Well, it’s a fair cop. I called it wrong yesterday.
In fact, the eventual declaration from Lanning set up the most exciting session of Test cricket I’ve ever seen “live” (edging aside TOG’s* Edgbaston 2005). In fact, it’s surely got to go down as one of the most exciting sessions there has EVER been in women’s cricket. There’s a certain amount of irony that all the talk before this Test was about the problematic lack of results in recent women’s Test matches; yet this one showed us how breathtaking a draw can actually be.
Initially, all the talk was that Lanning’s “carrot” – asking England to chase 257 in 48 overs at a RRR of 5.35 – was of microscopic size. But as England gradually ate away at the target, the tone of the commentary shifted. Could England actually do this? With 8 wickets in hand, needing 104 runs going into the final hour of play and with Nat Sciver and Heather Knight both set, Australia looked distinctly nervous… and Syd and I dared to hope.
Lanning freely admitted in the post-match presser that her early plan was the wrong one: “We were too wide and full with our bowling early on.” So they changed tack – or, as Lanning described it, “flipped our thinking” – and began to attack the stumps. After Sciver pulled Annabel Sutherland to square leg with 39 runs still needed, it quickly unravelled for England… until finally the roles reversed, and English supporters everywhere were breathing a sigh of relief that Kate Cross had managed to cling on for the draw. The whole session is a good example of the way in which Lanning’s captaincy has evolved since that World Cup semi-final in 2017, when Australia’s bowlers were Harmanpreet-ed and there was, seemingly, no Plan B.
It seems to me that the result in this Test is unlikely to have any eventual bearing on the Ashes series as a whole. England won’t now win all of the three ODIs, but even if they HAD won today, my money would still have been on Australia to come good and win two of the three 50-over matches, thus retaining the Ashes anyway.
Nonetheless, I’d argue that the result is still potentially very significant, for two reasons.
One, it will have dealt a severe psychological blow to England’s confidence. You have to feel for Heather Knight. She could hardly have given more, and she must be utterly shattered right now, after spending almost the entire four days of the Test on the field. Sciver also looked desperately disappointed during the post-match, admitting: “I feel more sad [at not winning] than I do happy [at not losing] at the minute.” In a few weeks time, England are facing a period of strict isolation in quarantine in New Zealand, followed by attempting to defend their World Cup title. It’s important to move on from this “defeat” (yes I know it was a draw, but it will feel like a loss) as quickly as possible.
Two, and more importantly, is what this match will have done for the future of the Test format as a whole. It may not be fair, but it is certainly true that whenever a (rare) women’s Test is played, the players are tasked with making the case that women’s Test cricket remains relevant and exciting. In recent times, we’ve witnessed the Taunton Test in 2019 labelled “the most boring game imaginable” by journalists, while prior to that, England’s final-day collapse at Canterbury in 2015 led The Guardian’s then-cricket correspondent to call for women’s Test cricket to be abolished altogether. Compare that with this tweet today from The Telegraph’s Scyld Berry:
There have been other exciting women’s Tests – Perth 2014; Hyderabad 1995; the list goes on – but the important point is that none of them were ever televised. I’d love to see viewing figures for the last two sessions of this match! It seems to me that its denouement will have done more in four hours to convince the administrators we should have more women’s Test cricket, than I have in four (+++) years of banging the drum. England will be hurting right now, but once the dust has settled, that is certainly something to celebrate.
Kudos to Lanning and Knight for their respective roles in setting it up.
*TOG = The Other Game (Men’s Cricket)