Australia won the first game of the Commonwealth Bank Women’s Ashes by two wickets. It was a game where the momentum changed hands so frequently that it was hard to gauge who was going to come out on top.
Australia has learned lessons from the ICC World Cup and looked to be more balanced in their selection. They had more bowling options with Tahlia McGrath becoming the third seam bowler and AJ Wellington turning the ball sharply, replacing Kristen Beams.
In a game that had been sold out weeks ago, this game was much anticipated, and it didn’t fail to deliver. The week leading up to the game didn’t look promising, with rain that put paid to all of England and Australia’s warm-up games.
There were photos of a saturated outfield, as late as the day before the game. The ground staff did an amazing job to get the game on and ready for play to start on time.
Australia won the toss and chose to field. England got into a rhythm in the fourth over when Tammy Beaumont, the player of the tournament at the ICC World Cup hit Ellyse Perry for four. It started a spate of boundaries for England’s openers including an expensive over as fifteen came from the seventh over bowled by Megan Schutt who saw Beaumont hit her for a six and a four for the first two balls of the over.
It was Australia’s spin bowlers that got them back into the game on a good-looking pitch to say that there had been raining around in Brisbane all week. Wellington continued to beat the bat and although she took no wickets the fact that she went for less than four an over gave Australia a strong hand. Heather Knight and Fran Wilson both got out to shots looking to get things moving. Katherine Brunt has been known to propel England to competitive scores in the past, but they were left too much to do at the end.
It was Lauren Winfield who was the only player to score a fifty or more for England, and as the only England Batter not to have scored a 50 at the ICC World Cup, and not scoring one since last November at Colombo it was a good reminder of her talent.
Ashleigh Gardner the young off-spin bowler took 3 for 47 as England looked to finish 20 short of a par score.
When Nicole Bolton was caught behind off a thin edge to Anya Shrubsole in the second over England looked to press home an advantage. Alyssa Healy promoted back up the order was dealing in boundaries at the other end, but she tried on shot too many and was Brunt’s first wicket of the series.
Perry looked to just start to go through the gears with the bat, before being deceived from a well-executed ball from Alex Hartley that saw her stumped by the excellent Sarah Taylor.
It was left to Racheal Haynes and Alex Blackwell to put on 63 for the fifth wicket. After that the run- rate started to creep up to a run a ball, and the inexperienced Tahlia McGrath struggled to find the gaps in the field.
This also started to put pressure on Blackwell who needed to be there at the end if Australia were to win. When McGrath was caught by Winfield in the deep it released much of the pressure, even if England were still the favorites.
Gardner who is a clean hitter of the ball soon got stuck in and allowed Blackwell to rotate the strike and see Australia home.
There could have been late drama as with two runs still needed Gardner was run out by a quality piece of fielding from Nat Sciver who dived full length before having the awareness to throw to the right end. With two wickets left it might have been a tricky last over to see out, however, Jess Jonassen hit the first ball of the of Shrubsole’s over for four.
Australia took their lead to Coffs Harbour for the second ODI on Thursday. England will be keen to fight back from a game that they had ample chances to win. With the Ashes currently in Australia’s possession, they have put themselves in a very good place to retain them.
Blackwell was awarded the Best player match award, although it could have quite easily have gone to Gardner. If Blackwell keeps performing, it will only intensify why Haynes was given the captaincy over her.
Haynes looked reassuring in marshaling her bowlers and fielders and everyone seems to be behind the captain, so it will probably remain an idle speculation.