Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 2nd T20

Brunt Bounces Back

Something Mark Robinson’s England have in spades is resilience. To bounce back after throwing away the Ashes in the space of a few overs on Friday can’t have been easy, but the way they came out today, to not just win but wipe out their opponents, made an important statement about the way this side want to play their cricket.

No one epitomised that attitude more than Katherine Brunt. In tears after the loss on Friday, she somehow channelled all her disappointment and frustration into a sparkling innings of 32* – including the only 2 sixes of England’s innings – and then followed it up with a pace bowling T20 masterclass, conceding just 10 runs from her 4 overs. Sarah Taylor’s stumping of Elyse Villani was itself a masterclass, of course, but it was Brunt’s 3 dot balls up top in the over that forced Villani’s hand.

Basically, don’t upset Katherine Brunt. It’ll come back to bite you in the end.

Gunn Earns Her Spot

There have been question marks over Jenny Gunn’s inclusion in this T20 team, given that it’s Georgia Elwiss – the star of Day 4 at North Sydney – who appears to have given way for her. But Gunn’s bowling in T20 is incredibly precious – she is economical AND takes wickets – and today she really did provide the turning point for England, with her direct hit run out of Beth Mooney; plus that little matter of 4 wickets to boot.

Two Differing Approaches

There were times when you felt today that Matthew Mott had sat the Aussies down before their innings and told them they needed to hit all the runs in boundaries – far too many reckless shots were played, with Healy, Gardner and Haynes all caught trying to hit big. England were much more content to rack up singles and twos, leaving them with wickets in the bank for the crucial final 5 overs.

Nonetheless, the attacking approach has served Australia well over the years, and England might want to consider taking a leaf out of their book. The stats that Syd put out on Twitter earlier about Nat Sciver v Alyssa Healy provide a good point of comparison:

It’s not that Sciver isn’t capable of hitting big, more that she hasn’t often done so in a T20 situation for England – something that needs to change.

So England may have won this match, but there is no room for complacency: their batting, and power hitting in particular, has to be a key area of focus ahead of next year’s WWT20.

Wyatt Up Top

It’s still a bit of a mystery why Heather Knight opened in the first T20 of the series given that she has repeatedly said she doesn’t want to open while captaining – perhaps Robinson felt it was the best option, or perhaps it was just an experiment gone wrong. Either way, it was great to see Danni Wyatt rewarded for her 50 on Friday with a boost to the top of the order; and she certainly did the job required of her today, with quick runs up top to get England off to a positive start. She’s opened before in T20 – the last time was in Cardiff against Australia in 2015 – but has never had a sustained run at it, so maybe that time is now.

A Dead Rubber?

Some will argue that Australia took their foot off the gas today, relaxed about the whole endeavour now they have secured the Ashes trophy. If there’s any truth in that, it’s pretty poor – England could still go on and draw the series on points. They could also still win the T20 leg of the series; and a T20 series win in the year before a T20 World Cup is not to be sniffed at. In short, it’s all to play for come Tuesday.

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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 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.

PINK BALL PREVIEW: Can England Win The Day-Night Test?

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.

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 3rd ODI

Never Say Die

With England already 4-0 down on points in this series, today’s game really was do or die – fortunately one thing we know about Mark Robinson’s England is that they never say die! With Australia 159-2 after 30 overs, chasing 278 with 8 wickets in hand, it really seemed (to us at least!) like the end might be nigh; but a combination of economical bowling and, eventually, some key wickets paid dividends. If England can win the Test they are right back in this series.

England’s Batting

This was, overall, a much improved performance with the bat from England, helped by the fact that they reverted to playing to their strengths, and choosing to bat when they won the toss. With 3 players – Taylor, Beaumont and Knight – all making 50, England’s best batsmen are at last showing some form.

Of the 3, Heather Knight’s innings was probably the most important. Having lost 3 wickets for 9 runs in the middle overs, England really needed her both to weather the storm and remain in until the end, AND to ensure that she kept the strike rate up above 100, so that they had time to set a competitive total – she managed both, finishing 88 not out from 80 balls.

One concern for England is their incomprehensible zeal for the ramp shot. Taylor whipped it out when still on 0* and was lucky not to be dismissed – Beaumont later followed suit, missed it completely and promptly found herself stumped on 74. Either the England coaches are giving some quite unhelpful advice, or the England batsmen are ignoring the advice they’re getting – either way, it’s a shot that doesn’t come off nearly enough for it to be worth the risk!

Wickets Early Doors

Robinson’s England are not known for their ability to build early foundations. In 2017 they’ve had only one 1st wicket partnership of over 50, largely because Lauren Winfield hasn’t backed up her excellent 2016 summer with subsequent consistent performances. In the 3 ODIs this series England’s first wicket has fallen with 47, 2 and 2 runs on the board, respectively.

Meanwhile Australia have racked up opening stands of 14, 98 and 118. In fact during today’s game Channel 9 brought up the following stat, which is rather concerning for a side who have generally been stronger with the ball than the bat:

It’s a stat backed up by the fact that today, of the five 10-over periods in the game, Australia were ahead in only the first 10:

Fighting back is a hallmark of this England side – but perhaps some early consistency might negate some of that need to always be playing catch up.

It should certainly provide food for thought going into the Test match, which England need to win to ensure the series is kept alive.

Women’s Ashes Preview Part 2 – Australia

It’s been interesting to observe in the build-up to this women’s Ashes series the reluctance the Australians have shown to accept the “underdog” label. Jess Jonassen, for example, has been quoted as saying: “I wouldn’t say [England are] favourites.”

Syd’s piece yesterdaysuggested England have the slight edge. But for what it’s worth, I’m inclined to agree with Jonassen.

Firstly, let’s take the ODI leg of the series. Of course it’s true that England are reigning world champions, while Australia were sent home, abashed, after losing their semi-final to India. But let’s not forget that England’s margin of victory in the round robin game against Australia was a mere 3 runs.

Overall, the stats are pretty clear: home advantage is enormous in women’s ODI cricket – 66% of the matches in the last cycle of the Women’s International Championship were won by the home side.

That’s likely to be enhanced in this instance, because both of England’s warm-up 50-over matches were rained off, so they’ve had very little game time going into the series opener on Sunday.

Secondly, because the ODI leg of the series comes first, whoever gets their noses in front in those games has a big tactical advantage going into the 4-point Test match. They’ll feel much more able to take risks, much more able to play the kind of cricket that is likely to win you a four-day game. Let’s not forget that, being the current holders of the Ashes, Australia have only to win two ODIs and the Test and the trophy is theirs once again.

Thirdly, I wouldn’t want to bet against this Australian batting attack, even if the odds were in my favour (which as Syd highlighted yesterday, they aren’t). Losing Meg Lanning is a blow, of course; but reading the (likely) Australian team sheet is still enough to make one’s mouth water with anticipation.

This Australian team have both the brains of Nicole Bolton and the brawn of Elyse Villani and Alyssa Healy at their disposal. I will never forget watching Bolton’s ODI debut against England in the 2014 Ashes in Australia: she made 124 and the England bowlers just didn’t know what to do with themselves.

Ellyse Perry is, well, Ellyse Perry.

And if I was Alex Blackwell I’d be fired up with a point to prove after being apparently snubbed for the captaincy in favour of Rachael Haynes. It was overlooked by many because of Harmanpreet Kaur’s superhuman innings – of course it was – but the way Blackwell fought back with the bat in the semi-final against India, remaining at the crease when all around her were flailing, was a feat of sheer stubbornness.

Australia’s main weakness is their pace bowling. It’ll be interesting to see what they’ve done between now and the World Cup to try to resolve this hole in their armoury (will we still see Elyse Villani bowling at the death?!) but I can’t think that Matthew Mott will have stood idle on this one. Bringing in Lauren Cheatle and Tahlia McGrath could be an astute move: at the very least it brings in new blood, and leaves the England batsmen wondering what to expect.

Final point: beating Australia in Australia has always been one of the biggest challenges faced by any English cricket team. In 83 years of international women’s cricket, it’s a feat that’s been achieved only 3 times. Mark Robinson’s England are a very good side – but they are going to have to overcome some serious odds to bring home that Ashes trophy.

If you ask me, it’s going to be their toughest test yet.

NEWS: England Women’s Pathway Squads Announced

The ECB have today announced the players who will make up both the England Women’s Senior Academy (EWSA) and the England Women’s Academy (EWA), the two squads that form the pathway towards selection for the full England side.

The EWSA has been reduced in size from 18 players to 14 players this year, with Izzy Cloke, Lauren Bell and Charlie Dean making the step up from the EWA to take up places in the Senior Academy.

Meanwhile a number of senior players who have played a key role in the KSL appear to have lost out in the overhaul, including Georgia Adams, Thea Brookes, Georgia Hennessy, Eve Jones, Sophie Luff and Paige Scholfield.

There has been a bit of a shake-up in terms of personnel, too, with EWA head coach Salliann Briggs stepping down from her role due to “wider work commitments” (presumably not least her role as head coach of the Loughborough Lightning KSL side).

John Stanworth, as head coach of the EWSA, will now also oversee the EWA.

Both groups will be attending a series of camps over the winter and playing a number of competitive matches in the summer to enhance their development and help them become more effective performers.

Full squads:

England Women’s Senior Academy

  • Hollie Armitage (Yorkshire)
  • Ellen Burt (Sussex)
  • Lauren Bell (Berkshire)
  • Georgie Boyce (Nottinghamshire)
  • Izzy Cloke (Kent)
  • Alice Davidson-Richards (Kent)
  • Freya Davies (Sussex)
  • Charlie Dean (Hampshire)
  • Sophie Dunkley (Middlesex)
  • Katie George (Hampshire)
  • Emma Lamb (Lancashire)
  • Bryony Smith (Surrey)
  • Linsey Smith (Sussex)
  • Ellie Threlkeld (Lancashire)

England Women’s Academy

  • Alice Dyson (Derbyshire)
  • Danielle Gibson (Gloucestershire)
  • Sarah Glenn (Derbyshire)
  • Amy Gordon (Surrey)
  • Eva Gray (Surrey)
  • Rhianna Southby (Surrey)
  • Alexandra Travers (Surrey)
  • Katie Wolfe (Middlesex)

THE GREAT DEBATE: Women’s Tests – The Case In Favour

Heather Knight has just won a World Cup. But if you ask her to tell you about her favourite innings for England, she will tell you straight: it was making 157 in the 2013 Ashes Test match at Wormsley. “It was the making of me as a player,” she told me in a recent interview.

There are many reasons not to abandon women’s Test match cricket. I have previously articulated them here. TLDR:

  1. Multi-day cricket provides a tactical and physical challenge different to any other format. When else will female players get the chance to bat for an entire day?
  2. Women’s Tests have been played since 1934 – ODIs have only been played since 1973, T20Is since 2004. History matters in women’s cricket just as much as in the men’s version.
  3. Are you a fan of men’s Tests? If we let women’s Test cricket die, you can bet that men’s Test cricket won’t be far behind. England, Australia and New Zealand Women have all been playing Test cricket far longer than men’s teams from Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

But perhaps the most important reason is the attitude of the players themselves.

Mithali Raj recently captained her team to the final of a World Cup, but even at an event celebrating that very fact, she was quoted as saying the following: “Test matches are the ultimate test for cricketers, whether it is your temperament, skill or endurance… I feel Test matches should be played as frequently as limited over games because they churn out quality players.”

Suzie Bates, one of the most talented female cricketers there has ever been, made her debut back in 2006; she has played in global finals, was Player of the Tournament at the 2013 World Cup, but when she retires there is one thing she will rue, despite everything: “Probably as I’ve got older I feel a bit cheated that I haven’t had the opportunity to play in a Test… Test matches are the pinnacle of cricket.”

If you get the chance, just ask any of the players in the England Ashes squad right now – a squad who have just won a World Cup – what it is that they are most excited about this winter. They will all tell you the same thing: the four-day encounter against the old enemy at the North Sydney Oval. Putting on that white shirt with the three lions. That’s what they will all be hoping they get to do.

Richard Clark makes an excellent point: the players know limited overs cricket far better than they know Test match cricket. But the answer isn’t to throw away the oldest – the pinnacle – format. The answer is to play more Tests.

Over to you, ICC.

Women’s Ashes Squad: Reaction and Thoughts

A few brief thoughts:

  • This squad contains all of the 13 players that played in the World Cup, which does make sense – why change a winning formula?
  • Sophie Ecclestone coming into the squad is a no-brainer. A few weeks back we watched her take 6-12 against Warwickshire – she didn’t just deny them the Championship title, but actually bowled Lancashire back into contention (they went on to win it). Then at Chelmsford last week in the warm-up match she set the the pink ball on fire – taking 3 wickets in one over and finishing the first innings with 5-34. If there had been any doubt left in Mark Robinson’s mind, Ecclestone stomped all over it.
  • Having said that, I’m a bit surprised that Beth Langston, Tash Farrant AND Freya Davies are all being left behind. Australia are a much stronger side with the bat right now than they are with the ball (cf: Chamari Atapattu and Harmanpreet Kaur). I’d personally have gone for a bowler-heavy squad – especially given that England have to bowl Australia out twice in order to win the Test match. Essentially you’re relying on Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole to take the strain across four days – and that worries me. Especially because…
  • … do we know how fully recovered Anya Shrubsole is from the side strain that left her sitting out of the first half of the Super League? Given her propensity to not last out for the whole of these long Ashes tours without picking up an injury or two, it seems even more strange to send her out with a pre-existing one, and NOT send back-up.
  • England now have two left-arm spinners at their disposal throughout the tour, which creates an interesting selection dilemma for Robinson. On the one hand you surely don’t drop Alex Hartley, given the way she bowled in England’s World Cup game against Australia? On the other hand Mark Robinson clearly thinks Ecclestone is the future (especially now she’s finished school – something he specifically mentioned in the press release), or she wouldn’t be on the plane at all. Perhaps Robinson might even play both of them in the same match?
  • For the last women’s Ashes in Australia (in Jan/Feb 2014) England got around the 15-player squad restrictions by naming a separate squad for the T20 leg of the series. They haven’t done that this time, for reasons known only to Robinson & co, and I think it could be an error. This is a long old tour – last time around they could barely cobble together 11 fit players by the end of it, and the ECB’s own Beth Barrett-Wild was threatened with having to take the field! Of course they (sort of) have Kate Cross and Amy Jones at their disposal were anything to go wrong – but that’s not quite the same as having an extra player actually in the camp.