Women’s Ashes preview: England begin defining year with step into the unknown

The Ashes begins a momentous year for English women’s cricket, with every ball from the multi-format series exclusively live on BT Sport.

By Tim Williams Published: 18 January 2022 - 6.14pm

As England prepare to do battle for the Women’s Ashes, there are murmurs that the forthcoming series could offer a compelling solution to one of the game’s great conundrums.

While the men were imploding in Hobart on yet another horribly one-sided tour of Australia, the women were preparing for the sixth multi-format Ashes series.

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It begins with three Twenty20s, followed by one four-day Test match and three one-day internationals. Four points are awarded for a Test victory and two for a win in a limited-overs game.

The blended approach is befitting of the sport’s desire to modernise, and it feels like the time has come to have a conversation about making a place for it in a homogenised men’s calendar. Whether it’s viewed as a feasible alternative by the arbiters is another question.

England face a defining year after a landmark 2021 for the women’s game.

The Ashes is followed by a World Cup defence in New Zealand and Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham in the summer.

They arrive in Australia without having won the Ashes for eight years – although the last series away from home in 2017-18 was drawn.

Captain Heather Knight has vowed to “fight fire with fire” after her side were comprehensively beaten by 12 points to four in England in 2019, but like their male counterparts, Covid has thrown their preparations into chaos.

The schedule was revised at the eleventh hour, with the series starting a week earlier than planned to allow both teams to complete mandatory quarantine in New Zealand before the World Cup.

Heather Knight has admitted that England’s preparations have been far from ideal

England had tailored their pre-series training camp in Oman to focus on red-ball cricket with the proviso that the Test match would be up first, meaning they had to hastily change their plans when the three Twenty20s were brought forward.

Knight, who has not won an Ashes series as England captain, described the build-up as “comical” and “pretty average” after a member of backroom staff tested positive days out from the series opener.

How to watch on BT Sport

All the details you need to watch every ball from the Women's Ashes series.

“Two weeks before we left England we could only train as individuals and with our households,” she said.

“We’ve had mums feeding bowling machines, boyfriends and girlfriends slinging, dads batting and any family member or households supporting our training.

“As you can imagine, it’s been pretty comical and also not ideal preparation for a series of this magnitude, but it’s been completely unavoidable.”

The threat of infection is particularly acute not only because of the startling rise of Omicron in Australia, but also the upcoming World Cup. Players need to be Covid-free on February 9 when the squads travel to New Zealand.

Covid anxiety coupled with a four-month tour down under means it something of a step into the unknown for the squad.

“There’s obviously concern and anxieties from the group, but we’ve had to live under pretty strict protocols once we’ve arrived,” Knight added. “We’ve only been allowed to socialise outdoors to limit the spread.”

Head coach Lisa Keighley even admitted that the squad are “a bit rusty” days before the series opener at the Adelaide Oval.

England’s spin duo of Sophie Ecclestone and Sarah Glenn, the top two ranked bowlers in the shortest format, are integral to their hopes in the T20 matches, with Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt set to lead the seam attack.

They will be relying on Knight and all-rounder Nat Sciver, who both struck fifties in an intra-squad warm-up match, to continue their promising form with the bat.

There is a blend of old and new in the squad with Maia Bouchier and Charlie Dean, who made their debuts earlier this year against New Zealand, named in the touring group.

Partly to mitigate against potential Covid absentees, England have also named a 12-strong A squad which will accompany the senior group and play six white-ball matches against their Australian counterparts.

Elysse Perry could be left out of Australia’s Twenty20 side over concerns about her strike rate

The shadow squad includes 17-year-old Alice Capsey who scored a half-century in The Hundred at Lord’s aged just 16 and pace bowler Issy Wong who starred for Sydney in the Women’s Big Bash.

While England are the 50-over world champions, Australia hold the T20 crown and had won 26 matches in a row before the streak was ended by India in September.

They won two of the three T20 games in 2019 and Meg Lanning’s side will be looking for a fast start in their favoured format.

Experienced trio Rachael Haynes, Megan Schutt and Jess Jonassen were named in their 15-player squad, but they are without frontline spinners Georgia Wareham and Sophie Molineux through injury.

Uncapped leg spinner Alana King has been preferred to Amanda-Jade Wellington after winning the Women’s Big Bash with Perth Scorchers and could feature in the opening game.

Such is Australia’s embarrassment of riches in T20 cricket, national selector Shawn Flegler has suggested that Ellyse Perry could be squeezed out of the side over concerns about her strike rate in the middle order.

DRS to be used for the first time

The Decision Review System (DRS) will be used for the first time in the Women's Ashes, starting with the first Twenty20 on Thursday.

Perry was voted the player of the series in 2019 after amassing 378 runs at an average of 94.50, but the return of vice-captain Haynes and Tahlia McGrath could mean there’s no place for one of Australia’s most recognisable stars.

“We’ve been really clear with the type of cricket we do want to play and what our batters need to be doing in T20 cricket,” said Flegler. “We want to keep pushing the boat out with our strike rate, so we'll work through it over the next week.”

Perry will still be the prized wicket for England’s bowlers in the longer formats. She averages 86.62 in Tests and over 50 in one-day internationals.

Pace bowlers Megan Schutt and Tayla Vlaeminck, two of the most skilled exponents in the game, will be a thorn in the side of England’s batters, too.

Australia have been dealt a blow after the world’s number one Twenty20 batter Beth Mooney fractured her jaw in training. The 28-year-old scored 528 runs in the Women’s Big Bash last season and is the leading run scorer in the competition’s history.

After a miserable men’s Ashes tour, the women begin a momentous year with arguably the greatest test of all: beating the top-ranked side away from home and wrestling back the urn.

In what should be a competitive Ashes between two evenly matched sides, the case for widespread use of multi-format series could become too great to ignore come February.

Watch the first Twenty20 of the Women’s Ashes from 7.45am on BT Sport 1HD and on Thursday 20 January.