“Don’t go for second best baby – put your cricket to the test,” as Madonna didn’t quite sing on her 1989 hit Express Yourself. England talk a lot about the batters “expressing themselves”; but it’s something they’ve had little chance to do in the ODI leg of this Ashes series, as Australia’s bowlers have turned the screw ever tighter.
England rolled the dice by bringing in Emma Lamb to open the batting in place of Lauren Winfield-Hill, who has gone more than 5 years without passing 50 for England. Lamb had a good ‘A’ series, but coming into an Ashes series is a step up at the best of times, and with just one game to prove herself against the rampant opening bowling of Ellyse Perry and Megan Schutt, the pressure was really on the Lancashire Thunder player.
And it didn’t work out – Lamb falling to a lovely delivery from Perry that was pitched up and moved late, for a 2-ball duck. But this absolutely wasn’t a case of Lamb having been tried and failed – she can’t be judged on one innings, especially if the other option is to go back to Winfield-Hill, who has been given the benefit of the doubt for the best part of fifty innings!
And the bottom line anyway is that nobody has really “succeeded” for England in this ODI series. Tammy Beaumont got to 50 today, but it was the slowest 50+ innings of her ODI career at a Strike Rate of 49.5, and she couldn’t push on. Nat Sciver made an even slower 46 at a Strike Rate of 48.4, which was the slowest ODI innings she’s ever played having reached double-figures.
England have now been whitewashed in their last two ODI series versus Australia, and they haven’t beaten them in an ODI since 2017. And far from closing, the gap appears to be widening – England’s batters just can’t score runs against Australia, it’s getting worse, and today they looked like a side that knew it.
And yet whilst England have come up second-best against Australia again and again, they’ve maintained a win percentage against everybody else of over 70%. Add matches against everyone else to that chart, and the “Ashes Dips” versus Australia in 2019 and now in 2022 are startling apparent, amid what’s otherwise a decent record.
This is what England need to take away from this series – they have come up second-best against Australia, but they are still the second-best team in the world; and that’s not a bad place to be going into a World Cup. It’s not going to be easy to keep believing that through 10 days of hard quarantine in New Zealand, but believe it they must.
As for Australia, they go to New Zealand perhaps firmer favourites for the title than they’ve ever been, having lost just once in their past 30 ODIs against all-comers. With the Ashes wrapped-up, the tournament is theirs to lose – for Lanning & co, second best will not be good enough.