England head into the first and only Test of their Ashes series on Tuesday knowing that Australia, now 4-2 up in the multi-format series after taking the One Day Internationals 2-1, have found the X-factor so sorely lacking at present in their men. Captain Meg Lanning is living up to her status as number one batter in the world having struck a sublime century in the second ODI to take her series tally to 195.
Top that off with Ellyse Perry, the player of the series in the ODIs, whose form with bat and ball has terrorised England from the off, and you’ve got two superstars in form and on fire.
England, in theory, have no shortage of rival candidates; captain Charlotte Edwards is a keen challenger to Lanning at the top of the batting rankings. In Sarah Taylor they have one of the most talented wicketkeeper-batters the world over. Anya Shrubsole tore through batting attacks in the last T20 World Cup. Unfortunately for England, they are yet to match their Australian counterparts in this series.
“We let ourselves down,” said Taylor, who scored 30, 43 and one in the ODI series. “We speak about concentration a lot and actually our concentration has just slipped. I take that criticism myself too, for not going on to get those big scores. My average in Tests (22) is not where it needs to be and if I’m going to bat in the top five then it’s got to be up there. It’s something that I actually find exciting – that I can look for change and push on and hopefully improve on.”
For England the Test offers the chance for redemption, and a chance to get their defence of the Ashes back on track. While Australia’s men arrived on English soil claiming that England wouldn’t “come close” to winning, the women, world champions in both the 50-over and T20 formats, were more modest.
“We’re not favourites,” assured Lanning. “England playing in their home conditions and having won the last couple [of Ashes], they’d be just ahead.” While Australia’s men have subsided to a humiliating Ashes series defeat, their women look unbeatable.
How do England turn it around? “We have to do the basics really well,” said Taylor. “In the ODIs we missed a couple of chances in the field: run-out chances, loss of concentration, etc. To beat teams like Australia you have to do the tiny percentage things well.”
England make one change going into the Test; Fran Wilson, on the back of two consecutive fifties in two tour matches against the Australians, has muscled her way in for Amy Jones, after the latter managed just 15 and 0 in the ODIs.
Jones, however, already the sole centurion in an England inter-squad warm-up last month, scored an unbeaten 150 in a tour match against the Australians this week, two days after being dropped. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Wilson, though, offers something different, something exciting to an England team that are all too easily being sussed out by the Australians.
“Fran has this amazing ability to hit the ball in places that the ball should never be hit,” said Taylor. “She plays shots off balls that you think just should not be possible. That sort of player is great to have in your squad and an absolute nightmare for an opposition captain.”
Perhaps, in Wilson, England have the X-factor they are looking for.
Win the Test and England will leapfrog Australia in the series, gathering four points from it. A draw or a loss and England will have to beat Australia in two, or three, of the final three T20s of the series.
Australia are reigning T20 world champions, with three titles on the trot. Yet they have failed to win a Test on English soil since 2001. The Test is an opportunity that England cannot afford to pass up.
The women’s Test will be shown on Sky Sports Ashes from Tuesday. Coverage starts at 10.30am