Not since the Waugh twins have two players who have shared the same bedroom held such a potentially decisive hand in Australia’s Ashes fortunes.
Actually, in this case, it is Ashes plural — Asheses? — as the talented cohabitants are wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy and tearaway quick Mitchell Starc, and they are pursuing different urns.
Healy was in the thick of Women’s Ashes action at the weekend and Starc was merely warming up. But the battle for bragging rights during the nightly Facetime chat between cricket’s First Couple was hot.
Healy seemed to have seized choice of restaurants — or whatever side bet Mitchlyssa (or is it Altchell?) have on their respective performances — in the bag when she added a typically thumping run-a-ball 71 to some smart work behind the stumps.
At the same time, Starc was finishing off the survivors of his Saturday night Adelaide Oval demolition, capturing an eye-catching 8-73 as New South Wales romped to a six wicket win over South Australia.
Presumably national runs trump first class wickets in cricket’s game of marital one-upmanship. However Healy’s seemingly winning hand would be diminished by her team’s capitulation.
Australia was romping along at 0-118 in pursuit of England’s impressive 8-284 when Healy skied one too many big hoiks. Her job was done but her departure was the precursor to a disappointing middle order collapse.
Even allowing for their now 2-1 (four points to two) series lead, the timing of Australia’s 20-run defeat was unfortunate. Not because Healy might have to eat Italian instead of Thai, but because this game had taken on added importance when it was switched to Nine’s main channel by popular demand — a national audience of 650,000 for the initial games.
Alas, instead of a dramatic victory after an epic run chase the Australians were replaced by regular programming before England could put the finishing touches to an impressive victory. That’s sports business.
It will be of no consolation to the Australians that a series they had threatened to dominate by seizing the first three games is instead very much alive. But they will surely appreciate the greater exposure these Women’s Ashes are receiving.
Alyssa Healy’s wicketkeeping has been excellent in the Women’s Ashes so far. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
Even if this involves players being forced to wear microphones on the field by their TV pay masters, a gimmick that should be confined to charity matches and the BBL.
For those being introduced to women’s cricket during this series, or being reacquainted after a long absence, the most striking element is … the striking. More sixes, bigger totals and (for a contemporary audience) greater excitement.
The reflexive response of some has been to bemoan the lack of express bowling that might curtail the big hitting, a subtle and sometimes even plainly stated comparison with the men’s game.
Of course comparisons between men’s and women’s versions of the same sport are almost always odious. The answer to the current dominance of bat over ball in women’s cricket is the same as that to the dominance of bat over ball in men’s limited over cricket — subtle variation in the bowling and improved fielding.
As the ripping leg breaks of Australia’s Amanda-Jade Wellington and the flashing gloves of England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor attest, this work is already in progress.
England’s bowling proved more subtle and more effective on Sunday. Which bring us back to inter-Ashes marital head-to-head and the warning shots fired by Starc ahead of the men’s Ashes next month.
None was better than the viciously swinging yorker that knocked over South Australia’s Test aspirant Travis Head for a golden duck; a delivery that encapsulated the irony of this first round of Sheffield Shield games.
This was supposed to be the first instalment of the supposed ”bat-off” for the disputed positions in the Australian team — three, six and seven (wicketkeeper-batsman).
Usman Khawaja dispelled what doubts there were about his place at number with a patient second innings 122 for Queensland against Victoria at the Gabba, the scene of the first Test.
Otherwise we were immediately reminded pink ball Sheffield Shield matches, with their lush decks contrived to protect the fragile pastel missile from abrasions, are no place to select a national team for anything but pink ball Test matches.
Hilton Cartwright’s 61 and 38 for WA might have aroused the interest of the national selectors, whose arousal levels for the all-rounder are already high. Shaun Marsh’s 63 will have not gone unnoticed by both the supporters and knockers of a family that divides more opinions than the Kardashians.
Sydneysiders will no doubt consider Daniel Hughes’s 57 sufficient not only for Ashes selection, but to have him anointed a future Test captain. Victorians will cry conspiracy.
Otherwise? Of those auditioning for ‘Australia’s Next Top Wicketkeeper’, Matthew Wade (1 and 6), Peter Nevill (20) and Alex Carey (12 and 4) did little to dispel fears the gloves will go to the man who can best chirp “Boooowled Gaaazzaaa”.
Shaun Marsh and Hilton Cartwright both staked a claim for Test selection. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
So in the Ashes equation, Starc’s performance was a considerable plus. While the Starc-Cummins-Hazlewood-Lyon attack is a considered an automatic selection, form and fitness are never guaranteed.
As the wickets tumbled in Adelaide you could almost hear James Anderson and Stuart Broad licking their lips about conditions in which the veteran England seamers would surely excel.
Starc’s return not only meant he would be the happier of cricketing’s First Couple during their Sunday evening chat. It also eased fears Australia had created a home away from home for the Old Enemy in Adelaide Oval’s nocturnal fixture.