|Women’s Ashes 2019: England v Australia|
|Venues: Leicester, Canterbury, Taunton, Chelmsford, Hove, Bristol Dates: 2-31 July|
The much-anticipated Women’s Ashes series begins on Tuesday – with England more keen than ever to wrest the trophy back from Australia.
This is the fifth time the Ashes will be a points-based, multi-format series – with Australia’s victory on English soil back in 2015 allowing them to retain the trophy after a drawn series down under in 2017.
Two points are on offer for each of the opening three one-day internationals, four points for winning the showpiece Test at Taunton, and two for each of the Twenty20 internationals which conclude the series.
But what can we expect from the series – and why are the players so keen to keep playing the Test format which has all but disappeared from the women’s international game?
Nearly 200,000 followers – but seeking a maiden Test cap
In an age where sports stars’ international visibility is measured by their social media reach, Danni Wyatt is one of England’s better-known players.
The right-hander from Stoke has more than 191,000 Twitter followers – a figure that dwarfs nearly all of her team-mates (wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor has 168,000, but captain Heather Knight is yet to break 50,000). And another 133,000 on Instagram.
But despite being one of only two women to hit multiple T20 international centuries, and having played in the Women’s Big Bash League and the multi-national T20 Challenge in India, Wyatt is just as determined to finally win her first cap in the longest format.
“I’d love to play in a Test – I’ve been 12th man for the last four Tests so if I get that nod I’ll give it my best,” Wyatt, who made her England debut in 2010, told BBC Sport.
“It’s a great batting track down at Taunton, we had that record-breaking T20 game last summer against South Africa, so I’ve had personal and team success there.”
Of England’s 17 full-time contracted players, only Wyatt, spinner Alex Hartley, batter Amy Jones and seamer Freya Davies are yet to feature at Test level – although the in-form Jones should be an automatic pick this time.
“My personal goal is to play in a Test match, something I missed out on last time,” Hartley told BBC Sport, having been part of the 2017 squad.
“We had a fantastic following in Australia, so we’re looking to build on that here in England.”
A red-ball specialist in a white-ball world?
Seamer Kate Cross has some “great memories” of the Ashes, after playing a starring role down under when she burst on to the England scene five years ago.
Cross played a key role in the Test victory in Perth which set England on the way to winning the 2013-14 Ashes – the last time they held the trophy.
But in the years that followed, the Lancashire right-armer found herself perceived to be a specialist in the longest format, and went four years without a T20 international appearance until her spectacular return in India in March this year.
Indeed, the biannual Test is a rare opportunity for England and Australia to play multi-innings Cricket, with both countries’ domestic structures consisting entirely of limited-overs games played with white balls in coloured clothing.
“I grew up playing men’s Cricket with a red ball,” Cross explained to BBC Sport.
“Probably for the first half of my career, everyone kind of pigeonholed me into Test match Cricket where we only play one game every two or three years.
“So I’m quite proud of myself that I’ve gone away and worked hard on my white-ball game and been able to implement that and play more Twenty20 and 50-over Cricket for England. But the Test match is always very, very special.
“We’ve played many T20 games at Taunton and they’ve been very high-scoring, so it’ll be an exciting Test match and there’ll be a result, which is probably the most important thing.”
England can expect a warm welcome at Taunton – which was designated as the official home of the women’s side for a short spell from 2006, although that was the last year it hosted a Test.
More recently in the women’s game, the County Ground has been home turf for Western Storm, the Super League team whose squad includes England skipper Knight and vice-captain Anya Shrubsole – so its dimensions and quirks will be well known to the England brains trust.
It was also one of the main venues for the 2017 Women’s World Cup, and a happy hunting ground for Knight’s England last summer in their T20 tri-series against South Africa and New Zealand.
Devoid of grass, it offered no assistance to seam or spin throughout the four days as only 21 wickets fell in 387 overs, and quickly scuffed up the pink ball which was used in the day-night encounter.
But the players are confident of plenty of backing at Taunton – and at Leicester and Canterbury for the ODIs, before the T20s at Chelmsford, Hove and Bristol conclude the series.
Spinner Sophie Ecclestone told BBC Sport: “Hopefully we can put on a big showcase for Test Cricket.
“You don’t really know what to expect with a Test only every couple of years. But it’s an amazing experience, you’ve got to embrace it.
“It’ll be great to play at Taunton and get all my family there; I think they’re already planning a minibus to come and watch.”