|Women’s Ashes Test, North Sydney Oval (day four of four):|
|England 280 & 206-2: Knight 79*, Elwiss 41*|
|Australia 448-9 dec: Perry 213*, McGrath 47, Healy 45, Ecclestone 3-107, Marsh 3-109|
|Match drawn; both sides take 2pts, Australia lead series 6-4|
Captain Heather Knight led a stubborn rearguard action as England forced a draw against Australia to keep the multi-format Women’s Ashes alive.
Australia would have retained the trophy if they had won this inaugural day-night Test, but needed to bowl England out on the final day in Sydney.
England began on 40-0, 128 runs behind, but after losing their openers, Knight (79 not out) added an unbroken 117 with Georgia Elwiss (41 not out) to keep Australia at bay before a draw was agreed with the tourists on 206-2.
Australia now lead the series 6-4 on points, meaning – barring intervention from the weather – England need to win all three Twenty20 internationals in order to regain the Ashes trophy.
Ellyse Perry’s sparkling double century on day three had left the hosts in the ascendancy, but neither side were helped by a lifeless North Sydney Oval pitch which gave no assistance to the bowlers, and it must be a concern that the T20 series begins on Friday at the same ground – with the same pitch reportedly set to be reused.
England grit it out
After the excitement of Perry’s unbeaten 213 the previous day, Sunday’s action will have tested the patience of even the most committed fan of women’s cricket.
With the unrealistic prospect of an England victory out of the window, the only possible results were an Aussie win to clinch the series, or a draw to keep it alive.
It meant England had to take a safety-first approach, but openers Tammy Beaumont (37) and Lauren Winfield (34) continued their positive start from the previous night, adding 71 for the first wicket.
For the second time in the match, Beaumont was dismissed by a superb leg break bowled by rookie Amanda-Jade Wellington.
Having been caught at slip in the first innings, here she was bowled by a delivery which drifted into the right-hander, pitched on leg stump and turned sharply to take the top of off stump.
In terms of an Australian leg-spinner dismissing an England batsman renowned as a good player of spin in an Ashes Test, it even drew comparisons with Shane Warne’s “ball of the century” to Mike Gatting in 1993.
Knight, who had scored a painstaking 157 from 330 balls in the 2013 Ashes Test at Wormsley, then led from the front as she compiled her second half-century of the match, her unbeaten 79 coming from 220 balls but containing 11 fours.
Elwiss, making her first appearance since the group stage of the World Cup, vindicated her selection as the extra batter with 41 from 190.
She rode her luck at times – shouldering arms to spinner Jess Jonassen and nearly losing her off stump, while she was nearly run out when Knight called her for a quick single – but England were ultimately good value for their draw.
So does women’s Test cricket have a future?
While men’s Test cricket’s future as a five-day match has been recently questioned, the women’s game remains a four-day contest, with faster over-rates allowing 100 overs to be bowled in a day.
More than 12,000 fans entered the North Sydney Oval across the four days, showing that the increased profile of women’s cricket – aided by a successful World Cup and the growth of Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League and England’s Super League – means there is an audience for it.
Players from both sides have also been insistent that they would love to play more Test cricket, rather than one game every two years or so.
But commentators have agreed that the game does itself no favours when pitches such as this one are used, after only 21 wickets fell in 387 overs.
The track was devoid of grass, offering little or no pace or swing for the seamers. Even after four days, it had not deteriorated to aid the spinners, who were forced to bowl with a pink ball which scuffed up very quickly.
“There’s been no life in it from day one, and it’s been very hard for the players to get wickets,” ex-England captain Charlotte Edwards said on BBC Test Match Special.
“It’s been too flat and too slow. I said on the first day, that if we’re going to play women’s Test cricket, the pitch has got to have more pace in it.”
By mid-evening, Australia captain Rachael Haynes had resorted to using three part-time bowlers, including herself, in a fruitless attempt to break the deadlock.
‘The pitch destroyed the pink ball’ – what they said
England captain Heather Knight on TMS: “It’s been a long few days, but for the girls to come back today and make the game safe was pleasing. It was disappointing we couldn’t force a win as Ellyse took the game away from us yesterday.
“We’re not used to playing multi-innings games but batting with Georgia was brilliant. She’s a mentally strong player and she knows her game really well. It was attritional at times but that’s the game we had to play. It was difficult to take 20 wickets but we can only play in the conditions we’re given.”
Australia captain Rachael Haynes on TMS: “Our goal was to win – we were happy to get a couple of early wickets but the England batters shut us out. Given that our Tests are played over four days, perhaps that track was too flat as it made it tough for the bowlers once the ball got old.”
England coach Mark Robinson on TMS: “It was challenging on that wicket with a slow outfield, but it was a nice rearguard action to keep it out for a draw. We had to show some good backbone. But we need pace on the ball in women’s cricket, the pitch was grassless and destroyed the pink ball.
“But to have nearly 4,000 there yesterday was a tremendous effort by Cricket Australia and we saw a tremendous innings by a special player, so I don’t want to sour it by talking about the pitch.”
TMS commentator Charles Dagnall: “England have done the job they were here to do. They’ve saved the Test match. The fact that the scoring rate on days one and two was only just over two an over tells you everything – the pitch ain’t good enough.”