Holders England prepare for Australia heat
A little over four months ago, Charlotte Edwards and her team stood on the pitch in Durham and celebrated an emphatic 12-4 series victory over Australia. As their male counterparts have emphatically proved, however, back-to-back Ashes series leave little time to revel in victory. A series win over the Southern Stars in England, even a recent one, means nothing in Australian conditions, and must be put out of the visiting players' minds completely when the Test starts in Perth on Friday.
What has happened in the four months since that series ended? It might be thought that England are better prepared for the forthcoming series; Australia have played no international cricket since the Ashes ended in August, whereas many of the England squad played in the recent T20 tri-series in the Caribbean, as well as the victorious ODI series against West Indies. But Australia's players are, of course, fresh from their domestic season, the importance of which should not be underestimated. The squad in fact appears to have been selected largely on the basis of some impressive recent performances in women's state cricket.
And then, of course, there is the climate. Aside from Edwards, the England squad will have been in Perth for less than a fortnight before the Test begins in 40C heat. Practising in the nets at Loughborough with the heating on, as England have reportedly been doing, is no substitute for these conditions. There is a reason why England have only ever beaten Australia in Australia twice (in 1934-35 and in 2008); retaining the Ashes is bound to be an uphill struggle. Australia, this time around, must be the favourites.
Once again the series being played across all three formats, with points on offer for each (six for the Test - or two for a draw - and two for each of the ODIs and T20s). This multi-format structure, used for the first time in England, is still a pioneering concept, with all the possibilities yet to play out, but it is clear from what transpired last year that momentum is a massive factor: a good performance in the Test, or the subsequent ODIs, is vital for Ashes success.
The WACA, venue for the Test, will therefore be a crucial battleground for the two teams. It looks to be a green wicket, similar to the one which the men's Test was played on a few weeks ago. The conditions will suit pace: Katherine Brunt and Georgia Elwiss for England, and Ellyse Perry and Holly Ferling for Australia, will be looking for early breakthroughs. Back in England, both sides played defensively throughout the drawn Test; this is not a pitch which will allow for such tactics. Meg Lanning, Australia's newly appointed vice-captain, agrees. "I really do think there'll be a result here this time," she said. "I think that just being at the WACA, and the pace and bounce, the game will always be moving. We'll see some really attacking cricket being played."
Both the England and Australia squads look similar to those that competed for the Ashes in England last year. Heather Knight, England's Wormsley centurion, missed the recent tour of the Caribbean but she is now well and truly back to match fitness, hitting an unbeaten 123 in the two-day warm-up match against Australia A, and will again open for England in the Test. Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, who also missed the West Indies tour through injury, will be England's opening bowling partnership throughout the series, assuming both remain fit. That is a big if, though: they bowled just eight and nine overs respectively in Perth. Match fitness in a multi-format series is an even more important factor and could prove the decider.
England are not short of second-change pace bowlers, though: Elwiss, back from injury having not played since the World Cup in India last year, will have an important role to play on the bouncier pitches and Natalie Sciver will almost certainly play in all three formats, fresh from her T20 hat-trick against New Zealand in Barbados. England, crucially, also have the run-machine that is Edwards in their armoury: Perth will be her 12th Ashes Test, second only to one other woman.
One problem for England may be their lack of spin options, with Holly Colvin having made herself unavailable and Laura Marsh still injured. Australia have no such issues: their first-choice spinner, Erin Osborne, has had an excellent season for New South Wales, taking 10 wickets in the WNCL at an average of 12.50. Jess Jonassen, who will come in to play in the ODIs and T20s, is also bowling well and took 2 for 45 in the warm-up match.
Jonassen may also be picked at least partly for her batting - she hit 43 against England's bowlers in the same match - as may Elyse Villani, who has 494 runs in the T20 Cup this season. Nicole Bolton has also been selected in the 14-man squad on the basis of her exceptional batting this season, and may well open in the Test, while also offering a back-up offspin option.
In terms of pace for Australia, Perry is certain to take the new ball throughout the series, with Ferling, Megan Schutt and Sarah Coyte all in contention for bowling spots alongside her. In Rene Farrell they also have an experienced Ashes player returning to the side for the first time since the 2011 Test in Sydney, when she took 5 for 23 in England's second innings, including a hat-trick, and helped win the Test for Australia. The Southern Stars will be hoping she can emulate this over the coming days.
Stats and trivia
- 2014 marks the 80th anniversary of the first ever women's Test match, played in December 1934 in Brisbane on England's tour of Australia.
- The WACA has hosted two previous women's Tests, in 1958 and in 1984. Both were drawn.
- When Charlotte Edwards leads her team out, she will have played in more Ashes Tests than anyone aside from Myrtle Maclagan, who leads the list on 12. Edwards has captained in 3 of them.
- Edwards needs just 103 runs to overtake Jan Brittin's total of 1024 in Ashes Test runs and become the leading Ashes run-scorer; and only 47 runs to make her the second-highest run-scorer ever in women's Tests.
Raf Nicholson is a PhD student, an England supporter, a feminist, and fanatical about women's cricket. She tweets here