Australia v England, one-off women's Test, Bowral February 14, 2008

Ashes defeat will spur us - Rolton


Emma Sampson is set to make her Test debut against South Australia team-mate Jenny Gunn © Getty Images
 

What a difference four days could make. Twenty-four little hours of playing time have been deemed enough to contest an entire Ashes series when Australia and England meet in the one-off Test in Bowral on Friday.

Both sides were unhappy with being allocated only one Test to decide the trophy, particularly as this does not reflect well on a game which is trying to be taken seriously. There has been some quality cricket played in the limited-overs series to date and now in this jampacked time comes the Test.

But although England need only the draw to trigger Ashes-retaining jubilation back home (OK, two or three column inches if they're lucky) they are intent on going all-out for the win. And with Australia the most aggressive Test-playing nation, the stage is set for some exciting cricket.

Australia's captain Karen Rolton is particularly keen to avenge the 2005 defeat when England won for the first time in 42 years. "Both the teams are pretty evenly matched at the moment," Rolton said. "There are several players in our current side who were there when we lost the Ashes back in 2005 so we are especially keen to perform over the next four days."

England have come to Australia holding the Ashes only twice before - they lost in 1949 and drew the three-Test series in 1968. The next five series in either country were three wins to Australia and two draws before England's triumph at home in 2005. Now, having already defied history in the one-dayers, comes the test of whether they can do it in Australia.

They'll be without their player of the series last Ashes, Katherine Brunt, who continues to recover from a serious back injury, though she is expected to play in New Zealand. Also missing are Smit, Laura Newton, Clare Connor and Arran Brindle, all of whom have since quit the game for one reason or another but Sarah Taylor more than plugs two gaps in batting and keeping.

Australia have lost Belinda Clark, Cathryn Fitzpatrick and Lisa Keightley since 2005 but have gained the new-ball pair of Ellyse Perry and Emma Sampson, both of whom make their debuts alongside Kirsten Pike and Leonie Coleman. Perry is also a useful batsman while Shelley Nitschke and Alex Blackwell are in good batting form.

Australia will be quietly enjoying the deflected focus while concentrating on their own aims. Women's cricket had been looking for attention ahead of the Ashes, but got it for the wrong reasons in the build-up. Getting on television was last week's news, this week was overshadowed by were-they, weren't-they rumours which surfaced following the sudden departures of Smit and Mark Dobson. The ECB was swift to deny any romantic link, although sources over in the Australian camp had heard whispers back in January, way before the series began.

Of course England must put the disruption behind them to concentrate on the Ashes - and by all accounts they're doing just that, with the camp understood to be in fact a lot happier without the distraction. Indeed, they triumphed in the fourth one-dayer the day after Dobson left, and went on to draw the series, while Charlotte Edwards only referred to the upheaval in passing and the ECB hardly paused to give Smit a thankyou for her 16-year international career.

After a previously abysmal record in Australia - they had only won one ODI over there prior to this tour - England will count the series draw as a win, even though Edwards was disappointed they lost the last game with the series victory in their sights. They will hope it's a sign of things to come, a young England are building towards the 2009 World Cup.

Their focus before that of course will be what happens from Friday. So don't look away because within four days the Ashes could have a new holder.

Australia 1 Alex Blackwell, 2 Melissa Bulow, 3 Karen Rolton (capt), 4 Lisa Sthalekar, 5 Shelley Nitschke 6 Kate Blackwell, 7 Ellyse Perry, 8 Leonie Coleman (wk), 9 Sarah Andrews, 10 Emma Sampson, 11 Kirsten Pike.

England (likely) 1 Caroline Atkins, 2 Sarah Taylor (wk), 3 Claire Taylor, 4 Charlotte Edwards (capt), 5 Jenny Gunn, 6 Beth Morgan, 7 Steph Davies, 8 Nicky Shaw, 9 Rosalie Birch, 10 Laura Marsh, 11 Holly Colvin.

Jenny Thompson is an assistant editor at Cricinfo