Women’s Ashes Test preview: England ready to release the handbrake with hopes hanging by a thread

England have little choice but to go for the jugular in the standalone Test match, with every ball from Canberra exclusively live on BT Sport.

By Tim Williams Published: 26 January 2022 - 10.49am

The biggest tragedy of the rain-affected Women’s Ashes is that it could be all over before the contest has even begun.

England trail 4-2 in the multi-format series after two of the three Twenty20 internationals were abandoned due to persistent rain in Adelaide, and Australia will retain the Ashes with a win in this week’s standalone Test match.

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Even a draw in Canberra will leave the tourists requiring wins in all three one-day matches against the pre-eminent force in the format and a side who recently won 26 matches in a row.

The odds are stacked against the tourists, who were comprehensively beaten in the first Twenty20 - the only game to be completed so far.

But it’s not only expectation that they must defy to force a result at the Manuka Oval.

There have been nine women’s Test matches in the last 10 years and the last four have all ended in draws, while England have not won a Test since their last victory over Australia in the 2013-14 Ashes.

Given the state of the series and recent history of draws in four-day Test matches, the condition of the pitch in the Australian capital is under intense scrutiny. Weather is also expected to play a part, with further disruption a real possibility.

England have little choice but to go all out for the win after consecutive washouts changed the complexion of the tour.

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

“It’s been a very frustrating couple of days,” said captain Heather Knight.

“We didn’t have the chance to try and get back in the series with the two games.

“With Test match cricket you have to earn the right to be aggressive. It’s about getting ready mentally.

“We’ll sit down as a group and try and work out the best strategy to try to win us the game and take that four points. If we can get a win in the Test match, it puts us in a strong position going into the ODIs.”

Knight indicated that seam bowler Kate Cross and batter Lauren Winfield-Hill are set to play, describing the pair as “key” to their hopes.

They also bolstered their bowling options by adding uncapped 21-year-old Lauren Bell to their squad, after she impressed for the shadow squad, and her height and bounce could be a point of difference.

Left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone, who bowled an inconceivable 64 overs against India last summer, will have a major role to play and she could be accompanied by off-spinning all-rounder Charlie Dean if England decide to turn to spin in their bid to wrestle back the initiative.

Katherine Brunt, who this week called for reform of women’s Test cricket to improve the spectacle, will lead the bowling attack in her 18th match.

Knight, Tammy Beaumont and Nat Sciver will look to pile on the runs on a pitch where Australia’s men amassed 534/5 against Sri Lanka in the venue’s only previous Test.

Opener Beaumont was this week named women’s Twenty20 international cricketer of the year by the International Cricket Council and Knight has fond memories of Canberra, averaging almost 50 at the Manuka Oval.

Selection aside, England must signal their intent from the outset by capitalising on scoring opportunities with the bat and committing to attacking fields and lengths with the ball.

Australia have had to contend with injuries to several key players and they were dealt another huge blow when pace bowler Tayla Vlaeminck was ruled out of the rest of the Ashes, and the upcoming World Cup, after sustaining a stress fracture in her foot.

They are already without frontline spinners Georgia Wareham and Sophie Molineux, but batter Beth Mooney could make a sensational return after recovering from a fractured jaw.

The opener, who was the leading run-scorer in last year’s Women’s Big Bash, was seen practising on the outfield at the Adelaide Oval before the third Twenty20.

Ellyse Perry will return to Australia’s Test team after being omitted from the Twenty20 side

“All the indications are looking very positive, she’s been up and about,” said head coach Matthew Mott. “She’s a warrior, she’s tough. We can’t wait to have her back in our group. She’s going okay.”

Ellyse Perry will return with a point to prove after being controversially dropped for the series opener. She has been a persistent problem for England and remains the prized wicket, especially in the game’s longest format where she boasts an average of 86.62.

She has been dismissed just once in her past 1,016 balls in Tests and is a genuine superstar in a formidable batting line-up also featuring Alyssa Healy and captain Meg Lanning.

Lanning’s side haven’t won a Test since 2015 and the 29-year-old is likely to have a fresh bowling unit at her disposal, with Stella Campbell the most likely candidate to replace Vlaeminck.

Campbell took 7-25 in a domestic one-dayer at the Canberra venue earlier this month and would join Megan Schutt, left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen and New South Wales team-mate Ash Gardner in the bowling ranks.

With no more room for error after a maddening week, England are ready to release the handbrake in their attempt to take 20 Australian wickets and keep the Ashes series alive.

Coverage of the Ashes Test match between Australia and England begins at 10.30pm this Wednesday on BT Sport 2HD.