The cricket field this summer will certainly be a busy one as we play host to two Ashes series. Both the men’s and women’s series are to played out in parallel across the country. But as Captain Cook leads his men in their clash with their Aussie counterparts, and having already retained the urn, the once limitless England Women’s team arrive amidst a cloud of uncertainty, under new management and surround by six months of questions about their standard of play.
The Women’s Ashes takes on a new format this year, with hopes of a fresh start for England who have not won a major trophy since 2009. Comprising of a four day test match, three ODI’s and three T20s, the 2013 Ashes sees the introduction of a point system to decide who takes the victory. The traditional Ashes format of Test Cricket sees the winning side awarded six points with the following limited overs games worth two points for a win. The points may be smaller but the stakes are higher for the final games as two of these form televised double-headers with the Men, providing premium exposure for Women’s Cricket. Ten points will secure the Ashes for England, whilst the magic number for Australia to retain them is nine.
All of this on comes on the back of the success found by the British Lions and Andy Murray, so the untimely derailment of Charlotte Edwards’ team success could put a kangaroo sized spanner in our summers sporting celebrations.
On the field, the great decrowning of the England Women seems so easy to pinpoint that it is impossible to understand how it has not been rectified. The careless play of England in September 2012 almost saw defeat against the touring West Indies. Play was lazy, complacent and marked a dramatic change from the high energy, dynamic side of 2009 Ashes glory. In past seasons, the fielding of England has brought much praise, players such as Lydia Greenway and Arran Brindle leading the way as models of athleticism and commitment to the ball. Now the girls seem rusty, whilst the bowling was hittable and our batting was wiry. Five months later Lottie’s girls faltered again during their 2013 World T20 Campaign and although they made the Play-Offs, they only secured third place.
Behind the scenes, the England and Wales Cricket Board could certainly come under fire for also sitting on their laurels. Once pioneers and champions of women’s cricket, the actions of the ECB from 5 years ago are quickly being caught up with by other cricketing nations governing bodies. Through the Chance to Shine programmes and central contracts offered to them by the ECB, the England Women were considered some of the first fully professional female cricketers. However, the recent announcement of an Australia system for full contracts and professional support for its star players shows how the benchmark set by the ECB is has superseded. One has to question how effective the ECB methods remain. Amidst Mark Lanes’ sudden resignation with immediate effect, new coach Paul Shaw might have taken the reigns of a side that has plateaued significantly and currently shows no signs of regeneration, or, conversely, is a side ready to fight for a comeback.
Australia have their problems too. International footballer and cricketer Ellyse Perry remains in recovery from minor ankle surgery. Opening bowler and lead wicket taker Perry remains named in the Aussie squad, but participation in a four day test match alongside the shorter formats is a tall order. It will also be interesting to watch how the explosive styles of gun players Meg Lanning and Jess Cameron translate into the longer format. Yet the certain dependence of Lisa Sthalekar and captain Jodie Fields keep the Southern Stars as a dominant force.
Individually however, the England Women are performing. Big scores in the Women’s County Championship from Charlotte Edwards (128* vs Nottinghamshire) and Tammy Beaumont (78 vs Essex) illustrates that the core of the English batting line up still has the goods. Outstanding bowling figures remain in abundance for spinners Danni Wyatt and Holly Colvin as well as for newcomer, 17 year old Tasha Farrant (4-16 vs Warwickshire) who has also been named in the Ashes squad.
This Women’s Ashes series is shaping up to be a major contest, hopefully a spectacle that will continue to change views on competitive women’s sport. In the end, just as with every Ashes series, it will be the side that works as a team to bowl and bat progressively, as well as work with each other to keep the momentum- whatever the setbacks; injury, weather or poor results- up until the final ball is bowled.
So be it at rugby, rock-paper-scissors, tiddlywinks, ballroom dancing or cricket, there provides no better win than when we beat our competitors from down under, and this summer we are lucky to watch the contest unfold for both the very best male and female cricketers.