England (199 for 6) versus Australia (420/8 declared)
It started in anticipation, it ended in disappointment, to a soundtrack of ironic cheers. The air of initial excitement hung almost guiltily at the start of play because, in truth, perhaps it shouldn’t really have been there at all. Australia, with more than enough runs on the board for a draw at the very least (341) had all but extinguished England’s chances of a result, and a tilt at reclaiming the Ashes.
England had a dart, and looked like they might try and force a result, before they then faded horribly. Most would rather England lose trying to win, than shut up shot and recede, as they did. Just as MS Dhoni almost inconceivably gave up the chase against England’s men not so long ago when there was a still remote whiff of victory, England’s women did the equivalent. We were baffled then, baffled now, and a little bit disappointed, all in all.
The day had started so well. A medley of possibilities seemed on offer. All highly improbable but, however remote, plausible. For England a declaration from behind, perhaps? Supersede whatever follow-on target is set and lump everything on red. Audacious and unlikely but quickly becoming their only avenue. It has happened before, twice in men’s cricket; once by England 84 years ago, once by Australia in 2012. All you need is one precedent.
There was the small matter of Australia at the crease to contend with first. Australia, calmly, without undue fluster but lacking perhaps that killer intent we were expecting, compiled their runs. England, still in the field, for the third day in succession, were left frustrated. Finally the tourists declared, 420 runs to the good, having faced over 150 overs; a feat of absorbance more effective than the super sopper that had taken to water the previous day.
Two-hundred and seventy became the target. Pass this follow-on number, insert Australia, skittle them for not many and then have a dash with the bat. England’s plan, so daring when first conceived, suddenly became a lifeline. Simple, on paper. The intent at least, finally, was there and that anticipation suddenly justified.
Only how often have we strode out to bat, with the strut of Viv Richards, the flare of Brian Lara and the self assurance of Kevin Pietersen, to succumb, meekly, the moment reality descends. There are some whose very presence at the crease makes you uneasy; they might deliver flashes of brilliance, but just as likely a grand demise. So it is with Tammy Beaumont who, just two weeks ago scored a gallant century in a losing cause, on Saturday succumbed to a three-ball duck. Sarah Taylor too, notorious for the whip off her legs, managed just five runs before falling lbw.
Just as the declaration dash had swiftly reared its unlikely head, equally quickly it had bowed back down; England now had it all to do to even reach that follow-on target in the first place. Amy Jones, an unlikely source of run, quickly became the woman to do it. Five runs in three innings in the preceding ODIs as Ellyse Perry had bounced and bumped poor Jones out of contention. Such scars are difficult to cover up.
But Jones did. With captain Heather Knight (28) at her side following Beaumont’s wicket, she settled the Test debutant down almost immediately. Nervy, and pushed further and further back into her crease by Perry before lunch, Jones found the confidence she had been searching for. England had had enough time in the field to study the ways and means of Perry at the crease, and Jones it appeared, had studiously been taking notes. Respect the good ball, punish the bad.
But just as the Warwickshire wicketkeeper got going, another twist to this Test’s tale. Plucked at mid-on by Rachel Haynes and a studious 64 had come to an end. Taylor soon followed and at 132 for five, 270 looked a long way off.
Enter Katherine Brunt (15) and Nat Sciver (62*) to the fold and two of England’s most exciting batters had to dig in and rebuild. They did, with Sciver reaching 50, but instead of build a platform to launch from, they drifted from the jetty, rudderless, with no intent and soaking up 33 consecutive dot balls.
It was a day of Test cricket that tossed, turned and at times beguiled. Australia were unsure what to do one moment, England the very next. England's recovery came too late to coax a result from this match but was a sight in women’s cricket rarely offered. Briefly, it was fun, but it ended with a whimper.
Congratulations Australia, the Ashes are yours.