Well that wasn’t the summer of cricket we were expecting.
To many it was no surprise to see Australia’s women retain the Ashes for a third consecutive series.
But the emphatic way in which they did so was a shock. And a worrying one at that.
The stats don’t lie. England were beaten. Heavily.
With the series finishing 12-4, this was the joint largest margin of victory since the introduction of the multi-format scoring system in 2013, when England beat Australia by the same scoreline.
Since then the biggest margin of victory had been four points when Australia won in 2015, while the 2017/18 series was drawn.
The difference between this time round was huge though. Across the series, the four top run scorers were all Australian while four of the top five wicket takers also donned the Baggy Green – Sophie Ecclestone was the exception, claiming an impressive 13 wickets and shining throughout. The mercurial Ellyse Perry topped both charts.
So why were the Australians so much better than an England side who famously won the World Cup just two years before?
To me, it seems as though there were two reasons: the brand of cricket they played and the investment that has been made into the domestic game Down Under.
Often throughout this series it felt like we were watching England’s male World Cup-winning team of 2019 taking on their counterparts that flopped so infamously four years before.
That was garbage from England am afraid.
Lanning, Mooney and Gardner brutal with the bat. Some tough questions have to be asked about not just England team skills, but also the powers that be about domestic structure and talent spotting.
Aus too good in every department.
— Charles Dagnall (@CharlesDagnall) July 26, 2019
Australia adopted an innovative, aggressive, domineering form of cricket clearly created in a T20 style and adapted to each match situation, while England tended to revert to a more cautious, old-fashioned manner that often wasn’t suited to the occasion.
That’s not to say England were incapable of showcasing a more progressive style – Lauren Winfield and Katherine Brunt showed fantastic skill and inventiveness with the bat to help their side out of a hole and set them on course for victory in the final T20I.
It’s just that they didn’t do it enough.
It was as though many of the players were void of the confidence they had shown back in 2017 and didn’t trust themselves, while in stark contrast the Australians were brimming with it and fully committed to the brand of cricket they were playing.
This can be closely linked to the second factor that I believe is behind their success and this is the investment that has been made into their domestic cricket, particularly the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL).
Since the WBBL replaced the Women’s T20 Cup for the 2015/16 season, it’s been very noticeable just how quickly the skillsets of the Australian players have improved.
And with plans to expand the women’s domestic game further announced a few days ago (alongside equal prize money at the 2021 T20 World Cup), the fear for the rest of the world is they will only get even better.
It’s clear to see just how hard the players have worked on developing their game – they’re hitting the ball harder and further, there are so many more variations on show with bat and ball and they’re not afraid to trying something funky tactically to swing the game in their favour.
While the WBBL is still aligned with the men’s tournament, in many ways it also feels like a tournament within its own right in the way it is treated on social media and by broadcasters, as we discussed earlier this year.
These women aren’t playing in the shadows of the men; they are recognised as exceptional cricketers in their own right.
Furthermore it also runs in conjunction with the 50-over National Women’s Cricket League and as a result there are now more than 100 professional female cricketers in Australia, with that number rising.
This also means that a whole host of exciting new stars are coming through into the international set up and cementing their places in at least one format of the game with some exceptional performances. This includes Ash Gardner, Beth Mooney, Sophie Molineux and Georgia Wareham to name but a few.
— Telegraph Women’s Sport (@WomensSport) July 22, 2019
By contrast, due to the central contracting system, there are only 21 fully professional cricketers in England despite there being many more players in the county set up than Australia’s state-based system.
And while the exciting talents of Freya Davies, Katie George and Bryony Smith have recently made their debuts for England, onlyKia Ecclestone has really forced her way in recent time into that core group that has represented the country for so long.
In some cases that can be due to bad luck – George suffered a nasty back injury last November just as she was becoming a regular – but it often seems as though these youngsters aren’t trusted on the biggest stages.
That could well come down to the aforementioned difference in the level of the domestic game, with England’s current county cricket system almost entirely amateur and the Kia Super League (KSL) not taking off anywhere near as well as hoped or expected.
It’s not like Australia possess more naturally talented cricketers (with maybe one or two exceptions) – they just have better opportunities and facilities to develop their games.
As a result, while Australia have improved rapidly, England’s seem to have stagnated.
Proud of this lot for finishing a disappointing Ashes series with a win last night. A lot of special moments to remember regardless of the results.
Thank you to the crowds for all for the brilliant support you gave us 💃🏽👏🏽 we’ll come back better for this 💪🏽 #WomensAshes pic.twitter.com/KFpe40OW4B
— Kate Cross (@katecross16) August 1, 2019
However there are some exciting and much needed changes being planned for the next few years that could well accelerate the growth of professionalism and skill in English domestic women’s cricket to rival Australia’s.
With the much talked about addition of The Hundred next season, the ECB have adopted Cricket Australia’s plan and will run a women’s competition alongside the men’s, closely affiliating the teams with their male counterparts and ensuring a good amount of coverage.
Furthermore they have also promised a £20m investment in women’s cricket that will see the creation of eight new Regional Centres of Excellence. These will then be paired with the teams in The Hundred and compete in a new 50-over competition to replace the current existing one, with two ‘marquee’ England players selected for each team.
They have also backtracked on a plan to completely scrap women’s county cricket and have promised to fund the County T20 Cup until the end of 2021.
All of this means that there will be more opportunities for talent to grow and develop at an elite level while also hopefully focusing on implementing a new style of cricket into the players from an early age that they can then carry through their careers.
This is a change that is also needed with the international stars too. Once the dust has settled from this series, they need to embrace change as the men did after the 2015 World Cup and re-invent themselves.
They are all incredibly talented players, they just need to be able to show it consistently on the international stage. And, as has been proven time and time again over the last few years, they’re not going to do it the way they are at the moment.
Will this lead to much of a change in the outcome for the 2021/22 Ashes series? It’s far too early to tell.
But one thing that is clear is that if they’re not careful, England could fall a long way behind their most bitter of rivals. Snd we certainly can’t be having that.