Australia (420/8d & 230/7) draw with England (275/9d) to retain the Ashes
"We said from the start we do actually want to get a result out of the game," said Rachel Haynes, the Australian vice captain, at the close of play on day one. "It’s not in the Australian way just to play for a draw, or anything like that. I’m sure at some stage you’ll see us put the foot down."
Times change, and anyone is at liberty to change their minds too, of course. A few quick wickets early into the Australian second innings may have been a factor, so too the prospect of Ellyse Perry scoring an unprecedented two centuries in a Test. She didn’t, but got close, ending on 76 not out, and 192 for the match.
Maybe it was also a sense of injustice felt by Meg Lanning and co. as Heather Knight summoned her charges from the ground, boldly declaring 145 runs behind. England, with that act, took the momentum and Australia, ultimately, were having none of that.
And so, as nothing bar a force majeure, or a freak incident, might prise Perry from the crease, Australia stuck her in, wrestled back control and the dominance we always secretly feared they held was reclaimed. The ultimate power move, perhaps, as Lanning made England grind it out in the field, almost 220 overs all in all, with the message that England, you can leave only when we decide.
"We were hoping to be in a position to enforce the follow on and that was the best chance of winning," said Lanning post-match, after Australia had failed to bowl England out for under 270, the follow-on target. "We came in with a six-point lead and I guess when you have to make decisions towards the end of the game, we have to make [a decision] what is best for us."
That, ultimately, was what it came down to. Australia, when push came to shove, wanted control, to first retain and only then win the Ashes. And they wanted this more than a result in the Test and the whitewash they had talked such a good game about coming into this match. Fair enough. A shame for the spectacle, the Test format, and perhaps women’s cricket too, but fair enough, the Ashes is theirs. Phase one accomplished, onto phase two and a win in any of the three remaining T20s will crown Australia decisive victors.
"We thought about [declaring]," shrugged Lanning. "We had a good chat about what our options were and whether we could force a result. But we looked at how many overs were left, especially given how many wickets were falling today. We had to adapt to what the conditions were.
"The wicket didn’t really deteriorate as much as we thought it would heading into the Test; we thought it was going to turn, and then the weather came in on day two and took time out of the game. We always had the intention to come in and win the Test match."
England, after painfully managing just 31 runs off 138 balls with the old ball the evening before, entered the final morning with an altogether different approach. A new day, a new ball and a result, with its risks and its unlikelihood, suddenly became a possibility again.
When Anya Shrubsole skipped down the wicket past the spin and was comprehensively stumped, the applause from the ground was strong and sincere, despite the precarious position it put England in. Die trying or don’t register at all. England went at a run every two balls. Game on. Nat Sciver deserves a mention in dispatches too. Perry might be perfect, but Sciver batted gloriously, ultimately sacrificing her wicket in pursuit of that elusive result, bowled by Jess Jonassen for 88. Agonising, but in pursuit of the greater good.
From a position of no hope to one of strength, that is the beauty and oddity of Test cricket. As England declared behind, knowing victory had only ever been achieved twice from this position, they had control where they should not, when all objective measures suggested Australia were way ahead of the game. England Cricket’s Twitter account taunted their Australian counterparts, "Brave enough to set us a target?"
It was a joust that the England coach soon dismissed. "It’s their right," said Mark Robinson, post-match. "They’re quite within their rights to close up shop and shut the game down and retain [the Ashes]. Fair play to them."
"We’ve got to congratulate Australia: they’ve played better cricket than us and they’re the holders of the Ashes again. To Meg, who is an outstanding leader, you say well done."
And as for England’s intent that appeared lacking the day before? "It’s very, very easy to comment when you are in the commentary box," rebutted Robinson. "It’s completely different when you are down there. We had an outside chance and there needed to be a lot of good cricket to be played to win it, but that’s how it is sometimes."