As the Women’s Ashes Test enters its final day tied, Beth Mooney praised the two protagonists whose extraordinary spin bowling on Day 4 brought the match to this juncture.
Australia started the penultimate day at 82/0 in their second innings after England had nearly matched their first-innings total of 473 – Australia’s third highest innings total in Tests – with a response of 463. Sophie Ecclestone spoiled the opportunity for the visitors to consolidate and score a large total against England. After Kate Cross and 22-year-old fast bowler Lauren Filer reduced Australia from 99/0 to 151/3, Ecclestone initiated a collapse with a masterclass in off spin. Australia could only add 106 more runs to their total after Ecclestone took her second five-wicket haul of her career and of this match.
After being tasked with chasing 268 runs, England were reduced to 116 for 5 by the conclusion of the day. This was primarily attributable to Ashleigh Gardner’s three-wicket haul, which shook the home team’s chase. Gardner began by silencing the Trent Bridge crowd when she sent Tammy Beaumont, the first innings double-centurion, back to the pavilion in the eleventh over. In less than four overs, England was reduced to 73/4 after losing Nat Sciver-Brun and captain Heather Knight. Gardner was responsible for three of these four wickets.
“Ash [Gardner], to her credit has improved her off-spin bowling out of sight in the last couple of years,” Mooney said at the end of the day’s play. “We know that she can settle into one end in this format and bowl the ball in the right areas exactly where we want it. So, it’s a lot of reward for a serious amount of hard work that she’s put in on and off the field so I couldn’t be more pleased for Ash, I think she’s done a great job for us.”
Mooney believed that Gardner’s spin development has been a gradual process over the past two years, and that last year’s Women’s Big Bash League, in which she took 23 wickets in 15 games for the champion Sydney Sixers, marked a turning point in her career. During that season, only Megan Schutt (27) and Jess Jonnassen (25) scored more goals.
“Soph has so set the benchmark across a number of years in in white-ball cricket and now she’s showing her class in Test cricket but I think Ash isn’t too far behind her. She’s been outstanding in the last couple of years for us. It was probably a time two or three years ago where [regular captain] Meg [Lanning] tended to not throw the ball to Ash in T20 cricket and to her credit she changed what she did and changed her variations and things like that,” Mooney said.
“Last WBBL was probably the turning point for Ash. She was player of the tournament, bowled the house down, batted well and now she’s just a mainstay in our line-up with bat and ball so I’m really pleased for her. Hopefully there’s more improvement to come from her and she’s part of the furniture of Australian cricket as well,” she added.
Ecclestone, who has done most of the bowling for England throughout both innings so far, has garnered the plaudits of her opponents. During the first innings, she took five wickets while bowling 46.2 of the total 124.2 overs. In the second innings, she added five more runs by sending down 30.5 of the total 78.5 overs bowled.
“I just made sure I played as much golf as I could to get out and about and take my mind off cricket,” Ecclestone said. “I knew I was going to bowl a lot of overs and I didn’t think it’d be this many but I’m grateful that I was bowling a lot as I’ve come out with ten wickets and I’m absolutely made up with that. You can’t really prepare for that you’ve just got to go with it and you’ve just got to be tough in the mind.”