What do you do if your daughter is bowling on Test debut and you would give anything for her to claim a maiden wicket? What any good-thinking cricket person does, of course: take yourself on a lap of the ground. It was the sound decision taken by Sophie Ecclestone’s parents, their 18-year-old into the book by the time they had made it halfway around the North Sydney Oval.
Before coming full circle, she had also captured Alex Blackwell for six, Australia’s most experienced and effective campaigner trapped leg before with a piece of deception that would go straight to any finger spinner’s highlight reel. The response Paul and Elaine Ecclestone received from fellow parents upon returning to their seats? “Go on another lap!”
The double-breakthrough from the left-armer was in the inroad England required to move ahead in this standalone Test, one that must break their way to keep the Women’s Ashes dream alive. By the close, Australia made their way to 177 for five in reply to England, who added 45 to their overnight score to finish with a serviceable first innings total of 280.
But crucially for the home side, Ellyse Perry was not one of those wickets to fall and will continue on Saturday with 70 unbeaten and immaculate runs. Her half-century oozed of calm and class, putting her within striking distance of the international hundred she has long craved.
Australia considered deploying a nightwatchman when Rachael Haynes (33) was given leg before to Katherine Brunt as soon as England took the second new ball with 20 minutes to the close. The England attack leader went on to beat the bat six times in three overs in a fantastic late spell, but Alyssa Healy survived alongside Perry to see another day.
The 72-run stand between Perry and Haynes was vital after Sarah Taylor took a brilliant catch up to the stumps off Anya Shrubsole not long into the final session, further establishing her credentials as the best wicketkeeper in the world. It made for an unflattering end for Elyse Villani, who tried to put the seamer on to the big moon visible to the 3,613 crowd.
Australia’s innings began as conservatively as England’s did the day before, the openers Nicole Bolton and Beth Mooney taking 27 overs to find 45 runs before the former picked out Shrubsole at midwicket from a Laura Marsh long-hop. It was the exception to the rule both for the accurate bowling they had seen off to then and the relentless work of Marsh throughout, her analysis a highly economical one for 28 from 23 overs.
The folly was repeated when Mooney found Nat Sciver at midwicket this time, five overs on when Ecclestone’s parents went for their timely walk. “We didn’t think we would ever get here,” her mother said. She and her husband had flown out in the hope that their daughter would win a spot in England’s Test XI. “But had we not come out here and this all happened we would have been absolutely gutted!” Ecclestone finished the night with two for 51 from 17 overs, and plenty of new admirers.
One of those is the Australia coach Matthew Mott who praised the Lancastrian’s control and dip. He added that his side was “pretty happy to come off” at stumps without losing another wicket as Brunt sent down her fierce final spell. “We were counting down the balls at the end hoping they didn’t get the extra over in,” he said, praising Perry in particular. “It was proper Test cricket.”