Infotainment Factory: Why cricket was the loser in women's Test

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Sunday, 21 July 2019

Why cricket was the loser in women's Test


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Australia might have retained the Ashes, but a match that petered out into a very tame draw has again raised questions about the way teams approach women’s Test cricket.

Before the match, both Australia and England spoke about the need to play positive cricket and push for a result, a sentiment that sounded good but went out the window as Australia laboured over a first innings of 420, consuming more than 154 overs in the process.

It’s the second straight women’s Test where just two-and-a-bit innings have been possible, putting a dampener on what the players say is a career highlight for them.

The key take-out from this Test, and the corresponding fixture at North Sydney Oval in 2017, should have been the extraordinary feats of Ellyse Perry, who became just the fourth woman in history to make a century in consecutive Test innings. Perry was within 24 runs of an unprecedented third straight hundred when this match was mercifully called off, bringing an end to a dour struggle that never lived up to the pre-match hype.

Ellyse Perry

But instead of lauding Perry’s achievements, we’re left with an empty feeling, relieved that the last rites were applied early to this match.

To an extent, Australia’s approach is understandable. Knowing before the match that a draw would be good enough to secure the Ashes, they batted England out of the match, with Perry and Rachael Haynes eating up 71 overs for a fourth wicket partnership of 162 in the first innings.

Captain Meg Lanning said Australia considered setting England a target on the final afternoon, but conceded the lifeless pitch would have made it difficult to bowl the home side out.

“We thought about (declaring) and had a good chat about what our options were and whether we could force a result, but we sort of looked at how many overs were left, especially given how many wickets were falling,” Lanning said.

“Test cricket’s supposed to be hard and a tough battle and I think that’s exactly what it was. Both teams were trying to get an advantage. I don’t think it was entirely either team’s fault where we ended up in the game, to be honest.

“At different points we were trying to win it, we just lost time throughout and it got to a point where we felt we couldn’t win the game.

“We weren’t going to throw it open to England to give them a chance.

“We came into the Test match six-nil up and we were in a position to make that decision.”

Lanning’s reference to the pitch is worth noting. A number of former players have acknowledged that the most entertaining women’s Test of recent times was played in Perth in 2014, on a pitch that provided plenty of pace and bounce, which is key to showcasing the skills of the elite players. Serve up a pitch that offers very little, and you’ll get the same in return.

England's Georgia Elwiss in action on day three of the Test.

While Australia could be satisfied with a draw that secured the Ashes for another two years, England’s approach was mystifying; especially on the third evening, when they added precisely 13 runs in 14 overs, despite needing to win the match to keep their series hopes alive.

When questioned about England’s tactics in that final hour, all-rounder Nat Sciver displayed the same straight bat she and her teammates had been playing at the crease.

“We are trying our hardest out there,” she said.

“Obviously, the way we needed to play was positively,” she added. “It has kind of gone the other way a little bit."

That final hour on Saturday summed up the mood of the game, where both teams seemed intent on ensuring they didn’t lose, rather than chasing a win. All well and good when you’re in Australia’s shoes, but with England now facing an 8-2 series deficit, the three T20s become academic.

Given the limited amount of Test cricket played by the women – just eight matches worldwide this decade – each match is under intense scrutiny. Unlike the men, where a boring draw can be erased from the memory by a match the following week, each women’s Test must stand tall as an example of why the format should be continued. As it is, with the last two Ashes Tests failing to produce a result, there hasn’t been a women’s Test that’s produced a winner since 2015.

The men's game went through a similar problem in the 1980s, when 45.8 per cent of all Test matches played in that decade resulted in a draw. But a more attacking mindset has seen that figure fall to 19.9 per cent since 2010. It's a period where men's Tests have also had to re-invent themselves as they battle for relevancy, with the advent of day/night Test cricket and ongoing debate over whether or not matches should be cut to four days.

As some point, the captains have to take responsibility and put the game of cricket above the short-term needs of their teams. Yes, for Australia a draw was good enough to retain the Women's Ashes, and from the England point-of-view a draw is better than a loss.

But above all else, the women’s game would have been better served by a result, one way or the other. Both Lanning and her English counterpart, Heather Knight, should have been prepared to lose the Test match in order to play an attractive brand of cricket that promoted the format, and encouraged administrators to schedule more Test matches.

As it was, the only loser was the game itself.

Australia might have retained the Ashes, but a match that petered out into a very tame draw has again raised questions about the way teams approach women’s Test cricket.

Before the match, both Australia and England spoke about the need to play positive cricket and push for a result, a sentiment that sounded good but went out the window as Australia laboured over a first innings of 420, consuming more than 154 overs in the process.

It’s the second straight women’s Test where just two-and-a-bit innings have been possible, putting a dampener on what the players say is a career highlight for them.

The key take-out from this Test, and the corresponding fixture at North Sydney Oval in 2017, should have been the extraordinary feats of Ellyse Perry, who became just the fourth woman in history to make a century in consecutive Test innings. Perry was within 24 runs of an unprecedented third straight hundred when this match was mercifully called off, bringing an end to a dour struggle that never lived up to the pre-match hype.

Ellyse Perry

But instead of lauding Perry’s achievements, we’re left with an empty feeling, relieved that the last rites were applied early to this match.

To an extent, Australia’s approach is understandable. Knowing before the match that a draw would be good enough to secure the Ashes, they batted England out of the match, with Perry and Rachael Haynes eating up 71 overs for a fourth wicket partnership of 162 in the first innings.

Captain Meg Lanning said Australia considered setting England a target on the final afternoon, but conceded the lifeless pitch would have made it difficult to bowl the home side out.

“We thought about (declaring) and had a good chat about what our options were and whether we could force a result, but we sort of looked at how many overs were left, especially given how many wickets were falling,” Lanning said.

“Test cricket’s supposed to be hard and a tough battle and I think that’s exactly what it was. Both teams were trying to get an advantage. I don’t think it was entirely either team’s fault where we ended up in the game, to be honest.

“At different points we were trying to win it, we just lost time throughout and it got to a point where we felt we couldn’t win the game.

“We weren’t going to throw it open to England to give them a chance.

“We came into the Test match six-nil up and we were in a position to make that decision.”

Lanning’s reference to the pitch is worth noting. A number of former players have acknowledged that the most entertaining women’s Test of recent times was played in Perth in 2014, on a pitch that provided plenty of pace and bounce, which is key to showcasing the skills of the elite players. Serve up a pitch that offers very little, and you’ll get the same in return.

England's Georgia Elwiss in action on day three of the Test.

While Australia could be satisfied with a draw that secured the Ashes for another two years, England’s approach was mystifying; especially on the third evening, when they added precisely 13 runs in 14 overs, despite needing to win the match to keep their series hopes alive.

When questioned about England’s tactics in that final hour, all-rounder Nat Sciver displayed the same straight bat she and her teammates had been playing at the crease.

“We are trying our hardest out there,” she said.

“Obviously, the way we needed to play was positively,” she added. “It has kind of gone the other way a little bit."

That final hour on Saturday summed up the mood of the game, where both teams seemed intent on ensuring they didn’t lose, rather than chasing a win. All well and good when you’re in Australia’s shoes, but with England now facing an 8-2 series deficit, the three T20s become academic.

Given the limited amount of Test cricket played by the women – just eight matches worldwide this decade – each match is under intense scrutiny. Unlike the men, where a boring draw can be erased from the memory by a match the following week, each women’s Test must stand tall as an example of why the format should be continued. As it is, with the last two Ashes Tests failing to produce a result, there hasn’t been a women’s Test that’s produced a winner since 2015.

The men's game went through a similar problem in the 1980s, when 45.8 per cent of all Test matches played in that decade resulted in a draw. But a more attacking mindset has seen that figure fall to 19.9 per cent since 2010. It's a period where men's Tests have also had to re-invent themselves as they battle for relevancy, with the advent of day/night Test cricket and ongoing debate over whether or not matches should be cut to four days.

As some point, the captains have to take responsibility and put the game of cricket above the short-term needs of their teams. Yes, for Australia a draw was good enough to retain the Women's Ashes, and from the England point-of-view a draw is better than a loss.

But above all else, the women’s game would have been better served by a result, one way or the other. Both Lanning and her English counterpart, Heather Knight, should have been prepared to lose the Test match in order to play an attractive brand of cricket that promoted the format, and encouraged administrators to schedule more Test matches.

As it was, the only loser was the game itself.

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