Fifteen weeks ago was the last time we took to the field as an England team in a competitive match. After what was a bumper, jam-packed summer, it actually feels alien to have gone that long without a cricket fixture. Nevertheless, we currently find ourselves a day away from the first women’s Ashes match, and to be quite honest, the preparation has been quite unique thanks to COVID.
After a bit of time off in October we were back to Loughborough for our weekly training camps. We managed to have a great training block as a team, especially with the incredible outdoor tent facility that we often find ourselves in during the freezing winter blocks. It’s an invaluable tool for a bowler because we get to put some realistic miles in our legs on grass; something that you can never quite replicate indoors.
Having done seven weeks indoors and in the tent, we were sprung with the news that we would get some warm weather training, and so we found ourselves on a flight to Oman for two weeks of outdoor preparation. We used this time to get out into the middle as much as possible, varying between white-ball and red-ball practice, knowing that once we made it out to Australia we wouldn’t have a great deal of time to get Test-match ready. It was a brilliant two weeks and another way of being able to prepare for competitive cricket in the best way possible.
When we left Oman, in mid-December, we thought we would have three final weeks of preparation with our regional teams. However – like many of us on this planet across the last two years – our plans were disrupted quite rudely by COVID-19.
For the final 10 days before we got on the plane to Australia we weren’t allowed to come into contact with anybody else. The risk of catching COVID at this point not only meant you would probably be poorly, but you would undoubtedly miss the plane over to Australia. So everybody found ways of getting their bowling, batting and fielding workloads in, albeit in quite a lonely fashion! And it’s fair to say our players and staff had a slightly less fun and social Christmas and New Year period than most.
Around Christmas time we were also hit with the news that entry into New Zealand for the ICC Women’s World Cup requires a 10-day hard quarantine, and due to the close proximity of the Ashes to the World Cup (the team will be flying straight from Australia to New Zealand) the scheduling simply wouldn’t work. So a week before we got on the flight to Australia we were told the Ashes had been moved forward by a week and we would now begin the series with the IT20s, followed by the Test and then the ODIs. It’s a good job we put an importance on being adaptable.
For the first time ever, we have travelled to Australia with an A Squad, which is fantastic for women’s cricket in England and Wales. Both as a reflection on the increasing depth of the domestic game and also because it’s such fantastic education and progression for those players in the A squad. We had two warm-up fixtures against the A team last weekend and they did themselves no harm at all, displaying their talent with two wins.
Like I said, unique. But, if the COVID pandemic has taught this group anything, it is that there is no such thing as perfect preparation. We have learnt how to adapt and prepare in the best possible way that the circumstances allow us and now it’s all about playing cricket. We can forget Teams calls for a bit, forget chatting protocols and PCR test schedules – the next week is about IT20 cricket and hopefully getting our Ashes off to the best start possible.