WOMEN’S ASHES: TEST DAY ONE – Australia Take Command

This might be controversial, but I’ll call it as I see it: already, at the end of Day One, England are in a position where it will be almost impossible for them to win this Test.

At the toss, we finally got a glimpse of Heather Knight and Lisa Keightley’s Masterplan: bowl first, chuck in your most experienced quick bowlers (Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole and Kate Cross), and hope for the best. With Brunt and, in particular, Shrubsole moving it around up top, it looked like it might just have been a genius move: Australia were 4 for 2 before I’d had time to boil the kettle.

When Ellyse Perry miscued a Nat Sciver bouncer to Amy Jones, who took an excellent running, diving catch (to add to her two smart grabs behind the stumps to see off Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney), England were ecstatic.

But their celebrations proved to be premature, especially in the face of Australia’s insanely long batting line-up. Slowly, that early momentum slipped through England’s fingers – literally slipped through them, in the case of Knight and Sciver, who between them cost England 121 runs after they put down Meg Lanning and Rachael Haynes at first and second slip respectively. Australia finished the day on 327 for 7. As Syd pointed out on Twitter, no one has ever won a women’s Test where the other team have scored over 300 on first innings.

So was England’s strategy the wrong one? Selection-wise, it’s hard to know if Lauren Bell would have outbowled Brunt, Shrubsole or Cross – although I would have liked to have seen her given the chance. But I am a bit baffled by the decision to bowl first.

This isn’t just about “the benefit of hindsight”. I’ve long argued that it’s extremely difficult to win a four-day women’s Test if you don’t bat first, and today’s events are merely a case in point. After two sessions, during which Australia scored 199 runs and lost just 3 wickets, England’s window of opportunity to control the game had all-but-closed. If they’d opted to bat, that window would (bar a horrendous collapse) have lasted a lot longer – they could have forced the pace when they chose; dug in if they’d lost a few quick wickets; and assuming they’d batted out the day, it would have been in their hands whether they came back out to bat again tomorrow.

Instead, all those decisions – including whether England’s tired bowlers have to come back out and do it all again on Day Two – are now in Lanning’s hands.

The decision to bowl first is even odder given that all the “noise” coming out of the England camp before the Test was about how challenging it is to take wickets in women’s Tests – variously blamed on pitches that are too long, batter-friendly wickets, and / or the inability to use a Dukes ball.

And so we face the first test of Australia’s own “going for the win” approach: how long will they keep batting? The truly aggressive move would, frankly, have been to have declared half an hour before the close once they’d reached 300, and given England a horrible period to negotiate. But given that they didn’t do that, they surely now have to declare overnight? 327 runs is already a VERY formidable first-innings total in the context of women’s Test cricket, and with the forecast as it is, declaring now is the only way to guarantee that they will have the time to take 20 English wickets. Plus, the pressure will all be on England, who have a big runs-deficit to overhaul before they can even think about doing anything else. (See what I mean about no longer dictating the game?)

Australia have talked a good talk over the last three Tests they’ve played about wanting to avoid yet another draw. Now’s the time for them to walk the walk as well… the question is, will they?

3 thoughts on “WOMEN’S ASHES: TEST DAY ONE – Australia Take Command

  1. I wouldn’t worry too much about what either captain has said. Both are media trained to the point of destruction. Both invariably deliver rhetoric filled interviews. They just play the media. How many times do we hear “we’ll come back stronger”, “we’ll take the positives” (even after a match in which they have been stuffed), “we’ll play positive cricket” ? They have a library of such phrases and just trot them out. None of this diminishes the fact they are both extremely professional and fantastic role models.

    Australia are 2 pts up a series in which they only need to draw it to retain The Ashes. They will bat as long as they can on Day 2 – certainly until tea if they can. Why ? Because it will massively diminish the chance of them losing the Test – and that is their primary objective and I don’t blame them because any team that goes into an Ashes Test ahead in the Ashes Series will have that same objective. A drawn Test means England have to get at least 2 wins and one washout out of the ODI Series to gain The Ashes and Australia will be 100% confident that won’t happen.

    The bottom line here is that Australia’s primary (and minimum) Ashes Series objective is to at least draw it (because it means they retain The Ashes). What is England’s primary Series objective ? Good question. One would think it has to be to win the Ashes Series at all costs ….. but I’m not sure. If England drew The Test and won the ODI Series 2-1 (therefore a drawn Ashes Series), would they really cry all that much ? After all, they would have lost one T20 match, drawn a Test and won an ODI Series (out of season, in Australia – seems pretty laudable). Furthermore, they will be 100% confident they can get at least 2 wins and one washout out of the ODI Series – despite history suggesting that’s crackers. Perhaps it is controversial to suggest, but both teams will blank the Test rather than risk losing it. (The questions of (i) should the Test be 2pts not 4pts (ii) should it be 5 days not 4 days (iii) should who won The Ashes last time be irrelevant (iv) is there too much incentive to draw the Test (v) type of ball, I will leave in the air ….. although it was refreshing to hear Brunt dispensing with ‘Knight-protocol’ and giving her forthright opinions on such matters)

    As England merrily rattle along at over 4 an over in their 1st innings, the above will all start to look a bit stupid.

    Looking at the Maths, England need to knock over Australia in no time on day 2. If Australia spend 30 overs adding 90 and reach 420 then England will have to score at 4 an over to have any chance of winning. If they score at 3 an over and (remarkably) bat for 170 overs, they end up on 510 by the end of day 3 ….. a 90 run lead and nowhere near enough to force a victory (and that’s assuming no rain). It would be better to score at 4 an over and be all out for, say, 360 off 90 overs than score 510 for not many off 170 overs.

    One could argue, given the Maths, that if Australia do hang around for another 30 overs, then its game over and England will be more focused on the draw than the win.

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  2. I agree, I can’t see a way back for England. Australia might bat on later tonight, if only because their strategy might be to only bat once, or to bat for just a short time in the second innings before putting us in again. The drops at slip today were very costly, but can we be too harsh? Given that slip catches aren’t a big part of white ball cricket, it’s unlikely England do much practice here? Also perplexing that we bowled 32 overs of spin on Day 1 of a Test?

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  3. I agree, I can’t see a way back for England. Australia might bat on later tonight, if only because their strategy might be to only bat once, or to bat for just a short time in the second innings before putting us in again. The drops at slip today were very costly, but can we be too harsh? Given that slip catches aren’t a big part of white ball cricket, it’s unlikely England do much practice here? Also perplexing that we bowled 32 overs of spin on Day 1 of a Test?

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