England have undergone a mental shift which Nat Sciver, their vice-captain, believes will go some way towards overcoming a difficult preparation for the Women's Ashes, starting on Thursday.
Speaking from Adelaide, where the squad held their first training session since introducing new, slightly eased Covid-prevention protocols, Sciver said the players had enjoyed a feeling of "calm" after being "very frustrated" by strict social distancing protocols. The shift was a physical one too, with the group holding their first in-person team meeting and allowed to gather in small groups outside.
"Being together and being as one as a group is part of why we love touring," Sciver said on Tuesday. "Being away from your family is hard and being away from your home, but then when you have that group and [...] just being able to go around to someone's room, it makes such a big difference.
"That is one of the rules that changed for us. As we're now Covid-secure, the group is secure and we can mingle a little bit more - still in smaller groups, but yeah, I think that feeling was back again today.
"Today's been the first day where I think everyone's feeling bit more calm, whereas last week everyone was very frustrated with the rules that we've had to adhere by. I think everyone took a breath and enjoyed themselves. Before that, everyone was like: 'Well, when are we going to be able to meet out? Are we going to be able to hug each other?' The unknown was stressing people out a lot."
One member of England's support staff tested positive for Covid last week and has remained in isolation in Canberra but all other members of the touring party who travelled to Adelaide have tested negative. Having Covid enter the camp, albeit contained, along with rain-hit preparations and a schedule switch to allow for pre-World Cup quarantine requirements in New Zealand led captain Heather Knight to describe her side's Ashes build-up as "pretty average" and coach Lisa Keightley to admit: "I wouldn't say we've started that well."
England were beaten by England A in both of their T20 warm-up matches on Sunday. Sciver scored 1 and took 2 for 8 from three overs in one of those as left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone claimed an extraordinary 7 for 14, while Sciver scored 33 and took 1 for 20 in the other. In an earlier, rain-affected 35-over match in which England beat England A by 10 runs, Sciver scored a run-a-ball 71 and took 3 for 28, with Knight also scoring a half-century.
Meanwhile for England A, Emma Lamb and Eve Jones impressed in the first T20 warm-up, scoring 48 and 44 respectively, while 17-year-old Alice Capsey made 44 off 34 balls in the 35-over match, where Lauren Bell took 3 for 35.
"It's been quite challenging already and quite difficult to keep remembering that we have done the training and we have done the work," Sciver said. "That's why today's been really good. I think that everyone was in a really good place today and keeping those thoughts in their mind... in the moment it's hard to remember that it's not the be-all or end-all, the game that we just played."
On her own form, Sciver said she felt she had made improvements after lean returns with bat and ball at home against New Zealand last year. She played four of the five ODIs against the White Ferns, scoring 53 runs at an average of 13.25 and took three wickets at 31.66. She managed just 20 runs across the three T20Is at 6.66 with a highest score of 14 and took two wickets.
Before that, she was the second-highest run-scorer behind Mithali Raj in the ODI series against India, having scored 142 runs at 71.00, while in the T20Is she was third-highest with 98 runs, including a top score of 55. She took two wickets in the ODI series and three in the T20s.
"I feel good," Sciver said. "I feel better than I finished the English summer, so I'm happy with where I am at the minute and, like I said, preparation wasn't ideal, but I think I got the most out of it and I'm raring to go."
And she revealed her strategy for managing the demands of being an allrounder ahead of not only a multi-format Ashes series - the three T20Is will be followed by a Test and three ODIs - but also England's 50-over World Cup defence in March.
"Breaking it down has been a bit easier," she added. "I think if I think of it all at once it can be a bit daunting. But I know that the role that I have to play is is very important and I wouldn't want my role to change. So I know that there's going to be hard work coming up. I'm going to be probably be very sore, but that's where I guess all of the work that we've done fitness-wise and gym, strength-wise and just being on it with your recovery comes in.
"Hopefully keeping physically fresh will take care of itself. Keeping mentally fresh I think will be a bit more of a challenge."