Aus­tralia edge Eng­land in close fin­ish to draw first blood in Women's Ashes

The Guardian Australia - - Technology / Sport - Adam Collins at Al­lan Bor­der Field

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.

Pho­to­graph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Aus­tralia’s Jess Jonassen and Alex Black­well cel­e­brate af­ter Jonassen hit the win­ning runs at Al­lan Bor­der Field.

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