After handing England a thrashing in the ODI-leg of the multi-format Ashes series, Australia now turn their attention to the one-off Test in Taunton beginning on Thursday (July 18). With a six point lead in the series, a draw will suffice for the visitors to retain the Ashes. England, on the other hand, have to win the four-day encounter to keep the series alive.
Both teams had the opportunity to experience playing in the whites and with a red ball during their three-day practice matches in the lead-up to the Test. England crushed Australia A by 319 runs, while Australia beat England Academy by 240 runs.
England’s batters made merry on what appeared to be a flat wicket in Swindon as Amy Jones, Tammy Beaumont and Natalie Sciver all scored centuries. Sarah Taylor also played herself into some form, scoring a half-century in the second innings. Heather Knight, England’s captain, also had a good outing with back-to-back fifties. The hosts, who struggled with the bat through the ODI series, will go into the Test match with a great deal more confidence now that the batters have had some time in the middle and some runs under their belts.
England’s bowling unit which performed admirably through the ODIs has been boosted by the inclusion of Kirstie Gordon, the left-arm spinner. Gordon picked up eight wickets in the three-day practice match against Australia, including the scalps of Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy. With conditions in Taunton expected to assist spin, it will be interesting to see whether England pick Gordon in their line-up ahead of one of the seamers.
On the other side, Australia continued their good form in England with a comprehensive performance against England Academy. Beth Mooney, who showed impressive form through the ODIs, and Ellyse Perry scored centuries, while Sophie Molinuex, who recieved an “unexpected” call up to the Test squad, showcased her allround ability. The left-arm spinner scored some valuable runs in both innings— including an unbeaten half-century in the first— and also took five wickets in the match. Tayla Vlaeminck, the 20-year-old fast bowler, also impressed with a couple of fiery spells through the match.
With regards to selection, Australia in particular have a problem of plenty with more than a handful of players putting their hands up through the course of the practice match.
“The best thing about the tour match was that (there were) a lot of people who put their hands up and put their name forward and it’s a nice position to be in where you have got to make tough decisions,” said Rachael Haynes, soon after Australia completed their tour match. “No doubt the selectors will sit down and work out what is the best combination for the Test.”
“It’s going to be definitely the hardest team we’ve picked in a while, because it’s such a unique opportunity as well and there’s a lot at stake,” Matthew Mott, head coach of Australia, said earlier in the week. “I think there’ll be a lot of conversations around what our best balance is…. And because we don’t have anything really to go by— the last Test was a couple of years ago— it’s a little bit of a guessing game in what’s going to be the most effective team to win the Test.”
While the batting group with largely be the same— Healy, Nicole Bolton, Perry, Lanning, Mooney and Haynes— it is the bowling unit that Australia need to decide on. With Megan Schutt and Jess Jonassen having pencilled their names in, and Vlaeminck and Molineux having made a strong case for themselves, Australia will have to pick one of Ashleigh Gardner, Delissa Kimmince, Nicola Carey and Georgia Wareham.
The last time these two teams squared off in a Test match it ended in a draw. Ellyse Perry scored her maiden international century— a mammoth 213 not out at the North Sydney Oval in 2017.
With much on the line for both teams, unless weather intervenes, a draw is unlikely in Taunton this time around.
It’s hard to look past Perry as Australia’s impact player considering her recent form. In the recently concluded ODI series, the allrounder was phenomenal with both bat and ball, picking up 11 wickets while also scoring 72 runs. After picking up the Player of the Match award in the opening match of the series, Perry went on to score a vital half-century in the second ODI and followed it up with a record breaking seven-wicket haul in the third match in Canterbury. The allrounder is certainly in ominous touch heading into the Test match— a format she dearly loves.
England’s answer to Perry is Natalie Sciver. The allrounder had a decent outing in the ODI series despite her team’s horrendous showing. While she didn’t show the consistency she is better known for, Sciver did manage a half-century in the series and followed it up with a hundred in the tour-match against Australia A. She lends a great deal of balance to the England line-up and gives them the flexibility to play an extra spinner if they feel the need. Sciver’s form— which has been promising so far— will be crucial to England’s chances of staying alive in the series.
“All the intel says its going to spin,” said Mott. “I noticed in the county game the other day the spinners took a lot of wickets in the back end and Somerset have had a lot of results there this year.”
If Mott’s words are anything to go by, it is likely both teams will pack their sides with spin options. The pace bowling allrounders in each team will provide them with the flexibility to do so without compromising the balance of the attack. With rain forecast it will be interesting to see which option the teams take.
What they said:
“We obviously had a few quiet days after the ODIs finished and feel like our preparation has been very good. The game has sort of come around just at the right time, and the group is ready to go. You know, obviously we don’t get to play Test matches too often so we want to make the most of it and really enjoy the moment.”
“Every time we go out there to play we want to play a good brand of cricket that people want to come and watch. I think this series so far has been a great battle between the two sides. This Test match is going to be no different I think— the fact that England need to win and we’re going out there to win is great. I think it will make for a really exciting and good Test match.”
“We had a very honest meeting, very open.. Getting out our emotions and frustrations obviously with what was quite a bad day, and then trying to draw a line under it and move on. Try and remember what’s made us a very good side. We haven’t become a bad side over night. We are still in this Ashes as it stands, and we’ve still got the belief that we can turn it around.”
“We love it every time we play a Test match. We’re obviously only playing them every two years and when they do come around they are very special. It was lovely playing that sort of three-day game as well. You are trying to pick up little bits, how you approach the game, the freedom of flexibility to have is very different to what you have in ODI in T20 cricket. Obviously it will be great if this is a spectacle but our main focus is going to be on trying to win this game and trying to get those four points to get us back in the Ashes.”
Australia: Nicole Bolton, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy (wicket-keeper), Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Meg Lanning (captain), Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani, Georgia Wareham, Tayla Vlaeminck.
England: Heather Knight (captain), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Kirstie Gordon, Amy Jones, Laura Marsh, Nat Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Lauren Winfield, Sarah Taylor (wicket-keeper).