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England Narrows the Gap on Australia in Women’s Ashes

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England vs Australia Women's Ashes

After the Women’s Ashes series ended in a draw, the crucial question arose: Has England closed the gap on the dominant Australian team?

Australia entered the UK this summer as one of the most formidable sides in sports, but despite retaining the Ashes urn, they suffered defeats in both white-ball series against England. This loss in the one-day series marked their first defeat in a bilateral contest since 2013.

So, how did England manage to achieve what many believed was impossible?

Jon Lewis revolutionizes the game

In the realm of men’s cricket, “Bazball” has become the talk of the English summer, thanks to the successful style of play embraced by Ben Stokes’ team. This approach has also been adapted and adopted by Captain Heather Knight and her squad.

Head coach Jon Lewis, previously part of Brendon McCullum’s transformational journey, introduced this playing style to the women’s team. Although both McCullum and Lewis dislike the term Bazball or “Jonball” for Lewis’ version, there’s no denying the transformation they have brought to England’s cricket, both men’s and women’s.

At its core, this approach emphasizes controlled aggression with the bat and a determination to take every opposition wicket with the ball. Bowlers are encouraged to be proactive rather than reactive, and defensive tactics are eschewed in favor of an assertive mindset.

Jon Lewis assumed the role of head coach in November 2022, replacing Lisa Keightley.

Under Lewis’ guidance, England’s batting run-rates in Test matches, One-Day Internationals (ODIs), and T20 matches have improved. However, a closer look reveals that the positive approach is as controlled as it is successful.

In the one-off Test against Australia, England achieved a higher Test strike-rate (58.81) than in any other Test match with available records. This surpasses their strike-rate of 54.95 in the previous Ashes series in Australia and significantly exceeds the 39.66 strike-rate from the previous home Ashes series in 2019.

Interestingly, England played fewer attacking shots in comparison to the most recent Ashes Test in Australia (43% compared to 50%). This underscores the McCullum/Lewis philosophy of clarity rather than recklessness.

In T20 matches, England maintained a scoring rate of over eight runs per over for the second consecutive series, a feat they had never achieved before (see red bars highlighting Lewis’ tenure in the chart below).

England’s T20 run-rates
Source: Cricviz

One notable success story during Lewis’ reign is 32-year-old batter Danni Wyatt. Often considered a specialist in white-ball cricket, she made her Test debut this summer and witnessed an improvement in her strike-rate in T20 and ODI matches under Lewis. Her confident innings of 43 off 25 balls played a crucial role in England’s victory in the one-day series.

Danni Wyatt’s strike-rates

  • Did not play any ODIs in 2020
    Source: Cricinfo

Spin trio excels once again

England’s resurgence after losing the solitary Test and the first T20 coincided with the return of Charlie Dean and the decision to field three spinners, including Sophie Ecclestone and Sarah Glenn.

The diverse skill sets offered by each spinner contribute significantly to England’s strength. Sophie Ecclestone, ranked number one in the world, is a left-arm spinner, Sarah Glenn is a leg-spinner, and Charlie Dean is an off-spinner.

Since Lewis took charge, England’s spinners have excelled across all formats. They claimed 18 wickets at an average of 11.27 on the West Indies tour, followed by 22 wickets at 14.68 during the T20 World Cup in South Africa—a country not traditionally conducive to spin bowling. In the Ashes matches this summer, they took a total of 31 wickets.

England’s spinners have been more potent, albeit slightly more expensive, in this year’s Ashes series.

England World Cup winner Alex Hartley acknowledged the impact of having the best spinner in the world, Sophie Ecclestone, in the side. She also highlighted England’s increased support for Sarah Glenn in ODI cricket, signifying a shift in approach.

While the spin departments of England and Australia appear evenly matched, Sophie Ecclestone’s presence provides a distinct advantage to England.

In an intriguing turn of events, Australia enlisted leg-spinner Alana King in the decisive second one-day international, following the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy. King’s player-of-the-match performance led Australia to a series victory.

It is also essential to recognize the monumental contribution of Australia’s own spin star, Ashleigh Gardner, who claimed 23 wickets in the series. Without her, England might have possessed the Ashes urn. However, her success highlighted Australia’s shortcomings in their pace bowling department.

Emerging talent shines in England’s pace attack

Australia’s recent dominance coincided with the final stages of the careers of England’s fast bowling stalwarts, Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt-Sciver. With both players retired, Kate Cross and Lauren Bell have emerged as leaders of the England pace attack.

At just 22 years old, Lauren Bell claimed 14 wickets in this year’s Ashes series, surpassing the combined total of Australia’s Megan Schutt, Darcie Brown, and Ellyse Perry.

“England faced the significant challenge of filling the void left by Shrubsole and Brunt, who provided consistency over many years,” remarked former Australian batter Alex Blackwell.

She continued, “I’ve observed signs of Lauren Bell stepping up and growing in confidence. Her disciplined bowling has had a tremendous impact on the team.”

England also introduced the exciting young pace bowler Lauren Filer in the Test match, which saw an overall increase of two miles per hour in the collective bowling speed of the seam attack compared to the last two Tests played by England.

Blackwell praised Filer’s entertaining performance during the Test, highlighting her dismissals of Ellyse Perry on two occasions. She drew a parallel with Australia’s young tearaway, Darcie Brown, who hasn’t quite hit her peak but possesses the potential to improve her control. Blackwell also acknowledged Australia’s depth in pace bowling and expressed disappointment at Tayla Vlaeminck’s absence due to injury, which deprived Australia of raw pace.

The Lanning factor

While England has closed the gap in certain areas, it’s difficult to quantify the impact of Australia losing captain Meg Lanning for this series due to medical reasons.

Lanning, a formidable batswoman with an average of 53.51 in one-day cricket, has led Australia to unprecedented success and deserves mention alongside great Australian captains like Allan Border, Steve Waugh, and Ricky Ponting.

Lanning boasts an impressive win percentage of 80% as captain, compared to the 55% success rate of her replacement in this series, Alyssa Healy.

Australia has also undergone changes with the departure of head coach Matthew Mott and influential batter Rachael Haynes, who retired in the past year. Shelley Nitschke assumed the role of head coach, while all-rounder Tahlia McGrath joined the leadership group following Haynes’ departure.

However, Blackwell noted that although Lanning’s absence was significant, it wasn’t the primary reason for the series ending in a draw. She highlighted Healy’s fearless approach, which helped Australia during crucial moments. Blackwell emphasized that Healy’s half-century under challenging circumstances in the second innings exemplified the team’s never-say-die attitude, which Lanning has instilled in the squad.

Although Australia dropped more catches in this series than during Lanning’s captaincy era, they maintained an edge over England in fielding.

Number of dropped catches in the 2023 Ashes series
Test: England – 9, Australia – 2
ODIs: England – 10, Australia – 11
T20s: England – 7, Australia – 6
Total: England – 26, Australia – 19

Has England narrowed the gap?

All-rounder Nat Sciver-Brunt, who displayed dominance throughout the summer, particularly in the one-day series with consecutive centuries, believes England has narrowed the gap. However, she acknowledges that there is still work to be done.

“I would say we’re not that far apart,” Sciver-Brunt stated before the final ODI.

“As long as we maintain our intent and playing style, the gap isn’t significant. However, Australia still holds the edge during pressure moments.

“We have won close games, but perhaps not as convincingly as we would have liked. We are still learning how to handle pressure situations as individuals.”

Ultimately, it was Australia’s player of the series, Ashleigh Gardner, who summarized the series best. At the post-match presentation, she acknowledged England’s superior performance and their fearless brand of cricket, suggesting that Australia should take note.

The apprentices may have just taught the masters a lesson.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about England vs Australia Women’s Ashes

What is the Women’s Ashes series?

The Women’s Ashes series is a cricket tournament held between the women’s national cricket teams of England and Australia. It is a multi-format series that includes Test matches, One-Day Internationals (ODIs), and Twenty20 Internationals (T20s).

Who has been dominant in the Women’s Ashes series?

Australia has been historically dominant in the Women’s Ashes series, having achieved significant success and retaining the Ashes urn in recent years.

How has England closed the gap on Australia?

England has closed the gap on Australia through the influence of head coach Jon Lewis, who introduced a playing style inspired by “Bazball” or controlled aggression. This approach emphasizes taking wickets and playing with a positive mindset. England’s spinners and fast bowlers have also excelled, contributing to their improved performance.

What impact did Meg Lanning’s absence have on the series?

Meg Lanning, the captain of the Australian team, was absent from the Women’s Ashes series due to medical reasons. While her absence was significant, it was not the main reason for the series ending in a draw. Alyssa Healy, Lanning’s replacement, showcased a fearless style of play that contributed to Australia’s performance.

How has Danni Wyatt performed in the series?

Danni Wyatt, an England batter, has performed well in the series, particularly in T20 and ODI matches. Her strike-rate has improved, and she made a crucial contribution with a confident innings of 43 off 25 balls in the one-day series.

What has been the impact of England’s spin bowlers?

Under the coaching of Jon Lewis, England’s spin bowlers, including Sophie Ecclestone, Sarah Glenn, and Charlie Dean, have excelled in all formats. They have taken wickets consistently and played a vital role in England’s success.

Has England closed the gap in the fielding department?

While England has closed the gap in some areas, Australia still holds an edge over England in the fielding department. Australia dropped fewer catches during the series, indicating their superior fielding skills.

How do both teams approach pressure situations?

Both teams have shown resilience and the ability to handle pressure situations. Australia, led by Alyssa Healy in Lanning’s absence, demonstrated a never-give-up attitude, while England continues to work on improving their performance during crucial moments.

What has been the overall outcome of the Women’s Ashes series?

The Women’s Ashes series ended in a draw, showcasing a competitive and closely fought contest between England and Australia. Both teams displayed exceptional skills and provided entertaining cricket throughout the series.

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