England’s Ashes hopes went up in smoke at Manuka Oval in Canberra, despite having the Aussies on the ropes as they posted just 205-9 from their 50 overs – well short of the 287 that Australia have averaged batting first since the last World Cup.
Alyssa Healy, interviewed pitch-side about half way through Australia’s innings, said they were looking for 220-240, but they were frustrated by another disciplined bowling performance from England, with Katherine Brunt taking 3-40 and Kate Cross 3-33. Since her return to the side in 2021, after a couple of years on the sidelines, Cross has averaged 2 wickets per game in ODIs, a significant step up from the earlier in her career.
Australia’s batters struggled as a unit, but in a low(ish) scoring match if one person can stand up, that can be enough. Beth Mooney was that player for Australia – she was the only Aussie batter to pass 30, but she pushed on to make 73, and crucially made sure she was still at the crease to face the final ball.
So the key question was… could anyone from England do the same?
Although England lost two early wickets, Lauren Winfield-Hill and Nat Sciver stabilised things and looked to be building a solid platform at 39-2 after 10 overs. Winfield-Hill played some of the nice shots we know she can play, and hopes were high that this might be the day she’d finally break the “duck” that has seen her go 5 years and 46 international innings across all formats without passing 50.
Winfield-Hill was out the very next ball, but Sciver was still in a position to do what Mooney had done, and with the support of Amy Jones she continued to make progress.
Jones’s wicket is one that will continue to generate debate – it was definitely 50/50, and if it had been given the other way, it certainly wouldn’t have counted as a “howler”. One of the issues is clearly that the law is a bit vague, because waist heights are a bit vague (ask any woman who has ever bought a pair of jeans!) so it is too open to interpretation, even if (as a few people on social media suggested) we used the ball tracking tech rather than asking the Third Umpire to draw lines on the screen with their eyes.
By the time we got down to the Sciver-Wyatt partnership, it felt like it was “S*** or Bust”! The problem with playing the extra batter is that you only really need them when you are in trouble, and if you’re in trouble… then you are already in trouble, so it rarely works out, especially chasing.
Sciver’s dismissal for 45 was the moment when “decline” became “fall” – there was a gap of 28 runs between what Sciver made and what Mooney had made. And how many runs more did England need to win the match? Exactly 28! That’s not to blame Nat Sciver – the batting unit failed collectively, and the responsibility must be collective – Australia’s attack wore them down, good ball by good ball, until there was nothing left – bowled out, despite being ahead of the worm.
So we’ve lost the Ashes. Again. England might be one of the top two sides in the world, but they definitely aren’t in the top one.
We probably knew that already, to be fair; but if we needed a reminder, today was it.