Three series in one: it is the best way to explain the multi-format Women   s Ashes    Getty Images
Three series in one: it is the best way to explain the multi-format Women s Ashes Getty Images

Three series in one: it is the best way to explain the multi-format Women s Ashes. A three-ODI series worth six points (two points each), a one-off Test match the first ever women s day-night Test match worth four points for a win and two for a draw, and finally a three-T20I series worth six points (again, two each). The team with the most points at the end of the series, needless to say, wins The Ashes 2017.

This edition is one-third complete and ahead of the second phase, and Australia are at a slight advantage. Having won the 3- ODI series 2-1 (4-2 in points), the home team will go into the Test match with momentum on their side. Heading into the series though, not many would have predicted that the visitors would be catching up.

During their World Cup campaign in England, Australia had been thoroughly exposed. Their team balance was off, plans seemed rigid, and were clearly overly reliant on Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harman , when both failed, the team unravelled. Even a heroic last-ditch effort from veteran Alex Blackwell was not enough to take them over the line. For the first time Australia would be without a world title, and they were no longer World No.1, either. As if this were not enough, soon after their ouster they were dealt an even bigger blow Australia would be without Lanning for at least six months.

In the lead-up to the series the main question surrounding the Australian camp was who would lead the team in the absence of Lanning. They had many options Alex Blackwell, former captain, long time vice-captain, and current captain of New South Wales; and Sydney Thunder, Ellyse Perry, captain of Sydney Sixers, Alyssa Healy, part of Australia s leadership group and vice-captain of Sydney Sixers; and Rachel Haynes, who had stepped in for Lanning during the World Cup. Eventually, Haynes was handed the reins and speculation soon begun around whether she was the right choice, or whether she even fit into the starting XI.

So, at the start of the ODI-leg of the series, England seemed the happier, more settled team, but as holders of the Ashes, Australia had much to fight for.

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Sarah Taylor is one of England s best players of spin bowling. She uses her feet beautifully, is not afraid to go over the top and manipulates the field as well as anyone. She rarely looks uncomfortable against the slow bowlers, almost always finding a way to break the shackles and get on with the run-scoring.

On October 22, however, during the first ODI of the Ashes series in Brisbane, Taylor was left flummoxed by a young leg-spinner. Amanda-Jade Wellington selected ahead of Kristen Beams, Australia s highest wicket-taker in the World Cup was playing only her sixth ODI, and bowled an outstanding spell to put the brakes on England s scoring rate quite early in the match. She got the ball to drift in and spin sharply away from the right-hander, beating the bat on several occasions. Although Wellington finished wicket-less in the match, her 39-run spell showed England that she would be a genuine threat in the series.

While Wellington dried up the runs at one end, young Ashleigh Gardner, also found a way to trouble the England batters. Gardner sliced through England s middle order, picking up three wickets with her nippy, accurate off-spin.

That, though, would be the smaller of the two impacts she made in the first ODI. With the match in the balance, Gardner produced a scintillating cameo that included two fours and two sixes. Her 18-ball 27 turned the match firmly in Australia s favour, allowing them to seal a two-wicket win and take an all important lead in the series.

While it was Blackwell s cool head (67 not out) that stole the show and eventually put Australia firmly ahead, both Wellington and Gardener s performances showed the intent that head coach Matthew Mott had been calling for at the start of the series. They played with confidence, taking pressure off the more experienced senior players and made it clear that Australia were up for the fight.

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Since her promotion to the top of the order, Beth Mooney has been one of Australia s more consistent batters. In 16 innings the left-hander has scored one hundred and five fifties at an average of 35.37, forming a solid opening partnership with Nicole Bolton. She is not the most flamboyant batter, but once she gets stuck into an innings, Mooney is rather hard to dislodge.

Alyssa Healy is quite different. She is not your quintessential, see-off-the-new-ball opener, but more of an instinctive stroke-maker. When she is in full flow, Healy makes batting look extremely easy, but her international batting numbers are less than impressive: in 41 innings the wicket-keeper averages 15.96 with only two fifties.

Based purely on numbers, there was no need for Australia to look beyond Mooney, but Mott saw things differently. His call for more intensity and aggression in the team s approach meant a change in personnel as well. In Healy he saw someone that could give Australia a rapid start and potentially take Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, England s biggest threats with the ball, out of the equation. He took a punt, and it worked.

Women’s Ashes 2017-18 to serve fans with world-class live streaming feed
Women’s Ashes 2017-18 to serve fans with world-class live streaming feed

After throwing away a start in the first ODI, Healy blasted her way to back-to-back half-centuries, the first of which resulted in a victory for the home team. From the very start, the right-hander took the attack to England, punishing anything short or wide. She never let any of their bowlers settle into a rhythm, making sure to cash in on any scoring opportunities and putting them on the back foot straight away.

It was Healy s rapid 56 in the second ODI that laid the foundation for the Australian onslaught that came later. Her outright aggression was a change from Australia s solid, comparatively sedate approach at the start of the innings in the World Cup. Alongside Bolton she successfully disrupted England s plan, blunting the new ball and causing the visitors to flounder. In three matches, the pair of Brunt and Shrubsole managed only four wickets something that clearly hurt their chances.

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When Haynes was appointed captain for the Ashes series, there was much doubt as to whether she would even fit into the starting XI. Her form in the Women s National Cricket League, Australia s one-day competition, was exceptional. She smashed a century and followed that up with 83, but the naysayers didn t think that was enough.

In the second ODI, with her team needing to capitalise on a solid foundation provided by the top order, Haynes launched an onslaught that would take the game away from England. The Australian captain s unbeaten 56-ball 89 included five fours and three sixes, and was an exhibition of not just brute force but also an amalgamation of timing and grace. She used the pace of the bowlers, worked the angles well and targeted the straight boundary whenever she wanted to go big. The innings was an emphatic response that dismissed any doubts of her ability as a batter and a leader. It was an innings that underlined Australia s desire to dominate.

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Megan Schutt is a genuine threat with the new ball. She doesn t have the pace of Perry, but she can swing the ball around corners and is handful in almost any conditions. She often flies under the radar with Perry taking centre stage, but the in-swinger can be lethal when she gets it right.

In the ODI leg of the series Schutt took 10 wickets, carrying Australia s aggressive mantra with the ball as well. She swung the new ball prodigiously, bowled accurately and intelligently in the middle overs, and almost always found a way to take wickets.

Schutt troubled England the last times both teams met in whites, and going by her current form it is likely she will be an even bigger threat with the pink ball.

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England have a tendency to start slowly. They take a couple of matches to hit their stride, and once they do, winning becomes a habit.

In the 2017 World Cup, England recovered from a shocking loss to India in the opening round to go on to lift the trophy. The likes of Tammy Beaumont, Natalie Sciver, Sarah Taylor and Anya Shrubsole took a while to find their feet, but through the course of the tournament they all made a big impact.

England have started the 2017 Ashes the same way. They lost the first two ODIs but came back strongly in the third to snatch a win and two important points. Heather Knight unleashed her full repertoire of strokes to compile a match-winning 88 and sealed a 20-run victory for England at Coff s Harbor.

Although Australia have their nose ahead one-third of the way into the series (having won the final ODI), England will enter the Test match at North Sydney Oval with a great deal of confidence. Both teams are equally matched: solid batting line-ups with a good mix of youth and experience, and slightly inexperienced bowling attacks, aside from two fast bowlers to spearhead the attack.

The Test match will certainly be a journey into the unknown for both sides with the pink ball and under lights, but considering how closely contested the ODI series was, it will undoubtedly make for a great contest. Australia may be in the lead, but England have shown that they are good at making amends. They will need to bring their A-game, because an Australian win will mean they retain the wooden ball .

Squads:

Australia: Alex Blackwell, Nicole Bolton, Lauren Cheatle, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes (c), Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington

England: 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