If ever there was a chance for Heather Knight and her England team to steal an away Ashes victory, now is the time. Whether they do or not is the question, but all of the available evidence suggests that they must start as favourites.
England readers will have inched a little closer in their seats, while Aussies will be reaching for a cloth to wipe the coffee they just spat out out on their screen. Surely the home team is favourite?!
The multi-format series kicks off at Adelaide Oval today with the T20 International leg of the series commencing. The teams will play all three T20s in Adelaide, before heading to Canberra for the Test match commencing 27th January. The teams will remain in Canberra for the first ODI before heading to Junction Oval in Melbourne for the last two matches in that format. Two points on offer for each of the T20s and ODIs while four points are on offer for the Test.
Running at the same time, a three match T20 and three match 50 over series will be played between Australia A and England A, giving both teams a ready supply of available replacements.
But Why England?
There are a number of factors that favour England while at least one aspect that hurts visiting teams has been nullified.
The England A Team
Normally a team arrives on Australia’s shores (or any shores for that matter) with a squad of fifteen players, selected to do the job across two formats. That’s a tough ask at the best of times but even more difficult across three formats. Someone loses form or sustains an injury and the squad is already compromised.
Put a line through that negative. England has an entire team at the ready should there be any mishap with their main team.
Zero Home Ground Advantage
There are no secrets for Australia. Cast an eye over both the main England squad and the England A team – more than half of these players have played in the WBBL. They know the conditions here. They know what happens at Adelaide Oval – especially that venue when you consider former England captain Charlotte Edwards is heavily involved with the local team – they have played in Canberra and Melbourne.
What might be a home ground advantage in Dhaka, in Kingston, in Pune – just is not the case in this modern era of players travelling the world participating in domestic cricket and none more so than the WBBL.
What to do with Perry?
This is less an advantage for England and more a disadvantage for Australia. Either way, on the balance sheet it falls in England’s favour. Australia no longer knows what to do with its once star allrounder.
Ellyse Perry is the first player in the world selected for Test cricket. Mark that down. Her batting technique is made for the format and in that respect she is unmatched. Will she score a century at Manuka Oval? Probably. Will she bowl some handy overs? For sure.
In the shorter formats the waters are muddied. Despite her still being one of the best players in the world the Australian brains trust has had difficulty working out what to do with Perry in the shorter formats. They have so underused this player in T20 over the last couple of years that the suggestions that she won’t be in the T20 line-up grow louder by the day. Australia of course can point to a recent T20 World Cup as confirmation they no longer need the player in this format and indeed Perry’s form in the recent WBBL backs that up, her batting strike rate an area the detractors like to point out.
The same level of thinking, if they are consistent, should surely be crossing the minds of the selectors with the 50 over format. There are younger and faster bowlers pushing through the ranks ready to claim a spot in the team. Some of them can bat too, so Perry’s main claim to a position in the ODI team is mainly with her bat. Then we go back to the T20 format: is her strike rate good enough in this modern era?
Injuries have not been kind to Ellyse either. Between those, Covid and the perplexing use of this player in the shorter formats suggest that a potential ace for Australia in this series has been downgraded.
There is only one other player in the Australian squad who would cause more anxiety if sidelined with an injury than Beth Mooney and that is Rachael Haynes. Both are bankable players across all three formats.
Mooney’s presence in the Australian batting line-up is often overlooked but never underdone. She scores runs in every format and does so in a fashion with little fuss. She doubles as a reserve wicket keeper and is dynamite in the field. Australia’s loss is England’s gain.
“One More Time”
One more time, with feeling. At the risk of being ageist, one suspects this is the last Ashes series in Australia for Katherine Brunt. It might also be the case for captain Heather Knight. Both would dearly love to steal an Ashes series in Australia – indeed, Brunt was involved in the last such heist.
Neither of those two players lack motivation in normal circumstances but the possibility of being their final trip down to Australia adds extra incentive.
The Wellington Factor
The omission of Amanda-Jade Wellington from Australia’s main team is an admission from the selectors that this player is only the third best leg spinner in the country. One can form no other conclusion, assuming the selections are purely based on cricket.
The stats would suggest otherwise, for Wellington was the leading wicket taker in the WBBL and one of the best in England’s Hundred competition.
The reason offered up by the selectors is pure and utter nonsense, that Wellington is less like the injured incumbent Georgia Wareham than Alana King. Wellington is more a classic slower through the air, big turning leggie, while King is faster and has less turn.
None of that makes any sense at all, but it does make sense when couple with the fact that Wellington has been on the outer with the selectors since 2017/18. They have demonstrated season after season that they do not want this player. More’s the pity, for Wellington would be ideal in the Test format and should have been selected even if the selectors preferred Alana King for the shorter formats.
A leg spinner in the style of Wellington does not come around very often. They are genuine wicket takers. Australia’s men’s team have been trying to find another since the retirement of Shane Warne. Can’t find one and the reason is that this is the hardest discipline in the game and requires a special player to do it consistently. A potent weapon that the selectors of the women’s team struggle to understand.
More of the Same
If we take the Australian selectors’ word on the Wellington issue, then the situation is even worse. What they are saying is that the team is unable to adapt to a different style of bowler. What does that say?
They’ve done it before. They have form. Cast your eyes back to the 2017 World Cup. Skipper Meg Lanning was injured but the vice-captain, Alex Blackwell was overlooked as skipper for a player who wasn’t even in the team. Now Rachael Haynes is a worthy replacement for Meg Lanning as a player, but to snub the vice-captain as they did is bizarre. The reason? Rachael would captain the team in the same manner as Meg. In other words, don’t change a thing.
There are Cracks
There are cracks – you may say they are minor details – but this Australian team that once looked impenetrable now all of a sudden is looking human. Can England exploit these things and conjure up an away Ashes victory? If they want it bad enough I think they can.
Australia is fresh from their WBBL season and a reasonable result is likely to be 2-1 in their favour. In the ODIs England, the world champions, could reasonably be expected to win 2-1. That makes it even. The Test is up for grabs. This is an area where England have a more balanced team and that tips the series in their favour.
Australia: Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes (vc), Grace Harris, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Meg Lanning (c), Tahlia McGrath, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck
England: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Maia Bouchier, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Tash Farrant, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Nat Sciver (vc), Anya Shrubsole, Mady Villiers, Lauren Winfield-Hill, Danni Wyatt
* Main photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images