Australia has wrestled the match back from England in the final moments of the day to secure an Ashes draw in what was an exhilarating Test match. The sides contested a fierce match to prove that women's Test match cricket is still alive and well, and that we need more of it.
Australia started the day just as it went to lunch the day before after what was a huge downpour of rain yesterday afternoon. Australia said the night before that its goal would be to put on a score and then try to bowl England out and that was clearly the plan this morning as Beth Mooney and Ellyse Perry came out batting aggressively.
Mooney and Perry put on a massive 89 runs for their wicket before Perry was out for 41 via an LBW. For most of the day, it looked as if that initial partnership would keep England away from any chance of winning this match. What the partnership also did was it allowed Australia to push the run rate up as the lead passed 150 as the Aussies looked to declare.
The Australian captain then came to the crease but couldn’t stand up to the pressure, gifting another wicket to Katherine Brunt as Meg Lanning edged behind. A couple of overs before that though it was the in-form Beth Mooney who went for 63.
Mooney has been incredible in this match; only two weeks ago she had her jaw broken in a freak net accident thanks to Australian coach Matthew Mott. She still can’t eat or drink properly with everything going in through a straw, which certainly would’ve made the lunch breaks boring in this Test for her. But for her to stand up when it was most important and score a half-century is simply remarkable.
While there was a couple of quick wickets in succession, the Aussies were still declaration hunting and Tahlia McGrath and Ash Gardner combined for a partnership that pushed the Aussie score to where Meg Lanning wanted it.
The pair put on 48 runs from 12 overs as the quick rate of scoring was largely down to Gardner who found the boundary on five occasions to make 38 at a run a ball. McGrath was out a little bit after Gardner for 34 runs herself. A quick slog from the lower order got the Aussies to 7/216 when Meg Lanning called the teams in for a declaration.
Katherine Brunt was once again the one to watch with the ball for England as she added to her five wickets in the first innings with three more. Spin also played a much more crucial role in the second innings with Charlie Dean taking two scalps and one coming for Sophie Ecclestone.
It would mean England would need to chase 257 from 48 overs for a rare English victory on Australian shores. It was always going to be difficult especially when you look at history - no score over 200 had been chased in women’s Ashes Tests and there had been a winning result for either team in Ashes Test since 2015.
It’s fair to say though whatever happened in the final innings of this match, England had put on one hell of a show. The thoughts of many going into this match was that it could’ve been an easy win for Australia with England barely scraping through for a draw if everything were to go right for them.
This English team had proven though, through their great work with the bat in the first inning especially from Heather Knight, that they are a team to watch out for.
From the moment the English batters walked out to the crease it was clear the win was the option England would be going for. The English men opted to just bat for a draw when chasing 270 in over a day, but the women would go on to show them how it’s done, wanting to chase 257 in only a session in a half.
Credit also has to go to the Aussies and in particular Meg Lanning for setting up a match. With all the rain around yesterday, it would’ve been easy to say this match would be a draw and play accordingly but that isn’t the way this Aussie team acts.
Meg Lanning went and spoke to the media post-match about her decision to declare.
"We declared, feeling like he had enough but we weren't sure that 45 overs would be enough to bowl them out. But we thought it gave us a chance", she said.
England put on 52 runs for the first wicket as Lauren Winfield-Hill and Tammy Beaumont looked for the boundary while still pushing the quick singles. Importantly, the big swing of the Aussie openers didn’t bother the English pair as they set up the platform that allowed England to go big towards the end of the innings.
"We talked about just playing and seeing where we got to at tea and playing positively," Nat Sciver said of the gameplan with the bat.
"We just broke it down into each over, if we could just get five or six off each over we could see where we got to."
Beaumont was the first out in the 14thover, bringing the captain and first-innings century-maker in Heather Knight to the crease. Knight picked up right where she left off in the first innings, pushing ones and twos with ease. In seven overs the pair of Winfield-Hill and Knight put on 42 runs before a flick to mid-wicket off the bowling of Ellyse Perry brought the end of Winfield-Hill.
At the point the wicket fell the win still looked a long way away for England but the important combination from the two veterans brought the dreams of an Ashes victory all that much closer for England.
The pair went at just under a run a ball for the 72 runs they put on together from just over 12 overs. The wicket of Heather Knight fell at 166 with England now needing under 100 with about 15 overs to go in the match. What happened next was unbelievable; Sophie Dunkley had done it earlier in the season when England played India and it looked like she would do it again.
Runs came thick and fast as Dunkley often found the boundary hitting over the rope twice as well as finding the rope on five occasions. The problem was though she was running out of partners as Nat Sciver went with seven overs left in the day before Amy Jones went only a few balls later.
The wicket from Jones came off the bowling of Alana King but more importantly, Beth Mooney was the one to take the catch. It wasn’t an easy one either, she had to run in and dive forward.
How anyone with a jaw broken in two places can take a catch like that I don’t know but it was a minor miracle. She has proven herself to be the toughest and strongest player in the world this week.
"She's a class batter and one of our best fielders, to get through the Test Match as she did and to play her role was crucial for our team", Meg Lanning said of Beth Mooney.
The pressure was clearly getting to Dunkley as her innings slowed down after the wicket of Jones. Unfortunately, she could only put on another seven runs with Katherine Brunt before she was also out hitting one down too deep mid-wicket from the bowling of Alana King.
She was up to it and was in the zone and picking her ball very well. In the end singles and twos and the odd boundary would've got us there," Sciver said of Sophia Dunkley.
"She is very special, she has days when she has days like that and other days where she doesn't get going, but to have that at the other end was important."
King was just one of the important Australian bowlers who had an impact on the final day. There are few that have had such an impact on Test debut, but it certainly looks like Australia have a new ‘King of Spin’.
Wickets were then constant for England as it continued to try and get to the total required under a run a ball from the final five overs of the day. No batter though really stood up after Dunkley to say this is my day and score the runs. The numbers seven, eight, and nine all went for single-digit scores with Annabel Sutherland picking up both Brunt and Jones.
Sutherland is another one of the young Aussie bowling lineup that have stood up today and throughout this series. It’s fair to say Australian women's cricket is strong and will be strong for at least the next decade.
Meg Lanning spoke about how important Annabel Sutherland is.
"I think she can take a lot out of today's performance, in Test matches it allows her to have that longer form bowling and get into a rhythm," she said.
"Throughout the Test match, I felt like I could go to her at any point."
Thirteen runs were needed for an England win when Anya Shrubsole was struck on the thigh pad and while the LBW shout was not given there was more to the story. Her partner in Charlie Dean took off for the quick single but Shrubsole wasn’t quite there, ending up a foot short as King took the bails off.
It meant, with 2.1 overs left Australia needed two wickets and England needed 13 more runs, it was anyone’s game.
The very next ball Alana King tossed one up from around the wicket and grabbed a top edge with Alyssa Healy taking the all-important catch to have England nine down. That wasn’t the end though, with the third umpire wanting to check for a back-foot no ball, yes that’s right a back footer! Thankfully the umpire ruled in King’s favour and Charlie Dean had to go.
Meg Lanning spoke on how important that wickets were after play.
"We felt like we needed wickets, if we didn't take wickets they were going to get home pretty comfortably," she said.
"We had to go pretty unorthodox and then get a bit of a roll-on."
England had 12 balls to survive now with one wicket in hand and the runs were almost out of the question now with England just wanting to stay in the series. Rather than allowing the number ten to bat out the innings, Kate Cross put it upon herself to face out as much as she could.
Cross did what she needed to do though as she was happy to leave the second to last over from Sutherland before Alana King came on to try and take the final wicket in the last over. King tried everything in the final over with 13 runs needed but it wasn’t to be with Cross too strong in her defence, managing to avoid the close-in fielders of which there were many. In the end, it was a draw as England just held on.
English captain and Player of the Match Heather Knight spoke to the broadcast after the play about not only her innings but the overall match.
“It’s a place I love batting I’ve had a lot of success here and what a brilliant Test this had been to go toe to toe for four days," she said.
“A word for Katherine Brunt, if it is her last Test Match the way she bowled and fought. Probably an opportunity missed but we will think back and think what a game to be a part of.”
Australian captain Meg Lanning also spoke on an incredible finish to the match.
"England batted really well and it was a pretty good wicket and they put us under pressure. It was a pretty amazing game in the end but it was nice to flip it around towards the end there," she said.
"They needed 45 with seven overs to go I think, I thought that around the wicket from Kingy [Alana King] was the way to go and it worked out.
"We had fielders back but it looked like a one day game, if you think about six an over you back yourself to get it every day of the week.
"I feel like we got away with one a little bit there but I'm still not sure what to make of it."
What a final day of Test cricket it was, if anything it just proved how much both these teams deserve to play more Test cricket. We watched the Australian men dominate all five Tests of the summer, but this today was by far the most exciting and exhilarating day of Test cricket.
Credit goes out to both captains for making a day of this match. It would’ve been easy after the rain and some forecast of rain for today to just let the game run out for a draw, but it wasn’t to be.
Meg Lanning made sure that England had something to chase, and Heather Knight put it upon herself to put England in a winning position if a result went either day just one result this match could’ve ended completely differently.
England though will be slightly more disappointed with this result than the Australians. England had this match in their grasp with only 10 overs to go needing less than a run a ball. Unfortunately, its middle and lower order couldn’t hang on.
It was an expensive time for the Aussie bowlers with everyone except Darcie Brown going for more than five per over. Annabel Sutherland was the lucky recipient of a few late wickets getting the best figures of the day with 3/69 but really it was Alana King who brought Australia back into the contest with 2/39. The question has to be asked though why it took 22 overs for King to get a bowl in this innings.
This match was simply incredible and if anything has proven how much women's cricket needs to be nurtured, invested in, and most importantly broadcast. But none of that can happen unless Test cricket becomes a bigger part of the sport. More Tests between the bigger nations as well as a proper first-class structure should bring this format of the game to the next level and really that’s all any cricket fan wants.
The series now moves on to the ODI leg with Australia currently having a 6-4 lead in the series. The first ODI takes place in only three days’ time once again at Manuka Oval before the series moves over to Victoria and the Junction Oval.