A towering undefeated 127 from Heather Knight was enough… just… to keep England in the game at Manuka Oval; but an Australian victory now feels like the most likely outcome to this Test.
The day began with Katherine Brunt completing her 3rd Test 5fer thanks to a remarkable 6th catch behind the stumps for Amy Jones – both have been brilliant for England; and Jones’ “6fer” is the joint most catches ever taken in a Test innings.
Australia had promised to push on towards 400, but instead unexpectedly declared on 337 after losing their 9th wicket. Mind games? From Meg Lanning? Matthew Mott later denied it, saying they’d changed their minds to take advantage of favourable bowling conditions in the morning; but who’s to say that wasn’t more mind games? (Mott’s entire pitch-side interview during the afternoon session was a master-class in saying absolutely nothing. Would you use the follow-on Motty? Well… it’s an interesting question… we might… or we might not! Seriously: the man should consider going into politics when he’s done with cricket!)
England walked out to bat knowing the ball had been doing all-sorts – swinging in for Anya Shrubsole and moving away off the pitch for Brunt – and the Australians soon had it singing too. There was a lot of nearly-playing and nearly-missing early on, and it felt like wickets were coming. Ever the optimist, I attempted the old “reverse jinx”, snarkily texting a friend: “I think England will be one or two down at the close… in their second innings, having followed on!”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t a million miles away – England settled into something of a routine of losing a batter roughly every 10 overs, with only Heather Knight holding them together. Knight scored 58% of England’s runs off the bat on her way to her second Test century – soul-food for starving England supporters.
But with conditions continuing to assist the Australians, the other full-time batters struggled to keep their heads above water, and it wasn’t until Charlie Dean came in that the tail started to… well… not “wag” exactly, but at least not “roll over and die”.
I’ve often worried that the English “CAG” (County Age Group) system teaches girls to value their wickets too much over actually scoring runs, which is a problem when you are mainly looking to develop white-ball batters; but at the point Dean – a player who has really only just emerged from the CAG system – came in, that was exactly what England needed. Dean blocked and blocked, allowing Knight to continue to make progress at the other end, and it was only when she lost her concentration and started to try to score runs, that she found herself walking back to the dugout. (Her CAG coach would have been furious at the limp slog-sweep she got herself out to!)
Nonetheless, Dean had showed the way, and with more support from Shrubsole and then Ecclestone, Knight took England past the follow-on target. It wasn’t a victory obviously, but much like the boy’s draw in the men’s series at the SCG at few weeks ago, it somehow felt like one; and certainly the Australian’s will have been frustrated not to finish England off before the close.
England still officially believe they can get a result from this match, with Katherine Brunt saying at the close: “I think you can win from anywhere” and promising that England would “fight like hell” for the victory. But they still trail by 102, and Australia are now in pole position to wrap up England’s first innings early tomorrow morning and then bat them out of the game. Then, as long as the weather holds (which is looking 50/50) they’ll still likely have time to bowl England out again and retain the Ashes before the ODI series even starts.