that England needed Elwiss’s batting more than they needed Gunn’s bowling. Was this a good decision? Well… Elwiss didn’t exactly “fail” with the bat but it remains to be seen how we’ll feel if (when?) Australia are 300-3 this time tomorrow and all our front-line bowlers are exhausted!

Winfield Not Winning

Unlike Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Winfield has struggled to build on her 2016 purple patch – her numbers have reverted back to where they were pre-2016; and today she faced over 50 balls for just 4 runs, before getting out to a shot that she shouldn’t have gone near with a barge-pole, let alone her bat!

But… but.. but… who or what is the alternative? Heather Knight doesn’t want to open; Sarah Taylor shouldn’t open; and we’ve just got rid of all the “senior” batsmen in our Academy! If there was an easy answer, believe us, we’d be all over it – we are The Media™ – we love easy answers; but in this case there isn’t one – we just have to trust that Winfield will come good again in time.

A Way Back For England?

England just about edged the first session-and-a-half – Beaumont and Knight both played well for their 50s, but they couldn’t push on and Australia smashed the final session, as England melted in the darkness. 237-7 is not a good place to be, and you have to feel this is Australia’s game to lose now.

If there is a way back for England, it is to bat long enough tomorrow to prevent the Aussies piling on the runs during the day, and then hope that they too struggle under the lights in the evening session. In the last Test at Canterbury in 2015, Anya Shrubsole occupied the crease for over an hour for a 47-ball duck – it was widely derided at the time, but it would actually be quite a useful contribution here – the duck is intact, and she is 15 balls in already – maybe she can push on towards 50 (balls) tomorrow?