All Things Cricket: February 4th

  • I’m changing it up this week…first off, Australia retains the #WAshes with the famous Test draw (more on that) and a win in the first ODI; there will be a Women’s IPL starting in 2023 (yay, finally!); the Windies and South Africa women tie an ODI, which WI wins on the super over; the U19 World Cup has England and India in what should be a great final; Multan is 4-0 in the PSL; Church Street Park in North Carolina is getting an upgrade to ICC standards. Feel free to expand on any of those or anything else in the comments.
  • I wrote this elsewhere about the Women’s Ashes Test last Saturday/Sunday (for me). I wanted to preserve it for Avocado posterity, such as it is:

Last night, the Women’s Ashes only Test match started its fourth and final day. There are two controversial facts in that last sentence. One, the Women’s Ashes, the women’s version of the Ashes Test Series between England and Australia that began in 1882, only has one Test match instead of the five the men play. Two, the Women’s Ashes Test only runs four days, to save money (the real reason) or to save wear and tear on the poor, weak women’s bodies or whatever nonsense the ICC has come up with to justify it.

Aside from the one Test, the Women’s Ashes also consists of three T20 games (the short format of cricket) and three One-Day games. There are two points at stake for each match, except for the Test, where four points are at stake. The teams already played one T20 game which Australia won in a rout, and then two other games were rained out. This means that heading into the Test, Australia had 4 points (2 for the win and one each for the rainouts) and England had 2 points. If Australia had won this Test match, they would have had 8 points and an unassailable lead of 8 points to 2, and would have retained the Ashes.

The Test was shaping up to be a classic. Australia batted first and scored 337 runs before declaring their innings with 9 wickets down. They declared because there are only 4 days in the Test, and they needed to save enough time to get England out twice and win the match. England was in big trouble in their innings, down 6 wickets and with only 120 runs. Heather Knight, the England captain, came to the rescue, like, well, a knight, and scored 168 runs to drag England back into the contest. England was finally bowled out before lunch on the third day (with Knight still around) for 297, down only 40.

Australia began their second innings and lost two early wickets on some strong bowling from England’s Katherine Brunt, who also took 5 wickets in the first innings. Australia managed 12 runs, and then, as if to vindicate the ICC and announce that the world doesn’t want women’s Test cricket, the skies opened up over Canberra and washed out the whole rest of the day.

It was incredibly depressing to see such a great match lose two whole sessions, especially since there would be no 5th day to make up the time. Most of the assembled press resigned themselves to an inevitable draw, which has been the result of each of the last three women’s Test matches that have been played (all three have been between these two teams or India) since 2017.

The morning of the 4th day was clear and sunny, so at least we would get a day’s play. England started strongly, getting the wicket of Ellyse Perry, probably the best all-around player in the women’s game, and Beth Mooney, who was playing with a broken jaw and subsisting on a liquid diet. The wicket of Australia captain Meg Lanning fell at 130 runs, and Twitter and the commentators were clamoring for Lanning to declare so Australia would have a chance to get 10 England wickets and win the Ashes. Lanning demurred, at least for a while, and the lead built to 256 before Lanning decided to pull the plug after lunch. That gave Australia 48 overs to go for the win, and left England seemingly in a cornered position where they could only play for a draw to keep the series alive.

If England felt cornered, they didn’t bat like it. Lauren Winfield-Hill and especially Tammy Beaumont played with determined intent in an effort to get England into a winning position. Their opening partnership of 52 runs set a platform for Knight to swoop in after Beaumont got out and get the score up over 100 and close to the halfway mark of the 257 runs required for an unlikely England win. Nat Sciver came in after Winfield-Hill was caught by Perry, and the two England veterans ramped up the pressure. It seemed for a bit that Knight and Sciver would see out a famous victory together as they got the score all the way to 166. Knight then fell on an lbw to 18-year-old phenom Darcie Brown, and the momentum switched back to Australia.

Sciver then partnered with Sophia Dunkley, the only Black player on the England team. Dunkley entered and gleefully began swatting fours and sixes with abandon and a huge smile on her face. The total climbed to 218, until Sciver hit a screaming liner that Lanning snatched out of the air. Suddenly, Dunkley’s demeanor changed as she now needed to anchor the partnership with newcomer Amy Jones. Jones didn’t last long, skying to Mooney, who went to her knees gingerly trying to protect her jaw to make the catch. Three runs later, Dunkley hit an even tougher chance to Mooney, who caught it again, this time with a half dive that sent cringes through the Australian bench and fans. Mooney emerged with the ball and as big a smile as she could muster, and now the equation was 233 for 6 and England’s tailenders coming in.

Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, another pair of experienced campaigners, were now at the crease. England was still going for the improbable win, and after Brunt was caught behind, Shrubsole attempted a questionable run on a ball that keeper Alyssa Healy was able to reach. Healy fired to bowler Alana King, who effected the run out to put England at 8 wickets down.

Twitter urged England to pull up stakes and play for the draw, but Charlie Dean and new batter Sophie Ecclestone kept swinging, with Dean also getting out caught behind. Nine wickets down. What seemed only a few minutes ago like a sure England win was now turning into an Australian Ashes victory even more quickly.

That left Kate Cross, the number 11, in with Ecclestone. It was now their job to save the Ashes, any way they could. Cross hosts a podcast called “No Balls” on the BBC with her best mate, Alexandra Hartley. The two women, in addition to joking around and reading hilarious emails from fans, talk intimately and expansively about the mental side of cricket and how brutal and lonely the sport can be. I listen to almost every episode, and at this point, I was aching for poor Crossy, who is not a very good batter and who struggles with being in the spotlight but gamely keeps going with good humor and as healthy a mindset as cricket will allow.

Cross came in 13 balls left in the day. Ecclestone blocked the first ball after Cross’ entrance to put Cross on strike for the penultimate over. I was half-heartedly wishing for Australia to lob up a couple of dollies so that Kate could hit two sixes and win the match, but thankfully for Cross, she was having none of that. She played and missed at a couple of balls that were not much of a threat, defended a couple of others, and finally hit a loose one to off stump for a single to retain the strike for the final over. She wanted this. This was her moment.

King, a right-arm spinner, came in to bowl. King’s parents emigrated to Melbourne from Chennai, and with this being King’s first Test match for Australia, they and other members of her family were in the stands, gravely holding their hands over their mouths as they stood up and could only watch. Lanning began bringing defenders closer and closer with each delivery as Cross resolutely placed her bat between the ball and her stumps, one delivery after another. As King spun in the last two deliveries, Lanning placed 10 and then all 11 players within 22 yards of Cross, forming a sort of honor guard down the length of the pitch. Cross would not waver, though, deflecting first one and then the other straight to the ground, safely away from the encroaching hands of so many Australian defenders.

It was done. At 1:30 am my time, it was finally done. A draw! What a draw! I was so happy for Crossy. She weathered an unbelievable amount of pressure to keep the series alive. I was also happy for women’s cricket and especially women’s Test cricket. Dozens of encomia poured in on Twitter for the match, the teams, the individual players who had made it happen and for each other for watching it and being able to experience it.

It remains to be seen if anyone who manages cricket will learn anything from this and give us more of it and a 5th day of it. Mostly I hope the players get to play this format more often. Look how great they can make it without much practice! Imagine how much better they could be with more chances. Imagine that.