Australia edge England in close finish to draw first blood in Women's Ashes
They made painfully hard work of it at times, but thanks to a calm and unbeaten 67 from Alex Blackwell, Australia chased down the 229 they required to claim the topsy-turvy opening rubber of the Women’s Ashes by two wickets with five balls to spare.
The vice-captain demonstrated her vast experience coming in at No6 with hosts having lost Ellyse Perry and Elyse Villani in quick succession. At 87-4, they had plenty to do, but steering a 63-run stand with captain Rachael Haynes the foundation was laid to take the two points on offer in the first of seven matches in this multi-format series.
In keeping with the theme of the day, England fought back to leave Australia more than a run a ball to get across the final 10 overs, but hard-hitting Ashleigh Gardner – who picked up 3-47 earlier with her offspin – was the ideal player to enter at that moment, clobbering 27 from 18 deliveries to suck the life from the visitors’ late rally.
The world champions’ best window to defend the modest 228-9 they posted was when Blackwell was on 35, but Alex Hartley put down a routine return catch. It would be the one and only chance to had to dismiss the determined veteran, who was overlooked to lead the side but rarely misses an opportunity to show her value to it.
With the ball, Australia’s spin division led the way much as they had in the World Cup, sending down 29 overs that went for just 124 runs. Gardner’s three wickets did the main damage, but Jess Jonassen’s 1-39 and Amanda Wellington’s 0-38 – both bowling their full complement – were equally as important in applying the clamps.
In the case of Wellington, she was brought into the side in favour of Kristen Beams, who took more World Cup wickets than any other Australian during the mid-year tournament. England captain Heather Knight acknowledged after the game that the huge turn she was able to generate changed the tenor of the game, beating the bat with regularity.
At 140-3 with 13 overs left, England had not capitalised on a feisty start that saw openers Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield (top scorer with 48) clear the rope three times after being sent in. Even so, they were still primed to post a considerable total with Knight and superstar Nat Sciver at the crease at the right time to do some damage. But neither went on with it, a collapse of five wickets for 31 runs following to sour their final hour with the bat.
The Australians stressed wanting to take an aggressive approach to England, and Alyssa Healy showed that with three boundaries in the first over of the chase, enjoying her elevation to the top of the list by taking on England attack-leader Katherine Brunt. But it was that bowler who won her wicket with the first ball of the fifth over when failing to clear the circle at mid-off, the second to fall after Nicole Bolton’s edge was found by Anya Shrubsole.
After the consolidation, Perry was well short of her ground, stumped by Sarah Taylor to give Hartley another big scalp – something the left-arm tweaker earned a reputation for in England’s world championship run. Villani was looking the Australian most likely either side of Perry’s dismissal but was ran out sharply by Sciver when Haynes called her through for a single that was never there.
Knight described England’s first performance since their famous World Cup win at Lord’s as “rusty”, which was reflected across their batting innings. This included Beaumont miscuing to get Australia going and Winfield getting burned by Taylor between the wickets, who herself was out leg before to an innocuous Gardner offering. Later, Knight picked out midwicket and Sciver long-on, neither looking likely.
They have their chance to square the ledger when the series moves to Coffs Harbour on Thursday for the second of three ODIs in the series.
Australia’s Jess Jonassen and Alex Blackwell celebrate after Jonassen hit the winning runs at Allan Border Field.