While Australia’s 161-run win in the Ashes Test came at 5.06 pm on the fourth day, with Sarah Coyte trapping Anya Shrubsole lbw as England were knocked over for just 101 in their second innings, in reality, the result was clear long before then. England would have had to defy history to get anywhere close to the 263-run fourth innings target set for them – the highest total ever chased down in women’s Tests is 198 (by Australia in 2011) – and after Ellyse Perry and Megan Schutt combined in devastating fashion to leave England 29 for 5 just 21 overs into their run-chase, it was only a matter of time before defeat took hold.
In truth, England have spent the vast majority of this Test match on the back foot. While they had Australia 99 for 5 on the first day, the frustrating 62-run ninth wicket partnership between two of Australia’s Test debutants, Jess Jonassen and Kristen Beams, ultimately took Australia to 274 in their first innings. Meg Lanning, reflecting on her side’s victory, said she felt it was this total that was “the difference in the game”.
England’s own response on the second day saw them bowled out for 168, a deficit of 106 runs, in what was, to say the least, an overly defensive display with the bat. It was a performance from which they never recovered, and it allowed Australia – despite almost two whole sessions on Day 3 being wiped out by rain – to set the tone for a declaration on the fourth morning.
Speaking after the match, Charlotte Edwards admitted that the defeat was among the lowest moments in her ten years as England captain. “I’m bitterly disappointed to lose in the manner we did,” she said. “Any time you lose an Ashes match is disappointing, [but it’s] the manner we lost as well.” She was referring to England’s abject batting collapses, a trend that has carried over from their performances in the second and third ODIs of the series (in which they were bowled out for 196 and 152 respectively). In fact, England’s top score of the Test was No. 7 Georgia Elwiss’s second-innings 46 – runs from a player who would not even have made their XI had not injury forced Jenny Gunn out at the last minute.
Meanwhile, for the Australians, it is their first win in an Ashes Test in England since 2001; their jubilation was palpable. For Lanning herself, who has now led Australia full time for a mere 14 months, it has been the ultimate test of her captaincy – a maiden Test match in charge. The “Megastar” has passed with flying colours. Her continual rotation of her set of six bowlers saw the perfect execution of the pre-match plan devised with coach Matthew Mott, preventing England’s batters from ever settling into any kind of rhythm. She may even have out-captained her opposite number Edwards, the most experienced skipper in international women’s cricket.
“Captaincy really is about going with your gut and trying to be as proactive as you can,” said Lanning, who is still just 23 years old, before this Test match began. “So it’s probably not going to be too different in the Test match. You get a little bit more time to see if your plans are working and then adjust them from there.” She confounds the idea that female captains are by definition tactically naive in the Test format, given how little multi-day cricket they play.
One surprise for the Australians is that it has not been their big-name superstars who have performed with the bat in this Test: Lanning herself made scores of just 3 and 0, and allrounder Perry fared little better, with 5 and 13. Indeed, in a match in which both teams have at times been criticised for their overly defensive play – England batting out 34 maidens and 436 dot balls on Day 2, Australia’s Alex Blackwell hitting 15* off 81 balls during the evening session of the third day – the cricketer who really stood out was Jonassen.
On Test debut, and with scores of 99 and 54, Jonassen has proved herself an allrounder of the highest calibre. Perhaps her Player of the Match contribution will take some of the sting out of falling just one run short of that rare honour in women’s cricket, a Test century.
Jonassen’s insistence on playing her natural game is something England’s batters, who appeared to dig in for a draw even on the second day, would do well to emulate. They could also look closer home should they wish to escape such a defensive mindset: no one could say that Katherine Brunt, England’s strike bowler, has not demonstrated a will to win over the past four days. Not only was she the most dangerous England bowler – her lethal spell on the third morning, in which she bowled upwards of 75 mph (supremely quick for the women’s game), left Australia reeling at 2 for 2 – her free-flowing 39 in the first innings was unrivalled in its attacking nature.
“I don’t see why I should change the way I play [in a Test],” said Brunt of her innings. “It’ll cage me and I’ll just end up getting myself out. I like to play with freedom … If the ball’s there to hit I’m going to hit it.” Had all the England team played out this series with as much heart and aggression as Brunt, they’d no doubt have been celebrating a different result in this Test match.
It is still technically possible for England, now 2-8 points down, to retain the Ashes, should they win all three of the Twenty20 Internationals that remain in this series. But the dejected way in which their batters succumbed in this match suggests that this kind of comeback will be all but impossible. There are certainly serious questions to be asked about a batting line-up that has now collapsed feebly in its two most recent Test encounters: let’s not forget that India, a side with eight Test debutants who had not played a single four-day game in the preceding seven years, managed to knock them over at Wormsley 12 months ago for 92 and 202.
“It’s a problem,” admitted Edwards after the match finished. “It’s something we’re going to have to address going forward.”
Other debates will surely rage on long after this game is over. Might there be an argument for the extension of women’s Tests to five days, given the slow over-rates throughout this game? Traditionally women cricketers bowl their overs much faster than their male counterparts; this means that women’s Tests are scheduled to last for 100 overs per day, not 90. Yet, this time around, the over-rate was behind from Day 1 (only 97 overs bowled on the first day, despite the extension of play by half an hour); and they are still playing catch-up. Presumably as the women’s game moves further forward into the professional era, this issue will only persist.
And of course there is the question of whether women’s cricket, like its male counterpart, should be looking to introduce the DRS in future televised international matches. Given some of the poor umpiring decisions this Test – including the lbw shout that went against Lydia Greenway in the first innings, despite both pitching and striking her front pad well outside the line – calls will be especially vocal going forward.
Brunt is firmly in support of the move, calling it “the next step forward” for her sport. “It would be a really positive thing to bring into our game.”
But, for now, the post-mortems will be put on hold as the attention of both sides turns to the T20I leg of the series, commencing on August 26 at Chelmsford.