WOMEN’S ASHES PREVIEW
Kirstie Gordon, expected to debut in the Test, could make an impact with her left-arm spin © Getty
When does a used pitch stop being a used pitch? We’re about to find out.
The surface set aside for the one-off women’s Ashes Test beginning on Thursday at Taunton was described as “used” by Australia captain Meg Lanning, who’s side hold all the points. Her counterpart, Heather Knight, was pragmatic about the situation: “We obviously need a result so we want a pitch that will be conducive to that”. Before we get into this, some facts.
The last time this particular deck was used was when New Zealand played Afghanistan in the World Cup, on June 8. But that’s not to say Lanning is wide of the mark – far from it. Those who have seen the pitch up close say it bears the hallmarks of having seen action sooner than 40 days ago. Remember: not all preparation is geared towards flat or quick belters.
As for Knight’s comments, well she’s spot on. England trail 6-0 and another other than a win will see Australia retain the Ashes. They are within their rights to produce something that enhances their chance of cutting the deficit to two, with six points left to play for in the three-match T20 series that follows.
The quandary remains then: play to win or play for the game? And at what point does one impinge on the other?
Behind each Test there is the subplot of players wanting to play more red ball cricket at international and domestic level. Thus, with every Ashes Test – the most regular fixture in the format, occurring once every two years – the debate gains a bit more volume.
The players want more Test cricket and, to be honest, it is a surprise Lanning and Knight are not bored of answering the question about whether they would. But the appetite from the outside needs to be there and, for the longest time, the standard of women’s cricket has lived or died by the quality of pitches. Quick pitches show just how good bowlers can be and the calibre of stroke makers playing at this level. That’s why there is dismay at the initial readings of the Taunton pitch.
But, it’s worth noting a turning surface is not a bad surface. The previous two Test pitches in Canterbury (2015) and Sydney (2017) were truly dire and at the very least Taunton know how to produce entertaining result-oriented pitches. Creating 20 chances here should be easy, though.
Certainly Lanning did not see a downside, rejecting the notion she was disappointed at what was laid out. Players on both side used the final practice day for some light fine-tuning ahead of Thursday.
Both teams’ nets featured a lot of spin, with coaches throwing balls down to simulate what gripping, ripping deliveries there may be when the game moves on. England’s morning session was relaxed, as was Australia’s in the afternoon. Given the previous match was the third and final ODI on July 7, there has been plenty of time to attune to the fundamentals of the longest form.
Both had quiet days after the previous match, in Canterbury. The difference in mood, naturally, was determined by the manner of Australia’s 194-run win. Australia had to keep their foot on the throat, with a draw (2 points) seeing them retain the Ashes but the requisite four for the win enough to make damn sure. Knight, though, talked of “a very honest meeting, very open” in which the players air grievances and frustrations on what was a chastening day for English cricket.
A line has been drawn under that, for both sides. Thursday is do or die.
When: July 18, 2019, 10AM GMT / 11 AM LOCAL
Where: County Ground, Somerset
What to expect:Well, as above in terms of pitch. It’ll turn earlier than most four-day pitches for sure. But that’s generally what happens here if a spinner’s wicket has been ordered. Importantly, the ground staff at Taunton know how to make pitches entertaining, regardless of which facet they encourage most. One potential handbrake on a good game will be the presence of rain on the third and fourth days. Who knows, maybe the game will have moved on quickly by then.
It looks like former Scotland international Kirstie Gordon will make her Test debut for England. She is a left-arm spinner who, unlike some of the others in the squad, is quick through the air, thus ensuring whatever turn, even early on, can cause problems. Georgia Elwiss could also make her return to international cricket after missing around four months with a stress fracture of the back.
Probable XI: Amy Jones, Tammy Beaumont, Georgia Elwiss, Heather Knight, Nat Sciver, Sarah Taylor, Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole, Sophie Ecclestone, Kirstie Gordon, Kate Cross
Australia also look to be putting their faith in left-arm spin with Sophie Molineux set for a spot in the XI after impressing with runs and wickets against England Academy last week. Excitingly, there may also be a spot for Tayla Vlaeminck. Widely considered the fastest bowler in world cricket despite playing just one ODI and one T20i, she could be allowed to run free given there is plenty of all round options in terms of pace (Ellyse Perry) and spin (Ashleigh Gardner, Jess Jonassen and Molineux).
Probable XI: Nicole Bolton, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry, Rachel Haynes, Beth Mooney, Ashleigh Gardner, Jess Jonassen, Sophie Molineux, Megan Schutt, Tayla Vlaeminck
What they said
“We love every time we play a Test match. You’re learning a lot as you go because you don’t play it very often. You try and pick up little bits: how you approach the game and the freedom and flexibility you have is a lot different to ODI and T20 cricket. It’ll be great if this is a spectacle but our main focus is going to be on trying to win this game.” – Heather Knight is focussed on the four points first
“I think it’ll be a great contest with both sides going out there to win. The last few Test matches haven’t quite been as good a contest as it could have been, but I’ve got no doubt this game will be very different to that.” – Meg Lanning expects entertainment