o beat Australia, you are supposed to be flawless. You cannot miss a beat, cannot waste a moment, cannot blink at all, never mind first. Even then, usually, you need something more: a favourable wind, a shed full of rabbits’ feet, a meadow of four-leafed clovers. In other words, you are not supposed to be able to do this.
But against all probability and despite the most generous of catching displays England have, for the third time in eight days, beaten the serial world champions to keep their bid for the most remarkable of Ashes heists on track.
From 6-0 down and on the brink of waving the Urn off at Heathrow once more, Heather Knight’s team have, incredibly, levelled the series at 6-6 with two One-Day Internationals to play, inflicting a third successive defeat on a side who had not lost even two back-to-back in six years until last weekend.
Naturally, it was a thriller, because who, honestly, can remember the last time they watched a game that wasn’t? Across a summer and twin Ashes series of fine margins, this was among the tightest yet, England steered to a two-wicket victory and their highest ever ODI run-chase by the outstanding Knight and No10 Kate Cross.
Knight finished unbeaten on 75, having picked her moments beautifully, finally letting loose in sight of the line with a six heaved over the leg-side to leave only 12 required. Cross, meanwhile, lit up Bristol with a late boundary burst, scooping over the ‘keeper and driving through cover before handing over to the skipper to strike the winning runs through the off-side. Now, where have we heard that before?
Interviewed between innings, Alice Capsey suggested the home side would have taken a chase of 264 at the outset and given they were set 357 the last time these sides met in this format, in last year’s World Cup final, that seemed a fair shout. Still though, there was a sense of what might have been after England surrendered five dropped catches and a missed stumping to boot.
Ellyse Perry edged through the hands of Sophie Ecclestone at slip on six to set the contagion amok, the same player then let off again by Sarah Glenn on 36. Cross, sprawling, could not hold Beth Mooney just 19 runs into the game’s top score of 81, before Amy Jones missed the chance to stump Australia’s batting lynchpin as she approached halfway. Tammy Beaumont’s drop of Tahlia McGrath went down as the toughest, the opener airborne and parrying at backward point, before Lauren Bell completed an ugly list, failing to pouch Jess Jonassen’s low drive. In all, Australia’s batters punished their respective reprieves to the tune of 128 runs.
Crucially, though, almost every guilty party made some amends with the ball. Glenn eventually saw off Perry after Cross had made the key early breakthrough inside the first over, Alyssa Healy so plumb she was on her way well before the third umpire finished vindicating England’s review. Ecclestone took a screamer of a one-handed catch to end Phoebe Litchfield’s eye-catching 34 off 36, then denied Jonassen a late flurry after Bell had struck twice in a single over to crack open Australia’s tail. Capsey, meanwhile, had been blameless in the field but emerged as an unexpected star with the ball anyway, sending down a miserly nine-over spell off the reel that included the key wicket of McGrath.
Boundaries beyond the opening powerplay had been hard to come by, Mooney’s innings including only six fours, while England bowled five business-end overs, between the 43rd and 47th, without the ball once reaching the fence. Soon, though, the two were meeting with startling regularity as Beaumont and Capsey set the chase into premature overdrive.
True, Australia were poor, Darcie Brown’s no-ball to open the innings setting the tone for a wayward spell, while Healy dropped Beaumont behind the stumps. After three overs, Australia had already coughed up more extras than England in 50.
The hosts, though, were ruthless, each free-hit buried, every bowling change met with renewed aggression, unperturbed by the early loss of new opener Sophia Dunkley for eight. Capsey hammered Perry for three boundaries in a row, before Beaumont struck the game’s first maximum down the ground to take England past three figures inside a dozen overs, an 84-run powerplay already the most prolific in England’s history. Not to bettered, Capsey lined up Annabel Sutherland patrolling the long-on boundary, then simply pumped it five yards over her head and at that point, England were rattling on at almost twice the required rate.
The introduction of spin, though, stemmed their charge. Georgia Wareham’s first over saw Beaumont depart, then Ashleigh Gardner’s brought the wicket of Capsey, the teenager this time caught by Sutherland taking on the same audacious shot.
A period of calm was called for and delivered by England’s most wisened heads, captain Knight and vice Nat Sciver-Brunt, until the latter was out reverse-sweeping Jonassen with the hosts exactly 100 runs shy of Australia’s total.
Knight, though, was not for moving even as partners came and went, several in maddeningly needless fashion. With just two matches of the series to play, England just won’t go away either.