Considering they had just won a T20 game against the world champions, in front of a crowd of 8,000, there was precious little celebration from England’s women cricketers. There was a perfunctory high-five from the batsmen and polite applause from team-mates. But there was little to celebrate for England. They had lost the Ashes, the series that had ensured the introduction of central contracts and a professional playing career. Worst of all, they had no one to blame but themselves.
The Women’s Ashes is a multi-format series. The teams play three one-day internationals and three T20s, each win worth two points, and a Test match worth four. The Test match had previously been worth six points, which benefited England in Australia when they won the Test in Perth but lost both limited-overs series.
Other than brief glimmers of brilliance, England never reached their full potential. A convincing victory at Taunton in the opening game was followed by two mediocre performances with the bat. The Test match became an exercise in blocking for England, rather than playing to their best, and their defeat allowed Australia to take the lead. There was brief respite with victory in the first T20, but an appalling batting collapse at Hove in the second handed the Ashes back to Australia. A consolation victory at Cardiff, during which both sides batted with feet stuck in the mud and with tired minds, rounded off a disappointing series for England.
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom. The bowlers in particular have shone. Anya Shrubsole produced a fine, sustained performance during the Test. With a bustling run-up, ponytail flying behind her, Shrubsole got the ball to move, constantly asking questions of the Australian batsmen. She put England into a strong position on the first day. Then, after the batting had crumbled, Katherine Brunt dragged England kicking and screaming back into the game.
Brunt is the heart of the England team. She is the archetypal fast bowler – and fast means fast. During the Test match, she registered speeds of 75mph, some of the quickest in the women’s game. Broad-shouldered, with an action akin to Darren Gough’s, she bowled quickly and relentlessly on a slow pitch under dark skies. Deliveries were followed down with a few words and a stare. She did her utmost, as she would also do with the bat all series, to force England to liven up and try and make inroads. It was, sadly, in vain.
England’s biggest issue in this series has been the performance of their senior players. Charlotte Edwards sets the tone as captain. If she fails, chances are England will follow suit. This series she scored 159 runs at an average of 19.87. For a captain as prolific as Edwards, a player who in the last Ashes series took the game to and then away from Australia, it hasn’t been good enough. Her poor form has also been reflected in her captaincy. She has been naive, an odd concept given she has led England more than any other player.
Meg Lanning, her counterpart, is still raw. She doesn’t have Edwards’s experience, nor did she have a wealth of senior players to call on. But she captained beautifully. She put her trust in her bowlers. If things went wrong, Lanning would be the first one over, chatting to the bowler, adjusting the field and encouraging them to improve. Not that she was soft. If a bowler bowled badly, they were yanked out of the attack and sent to the naughty corner. As a man-manager, and in terms of setting fields, she out-thought England.
Throughout the series, different Australian players have stood up at different times. At the start, it was Lanning and Ellyse Perry. Perry is the golden girl of Australian sport. She has represented Australia in football and cricket world cups, but has moved her focus to cricket in the last few years. Tall, skinny, a mane of blonde hair always in a bouncy ponytail, she shone with bat and ball all series. With a smooth, rhythmical action she made instant inroads into England’s top order.
In the Test, debutant Jess Jonassen pulled Australia out of a hole. She looked completely unfazed by the pressures of Test cricket. She saw herself in and then she played her shots, putting England under pressure. Her dismissal on 99, when she could only stare at the pitch as she was trapped lbw, showed how much the innings meant to her.
England haven’t had a Perry or a Jonassen. They haven’t put in consistent performances. Sarah Taylor is one of the most aesthetic batsmen in the squad. She has ramps, pulls and cover drives that take pretty batting to a whole new level. In the Test match, her batting bordered on embarrassing. Her second-innings dismissal, when she aimed a wafty drive at a loose delivery, was amateurish. Vice-captain Heather Knight has been more prolific with bat than ball. Lauren Winfield, who has been scoring runs for fun in county cricket, averages eight across the series. There have been precious few times when England have put in a true team performance.
The problem is, England are stuck in time. Onlookers can generally write down the team with their eyes closed. Their cricket has looked outdated, particularly in the one-day format. They struggled to find the boundaries, to rotate the strike, almost reluctant to try something different in case it didn’t work. Lanning experimented. She used her bowlers cleverly and positively. Edwards didn’t.
There may be a sense of complacency in the squad. There are precious few players who can realistically challenge them for places, because the quality of county cricket is so poor. With no real competition, players have grown too certain of their places. They need a reality check. They are professional cricketers now, paid to play cricket and paid to play well. Hopefully this series will serve as a reminder of that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Lofthouse is a freelance cricket journalist for the Guardian and the BBC. She has covered England’s women at home and away for three years, as well as reporting on men’s county cricket. She was a finalist in the 2012 David Welch Student Sportswriter competition.
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