We were 11 overs into the afternoon session, and England were in deep trouble. With England having lost Heather Knight, run out off the first ball after lunch, Sophia Dunkley had looked like she was digging in for the long haul, but when she was dismissed playing an over-expansive drive to Anneke Bosch, quickly followed by Amy Jones for a 6-ball duck, England found themselves at 121-5 – a deficit of 163, with South Africa just one wicket away from getting into England’s long tail.
All the pressure was on Alice Davidson-Richards, walking out on Test debut carrying the full weight of England’s hopes of pulling off a historic Test victory: remember… no team has ever lost a women’s Test having put as many runs on the board in the first innings as South Africa did yesterday.
This was quite literally the moment ADR had been selected for though – to shore-up the batting, in case things went wrong – and gone wrong they most certainly had!
ADR’s first task was simply to stick in there, playing the role that South Africa’s tail had yesterday, supporting the senior batter. The first 25 balls she faced produced just one scoring “shot” – a thick outside edge which went for 4 – but slowly she began to realise that she was equal to this pitch and this situation, and the runs began to come, especially once she passed 50, moving from 50 to 75 in just 22 balls.
As the afternoon wore on for South Africa, they really started to look like they were missing the key players that didn’t make it out onto the field here in Taunton – Dane van Niekerk and Shabnim Ismail could have been the difference they needed to finish England off when they were down in that afternoon session. Having done it all by herself yesterday with the bat, Marizanne Kapp couldn’t repeat those heroics today with the ball, bowling 8 maidens but finishing wicketless for her 16 overs, as England did to her pretty-much what the South Africans had done to Ecclestone on Day 1 – defend and defend until they’d seen her off.
Nat Sciver was the first to pass 100, picking up where she left off in the World Cup Final, dismissing the South African bowling with some imperious swatted pulls through midwicket. ADR followed shortly afterwards, focussing her fire on the other side of the ‘V’ as she drove through the covers. The fairy-tale ending wasn’t quite to be, with ADR tipping an easy catch to Lizelle Lee off the penultimate ball of the day, but it left England with the match back in their hands as they take a small but significant lead into Day 3 with 328 runs on the board.
With rain likely to make an appearance at some point on Days 3 and 4, England may well find themselves having to weigh up the pros and cons of a positive declaration. (They did of course declare here a couple of years ago, but they did so 150-odd runs behind Australia, who went on to bat out the draw.) Might it be interesting to send Issy Wong out to join Nat Sciver in the morning, and see if she can smash a few boundaries? In cricketing terms (if not political ones) Heather Knight has generally been a very-small-c-conservative England captain, but there have been signs more recently that she’s prepared to be bold, as England were in trying to chase the win in the Ashes Test this winter; and she’ll be desperate to finally win a Test as England captain at the 5th attempt.