July 03, 2019 12:37:24

Running an eye over Australia’s squad before the Women’s Ashes, it was hard to find where England might find a way through.

A side with players down to nine in the batting order who play at the top for their domestic teams, on a list also boasting all kinds of bowling options.

More than that, the current England team seems to have developed a mental block against Australia.

With the Women’s Ashes currently played across a multiformat system, with three one-day matches followed by a Test and three Twenty20s, England botched their tilt in Australia in 2017 by handing over the first one-day match from a dominant position.

This time around, on their home soil, they handed it over when the match had barely begun. Resistance wasn’t futile, it was non-existent.

Amy Jones has had a brilliant year opening the batting after fighting her way into the side, having spent an age as Sarah Taylor’s wicketkeeping understudy.

Jones has had several near-centuries in the past few months, and was England’s best at the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last November.

Yet when Ellyse Perry bowled a half-tracker on leg stump, the sort of hip-high ball Jones could easily have tucked for four, she instead played a swat-pull and lobbed the tamest of top edges to Alyssa Healy behind the stumps. A duck from three balls.

Tammy Beaumont looked to have taken the initiative in the next over when she crashed Perry away for four through cover and then cut another through point. But she tried to triple down from the last ball of the over and got a fat bottom edge onto her stumps.

Meanwhile, Megan Schutt had been bowling the ridiculous banana-slinging swing that she can conjure with the new ball. But with it coming in from wide of the crease, a watchful player could pick up the movement early and negate the threat. Beaumont had already proved that by waiting for one that was too full and driving it down the ground.

Having watched a couple of overs from the far end, Taylor then went for an almighty drive at a ball nowhere near as full. She was falling over, her head away from the line, trying to take it from outside off stump through midwicket. It casually swung past her inside edge and into her stumps.

So much for the best player. Then it was time for the captain, Heather Knight, who hung right back on her stumps and missed a simple straight Perry delivery that would have hit leg.

England had just spent several weeks playing and winning against the West Indies, preparing for this series. It was a team that should have been ticking over. Then came three wickets without scoring, four within 31 balls to start a match, and it was gone before it had begun.

The bad management was compounded by luck when Fran Wilson was sawn off by an umpiring blunder, after brilliant recent form had pushed her into the side.

From 5 for 44, it was only resistance from Nat Sciver with the lower order that got England to any sort of chance with 177.

Admittedly England took wickets throughout and eventually had Australia nervous on the way to winning eight down.

A tale of two batting line-ups

But an assured start with Healy forming several partnerships in scoring 66 meant that Australia was always well on the way. There was every confidence that the next players could do the job.

That’s the difference between a side where most are the genuine article with the bat, as opposed to one where Anya Shrubsole walks in at number eight.

Shrubsole is a fine competitor, and once made one of the longest ducks in Test cricket trying to draw the Canterbury Test in 2015. She smashed a famous boundary through the covers to beat South Africa at the last gasp in the 2017 World Cup semi-final.

But these feats were remarkable because she’s a number 10 with a couple of decent shots. She’s not a player who can act as a bridge between the middle order and the tail; she’s the player at the end of that bridge. As much was evident in this match from her attempt to hit Ash Gardner’s off-spin over the infield.

The general disarray from England’s batting start filtered through in the field, where Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt dropped catches from their own and each other’s bowling, while Brunt finished the run chase in appropriate fashion by bowling five wides.

England can only compete in this series if their top performers deliver in a big way.

They’re outnumbered in both disciplines and have to make up that disparity.

With seven matches across three formats, conceding the first so easily makes it really difficult to regain ground. For Australia on foreign shores, it’s a head start with the breeze at their backs.






First posted

July 03, 2019 11:50:17