This might be controversial, but I’ll call it as I see it: already, at the end of Day One, England are in a position where it will be almost impossible for them to win this Test.
At the toss, we finally got a glimpse of Heather Knight and Lisa Keightley’s Masterplan: bowl first, chuck in your most experienced quick bowlers (Katherine Brunt, Anya Shrubsole and Kate Cross), and hope for the best. With Brunt and, in particular, Shrubsole moving it around up top, it looked like it might just have been a genius move: Australia were 4 for 2 before I’d had time to boil the kettle.
When Ellyse Perry miscued a Nat Sciver bouncer to Amy Jones, who took an excellent running, diving catch (to add to her two smart grabs behind the stumps to see off Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney), England were ecstatic.
But their celebrations proved to be premature, especially in the face of Australia’s insanely long batting line-up. Slowly, that early momentum slipped through England’s fingers – literally slipped through them, in the case of Knight and Sciver, who between them cost England 121 runs after they put down Meg Lanning and Rachael Haynes at first and second slip respectively. Australia finished the day on 327 for 7. As Syd pointed out on Twitter, no one has ever won a women’s Test where the other team have scored over 300 on first innings.
So was England’s strategy the wrong one? Selection-wise, it’s hard to know if Lauren Bell would have outbowled Brunt, Shrubsole or Cross – although I would have liked to have seen her given the chance. But I am a bit baffled by the decision to bowl first.
This isn’t just about “the benefit of hindsight”. I’ve long argued that it’s extremely difficult to win a four-day women’s Test if you don’t bat first, and today’s events are merely a case in point. After two sessions, during which Australia scored 199 runs and lost just 3 wickets, England’s window of opportunity to control the game had all-but-closed. If they’d opted to bat, that window would (bar a horrendous collapse) have lasted a lot longer – they could have forced the pace when they chose; dug in if they’d lost a few quick wickets; and assuming they’d batted out the day, it would have been in their hands whether they came back out to bat again tomorrow.
Instead, all those decisions – including whether England’s tired bowlers have to come back out and do it all again on Day Two – are now in Lanning’s hands.
The decision to bowl first is even odder given that all the “noise” coming out of the England camp before the Test was about how challenging it is to take wickets in women’s Tests – variously blamed on pitches that are too long, batter-friendly wickets, and / or the inability to use a Dukes ball.
And so we face the first test of Australia’s own “going for the win” approach: how long will they keep batting? The truly aggressive move would, frankly, have been to have declared half an hour before the close once they’d reached 300, and given England a horrible period to negotiate. But given that they didn’t do that, they surely now have to declare overnight? 327 runs is already a VERY formidable first-innings total in the context of women’s Test cricket, and with the forecast as it is, declaring now is the only way to guarantee that they will have the time to take 20 English wickets. Plus, the pressure will all be on England, who have a big runs-deficit to overhaul before they can even think about doing anything else. (See what I mean about no longer dictating the game?)
Australia have talked a good talk over the last three Tests they’ve played about wanting to avoid yet another draw. Now’s the time for them to walk the walk as well… the question is, will they?