Lisa Keightley: 'We'll be thinking about the World Cup throughout this Ashes'
Logistical challenges around Covid mean there are "lots of parts to the jigsaw" for England coach
England's attempts to regain the Women's Ashes and defend their 50-over World Cup title during the same winter trip to the southern hemisphere have already taken in a series of logistical challenges, with head coach Lisa Keightley admitting that there are "lots of parts of the jigsaw" still to piece together ahead of the T20I leg starting later this week.
The schedule for the Ashes was rearranged earlier this month, with the T20Is moved forward in order to accommodate the quarantine requirements for getting into New Zealand for the World Cup, which begins on March 4. That has left England with just eight days of preparation, with patchy weather in Canberra affecting the squad's ability to train and off-field concerns adding to the list of distractions.
England had to leave a support staff member behind when they departed for Adelaide on Monday due to a positive Covid-19 test, and there are fears on both sides about how the virus could affect their respective World Cup campaigns. The England and Australia squads are due to arrive in New Zealand on February 10, just two days after the completion of the Ashes, and under current guidelines they must enter the country as one group before doing 10 days of quarantine.
With three T20Is, a Test match and three ODIs to be played in just two-and-a-half weeks, Keightley said that rest and rotation was likely to be a factor throughout the Ashes.
"There's a lot of parts of the jigsaw this trip," she said. "Firstly, we've got to see how everyone pulls up each game. I think that's most important. Second, we've sometimes got different players for different formats. So there's some players potentially getting ready for a Test match now, where other players - we've got a selection meeting coming up tonight, before the first [T20I], where we've got to make some big decisions.
"We'll be thinking about the World Cup throughout this Ashes. And I think Australia will be too. Yes, we will be concerned that we don't get injuries and we've got full squads to select from, so that will be on the forefront of our mind coming into the back end of the Ashes. We know we've got a 10-day quarantine where you don't want a key player to have injuries because they can't be treated throughout that 10 days. So there's a lot of things and sometimes we just have to wait and see how it's all panning out.
"Perfect world they're all fit come the end and we can select our best team for every game. That's what we'll be planning to do, but I'm not hiding away that we do think about, gosh, we want our full squad to be available for the World Cup. That's for sure. Especially when we're the holders of it and we want to defend the title."
Mental well-being will also be high on the agenda, with the touring party already having effectively isolated within their households for two weeks before departing for Australia, where bio-security restrictions were tightened while England were in transit.
"I really do hold my hand up if someone is in that space and we need to think of their mental health, the cricket comes second," Keightley said. "We're trying to look after our staff and players the best we can. We treat them all individually and I think what I've learned on this journey of Covid is that everyone's bucket gets full at different times and you can't pick it. You think one day they're okay and you can talk to them two days later and they're not coping so it is a challenge.
"It's a challenge in sporting teams, and being an athlete over the last 18 months. But we do try our best, we've got a fantastic medical support staff who do everything they can to make sure we're all okay. But it is challenging being in coaching this time as there's so many moving parts."
From a playing perspective, England's build-up has been far from perfect (when they have been able to get out on to the field). Three intra-squad practice games were held in Canberra over the weekend - a 35-over fixture that was rain-affected, and two T20s - with England being beaten by England A on all three occasions.
Heather Knight, England's captain, had previously described the squad's preparation as "pretty average", with players forced to rope in family members for help with practice in the period before flying out, and Keightley echoed the view that there was work to be done.
"I wouldn't say we've started that well, to be totally honest," Keightley said. "We're trying to get up to speed as best we can.
"With Covid you've got to be flexible. You've got to change and adapt. We've learned that over the last couple of years. We've got a really big couple of training [sessions] coming up over the next two days that we've got to get right. We've got to get the players hitting the ball well and bowling in good areas and sharpening up.
"I think the [warm-up] T20s, they were trying to go too early. They wanted to click, wanted to get off and going really well in the practice matches, [but] they probably didn't do the basics first. Then expand, get up and down, hit the ball in the middle and then go and then build from there. They probably went too early, which didn't play out that well for us, but they know what they need to do.
"We've got two good trainings prepped over the next couple of days. So I'm confident when we get to that first T20 they'll be in a better place than what they are now and we'll do our best to go 2-0 up."
Having originally planned for the one-off Test in Canberra to be the series opener, Keightley said that adapting mentally would be the key to getting off to a good start in the T20Is. England will also hope early success can help "dim the flame" of Australian expectation, after the men completed a thumping 4-0 victory in their version of the Ashes at the weekend.
"I know Australia is very excited about winning the Ashes and we've got to turn it around and try and dim the flame, so to speak, and get a few wins on the board and put them under pressure, and get into our Ashes as quick as we can."
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick