It’s going to be the hardest team we’ve picked: Matthew Mott

Matthew Mott. ©ICC

After stumps on day one of Australia’s three-day practice match against England Academy at Marlborough College in Swindon, it seemed Sophie Molineux had batted her way into Australia’s XI for the Test at Taunton. The allrounder, who received an “unexpected” call up to join the squad after after the ODI series, scored an unbeaten 62-ball 65 at no.7.

Next it was the turn of Tayla Vlaeminck, the 20-year-old fast bowler, to put her hand up for selection with a fiery spell late on day one and early on day two. She finished the first innings with figures of 4 for 31 and impressed with her raw pace.

On the final day, Molineux (33* and 4 for 30), Ashleigh Gardner (3 for 37) and Nicola Carey (21 and 1 for 19) all put in impressive performances to give Australia a comfortable 240-run win.

With the positions of the top six batters— Alyssa Healy, Nicole Bolton, Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry, Beth Mooney and Rachel Haynes— seemingly locked in, Australia are faced with a problem of plenty to finalise their XI for the Test match.

“It’s going to be definitely the hardest team we’ve picked in a while, because it’s such a unique opportunity as well and there’s a lot at stake,” said Matthew Mott, head coach of Australia, after the match on Saturday (July 13). “I think there’ll be a lot of conversations around what our best balance is, and because we don’t have anything really to go by— the last Test was a couple of years ago— it’s a little bit of a guessing game in what’s going to be the most effective team to win the Test.”

“We’ve still got a few days to work out what the best combination is. I think the batters have all pretty much put their hand up and done a little bit at different times, but we’re also throwing up a few options with the bowling as well and what that might look like. We are not 100% sure. We’ll probably (look) to name a XII pretty close to the Test match and then make the final decision on the day.”

With Perry, Megan Schutt and Jess Jonassen set to lead the bowling attack, the battle between the remaining spinners— Molineux, Gardner and Georgia Wareham— and quicks— Vlaeminck, Carey and Delissa Kimmince— will heat up. Since conditions in Taunton are expected to assist the spinners, Australia may choose to go into the Test with a spin heavy attack. However, Mott insists that he is keeping “an open mind”.

“All the intel says its going to spin. I noticed in the county game the other day the spinners took a lot of wickets in the back end… and Somerset have had a lot of results there this year. They’ve had seven wins all up— which is a lot— and it’s based around a pretty strong spin attack. But the quicks have taken some wickets as well. We’ll just keep an open mind, see what it serves up, and we’ll know a lot more in a couple of days.”

According to Mott, Molineux, who narrowly missed out on making the initial (Ashes) squad due to injury concerns, was one of the most impressive players on show through the practice match. Her form with both bat and ball makes her a front-runner to earn a Baggy Green.

“I think she was always earmarked in with a potential to start and it was really only her injury as to why she was delayed on this tour,” he said. “Her batting in this match was exceptional as well. She puts her hand right up there (for selection). I think the way she bowled today shows the value of being able to spin the ball and also (use) that slider (which) asks a lot of questions for lbw as well. She is a big candidate.”

Through the course of the practice match, Australia continued to play their attacking brand of cricket— the batters showing positive intent, constantly looking to score. In the first innings, Australia scored at a run rate of 4.32, while their second innings runs came even quicker, at 4.40 runs per over. Mott believes this type of approach will help “maximise” the team’s chances to take 20 wickets.

“I think our scoring rate was pretty solid throughout (the match), but it is a small ground and fast outfield so that’s pretty much expected. Just generally, I think our intent to score was always there. Every batter that came out looked to be positive and hit the ball hard, and the only real difference (from the ODIs) is that we just want to keep the ball on the ground a little bit more often. We still want to score quickly to maximise that chance to take 20 wickets. That was the motive.”

Over the next few days Australia will travel to Taunton, get a day to recover fully and then hit the nets again for a final bit of preparation. They are only two points away from retaining the Ashes, but as they have made clear, they would like to do it emphatically— not with just a draw in the Test match.