Only Test 2017/18

Australia v England

North Sydney Oval, Sydney: 9th – 12th November 2017

For the first time in the history of Test cricket, a day/night match between Australia and England. Indeed, it was the first women’s day/night Test as well. The Ashes under lights!

Adding to the carnival setting, a crowd of about 3,000 watched the skippers toss the coin and Heather Knight was once again successful with her call. No hesitation at North Sydney Oval: it’s a batter’s wicket with short boundaries. Knight chose to bat. 

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Given that there was some distance from the last Test match in 2015, there were a number of debutants for both teams. Middle order batter Fran Wilson, and left arm orthodox bowler Sophie Ecclestone, would don the English Test cap for the first time. Amanda-Jade Wellington, the leg spin bowler from South Australia, would receive her first cap. Also, Victorian born but representing Queensland, opening batter Beth Mooney; from South Australia, the third player from that state making up the bowling attack, allrounder Tahlia McGrath.

It’s a special thing, the Baggy Green, cherished by Australian cricketers across generations and Rachael Haynes leads the team on to the North Sydney Oval, white clothes for a change, with green caps. The energy of the team running on is a template set by the wicket keeper, Alyssa Healy, every bit a neat as her uncle, every bit as chirpy behind the stumps. For those who had played Test cricket before, a cherished honour. For the debutants, a world hitherto unknown, earlier presented their caps by legends Belinda Clark, Belinda Robertson and Chris Matthews.

The new ball is given to Megan Schutt. She stops at the top of her run, stares towards the stumps, bends the knees slightly, as if to prime herself and then sets off running in to bowl, pony tail flapping behind, and delivers the first ball in a Test match on Australian soil in four years. It is delivered just short of a length, just outside off stump and Lauren Winfield successfully plays it away on the offside. The first ball in an Ashes day/night Test.

Ellyse Perry opens from the other end and another tight over sets the pace from here on. Both bowlers gave nothing to hit and neither of the batters prepared to push things along. It was slow, tense Test cricket.

Haynes rang the changes and gave the ball to the debutant Tahlia McGrath. It brought about immediate success. Winfield hit one slightly uppishly to cover where Nicole Bolton took a screamer diving away to her left. England were 1/25 after 18 overs of tight bowling by Australia.

Tammy Beaumont was joined by Knight and the two of them cautiously began to increase the scoring rate. While the Aussies were tight, the English were a little over conservative in their approach.

I’m not sure why they batted so slowly. I think our bowlers did a terrific job during that period to dry the England batters up. With the drop in wicket there wasn’t a lot of life in it for either team. It was a hard toil and really at times you were waiting for the batter to lose concentration given the wicket didn’t deteriorate.” – Rachael Haynes

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Haynes continued to rotate the bowlers, introducing the accurate off spin of Jess Jonassen, and the debutant leg spinner, Wellington. Both were guilty of dropping short and were punished by Beaumont in particular, while the captain stood steady at the other end. What did shine was the commitment of the Australians in the field and they restricted England to 1/63 at the break, from 33 overs.

A little less tidy with the ball in the second session, Australia paid for straying on to Knight’s pads a little too often and the England skipper cashed in as the batters lifted the scoring rate. Beaumont was the first to pass 50, her first in Test cricket, and Knight followed soon after as the visitors passed 100.

A big ripping leg spinner from Wellington picked up the edge of Beaumont’s blade and presented a catch to Alex Blackwell at slip. Finally a breakthrough for the Australians with the opener departing for a well made 70, England 2/129.

To take my first wicket for Australia, in a Test match was a thrill but also a relief. A bit of pressure and nerves was released after that wicket!” – Amanda-Jade Wellington

Nat Sciver joined her captain and some wayward bowling saw England continue to score, but against the run of play, Jonassen traps the skipper in front for 62 and England are now 3/145. At the second break, after 69 overs, England were sitting comfortably at 3/157.

Batting under lights has proven to be a tough task in previous day/night Test matches but Nat Sciver came out after the break and caressed a couple of neat boundaries before becoming Jonassen’s second LBW victim, England 4/177.

With a new batter, a new ball. Perry came in search of a wicket and Sarah Taylor came in search of the boundary. The star in the England batting lineup didn’t disappoint with a succession of delightful boundaries to the offside. It looked like she had a different bat to every other player.

Georgia Elwiss at the other end was playing a slow steady hand and just as she launched an aggressive stroke, rather than the nudges here and there, she skied a Perry short ball to Megan Schutt at square leg. 5/214. Taylor continues to look silken until she mistimes a drive off Perry and hits a catch straight back to the bowler, who juggles, juggles and takes the catch, laughing in disbelief that she’d caught it. She’s rarely far from the game, Perry.

It’s 6/226 and Australia might have felt they could have snuffed England’s light out in the dark. If anyone could keep England moving it was Katherine Brunt. She survived a confident appeal for LBW, but was out caught a short while later. The tough campaigner didn’t budge, waiting for an umpire’s call on a bump ball. Replays showed she was out and Brunt had to walk off. At stumps, England 7/237.

Anya Shrubsole combined with the rest of the tail to take England to 280 all out early on day two, a reasonable total all things considered. England’s tail end did well.

Nicole Bolton got Australia’s innings off to a good start from the fourth ball of Brunt’s first over, with a crisp glance to the square leg boundary. It was slow going after that with Brunt and Shrubsole bowling tight lines. In the first hour, Bolton played a delightful cover drive to the boundary, but her best shot was a copybook on drive off Brunt that raced to the fence. Going to the break at 0/22 from 14 overs, it was slow going nonetheless.

The Aussie pair looked to pick things up after the break, and after a couple of streaky shots, Bolton hit one straight to Shrubsole at square leg. Anya doesn’t drop those and the opener departed for 24 with the score at 48. Shortly after, Mooney hit one to the same position off the bowling of Ecclestone and the catch was taken by Sciver. England were hitting back on this lifeless wicket and it has to be said that the openers both fell to ordinary deliveries while trying to push the pace.

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It got worse. The ever reliable Alex Blackwell was hit on the pads by Ecclestone and was out LBW for just 6 runs. All of a sudden this batting line-up was getting the wobbles and there was no Meg Lanning in sight. Ellyse Perry and Elyse Villani saw Australia safely to the break at 3/84, but England had to have their tails up with 280 in the bank and Australia’s top three batters back in the pavilion.

It got a little better after the break for the visitors when Villani tried to drive Shrubsole, got a slight edge to the ball and Taylor, who was standing up to the stumps took a brilliant catch. There was no slip in place and the ball was travelling to first slip. Taylor makes these awkward catches seem so easy. Australia now 4/95. Ellyse Perry a lone figure at the non-striker’s end on 22.

If ever there was an opportunity for a captain’s knock, it was now and Rachel Haynes strode to the crease and began to play a few shots but it was Perry who started to awaken, playing some more aggressive strokes, allowing the captain to play second fiddle. Ecclestone dropped one short and Perry backed away and cut the ball to the boundary, reaching her half century. It took 137 balls to get there, but Perry was in no hurry and looked set to camp at the crease for the duration. Shades of Myrtle Maclagan.

Ellyse Perry is made for Test cricket. The gears she went through during her innings were also special to watch.”

It was a muted celebration from Perry as there was still a mountain to climb and it was evident when the captain was trapped LBW to Brunt for 33, leaving Australia 5/168. It brought Alyssa Healy to the crease. The big hitting opener in the ODI games was now needing to play a steadying hand to support Perry. Could she keep a lid on her aggressive style? Till stumps, yes as the pair took Australia to 5/177.

On day three, Perry took off from where she left on the previous day. Still watchful, but beginning to play more strokes. Her defence rock solid but then she played some lovely drives, edging closer to the century. After 225 balls, she made it, her maiden century in Test cricket. For many of the ODI matches in the previous 12 months, she’d come close, with half century upon half century, but nothing feels quite as good as a Test century against England and Perry well and truly deserved this.

The dashing Healy had been most circumspect in helping her team mate reach the ton and celebrating the centurion, she began to cut loose in a manner that only Alyssa Healy can and she breached the boundary on two occasions on her way to 45. She had done the job, out just 10 runs shy of England’s total at 270.

Tahlia McGrath joined Perry and it was as if there hadn’t even been a wicket as the young South Australian debutant picked up where Healy left off. Dropped off the first ball she faced in Test cricket McGrath made the English pay for that lapse with some powerful, exquisite drives to the boundary.

All the while Perry continued her epic journey. By now her bat looked double the size. Perry was going nowhere except onwards and upwards. She reached 150.

McGrath took one chance too many and fell short of a half century in her first Test, out for 47 leaving Australia 7/373. And still Perry kept going. Jonassen hit a couple of fine boundaries, but fell soon after, while Wellington was trapped LBW for just 2. Australia were now in a commanding position at 9/427, but it looked as though Perry would fall short of scoring a rare double century in Test cricket. All that stood between Perry and this goal was a single wicket. Number eleven Megan Schutt arrived at the crease.

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Perry hit the six that brought up her 200 and celebrated in grand style, only for the third umpire to intervene and spoil the party. It was only a four. The celebration was for naught. On 199, she drove Ecclestone to the boundary and although muted, celebrated a second time. This was for real! A double century to Ellyse Perry in Test cricket. She celebrated further, taking it out on the hapless Ecclestone and was 213 not out when Haynes made the declaration. Perry’s score overtook the great Karen Rolton’s 209 to be the highest score by an Australian in Test cricket.

The Australian total of 9/448 was formidable, but there was still a Test to win, and with both teams having batted cautiously, there was little time to waste. With a placid pitch, despite some nerves, England found their way to 0/40 at stumps. One day to go, could Australia force a victory?

I thought England bowled very well to our team. They were well planned but also suffered from the same issue as us and struggled to take wickets on a flat pitch. At times they controlled the tempo of the game quite well, for example rushing through overs to ensure they had the new ball under lights before close of play on the 2nd day.” – Haynes

Key words, “take wickets on a flat pitch.” The same happened to Australia on day four, where the match just fizzled out to a disappointing draw. While it is true that both teams batted slowly, that can be countered by the fact that neither team is used to the format. The WNCL is played as a collection of 50 over games. There’s a 50 over World Cup, and a T20 World Cup, but very few players get the opportunity to play multi day cricket.

In the context of this series neither side wanted to risk a four point loss in order to get a four point gain. This actually suited Australia more. A drawn Test match kept Australia in front on the points tally and meant they needed to win only one of the T20 matches to follow. England would need to win all three.

England 280 (Beaumont 70, Knight 62, Perry 3-59) and 2/206 (Knight 79*) drew with Australia 9/448 (Perry 213*, McGrath 47, Healy 45, Ecclestone 3-107)

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