“Where were we exactly 10 years ago today?” tweeted Clare Connor to her former team-mates the day before England entered their, ultimately futile, must-win T20 against Australia at Hove on Friday. The former England captain, now Head of Women’s Cricket at the ECB, was alluding to the day England women, after 42 barren years, regained the Ashes from Australia in 2005.
That day marked the start of a trailblazing era for England women’s cricket, the pinnacle of which saw them hold both the ODI and T20 World Cups alongside the Ashes in 2009. Fitting then, that almost exactly a decade on from this achievement, they should be ceding the title of undisputed champions of the world to arch-rivals Australia.
Charlotte Edwards, England captain from 2006 onwards, with Connor in administrative power alongside her, have achieved more for English cricket than any could have dreamt. On Friday however, as England’s batting once again capitulated to a consistently more disciplined and superior Australian performance and they surrendered their Ashes crown, that era came to a close.
“I’m bitterly disappointed in the manner that we lost,” conceded Edwards, confirming that it was probably her “most disappointing moment” as England captain. While Edwards, visibly exhausted, remained adamant that she would remain as captain – “this is not the time to walk away from English cricket” – the inquest has already begun.
Both Connor and Edwards, in a manner similar to Michael Clarke and the Australian men, maintain that the talent and the “best players are in that dressing room”. Like Clarke, they stress that they “could not have worked harder for this Ashes series.” The easy answer is to point to a failure to convert that preparation into performances, simply a question of “poor decision-making under pressure.”
There have been glimpses of that potential intermittently during the series but Australia, in strength and in depth, were better cricketers. A malaise wider than a failure to perform on the day has been brewing under the top tier of England cricket for some years.
An inferior domestic set-up, a constrained coaching mind-set and an unwillingness to step away from the status-quo mean that Australia, bar something extraordinary, will likely dominate women’s cricket for the foreseeable future.
To acknowledge is the first step to overcoming the shortcomings. A remodelling of the domestic structure with the introduction of a new Super League and the suggestion that a change in players, coaching, management and administration is not out of the question, mean that England, who have seen record-breaking attendances and coverage in this series, may once again be on the verge of something new.
Unfortunately for Cardiff’s final T20 on Monday – now consigned to an irrelevant showpiece before the men’s fixture – and for a few years to come, that new wave may be too little, too late. Patience – it’s a virtue.