At the start of Australia’s tour of England, Sophie Molineux was not part of the squad. Instead, she was plying her trade with the Australia A team, keen to prove that she had recovered well from a shoulder surgery. Despite impressive performances against England Academy in the one-day series, there was no certainty that Molineux would earn a call up to the Ashes squad. After all, Australia already had three quality spinners in their line-up in Jess Jonassen, Georgia Wareham and Ashleigh Gardner. What was the need of a fourth, one would think.
However, after her “unexpected” call-up to the Test squad, Molineux proved her worth in the three-day practice match against England Academy, and then again on day three of the one-off Test match in Taunton on Saturday (July 20). The left-arm spinner ripped through England’s top order with an incisive spell of bowling on a track that she described as “dead”. She accounted for Heather Knight— her maiden Test wicket— Amy Jones and Sarah Taylor to give Australia complete control of the match going into the final day.
“Yeah, it was special,” said Molineux at stumps with Australia 221 runs ahead. “I think taking 20 wickets out here is going to be hard work, so every wicket is quite valuable, but I think to take Heather’s wicket first up was pretty cool.”
Having waited two full days to get stuck into her work, the 21-year-old began day three with a handy contribution with the bat. She scored a valuable 21 and shared a 52-run stand with Beth Mooney for the seventh wicket.
“I love Test cricket. I love wearing whites and playing with the red ball. I played a lot of longer format cricket growing up back home, so just to put the whites back on again, I felt quite at home. Just to get out there and play with the Baggy Green on your head, you just got to enjoy it and have fun, and that’s what we did out there.”
It was Molineux’s contribution with the ball however, that has decisively turned the game in Australia’s favour. After England got off to a positive start through Jones and Knight, the left-arm spinner came into the attack, dried up the runs and picked up wickets as well. She finished the penultimate day with figures of 3 for 71 in 29 overs. Her plan was simple— attack the stumps and extract whatever little help there is off the surface.
“It’s pretty dead. You get out what you put in to it. Every now and then it’ll turn, but you gotta stay patient. There’s not heaps out there, but I guess that’s just cricket.”
“We’ve got a long way to go— 14 wickets to go— and it’s not going to be easy, so we’ve got to get a good amount of sleep in tonight and come back out firing.”
With England still trailing by 221 runs, and Australia needing only four more first innings wickets, the possibility of the hosts having to follow-on is quite high. Molineux however, believes that England still pose a threat.
“I knew they were always going to come out pretty hard,” she said of the hosts’s approach. “I suppose during the middle our bowlers sort of got into their straps a little bit and were hitting the stumps a little bit more, and as we could see in the first innings it’s quite hard to score off anything in line with the stumps. I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow they come out with a bit more intent. Yeah, they’ve definitely got the players to do so, so we’ve got to be ready for that.”
While a draw is enough for Australia to retain the Ashes, they will still try to push for a win. England, on the other hand are hanging on to the series by the skin of their teeth. Unless they pull off a miracle on Sunday, the result of the series seems a foregone conclusion.
“We’ve been really positive just since Day one out here. Just to be able to put the whites on and play Test cricket has been a really good vibe around the group and we know that we are close. Obviously it will be a really nice to win the Test— that’s what we’ve been looking to do from the start— so hopefully that is something we can do.”