Series: England in Australia Jan/Feb 2022
Venue: Manuka Oval, Canberra
If ever an advertisement for women’s Tests were needed, Heather Knight, Meg Lanning and their teams just placed a large billboard on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. To have four results possible in the final over of the match speaks volumes about the courage and flair put on show by both teams over the four days.
Speculation leading into the match over the line-ups for both teams. For a pitch than generally favours the quick bowlers it seemed odd that both teams bolstered their spin bowling options, with Charlie Dean on debut for England and Alana King on debut for Australia.
Heather Knight won the toss for England and chose to send the Australians in to bat. A rarity in women’s Tests, sending the opposition in, the tut-tutting heard in commentary on radio and television and all over social media. It looked as though it would assist the pace bowlers early she suggested. Meg Lanning was coy when responding. One sensed she was happy with the outcome. It did make the selection of spin bowler Charlie Dean a curious selection when all the smart money was on pace bowler Lauren Ball.
At the other end of the scale, away from debutants, Heather Knight gave the ball to the veteran Katherine Brunt, surely appearing in her final Ashes Test. She needs no incentive this warrior like fast bowler and when she caught the edge of Alyssa Healy’s bat to send the opener back to the shed for a duck it appeared that Knight’s decision was vindicated.
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If it wasn’t then, it was three balls later when Anya Shrubsole also found the edge, Beth Mooney caught by keeper Amy Jones for 3. Australia were two down for just four runs. When Ellyse Perry was caught at fine leg by a running Amy Jones off a brilliantly directed Nat Sciver bouncer, the keeper had three and Australia were in disarray.
“To drop Meg Lanning may be regarded as a misfortune. To do it twice looks like carelessness.”
Heather Knight spilled a chance at slip before Lanning had even scored. The Aussie skipper was dropped again on 41. She made them pay for that double error. Lanning’s off side strokes were all on show, England seeming intent on feeding her cut shot, powerful but with such precision that a beefed up off side field was no match. Her cover drives were particularly delightful.
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At the other end, vice-captain Rachael Haynes peppered the legside boundary, scoring ten boundaries on her way to 83. Against the run of play, both players fell when the score was 212 and both falling short of their debut Test centuries.
Tahlia McGrath continued her golden summer and paired with the big hitting Ash Gardner the two helped themselves to half centuries. McGrath was dismissed on the final delivery of the day. Nat Sciver was the best of the England bowlers having removed Perry and then digging deep to dismiss McGrath in the final over, while Katherine Brunt looked menacing whenever she had ball in hand.
At 327/7 overnight many were looking for a declaration that was not forthcoming, Lanning choosing to bat on. No real urgency by the Australian batters who lost two wickets scoring 10 runs before the declaration was made. It felt like a missed opportunity to get England batting early on this pitch that was definitely helping the fast bowlers. Brunt finished with a well deserved 5-60 while Sciver took 3-41.
There was still some juice in the wicket when Ellyse Perry and Darcie Brown took the new ball against Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield-Hill. Brown struck first, her first wicket in this format, removing Winfield-Hill to a sharp catch by Beth Mooney at slip. It brought the England captain to the crease.
Perry struck, trapping Beaumont in front. When Annabel Sutherland removed Nat Sciver caught behind for 15 England were in the same precarious position Australia was in on the first day, three down for forty odd. The skipper dug in and had a brief partnership with Sophia Dunkley (15) before the latter was bowled by Perry who was back to her best with the ball.
Knight was playing a lone hand, defending stoutly but desperate not to be bogged down. She lost Amy Jones for 15 to a brilliant tumbling catch by Darcie Brown at mid-on leaving England in a pickle at 118/5. It got worse 2 runs later when Brunt became Alan King’s first wicket in Test cricket.
Charlie Dean in her debut innings, stuck with her skipper to get the score to 150, but England were still short of the follow-on target of 187 when Shrubsole was dismissed at 169/8.
Not known for her batting, Sophie Ecclestone joined the captain and set up camp. The two set about reaching their targets one at a time. They passed the follow-on total. They reached 200. Knight knew this wouldn’t last forever and began to play more adventurously. She brought up her hundred in 213 deliveries having saved England’s bacon and looking to press on. Like her opposite number she favoured the cut shot shot but scored all round the wicket. At stumps she had seen England to safety with Ecclestone at 235/8.
Rain was forecast and duly arrived, but not before Knight passed 150 and not before she and Ecclestone had scored a 100 run 9th wicket partnership, the third highest in history and the highest for England. Kate Cross added some valuable runs with her captain before becoming Perry’s third victim, England all out 297. The captain still standing on 168 not out, her highest score in Tests and the only England player to have passed 150 twice. Her innings a courageous captain’s knock that kept England in the game.
England were further kept in the game when Brunt removed Healy for a duck, giving that batter the unfortunate distinction of a pair in Test cricket. When the same bowler removed Rachael Haynes in the fifth over, Australia were 12/2 and looking a little shaky. Brunt was on fire.
Then the rain came. And came. There would be no more play on this day, a day belonging to the England captain. With a day to play and calculators at the ready, supporters on both sides of the world pondered how many runs Australia would feel comfortable with before a declaration. Or would they declare at all? Or would rain spoil the day again?
As had been the case on the three previous mornings there was still life in the wicket for the fast bowlers and Perry and Mooney treated both bowlers and the situation with respect. It paid dividends as they progressed the Australian total slowly at first and then with a little more gusto. There was an intent with these Australians. You could smell there was a declaration being formulated.
The pair took the score past the century before Perry was trapped in front by Ecclestone for 41. Not long after Charlie Dean removed Mooney for 63. Was spin now beginning to raise its sleepy head after being under the covers for three days?
The Aussies pressed on through McGrath (34) and Gardner (38). When would the declaration come? Lanning was moving back and forth from dugout to coach Matthew Mott. When would the call come? When would she put on her whites to give a signal. At 216/7 it was time. England had 48 overs in which to score 257 to win.
Effectively this was now an ODI. England, behind on points in the series had to take up the offer. There was no alternative. Get the runs.
Beaumont and Winfield Hill showed their intent, the former particularly adept at this up tempo cricket. At 52 the partnership was broken, Beaumont dismissed by McGrath for 36, but the mindset was clear from the England camp. Knight joined the fray and she too innovated. Winfield Hill fell when the score was 94 but that merely heralded the arrival of Nat Sciver, a player well used to kicking the scoring rate along.
Steadily going at nearly a run a ball, this partnership of Knight and Sciver set England on course for victory before Darcie Brown made a vital breakthrough for Australia, trapping the skipper for 48. It was now 166/3 and it brought another quick scorer to the crease in Sophia Dunkley. She played every trick in her book, entertaining the crowd with audacious cricket shots.
The Australian camp began to look nervous. England were now in a position to knock the ball around for singles, such was the deep field. They could cruise to victory at this pace.
Sciver went. The vice-captain had made a valuable 58 but was fourth out when the score was 216, leaving 41 more to score. Dunkley continued to score but lost Amy Jones (4) before she too was out. 233/6.
Surely Brunt would have none of this nonsense. The veteran could sure hold a bat, but could she hold her nerve? Nope. She edged to Healy off Sutherland who was bowling superbly, the best of the Aussies in this innings.
A needless runout of Any Shrubsole left England at 244/8. This was becoming a calamity. What seemed a sure thing thirty minutes earlier – judging by the faces on the Australian players at the time – was not only turning sour but England were heading for defeat.
Nine wickets down and one final over, 12 runs needed. It wasn’t going to happen. Alana King was given the task of bowling the final over. Kate Cross, so good in support of her captain in the first innings: could this number eleven batter make the necessary runs? Lanning had her fielders round the bat, all inching in, ready for any snick, any mishit. Cross held on. She played out a maiden. England staved off defeat.
Yet another draw in women’s Tests, but was there ever a more exciting one? Both captains and their teams did their level best to play positive cricket in order to get a result.
Heather Knight, once out for 216 runs, was named Player of the Match.
Player of the Match: Heather Knight