England could not be better placed going into the Ashes, or what passes for the Ashes in the women's game. Having crushed Australia in the Twenty20 series 4-1 – in the process completing their first limited-overs series triumph Down Under – they look good value to retain the urn.
To do so they will have to win or draw the one-off Test which begins in Sydney tomorrow morning. Charlotte Edwards' side have held the Ashes since 2005 and despite Australian confidence, the omens look good for the tourists. They are expected to welcome back fast bowler Katherine Brunt while Edwards and her Kent colleague Lydia Greenway (who averaged 76 in the T20s) are in ominous batting form.
"She's obviously the spearhead of our attack and we believe she's going to be fit for tomorrow which obviously I'm really excited about," Edwards said of Brunt. "And Laura Marsh has been doing particularly well and Lydia Greenway is in the form of her life."
The Australians, though, cannot be discounted. They won the one-day series that preceded the Twenty20 marathon 2-1 and are the current T20 world champions, having taken England's crown in West Indies last year.
Alex Blackwell, the hosts' skipper, says that her side will be motivated by the Aussie men's defeat in their Ashes series. "It was disappointing to see the men lose the Ashes but hopefully that's something that we can do one better and bring our Ashes home," Blackwell said.
"I'm very excited about the group of girls we've got at the moment and I think this is one of our best chances to get the Ashes back off the English here on home turf."
Blackwell will have to get the better of Edwards, who has enjoyed a hugely impressive career as England captain. England's success in the men's game has come courtesy of Andrew Strauss's strong relationship with coach Andy Flower, and Edwards appears to enjoy a similarly fruitful bond with the women's coach, Mark Lane. Lane is a genial, friendly character but he and Edwards have brought a steeliness to England's cricket that has reaped reward after reward over the past three years – most notable in 2009, when they won the Ashes, the World Twenty20 and the 50-over World Cup in quick succession.
England's only grumble on this tour has been the brevity of the Ashes series itself, the result of an increasing focus on T20 in the women's game. One Test is clearly not enough: the sort of thrilling narrative that so often accompanies a men's Ashes cannot be replicated in just one match.
Difference in series length aside, the excitement of the men's recent triumph has provided extra motivation for the women, Edwards said. "The team have taken a huge amount of inspiration from what the guys have achieved so we'll be looking to do the same," she said. "What the guys did was truly special, so it's certainly something that's really inspiring our team at the moment."