by Kalika Mehta, BBC Sport at Canterbury
A dismal display from England in the sole Test of the seven-match multi-format Women’s Ashes series has left them on the brink of relinquishing the Ashes to Australia for the first time in five years.
After speaking at the start of the series about their desire to take a leaf out of their male counterparts’ handbook and play in a more attacking manner, the hosts’ performance on all four days at Canterbury showed a negative and static mindset.
They played out an astonishing 436 dot balls from the 513 deliveries they faced in the first innings, scoring at under two runs per over in both innings.
English expectations have grown considerably since their elite 18 players became full-time professionals in May 2014.
However, the belief came from a lengthy period of success – having been World Cup and World Twenty20 winners in 2009 and winning back-to-back Ashes since the format was changed in 2013.
But having been thoroughly outclassed since winning the first one-day international in this Ashes series, England have come under scrutiny with a number of areas raising serious questions.
Believing the hype?
Middlesex captain Isabelle Westbury, who plays county cricket with and against those in the England side, has queried whether there is “hubris” around the side since they turned professional.
The 25-year-old feels that the top-down approach of English women’s cricket has made some of the top players seemingly undroppable.
“These players have been lauded as pioneers in women’s cricket,” Test Match Special summariser Westbury told BBC Sport. “England have had a lot of attention at the top.
“There is a hype that is surrounding them, which they are believing but they are now not living up to it on the pitch.
“Charlotte Edwards has been a very successful captain over the last decade, but her place and some of the old guard like Sarah Taylor, Jenny Gunn, Laura Marsh and Lydia Greenway are never questioned
“Amy Jones was dropped because she had a couple of bad innings [in the first two ODIs] and they panicked. They would never do that to Taylor or Greenway.
“Why is there one rule for a core group of players, who cannot be dropped no matter how they play, and another rule for the rest?
“The problem is within the team but also in the wider picture. The English underbelly is feeble and weak.
“There is a massive disconnect between those at the top and those that are feeding it.”
Stand up and be counted
Meanwhile, ex-Leicestershire seamer and TMS commentator Charles Dagnall has said that England’s women have to be held to the same standards as any other professional team in sport.
Following a run of poor performances that has exposed a number of weaknesses, Dagnall feels there must be some accountability.
“Who is accountable for how England are performing on decent professional contracts?” he asked.
“Where does the fault lie? Is it the coach’s fault? Is it the captain? Is it the players?
“There is all this talk about playing positive cricket but we have not seen that.
“Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole carried the attack but elsewhere we saw naïve captaincy, really poor application, and no adaptation to conditions or how to play on certain wickets.”
There may be trouble ahead
With England now trailing Australia 8-2 on points, only victory in the final three Twenty20 matches – the format in which Australia are undoubtedly strongest, having won the last three World T20 tournaments in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – would see the hosts retain the Ashes.
However, ex-England batter and TMS summariser Ebony Rainford-Brent believes the hosts’ biggest problems lie away from this current Ashes series.
By the 2017 World Cup in England, Edwards will be 37, Brunt and Greenway will be 32, while a large gulf remains between the 18 centrally contracted professionals and the women’s county game – which remains amateur.
Rainford-Brent, now director of women’s cricket at Surrey, questioned whether the current system will produce players of a high enough quality who can replace England’s leading players once they retire.
“The question is when those big gaps are left, are there players coming through who are ready to perform?” she said.
“I do not believe our county system at the moment provides the best environment for them to be ready to perform.
“The ECB are trying to build a base with the Women’s Cricket Super League where players get supported at county level and get a professional environment.
“However, we could be looking at a five-year lull once we lose those players until the system really kicks in.
“Fans and supporters need to be prepared and patient for it to kick because we will see a lag in terms of the domestic structure having an impact on the national game.”