There is something intense about winning streaks. On their rare appearances in a casino, there is a fever in the eyes of those involved. In horse racing they become a public obsession, like with Black Caviar or Winx. Each start has more riding on it, as the streak becomes more valuable than the stakes. We see the angst of trainers manipulating careers trying to both extend the streak and avoid ending it.
Test cricket streaks are tough work, with up to five days in the field for each result, and always the chance that rain will ruin your run. Limited-overs games could be interpreted as more difficult, because shorter formats give quality less of a chance to overcome setbacks. A bad few minutes can mean you are four for 20, and cannot score enough that day.
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So cricket streaks are small. Sixteen is the longest for Tests, set by the 1980s West Indies, equalled once by Steve Waugh’s Australians before biting the Kolkata dust. Two year later, Ricky Ponting’s one-day international team set a record of 21, winning through most of a home tri-series against England and Sri Lanka, then the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, followed by the first four matches on a West Indies tour before Brian Lara showed up and the home team won the final three.
Twenty-one. The old-fashioned aged of adulthood, the age when you get a cake with a key on it. That is the number that the Australian women’s team has the chance to catch in the coming week at Brisbane’s Allan Border Field.
The last time Australia’s women lost an ODI was during the Women’s Ashes in 2017. Since, they have gone unbeaten through tours to play India and Pakistan, knocked over New Zealand at home, travelled to sweep England and the West Indies, and finished up with Sri Lanka in Australia last season. That took them to 18 in a row, setting a new record in the women’s game by passing the mark set 20 years earlier by Belinda Clark’s team. Now with three games against New Zealand from this Saturday, they have a shot at levelling the record for all ODIs.
History is on their side. One-dayers against the Kiwis are part of the furniture, a series that since 1985 has been known as the Rose Bowl. Despite being one of the world’s best teams, New Zealand have a mental block when it comes to the team across the Tasman. Their last Rose Bowl win? That was in February 1999. The famous World Cup tied semi-final at Edgbaston had not happened yet. The hot social argument was about which year constituted the new millennium. A certain song by Prince was not yet retrospective.
By now the teams have played for the Rose Bowl 29 times. New Zealand teams have won three, of which one was in Australia, and that was in 1987. I don’t have any fun facts about 1987, it was too long ago. Australian teams have generally been stronger over the period, and in recent years are far better resourced, but that does not explain the scale of the disparity. There seems to be a level of intimidation afoot.
In this year’s teams, Australia have more bowling variety and batting that goes all the way down. New Zealand have a few players picked to fill gaps rather than on the basis of strong claims. The batting revolves around three players, at least one of whom has to come off.
It is an interesting question whether a team’s batting weakness is more or less a problem playing 50 overs. In the T20s that just concluded, a lack of boundary-hitting power meant New Zealand could not make big scores. The 50-over version allows players much more time to accumulate a total rather than blaze one. But a longer innings demands more examination of technique and more stamina.
Related: Ellyse Perry to sit out rest of New Zealand series after latest injury blow
For Australia, this is where the loss to injury of all-rounder Ellyse Perry bites. She was not hugely missed in the T20s, where they have plenty of batting power and it is easier to get away with a mix of spin and pace-off mediums. The longer version of the white-ball game has more use for a pace-on opening bowler who can swing or seam the ball. Take Perry’s career-best match haul of seven for 22 in England last year.
The real loss is with the bat, where she has a claim to being the best player ever in women’s ODIs. Lanning is her only rival, with 13 centuries from 80 starts and an average over 52. Perry, though, takes consistency to an even higher level. Since going up the order in 2013, she has made a half-century or better in 28 innings out of 53, well over half her hits. She averages 74 in that time. Her rare ability is to match perfect calm at the crease with a near-perfect technique, meaning she routinely bats long through an innings before accelerating as required.
Over the length of an ODI, that sort of stability is a major loss. Australia will still have the precision of Lanning, the scoring power of Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Rachael Haynes and Ash Gardner, and a further raft of useful contributors. Jess Jonassen, for instance, is a far better bat than she has been allowed to show while being stuck down the order during the T20s.
The chance to match a prestigious record is alive. The vagaries of cricket, though, are always there to trip teams up. That bad hour, that bad over, and the wheel turns, just as we saw when New Zealand won the third T20 on Wednesday after being walloped in the first two. The history of the Rose Bowl goes one way, but in most of those series losses the Kiwis still snared a match. The magic of the streak depends on Australia dodging any such stumbles.