By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • Ellyse Perry is the star of the show as she crafts a wonderful 213 in Australia’s 448-9.
  • Heather Knight guides England to a draw with two fifties in the match to ensure her country can still regain the Ashes.
  • Sophie Ecclestone and Tahlia McGrath impress on debut with three wickets apiece.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Ellyse Perry amasses 213, Heather Knight scores two fifties and Sophie Ecclestone and Tahlia McGrath both take three wickets on debut as England and Australia draw the only Women’s Ashes Test.

 

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The best player on either team is Australian

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Ellyse Perry outshone every other player on the pitch with her brilliant 213, which was far and away the biggest contribution in Australia’s formidable total of 448/9 declared. It was exactly the innings her team needed and, on a better pitch, would probably have set them on their way to victory.

Considering Perry’s talent, it is extraordinary that this innings is the first time she has ever reached three figures in an international match. Before Saturday, she had ended three ODIs unbeaten on scores between 90 and 100 and made 28 fifties in total across Tests, ODIs and T20Is.

Australia’s star all-rounder now averages 61.71 in Tests, 50.27 in ODIs and 26.56 in T20Is with a strike of just over 100. Those figures would be outstanding for any batsman in men’s or women’s cricket. But Perry is also a terrific opening bowler and this combination makes her a very special cricketer for her country. She took 3-59 in England’s first innings in this Test to add to her already stunning contribution to proceedings.

 

Heather Knight sets an excellent example

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What a year it has been for Heather Knight. She led her country to a memorable World Cup victory at a sold-out Lords in July and then guided her club team Western Storm to their Kia Super League triumph in August.

Knight experienced personal success with the bat at the World Cup too: she scored 364 runs at average of 45.50, including 106 against Pakistan and 82 against Sri Lanka. And she has carried that batting form over into the Ashes Down Under with three consecutive scores of 60 or higher in the last two matches.

The England captain’s innings have been so significant that her country may have lost both matches if she had been out cheaply. Instead, they have earned a win and a draw to keep their hopes of regaining the Women’s Ashes alive. No team could expect more of their skipper, and Knight’s teammates would do well to follow her example in the three T20Is to come, especially as England need to win them all to achieve a series victory.

 

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A lifeless pitch makes it very hard for any team to win a Test

Perry, Knight, Tahlia McGrath, Tammy Beaumont, Jess Jonassen, Laura Marsh, Amanda-Jade Wellington and Sophie Ecclestone all stepped up and produced high-quality Test-level performances, but their efforts ultimately counted for far less than they could have done if the North Sydney Oval ground staff had produced a pitch that provided some assistance for the bowlers.

It does not diminish the achievements of the highest scorers Perry, Knight and Beaumont, but there is no getting away from the fact that it was an easy pitch to bat on. Only 21 wickets fell in four days of cricket and that is because the pitch was utterly lifeless. It is a minor miracle that Wellington managed to bowl a delivery that pitched on leg stump and spun enough to hit the top of off because there was very little help on offer from the surface.

What makes it all the more frustrating is that, before the match, women’s Test cricket was facing something of a fight to survive as it does not typically generate as much interest as the one-day formats. Thankfully, there seemed to plenty of spectators watching from the stands and the picnic areas so perhaps that, along with the quality of the performances, will go some way to convincing cricket boards to persist with women’s Test cricket. Unfortunately, someone decided it would be a good idea to produce a pitch that was always unlikely to lead to anyone actually winning the match.

 

Sophie Ecclestone demonstrates her potential

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The slow-left-armer from Chester made a very bright start to her Test career when she dismissed Beth Mooney and Alex Blackwell in quick succession to reduce Australia to 61-3 and enable England to dream of victory until the first hour of day three.

And that’s when Ecclestone’s impressive debut took a turn for the worse. Knight demonstrated great faith in the 18-year-old by throwing her the ball for the second over of the day. Unfortunately, her inexperience showed and she served up numerous full tosses that were deservedly whacked to the boundary by Alyssa Healy. By the time her captain took her out of the attack, the damage was done and Perry and Healy had settled in and were looking comfortable at the crease.

It is to Ecclestone’s great credit that she came back later in the day and bowled with better control. She earned a third wicket, Wellington, for her efforts and demonstrated stacks of ability most of the time she bowled. With a bit of fine-tuning and more experience under her belt, she could become a top-class international cricketer.

 

Tahlia McGrath could be a star

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Although it was McGrath’s debut, she looked every inch a Test cricketer. She settled into a groove straightaway with her accurate seam bowling and only conceded 57 runs in the 30 overs she bowled in the match. It was not only her economy that was impressive – she took the wickets of Lauren Winfield and Katherine Brunt in the first innings and then got Winfield out again in the second innings.

Her impressive batting display further strengthens her claim for a regular place in the Australian team in the years to come. She was lucky to be dropped by Knight first ball, but she took full advantage as she hit seven boundaries during an enterprising 47. McGrath, 22, is definitely a player to watch in women’s cricket.

 

The First T20I between England and Australia begins at 8.10am GMT on Friday 19th November 2017.

 

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