The three T20 matches against the West Indies came to a predictably soggy end at Derby. Not a ball was bowled. That left just the one game at Northampton completed.
The series served to demonstrate the gulf set between the two sides. The West Indies are the only elite ICC member to represent a whole number of nations. That brings huge problems of team-building. If they had the same facilities provided as the English squad, focused as they are on Loughborough, there is little doubt they would be challenging them and the Australians for top spot in all formats of the game.
But the lack of regular training and playing together was evident in their approach to each game on this tour. Their fielding sessions looked half-hearted in contrast to the intensity of the English. The consequence was the lack of support the bowlers got from their fielders, both with crucially missed catches and with fumbles in the ground fielding.
They missed the presence of Deandra Dottin more than was healthy for them.
With the Ashes coming just around the corner, the last thing the hosts wanted was to sustain injuries. Heather Knight was already a non-runner after suffering a strain. Quite apart from her captaincy, her contributions in every other part of the game – her batting, her bowling, her fielding at extra cover – mean that England would be severely deprived if she was missing at roll-call for the first fixture against the Aussies. At Derby Anya Shrubsole would have led the side as she did in the second innings at Northampton.
This is not to say the squad lacks talent – far from it. But Knight handles the controls that pull the side together and allows them to operate at full steam.
The Aussies are coming
Alyssa Healy has already stated that Australia will win every contest against England. So when that happens, will it reduce the sense of achievement she feels?
Certainly, the last (and only) time I saw an England XI performing really poorly was in an Ashes test match at Canterbury. The whole day long their bowling and especially their fielding were well below par, their appearance hang-dog. As Alyssa looked on from in front of the Lime Tree café with friends and family, there was nothing to convince her that her latest boast was misplaced.
Will she be in for a shock? It’s perfectly possible.
England will need their bowlers to be at their best. Thus far this summer, Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole have taken it in turns to be on form. In the coming matches, long and short, they will need to be supporting each other over by over. Fortunately we now have a reborn Kate Cross to provide the vital ingredient of a third quick bowler who can test the best.
The batting is potentially excellent and deep. But only at Chelmsford did the top order all score well against the West Indians. In other games two or three batters produced the goods. Against the Aussies more consistency will be needed.
We can’t be sure exactly who will be included in Mark Robinson’s squad(s), especially in the spin department. The only short-odds favourite there is Sophie Ecclestone. That leaves the massively experienced Laura Marsh along with Bryony Smith to bowl off-spin and two more left-armers, Linsey Smith and Alex Hartley, to fight for the remaining places.
And they will be facing the best the world can offer. Australia’s batting line-up is as strong as it has ever been,
Fortunately, now that it no longer takes three months to sail to Australia, many of the English squad have played there, with and against their new opponents. That familiarity helps to reduce any sense of Aussie invincibility they might have harboured
Last time round, England turned up trumps, finishing a long series down under with a draw 4 points all.
One of the biggest challenges – for both sides – will be translating from one game-format to another. The test match in particular will provide a physical and mental exam that players new to it won’t forget in a hurry. Fortunately most of the likely England XI were involved in the last test in Sydney in 2017.
It’s one thing for a batter to switch from a T20 to a 50-over innings; to switch again to a 4-day test is a giant step. Knight has shown her side the way in the past. All of them will be aware of the 7-hour 157 she scored at Wormsley to help secure the Ashes six years ago.
Then consider the bowlers: for once in a blue moon they will have a red ball in their hand. Evidently it will be a Kookaburra, not a Dukes, which is a pity. But at least they should be able to get more work on it than the white one.
But how do they adjust to bowling far more than the ten overs allowed in a 50-over game?
Well, four of England’s main bowlers have previous. When Ellyse Perry scored 213 two years ago, Marsh and Ecclestone together bowled 81 overs; Brunt and Shrubsole 44. This time round, they will need to send her on her way at little sooner.
And then there will be their skipper, Meg Lanning, to sort out.
Meg Lanning (C)
Rachael Haynes (VC)
June 26: England Academy v Australia, Loughborough
June 28: England Academy v Australia, Loughborough
July 2: First ODI, Grace Road, Leicester
July 4: Second ODI, Grace Road, Leicester
July 7: Third ODI, St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury
July 11-13: England Academy v Australia, Marlborough College
July 18-21: Only Test, The County Ground, Taunton
July 26: First T20, County Ground, Chelmsford
July 28: Second T20, The County Ground, Hove
July 31: Third T20, Bristol County Ground, Bristol