Confident England face must-win clash against Australia's Invincibles

Shajin Mohanan S
02 Feb 2022
Knight wary of workload even as England start favourites against resilient New Zealand

England watch on as they wait for a third umpire decision © Getty Images

Going into the ODI leg of the multi-format series, arch-rivals Australia and England have clashed 78 times, with the hosts having been the dominant side with 52 wins and 22 losses. But considering the evolution of the format – those numbers might not hold much value.

While England have managed to compete with the current world champions in T20Is, they have struggled to be on equal footing with Australia in ODIs, with only three wins in their last ten encounters. In the 2019 Ashes at home, they were whitewashed after staying in the game for a significant part of the first two matches.

England need to win all three matches to regain the Ashes when they take the field for the first ODI at the Manuka Oval on Thursday (February 2). Even though Heather Knight and Co. expressed their disappointment at not being able to finish on the winning side in the Test match, they will be buoyed by the show they put on at the same ground.

The visitors almost chased down the steep target (257 from 48 overs) by going at a run rate that was more than their overall ODI scoring rate of 5.15 per over since 2017.

“The way we went at that chase was awesome, real character from the girls to show that we can do that when we want to go at the Australians,” Knight said in the pre-match media interaction on Wednesday. “We talked a lot about it before the series. So, pleased to see the girls go out there and do that.”

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“It showed that we can fight back and when we go hard at them, we can put them under pressure and really create a few cracks. It gives us real confidence particularly that second innings which was very much like a one-day chase.”

While, Knight, who has had great memories of the Manuka Oval over the years, would love to take the confidence from the Test match, she will have a few headaches going into the opening game.

Opening blues for England

England’s middle-order is fairly settled with Knight and her deputy Natalie Sciver at three and four, with wicket-keeper Amy Jones and Sophia Dunkley to follow. Opener Tammy Beaumont has been a prolific performer for England over the years – even reaching the number one rank in the format. She has impressive numbers in the eight ODIs she has played against Australia, scoring 298 runs at an average of 37.25 – including a hundred.

Who will partner Beaumont is the big question England will have to answer going into the contest, Lauren Winfield-Hill has opened the batting alongside her in recent times in ODIs and she was the preferred choice during the Test match as well. Danielle Wyatt has opened for them in the past in ODIs, but she has failed to bring her T20I form to the format. Neither of them has good numbers against the Australians, with Winfield-Hill averaging only 11.60 from five matches – four of which came as an opener and she didn’t find a place in the Ashes 2019 side. Wyatt hasn't fared much better either, scoring only 131 runs from 11 matches against Australia. The latter, though, did play a terrific knock in the only completed T20I last month.

Knight said Wyatt is in the plans for the ODI leg and has been named in the 12 for the first match, but it remains to be seen where she will fit in if picked, considering she batted in the middle order during the home series against New Zealand.

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Conundrum of managing the workload ahead of the World Cup or win the series at any cost? 

Coming to the bowling front, Knight added that all the players are fit and available for selection. England, in the past, have rotated their fast bowlers to manage their workload. So there is a likelihood of them resting one of Katherine Brunt or Anya Shrubsole. They will look to bring in either Freya Davies or Natasha Farrant in place of them. The experienced pace bowling duo will be in action sometime during the series. Sophie Ecclestone has been the strike bowler for England in the last few years and she will headline the spin department and Charlie Dean might continue to hold her spot ahead of Sarah Glenn.

Too many allrounders for the hosts?

On the other hand, despite India ending their winning streak of 26 matches, Australia have all their bases covered and Meg Lanning indicated that their playing XI will feature only those from the Ashes squad. Those who are in action for Australia A, especially Amanda-Jade Wellington and Grace Harris from the World Cup squad, are unlikely to be picked for the three-match series.

Their batting unit is fairly settled with Tahlia McGrath slotting in the middle order during the India series. Despite her troubles in recent times, number one ranked Alyssa Healy will open the batting alongside Rachael Haynes, with Lanning, Ellyse Perry, Beth Mooney, McGrath, and Ashleigh Gardner following them.

“We got so many allrounders, all those are genuine top-order batters. We've got Tahlia at six or seven. You got Ash Gardner as well, Annabel Sutherland. They are batting a little bit lower than they would like, that’s because of our strong top six. They provide us options with the ball as well. We think it’s important to have options and have players who can play multiple roles within the side,” Lanning said.

The make up of the bowling attack

It’s the bowling front that will give the hosts some thinking to do. Megan Schutt will return into the mix to open the bowling, while Jess Jonassen should also slot in as the lead spinner. In recent times, Darcie Brown and Tayla Vlaeminck took turns to feature in the playing XI. In the absence of the latter, the Adelaide Strikers duo – Brown and Schutt – will open the bowling in all likelihood. Nicola Carey has been a regular part of the attack but Alana King’s impressive returns in her debut series will make Lanning think about going in with the aggressive option of having her in the side ahead of the pace bowling allrounder.

“We are just working on what the bowling line-up (will) look like. We still have till two PM tomorrow to see how the fast bowlers pull up. We will wait till tomorrow morning to make a call, but Schutt will definitely come back,” Lanning added.

Can England forget history to show their aggressive approach in the second innings of the Test wasn’t a one-off and tie the multi-format series or will Australia continue their incredible run in the format come Thursday?

Australia: Meg Lanning (c), Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Stella Campbell, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland

England: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Maia Bouchier, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Natasha Farrant, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones (wk), Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Mady Villiers, Lauren Winfield-Hill, Danielle Wyatt