There is no doubt about it.
The Australian women’s cricket team have touched down in the United Kingdom ahead of their 2019 Ashes defence, which begins on 2 July.
The Ashes was last contested in 2017, Australia retaining the urn after the series ended in a draw, with both teams finishing on eight points.
Ellyse Perry scoring 213* at North Sydney Oval in the stand-alone Test was the stand-out moment of the series for many.
This year’s series will follow the same format as the last two editions: three ODIs will be played between 2-7 July, a Test from 18-21 July, then three T20s between 26-31 July.
The Test is worth four points, with the remaining games worth two apiece.
The Australian team has been announced as follows: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Nicole Bolton, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham.
For the first time, an Australia A squad is being taken too, with a solid mix of up-and-comers like Maitlan Brown, Josie Dooley, Sophie Molineux, Heather Graham, Tahlia McGrath, Annabel Sutherland, Rachel Trenaman, Belinda Vakarewa and Amanda-Jade Wellington, and some veterans who have been rewarded for their exceptional form during WBBL04 like Erin Burns and Sammy-Jo Johnson.
The A squad will play some matches, but are also there to be subbed into the main squad if there is an injury or need for them.
Heading into this series though, my biggest question for coach Matthew Mott is which players will open the batting, given the Australian squad has at least four opening batters within its ranks in Nicole Bolton, Rachael Haynes, Beth Mooney and Alyssa Healy.
It’s a good problem to have.
Last Ashes, the coach mixed it up and we saw Mooney miss out on playing ODIs, while Bolton didn’t play the T20s.
What added to the mix was that Haynes was captaining the side due to an injury to Lanning, so she was presumably batting down the order to allow her to focus on the captaincy. This time, with Lanning returning as skipper, could we see Haynes elevated up the order?
How well the players adapt to the conditions may also come into play, but given how many have played in England in the Super League, including Haynes for the Loughborough Lightning, Bolton for the Lancashire Thunder, and Mooney for Yorkshire, this may not be much of an advantage.
My view is that Mott will mix it up for each format. Healy has the ability to open in all formats, Bolton could open during the ODIs, then Haynes could do the job in the T20s.
The big question will be who is selected to open for the Test, given the lack of matches the Aussie women play (their last was in the 2017 Ashes).
Then again, given the success of the Brisbane Heat in the WBBL and the significant contribution Mooney made, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her elevated to opener, especially for the T20s.
She did struggle with the higher temperatures last summer – being challenged in the semi-finals and final at North Sydney Oval – but this shouldn’t be a problem, with cooler conditions expected in England.
One thing’s for sure though, the top order is irresistible at the moment and I’m really looking forward to seeing them play next week.
One player to keep an eye on during this series is Healy, who claimed the Belinda Clark Award last year, and was named Australian ODI and T20 player of the year.
Given their heavy summer, the Aussies women are heading into this series off the back of a six-week break, which was supposed to be used for rest and recreation – many travelled and Megan Schutt even got married.
But Healy kept herself busy and worked with a specialist batting coach, Ash Squire, to help her hit harder and further. Following her form last summer, Healy hitting harder and further is a frightening prospect.
However, given that she has only cleared the boundary on 31 occasions in 159 matches across all formats for Australia, this might be the series where her power hitting comes to the fore.
Let the Ashes commence.