Fields injury doubt as Ashes loom
Jodie Fields' preparations for the sole Test match of the Ashes series have been hampered by a finger injury on her right hand sustained during Australia's tour match earlier this week, but the captain is confident of leading her team in the opening fixture of the new multi-format series, which starts at Wormsley on Sunday.
Fields, who missed Australia's victorious World Twenty20 campaign of 2010 and the 2011 Ashes Test with hamstring injuries, carried out wicketkeeping drills as part of an optional training session at the picturesque Wormsley Ground on Saturday. Despite the Australians having played no international cricket since lifting the World Cup in February, the 29-year-old believes they have prepared as well as they could for the series comprising one four-day Test, three ODIs and three Twenty20s.
"We've got 16 fit girls ready to go," she said. "And the 11 who do end up playing, I'm sure they'll be ready to go. We've been training for about three months at home - a mixture of skills and fitness - and I'm really happy where we're sitting."
There remains a question mark over medium-pacer Julie Hunter, though, who has a minor side strain, and both sides have leading strike bowlers returning from injury.
For England, Katherine Brunt probably hasn't bowled as many overs as she might like, having first recovered from a foot injury sustained at the World Cup, then suffering a recurrence of an old back problem. She and offspinner Laura Marsh both missed last month's Pakistan series - Marsh having had shoulder surgery following the World Cup.
With frontline spinner Holly Colvin still recovering from a broken thumb, taking 20 wickets could be the biggest challenge for England, although they still have the swing of Anya Shrubsole and the skilled medium-pace of Jenny Gunn to call on, should Brunt and Marsh take a while to settle in.
Australia have the golden girl of international cricket Ellyse Perry back, after the 22-year-old fast bowler limped off victorious at the end of the World Cup final, then had ankle surgery to remove bone spurs. The tour match against the England Academy was her first game since that match-winning performance in Mumbai and she came through it successfully, taking 3 for 49 off 10 overs, but she, too, hasn't had much in the way of a prolonged run out.
"Ellyse is really professional about her rehab and training and she's done that really well," Fields said. "As I said, we've got 16 fit players and she's one of them and I can't wait to see her get out there and help our bowling attack."
One member of that bowling attack could be Holly Ferling. The gangly 17-year-old burst on to the international scene at the World Cup, filling in for Perry when she was injured, and was one of Australia's best bowlers. She wasn't always accurate but she bounded in exuberantly with dangerous energy. With her wide smile and trademark white ribbon tied around her unruly blonde locks, she wasn't nicknamed "the smiling assassin" for nothing.
A four-day game is new territory for a number of players from both sides, as all domestic cricket in both countries is of the one-day variety. England have the slight advantage of using a red ball and white clothing in the County Championship, whereas Australia play with a white ball, but adapting to the mindset of batting for long periods and building sustained pressure with the ball will be key to who takes away the six points awarded for the Test win. The victors will have a huge advantage when it comes to winning the Ashes trophy, currently held by Australia, and it is hoped that carrot will act as a spur for attacking cricket and an attempt to force a result, rather than either side settling for a draw.
If the points format is successful, England captain Charlotte Edwards hopes it could get used for other women's series in the future.
"I hope everyone will take a look at what we've done," she said. "You have to applaud the ECB and Cricket Australia for going through with this format. I really hope that Test cricket can start being played amongst more women's team because I think there is so much we can learn from Test cricket. Hopefully this will catch on and it can be the norm for any women's series played across the country."