England and Australia hit by off-field problems ahead of Women’s Ashes series | Ashes of women

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Jhe Blundstone Arena in Hobart has recently been the scene of England cricket humiliations, but England’s women have happier memories there. In January 2014, Charlotte Edwards batted 92 to inspire her side to a nine-wicket win in a T20 – an Ashes winning move in the new multi-format era.

Edwards wiped the tears from his eyes, lifted the trophy in triumph and England had a well-deserved night on the town to celebrate (no police had to be called to send them to bed either).

For a time, Edwards was the heroine of the hour; but cricket is a fickle mistress. Eighteen months later she ceded the Ashes to Meg Lanning’s Australia, losing the Canterbury Test by 161 runs, and the media claimed her header. In May 2016, she lost a World T20 semi-final against the old enemy and paid dearly for it, losing the captaincy and her place in the England team. As Joe Root knows, England captains can have all the success in the world against other opponents, but they will ultimately be judged by their record against Australia, a saying that applies to women’s football as well.

No England captain has won a Women’s Ashes series since Edwards triumphed in Hobart in 2014. Edwards’ successor Heather Knight is the latest to attempt the feat, in a series that begins Thursday with three T20s followed up close by a test and three ODIs. Knight won one World Cup, reached the final of another (2018) and was denied the chance to play in the final of another (2020) in bad weather, but success against Australia has always escaped.

Australia celebrates its success in the multi-format series in 2019. Photography: Matthew Childs/Action Images/Reuters

Since becoming captain in 2016, England have won just four of 11 T20s against Australia, a winning percentage of 36%. In the ODIs, the percentage is even lower (two won out of seven played). England managed to hang on to draws in the Ashes Tests they played under Knight – at Sydney in 2017 and Taunton in 2019 – but Australia topped both matches. Perhaps it was frustration with this poor performance that inspired Knight’s new approach of “trying to strike first and be aggressive…fight fire with fire.”

Will it work? The signs are not good. “I wouldn’t say we started that well, to be quite honest,” England coach Lisa Keightley, an early contender for the tour’s understatement, said on Monday. First, the schedule was changed in the 11th hour due to Covid, with the T20s brought forward, making England’s emphasis on red ball training during their camp in Oman irrelevant to the first stage of the series and giving them 10 days to acclimatize after landing in Australia.

Then, England’s first outdoor training session in Canberra took place in the pouring rain. Finally, over the weekend, they played two T20 warm-up games against the England A side who came with them. They lost both, although Tammy Beaumont and Danni Wyatt had two chances to beat in Game 2.

Quick guide

Australia vs England: Women’s Ashes schedule

To show

1st T20 Adelaide, January 20
2nd T20 Adelaide, January 22
3rd T20 Adelaide, January 23

Match test Canberra, 27-30 January

1st T20 Canberra, February 3
2nd T20 Adelaide, February 6
3rd T20 Adelaide, February 8

Match test

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“We have to get the players to hit the ball well and play in the right areas and get sharp,” Keightley said. Not much to do in the next three days, then.

Admittedly, Australia’s preparations have not been without disruption either. Several Women’s National Cricket League matches had to be called off due to Omicron’s rapid spread, leaving a number of their best players with little playing time since the WBBL ended in November. While Jess Jonassen (leg injury), Rachael Haynes and Megan Schutt (both on parental leave) are back after long periods of absence, the team is far from complete.

Front row bowlers Sophie Molineux and Georgia Wareham are injured and the decision to bring in Alana King as leg cover instead of Amanda-Jade Wellington has raised eyebrows. Alyssa Healy is battling to recover from an elbow injury and a catastrophic loss of form at the WBBL fullback.

Ellyse Perry's arrival in Adelaide has been delayed by a positive Covid test.
Ellyse Perry’s arrival in Adelaide has been delayed by a positive Covid test. Photo: Mark Brake/Getty Images

The most recent, serious blow happened on Tuesday: news broke that Australia’s in-form key hitter and WBBL top scorer Beth Mooney broke her jaw during training and will suffer a surgical intervention. The Aussie camp suggest she could still be fit by the end of the series, but that instinctively seems unlikely given the nature of the injury.

The perpetual threat of a Covid epidemic hangs over the series. Both sides have already been affected, despite severe restrictions in place on socializing: a member of England’s support staff tested positive on Friday. Ellyse Perry’s arrival in Adelaide to join her teammates was also delayed by a Covid scare, although her positive PCR test was later found to have been the result of an asymptomatic previous infection and she was cleared to join the team.

The challenge that Covid poses to the mental health of players should not be overlooked either. An Ashes series always comes with scrutiny, but the intensity of this tour – which will be immediately followed by a 10-day quarantine in New Zealand ahead of the World Cup – is sure to take its toll.

“What I’ve learned on this Covid journey is that everyone’s bucket fills up at different times and you can’t choose it,” Keightley said. “You think one day they’re fine and you talk to them two days later and they’re not okay. It’s been a challenge to support teams and be an athlete over the past 18 months. Over the next few weeks, the battle will likely unfold on and off the field as well.

This is an excerpt from the Guardian’s weekly cricket email, The Spin. To subscribe and get the full edition, just visit this page and follow the instructions.

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