Triumph and tragedy on a razor’s edge as England secure a hard-fought draw
Words by Simon Edwards – Comment Online Editor
The finest Test match of this Ashes winter took place after most of the world’s cameras had stopped rolling. Heather Knight’s England fought valiantly to keep their Ashes hopes alive against Meg Lanning’s dominant Australia in a nail-biting Test match where all four results were possible down to the last over. That this result seemed improbable after the first day, impossible after the second, and a mix of disappointing and relieving by the close of play, is testament to the endurance and ability of the players, and the unique power of Test cricket to deliver incredible sporting narratives.
Australia’s first innings set a familiar tone: a fast Canberra outfield and some easy catches dropped allowed Lanning and Rachael Haynes to build an imperious partnership of 169. Subsequent half centuries by all-rounders Tahlia McGrath and Ashleigh Gardner left Australia on a commanding 337 – a five-wicket haul by Katherine Brunt helped stem the flow of runs, but England was nonetheless in trouble. Trouble turned to disaster on Day 2 when both England’s openers were dismissed early and wickets continued to fall rapidly as the day progressed, with Australia’s superstar Ellyse Perry shrugging off her recent slump with a slew of wickets.
A humiliating defeat was prevented thanks to a masterful innings by Knight: her 168* – England’s highest individual total of the winter – and her composure at the crease enabled others to contribute to an innings of 297, keeping England in the game. The momentum was England’s on the third day, with debutant spinner Charlie Dean stopping the dangerous Beth Mooney in her tracks, before later getting McGrath too. Australia’s fourth day declaration left England with 257 to win, and a miracle seemed to be brewing.
A team effort almost got England over the line – the top order scored 30 to 60 runs apiece, leaving the target easily within reach. However, inexperience with the format got the better of many of England’s players, and they began swinging for the fences as the overs ticked away. Australia claimed quick wickets until it was down to tailenders Sophie Ecclestone and Kate Cross to eke out a draw that could’ve just as easily been a spellbinding win, or a devastating loss.
In the midst of all this drama and celebration of Test cricket is the continuously bitter pill: there is only one women’s Test scheduled this year, anywhere in the world. In 2021, England’s men played 15 Tests: England Women played one, Australia Women played one, India Women played two. New Zealand Women have not played a Test since 2004 – Sophie Devine, one of the finest cricketers of the modern era, may retire without a Test cap to her name. Even this Test, dramatic and thrilling as it was, is conspicuously shorter than the men’s: women’s Tests last four days, not five. Access and opportunities in cricket’s oldest (and finest) format are continuously denied to female players – pervasive sexist attitudes and lack of support for the game let down its players, its supporters and its future.
Matches like these do wonders for legitimising and popularising the women’s game globally, and yet players are still faced with tired wickets, slow outfields, and inevitable disappointing draws (as opposed to this game’s exciting draw, obviously). This Ashes Test trended number one in India, whose cricket board believe there is little to no interest in the women’s game. This assertion is clearly false. The talent is there. The will is there. The support is there. Matches like these are proof that women deserve to play Test cricket – it is up to the ICC to make it happen.