At the halfway point of today’s match, it looked a fairly safe bet that England had it sewn up, and that Australia were about to fail to make the final of a tri-series in their premier format, played on home soil. England’s bowlers put on a disciplined display in the main, to restrict Australia to just 132-7 (though Anya Shrubsole’s 3 overs cost 35 runs – is the foot injury which saw her MIA earlier in the series still bothering her?)
It was another poor effort with the bat from Australia – certainly given the high standards we have come to expect from them over the past 18 months. Alyssa Healy fell hook, line and sinker into the trap that England set for her, holing out to deep midwicket in the first over of the day, continuing her miserable run of form. Meg Lanning, who since the summer has inexplicably dropped down from number 3 to 4 in the line-up, again looked uncomfortable out in the middle. There were some odd murmurings on commentary that she “doesn’t like to bat in the powerplay” – if true, this is a bizarre hang-up from someone who just 6 months ago was doing this.
After Australia’s loss to India yesterday, Ash Gardner described the series as “a good learning curve. These games don’t matter as much as what the World Cup is going to matter. This tri-series is all about trying different things.” Is this bravado or have Australia actually been treating this series less seriously than the other teams? In their 4 matches, they’ve not played the same XI once; and there doesn’t seem to have been much rhyme or reason to the continual switch-ups.
Tayla Vlaeminck, for example, has only featured in 2 of the 4 matches. Today, though, it was the young quick who starred. Not only did she pick up the wickets of both Danni Wyatt and Amy Jones in the powerplay, but she bowled with such venom and pace that she forced England to sit back and “see her off”. Sophie Molineux may have picked up 3-19 and the Player of the Match award but it was Vlaeminck who effectively “bought” those wickets by piling on the scoreboard pressure early on. Why hasn’t she been playing every match?
If it is the case that Australia are viewing this series as glorified net practice, that’s actually quite worrying for England – if Australia can beat them when they’re only firing at 50%, it doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming World Cup. Arguably, there isn’t much that England can change up at this distance from the tournament – they seem pretty set on playing 8 batsmen and heavily relying on Nat Sciver’s bowling to see them right; and they certainly won’t be changing their opening partnership, or abandoning the “Tammy Beaumont at 6” strategy, this close to the World Cup.
On the basis of today’s performance, the one thing that might make sense is dropping Shrubsole in favour of the much more economical Freya Davies. It would be a brave call by Heather Knight and Lisa Keightley, though if they wanted to save face they could always blame it on her foot injury. We’ll have to wait and see what the preferred approach is, come 23 February at the WACA.