Cricket
Adam Collins 12d

England unfazed by Australia's promise of aggressive cricket

AUS-W v ENG-W 2017-18, Cricket

In Australian rules football, the greatest cliche of them all is when a coach says his side are "just happy to get the four points" when recording a win. The four points in this Women's Ashes Test match - a standalone fixture in a multi-format bilateral series, and the first ever between the nations with a pink ball and under lights - really are vital. If Australia claim them, the Ashes will be safe in their custody, resolved before a single ball of the three T20s.

Two days out from the Test, Ellyse Perry said that Australia would be playing an "aggressive brand of cricket" in the fixture in order to wipe England out. Another great Australian expression, carrying with it little ambiguity. "That's the way Australians team generally play," noted England captain Heather Knight. "For us, it is about nullifying that and quieting them down and playing our way and standing up to them face to face."

Putting the points tally of the broader series aside, this is a spectacle all on its own. "We don't get to play Test cricket very often and to be involved in the first-ever Ashes day-night Test for male or female cricket is something the girls are relishing," Knight said, adding that the boutique North Sydney Oval is a "brilliant ground that is perfect for women's cricket".

Rachael Haynes is a fraction less animated, agreeing with the proposition that pink-ball cricket is "overhyped" in an effort to normalise what is about to come over the next four days. "From our point of view we don't want to think about it too much either way," she said. "We want to just go out there and focus on the contest that is happening at the time."

The tourists didn't enjoy a perfect preparation for the ODIs due to rain, and their coach Mark Robinson is far from thrilled about the pitch they played a three-day warm-up game on in Blacktown ahead of this Test. "It probably resembles nothing like [the surface] we are going to play on," he said. "It took chunks out of the ball so playing under the lights was irrelevant, really, because you had big chunks out of the ball so it was never going to swing."

In both that game and Australia's own hit out in Canberra, wickets fell in bulk after dark but barely at all when the sun was out. "We learned a lot about how we want to manage those situations and we're going to change things up during the sessions," Haynes said.

Both coaches said on the eve of the Test that the track at North Sydney is drier than they anticipated when they first saw it. In turn, Matthew Mott said he said he is glad he waited to name a final XI to see how the pitch looks on game day. But they are confident that it will still be hard enough to behave in a way that their sides can drive the game as a spectacle.

That is in contrast to the track they played on the last time they met in a Test two years ago in Canterbury. On that occasion, Australia came on top, but the talking point was the glacial pace the game was played at. "I felt really sorry for them," Robinson said reflecting on what he called a "horrendous" surface. "The girls got a lot of criticism in both teams because it wasn't a great spectacle. But the wicket was diabolical. The most important thing for women's cricket is the surface all the time, you need that extra pace."

For Knight, it was a week she would rather forget, and given the significant change in the side since that series she happily can. North Sydney does prompt happy memories for three members of her squad, for it was the ground where England won the ODI World Cup in 2009, Katherine Brunt, Sarah Taylor and Laura Marsh veterans of that campaign.

Knight is also upbeat about the "backs against the wall" victory her side recorded in the final ODI after conceding the first two, believing that "everything is open" coming into the Test. The transition from limited overs to long-form cricket isn't something that daunts her either, believing gains they have made with the white ball - not least winning the World Cup in July - should "bleed into" their Test performance here as well.

"I love putting on the whites," she said, pointing out she has only had the chance to do so on five occasions in seven years since debuting. "The new Ashes format is brilliant. It has really got people interested and knowing what is going on. It has got Test cricket back on the map. I would love to see that played in a number of series and to play more Test cricket."

As for the team sheet that she will hand over at the toss, she is slightly coyer. "There is a potential to play three spinners but it will be how we complement the seam and if we play an extra batter," she said. With 16 to choose from, many combinations are possible. That includes Kate Cross, who has been added to the initial group if looking for a third frontline seamer to complement Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole.

Australia cut back their own group to 13 ahead of coming to Sydney, but also have a variety of alternatives on the table. A lot will hinge on whether they debut teenage left-arm quick Lauren Cheatle. If they do, room may need to be found by leaving out one of the spinners that have formed the backbone of Australia's attack in 2017.

What appears certain is that explosive all-rounder Ashleigh Gardner will earn a baggy green. "She's probably more suited to trying to hit the ball out of the park and not a traditional Test player," Mott said. "But if the top order does their job she could be a real sting in the tail."

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