When each member of the Australia squad was asked who or what is the biggest threat in the England camp in the Women’s Ashes the answer was almost unanimous: new-ball pair Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole.
The tenacious tandem has been the backbone of England’s bowling attack for the past four years and boast nearly 200 one-day international wickets between them.
If the combination was part fire and part ice, Brunt would most definitely be the fire.
The 32-year-old charges in to bowl like an Olympic javelinist, spears down some of the quickest deliveries in the women’s game and like all good hostile fast bowlers, snarls at the batter with the odd choice word.
The ice, Shrubsole, is not as quick as Brunt, but what she lacks in speed she makes up with swing.
Able to prodigiously careen the ball into the right-handed batter and away from the lefties, Shrubsole perfectly complements Brunt’s raw pace.
Shrubsole, 26, also has ice in her veins, proven in her incredible match-winning spell in the final of the Women’s World Cup in July where she took 5-11 in 18 balls to almost single-handedly win England the trophy.
Given all the above, it’s no surprise why the Australians listed the dynamic duo as the major threat to them retaining the Women’s Ashes and why special plans were made to counteract them.
The move to promote Alyssa Healy to opener in place of incumbent Beth Mooney was made in part to attack Brunt and Shrubsole from the get-go and throw England’s bowling plans into chaos.
Having hit three of Brunt’s first six balls to the boundary in the first ODI in Brisbane, Healy was on track to do just that before gifting her wicket away with a loose lofted drive to mid-off to join fellow opener Nicole Bolton, who was accounted for by Shrubsole, back in the sheds.
In the second ODI, the plan changed: see off Brunt and Shrubsole and limit the damage. It worked.
Both bowlers sent down four overs for 14 runs on Thursday but were unable to seize an Australian wicket, not only in their initial spell but the entire match, with Shrubsole finishing with figures of 0-57 from 10 while Brunt went for 55 from her eight overs.
It’s no coincidence that in an innings where their two premier fast bowlers went wicketless and for more than five runs per over, England conceded 6-296, their second-highest score against Australia in ODI history.
Across the two games Brunt has taken two wickets at 51 runs apiece, while Shrubsole’s sole wicket has cost 88 runs.
While it’s a small sample size with plenty of cricket in the Commonwealth Bank Ashes Series left to play, it’s clear that one of the reasons why Australia currently hold a four-point advantage after two matches has been the blunting of Brunt and Shrubsole.
Despite the dominance, Australia captain Rachael Haynes says getting through the new ball has been a “key factor” in the series to date but is wary of England’s all-round attack and not only their stellar opening combo.
"They’ve got more depth to their bowling than just their two openers," Haynes said on Saturday.
"We’re acutely aware we’ve got to be proactive when we’re batting and not just let them bowl to us.
"I’ve got no doubt they’ve got more to their team than just their two openers."
The form of Brunt and Shrubsole doesn’t faze Haynes’ England counterpart Heather Knight, who commended her opening seam attack ahead of Sunday’s third ODI at Coffs International Sports Stadium.
"I think we bowled brilliantly up top actually, to keep them to 40 odd after 11 or 12 overs, I thought we bowled very well," Knight said, reflecting on Thursday’s second ODI in Coffs Harbour.
"We were a bit unlucky not to take a few wickets, and then they got away after setting that platform and carried on with it.
"But I think up top the two opening bowlers were brilliant."
Commonwealth Bank Women's Ashes
Australia lead England 4-0
Australia squad (ODI and Test): Rachael Haynes (C), Alex Blackwell (VC), Kristen Beams, Nicole Bolton, Lauren Cheatle, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Belinda Vakarewa (Test only), Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington.
England squad: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Alex Hartley, Danielle Hazell, Laura Marsh, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Nat Sciver, Fran Wilson, Lauren Winfield, Danielle Wyatt.
First ODI Australia won by two wickets
Second ODI Australia won by 75 runs (DLS method)
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