Australia’s preparations for the Commonwealth Bank Women’s Ashes will ramp up this week, as the nation’s top cricketers gather in Brisbane for a training camp.
It will be the first time the Australian players have linked up since their Women’s World Cup campaign ended in a semi-final defeat in late July, with the squad now fully focused on defeating England in the multi-format Ashes.
In addition to working on skills and fitness, partaking in team bonding sessions and playing trial matches, there are a series of questions the Australian set-up will be seeking to answer over the next seven days.
1. Who will be captain for the Ashes?
Australia skipper Meg Lanning was ruled out of Ashes last month, leaving a big hole to fill - both in the batting line-up and in the leadership stakes - for the multi-format series. The most likely candidate to replace Lanning is NSW batter Rachael Haynes, who stepped in for the skipper twice during the recent World Cup, or vice-captain Alex Blackwell. But with a wealth of domestic captaincy experience in Australia’s ranks, there could be any number of players putting up their hand for the role, including fellow NSW players Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy.
2. Will the team balance change?
Australia went with a three-pronged spin attack through the World Cup, with two pace options in Perry and Megan Schutt. But with part-timer Elyse Villani the only other seam-bowling option in the XI, the Southern Stars found themselves short on bowlers when India batter Harmanpreet Kaur was putting on a clinic in the semi-final. Coach Matthew Mott has already suggested a change in team balance could be on the cards – with allrounders such as Ashleigh Gardner a chance to be shifted up the order and an extra bowler included.
Australia face a similar decision when it comes to their T20 bowling attack. They took an unusual route in their 2-1 series loss to New Zealand earlier this year, fielding four frontline spinners alongside just the one seamer in Schutt. That was a decision influenced by the absence of Perry, who was injured, so expect a reshuffle this time around.
3. Is Lauren Cheatle ready for an international comeback?
Teenage left-arm quick Lauren Cheatle was missing in action during the World Cup as she recovered from shoulder surgery. Fellow NSW fast bowler Belinda Vakarewa was handed an international debut in her absence, but Australia’s selectors are keen to see Cheatle back in national colours, with the 18-year-old returning to bowling last month. But with limited preparation time and just one round of the Women’s National Cricket League to be played before the opening ODI on October 22, it remains to be seen whether Cheatle will be at her dangerous best to tackle England.
4. Can Australia unlock the secret to adaptability?
Twice during the World Cup, Australia’s bowlers found themselves shell-shocked by remarkable individual performances and unable to find a way to stop the flow of runs.
Australia won’t want a repeat of Chamari Athapaththu or Kaur’s performances when they take on England, who boast a strong batting line-up that will be full of confidence after four players – Heather Knight, Sarah Taylor, Natalie Sciver and Tammy Beaumont – all scored centuries at the World Cup.
To prepare for the battle ahead, Australia will enlist the help of some of Queensland’s leading young male batsmen.
"We’ll still be playing a lot of game-based scenarios (at the camp) and one of the things that came from the playing group was that we probably need to throw a couple of young male batters in from Queensland who can get stuck in, attack us and put us under pressure, so we can try and development some plans to counteract that,” Mott explained to cricket.com.au last month.
"(In the past when) we’ve done our scenarios it’s against our own players, so it will be good to have people in there who we haven’t come up against too often and who can hit the ball quite hard and fast.”
5. Who will replace Lanning as T20 opener?
It’s likely that ODI No.4 Perry will be elevated to Lanning’s position at first-drop in the 50-over format, as she did twice during the World Cup when the Australian skipper sat out matches.
But the question of who will open the batting in Lanning’s place in the 20-over matches is less clear. Beth Mooney accompanied Lanning at the top of the order in the three-game series earlier this year, while Perry, Villani and Healy – who all open for their respective Rebel WBBL clubs – are currently the main contenders to step into the large shoes left by Lanning.
6. Will we see any bolters?
With only one round of WNCL cricket to be played before the Ashes start, there’s not much opportunity for a player outside the current set-up to put their hand up for an international call-up. But the inaugural Women’s National Performance Squad is currently at Brisbane’s Bupa National Cricket Centre training in front of the Aussie coaches, so you never know!
Commonwealth Bank Women's Ashes
First ODI Allan Border Field, October 22
Brisbane Charity Partner: Lord Mayor's Charitable Trust
Second ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 26
Third ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 29
Day-Night Test North Sydney Oval, November 9-12
First T20 North Sydney Oval, November 17
North Sydney Charity Partner: McGrath Foundation
Second T20 Manuka Oval, November 19
Third T20 Manuka Oval, November 21
Canberra Charity Partner: Lord's Taverners ACT