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STILL THE WORLD’S NO.1?

Adam Collins considers Australia’s prospects after their confidence was knocked during the summer’s World Cup

How do you solve a problem like Meg Lanning? Specifically, losing her. This is not some ordinary player. Nothing like it. Rather, she is the best female batsman on the planet by so far it doesn’t matter. And the Australia captain for good measure.

After labouring through a year with a chronic shoulder injury, Lanning has finally succumbed to surgery that requires eight months’ rehabilitation. The world’s top-ranked batsman has no chance to play for the Women’s Ashes trophy that she held aloft at Cardiff in 2015.

It makes for the toughest of all the questions facing a bruised Australia ahead of the series. Bruised, for in their most recent engagement they were bounced out of the World Cup in unflattering circumstances. The defending champions – and favourites – failed to make the final, knocked out by 171 not out from India’s Harmanpreet Kaur.

In an interesting call, 30-year-old batsman Rachael Haynes – who was out of the side for four years before a recall in early 2017 – will lead the side. She also stood in for Lanning when her shoulder injury kept her out of the side at different stages during the World Cup, essentially leapfrogging vice-captain Alex Blackwell to the armband.

All told, it makes for a tricky time to be hosting the old enemy – especially when England are landing full of confidence after going on to win that World Cup in a dramatic decider at Lord’s. 

The multi-format series begins on October 22 and runs for a month, concluding two days before the men begin their own Ashes tryst, in order to ensure the women will enjoy an exclusivity window. Combine that with a surge of support for women’s cricket since the last time the teams squared off in a bilateral contest, and the timing is perfect.

Australia’s coach Matthew Mott, who had a spell at Glamorgan from 2011 to 2013, initiated a trawl through footage from his side’s semi-final loss when they gathered in Brisbane to begin seven weeks of Ashes preparation.

“We wanted to put the World Cup to bed,” he said. “It was pretty cleansing. It is still quite raw with the group, so it was good to be able to talk about it and explain the way forward. Now it is all about the Ashes.”

Fitness work included training with the military, while skills practice was hosted at Allan Border Field in Brisbane, where the opening ODI will be played. That game is set to be a sell-out.

“A lot of our planning and preparation will be around the Test. It is a real icon event in women’s cricket because we don’t play a lot of Test cricket,” Mott said. “It is a premium product and all our players are really looking forward to it.”

Three T20 internationals – also worth two points apiece, making 16 in total across the seven fixtures – will be where the Ashes is likely to be decided. The last of those is on November 21 – two days before the first men’s Ashes Test.

The good news is that the Australians are now able to focus completely on cricket. The long-running pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association had a serious chance of ruining the Women’s Ashes, but was finally resolved in August. Females are the big winners in a settlement proclaimed as the biggest pay rise in the history of Australian women’s sport.National players are slated to earn up to A$200,000 by the end of the five-year rights deal.

Squads

Test squad: Kristen Beams, Alex Blackwell, Nicole Bolton, Lauren Cheatle, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Belinda Vakarewa, Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington.

ODI squad: Beams, Blackwell, Bolton, Cheatle, Gardner, Haynes, Healy, Jonassen, McGrath, Mooney, Perry, Schutt, Villani, Wellington.