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England Women retain the Ashes (but are left with questions to answer)

A Bath-centric review of events in Australia and a look ahead to the T20 World Cup.

The final game of the Women's Ashes ended today with a large sense of anti-climax. Firstly, although better than in the previous game, England lost quite comfortably having only made 101-7 in their 20 overs. Then the presentation ceremony turned out to be a bit of a non-event. Ian Healy asked some nice questions of the two captains and Player of the Series, Ellyse Perry and then presented the trophy to Charlotte Edwards without the rest of the team around her on the podium - who were duely beckoned by Giles Clark as his Australian counterpart wandered off. No player of the match from this game (Renee Farrell by the way), no walk-ons for the victorious team, no medal presentations (these were doled out from a box on the outfield later), no ticker-tape, no champagne and certainly no fireworks - much like England's performances once the trophy had been secured.

England have, however, retained the Ashes by 10 points to 8, whilst the men -using a similar format - would have been edged out 44-2 by their oldest opponents. However, Australia have ended on a high, having  won the ODI portion of the series before winning the T20 games by the same score. It was therefor the Test Match, which seems like it was held years ago that was the crucial game of the whole competition and England's win made the mountain Everest-like for Australia after they had lost at the WACA. Before anyone gets on their high horse about how many points are awarded for the single Test (a) it is supposed to reflect the relative importance of this format and (b) everyone knew the points before we started and (c) in previous years the Test match was The Ashes and so England would have won them again anyway!

By any standards, the Test match in Perth was a classic. The game in the English summer had been played on the flattest of flat pitches at the beautiful Wormsley ground, but players and especially spectators would happily have traded all of the scenery for a pitch which gave even the merest chance of a win for either team. Everyone was of the opinion that the WACA would provide a result, and so it proved as three and a half days of ebb and flow kept the disappointingly few spectators at the ground enthralled and the watchers and listeners back here in the UK propping up their eyelids every night. Anya Shrubsole was to prove a key figure in this game - and therefore, the Ashes win itself.

England won the toss and batted as the temperatures soared in Elwyn Campbell-land. The visitors were hoping / expecting to score big in the first innings but it didn't happen and they scrambled to just 201 with half an hour left in the day.....advantage Australia. Shrubsole charged in for those few remaining overs and quickly picked up Villani in the slip cordon....deuce. Last over of the day and Shrubsole has key-batter Lanning caught behind to turn the game on its head....advantage England.

Day two was the hottest day ever anywhere in the world (maybe I exaggerate a touch) and Australia fought back. Back home, Shrubsole had bowled to a standstill at Wormsley which had clearly contributed to the injury which cut off her participation at the T20 stage. Mindful of this, England had played an extra bowler at Perth but when Brunt was removed from the attack for two beamers, the Bath bowler was required to shoulder the extra burden and lead the attack through the sweltering heat. Supported well by debutant, Cross amongst others, Anya bowled her heart out and wrapped up the innings with a couple of new-ball wickets and a fine catch....deuce as Australia end 6 runs ahead on first innings, but by close of play England were 15-3....massive advantage Australia!

Day three and it was England's turn to fightback. the middle order, bolstered by skipper Edwards fought a rearguard action and got the side to 190, leaving 185 to win......very much deuce again, but Australia became the first team to get a decent start at the start of their innings, only to be reigned in by Cross. The home side would start the final day with 57-5 and - importantly - the in-form Ellyse perry still at the wicket. England were just about on top but the Australians had other ideas on the final morning and attacked the English bowling, quickly adding 42 runs and looking in complete control once more.

It was at this moment that England turned to Anya for the first time and almost immediately she picked up the vital wicket of Perry. An over later and the dangerous Osbourne was gone, before Shrubsole picked up wicket number 3 and all but sealed the Test Match win for her country. Final match figures of 7-99, a very tired body and those crucial 6 points in the bag.

It was then off to the MCG and, when England won by 7 wickets it all seemed plain sailing as just one more win would secure the series. Shrubsole took a wicket in an early miserly spell and then took another of her trademark diving catches at mid off before returning figures of 1-55. When the Aussies came out on top in the 2nd game at the "G" there was no need to panic - even though the tourists were dramatically off the pace in the field. Shrubsole was unusually expensive at the start but returned to pick up two wickets during the powerplay overs / at the death. The Bath all-rounder missed her chance with the bat here, when a little more composure might have meant she could stay with the impressive Sciver to pull off an unlikely victory.

When Australia chased down an imposing total to win the last ODI at Hobart it was starting to look like squeaky bum time for England. Shrubsole was a little unlucky to go wicketless and bowled a particularly good 49th over as England struggled to contain Australia, but this was to be her last Ashes action as the hip/groin injury she picked up at Perth finally reached the point of no return. No worries though, because Charlotte Edwards produced a gem of an innings a few days later to seal the trophy for her side once more.

The last two T20s have been a little worrying, however. even though it was all a little "after the Lord Mayor's show" England struggled to cope without several injured players but, even taking that into account Australia have really gathered momentum ahead of the T20 World Cup. It would be a huge surprise if Anya was not fit by then and able to lead the attack - bowling, as she always does in all the powerplay and death overs. Charlotte Edwards paid a real tribute to the Bath player at her post-series press conference when she said "If we get Anya back it looks a totally different team!"...praise indeed.

 

And now eyes can turn to Sri Lanka where the England Academy are touring. There are at least two, maybe three batting spots in the Senior Squad where nobody has yet made them there own. Against Australia in the last two T20s, the batters struggled to score quickly, found spin difficult to cope with and their fielding started to look a bit ragged. Step forward Frances Wilson who has all the attributes which others have failed to show at times and now has the opportunity to make a big statement. Fran can score fast, she can score 360 degrees around the wicket and has bounced back well from the disappointments she suffered when she had her first shot in the Senior team. If Fran herself believes and continues to think clearly in the middle she can really push her claim in the next two weeks.

 

Around 5 years ago Laura Marsh was a good seam bowler and a very decent batter. she kept working at her batting - particularly seeking to become more expansive- but switched to off spin to become one of the leading players in world crickets. Sadly, a serious shoulder injury has restricted her for a year or two but hopefully she is well on the way to recovery. My point???? Sophie Luff is a very good batter who works so hard at her game that you can guarantee that she will continue to get better and better. She, like Marsh needs to become a little more forceful and creative at the crease and, once she has developed her ability to sweep will become an even harder player to bowl at. her bowling is massively underused (largely due to the make-up of the teams she represents) but with England's spin bowling resources dangerously thin, this may be the time for Luffy to consider a change of styles. She is such a clever cricketer, she will easily make the necessary adjustment and the extra string to her bow will undoubtedly make her the perfect 3-dimensional cricketer. Lots of runs in Sri Lanka will probably not mean that she makes the step-up to the full side just yet, but it will do her long-term prospects no hard at all....as will a bit of off-spin.

Good luck to Fran and Sophie in Sri Lanka and well done to Anya in Australia....Bath CC has much to be proud of.

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