Meg Lanning’s Australian team have a chance to emulate Sir Donald Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ of 1948 to become only the second Australian team to go undefeated in England. Back then, Bradman’s team went unbeaten in 34 matches, so far, Lanning’s team has registered six wins and a draw. The visitors currently hold an 8-2 advantage in the series, having only conceded two points to the hosts thanks to the one-off Test in Taunton that was drawn.
In 2017, after holding an advantage through much of the Ashes series, Australia squandered their early lead to tie the series 8-8 after England showed great character at the back end of the tour. Australia still carry that sense of disappointment with them, and it is something they intend to change on this tour.
Ahead of the series, Alyssa Healy had made a Glenn McGrath-esque comments saying England would not win a single match in the series. Halfway through, the wicket-keeper’s prediction could come true. However, Matthew Mott, Australia’s head coach, insists that his team is focusing on one match at a time.
“It’s certainly something we’ve talked about,” said Mott when asked whether Australia were aiming for a multi-format series whitewash. “We’re still in a position to do it, but without getting in front of ourselves I think Chelmsford’s a big game.”
England though will not go down without a fight. Desperate for a change in format, Heather Knight had said after the Test match, that the hosts would be looking at the T20Is as a one-off series.
“We are just going to see it like a mini-series,” Knight told ecb.co.uk. “We got some really good games and if we perform well we can obviously draw the series— that’s going to be a really big carrot for us to start well. There’s a chance in the T20s to play with a bit of freedom and have some fun.”
“We’ve obviously got the T20 World Cup in the not too distant future as well, so (it’s) really good preparation for the girls individually to put in strong performances, and for us as a team to start moving towards that.”
Another thing in England’s favour is the venue of the first T20I— the County Ground in Chelmsford is better known as their ‘fortress’. The hosts have played 14 matches across both formats at the ground, and have never lost a single one. Eight of those victories have come in T20Is.
Mott is aware of the threat England will pose in the shortest format, having reached the final of the 2018 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean. Although they were outplayed in the final, Knight’s team showed great character through the tournament to win some close matches through their campaign.
“I think England are a very good team,” Mott said. “They’re the ODI world champions, so they quite rightfully are very strong, the number two team at the moment. In T20s, they’re a very competitive team and they’re the one-day World Cup holders and we’re the T20 holders so I think it’s going to be an absorbing series. But Chelmsford’s our big goal at the moment. That’s all we’ll focus on.”
“It’s completely unfinished business at the moment. I think that’s the beauty of the series. It’s such a tactical game in terms of the series where it’s at.”
“First of all we want to win Chelmsford, and then we want to win the T20 series. And then we will take the rest from there. It’s still open. England will obviously try and draw the series. We all know what it felt like last time, so we’re very keen to avoid that,” he added.
England will take heart from their come-from-behind draw in the 2017 Ashes series. It is something they have often mentioned through the series and will be aware that it is playing on Australia’s mind.
“You want to win the first game,” Robinson said. “The focus will be like it was in 2017, to try and draw the series and come from behind.”
“There’s a World Cup in February in Australia, all those games are preparation for that, to try and get your best formulas and find out who can handle pressure.”
Aside from their desire to leave England without a blotch on their report card, Australia also have a few tough decisions to make going into the T20I series.
For starters, will the team retain Sophie Molineux, who scored 62 runs and took four wickets in the Test match, for the T20Is; and second, considering Ellyse Perry’s scintillating form, will Australia bat her higher up the order?
So far, Perry has registered a half-century in the second ODI, and then followed it up with scores of 116 and 76 not out in the Test match. Over the past few years, Australia have chosen to bat Perry in the lower-middle order in T20Is behind the power players. However, Mott believes her current form is hard to ignore.
“I think the form she is in, it’s definitely worth considering. I think the formula we’ve had where she’s played in that middle order has worked, but every series you go into we review that and that’s something we’ll look at in the next couple of days,” he said.
“Gut feel is— it’s hard to leave her out at the moment, with the form she is in. I think her evolution over the last 12 months has been nothing short of outstanding and will fit well into our T20 plan over here.”
“Once again there’s going to be some really hard decisions come into it. We’ll probably leave it for a day or two and see what comes out of this and then form our squad from there,” Mott said.
Australia’s problems of plenty are leaving them with some tough decisions to make, while England on the other hand, are going around in circles searching for a way to get the better of their rivals.