Going into the fourth day of the one-off Ashes Test in Taunton on Sunday (July 21), only two results seemed likely: an Australian victory or a draw. The visitors were ahead by 222 runs and had to take 14 wickets to force a result. On a pitch that everyone thought would deteriorate, Australia looked the front-runner with their spin attack. However, England fought hard with the bat, courtesy a splendid 88 from Nat Sciver, and a dogged 28 from Laura Marsh, to avoid the follow-on. Australia were forced to bat again, and soon realised that their desire to push for an outright win would possibly have to take a backseat.
"We had to adapt to what the conditions were," said Meg Lanning after play on day four. "We got a used wicket that was, especially early with the new ball, doing a little bit. England made it really hard for us. They bowled well throughout the two innings and didn’t let us get away. We always had the intention of trying to win this Test match. Even coming here this morning we were hoping to be in a position to force the follow-on and that was our best chance of winning… Especially with that time taken out of the game on day two, it probably didn’t allow us to get there. But you can only sort of play the conditions and what the opposition throw at you. They made is hard for us, England, so credit to them.’’
Considering all Australia's talk of it being 'in their culture' to play aggressive cricket, their approach on the final day surprised many. They could have possibly declared after tea and given England a small sniff at victory, having to chase 280 in 41 overs. Lanning, however, chose the conservative option that would ensure Australia retained the Ashes.
"I think both teams came out with the intention to win," she said. "We hold the Baggy Green very dear to us, and every opportunity we get, we want to go out there and wear it with pride. As I said, the wicket didn’t really deteriorate that much as we thought it would heading into the Test and that’s probably what we made our comments about (playing aggressively). The weather came in on day two and took time out of the game and… We came in with a six point lead, and I guess when you have to make decisions at the end of the game, we sort of made a decision based on what was best for us.’’
Australia can take lot of positives from the result that all the players put their hands up whenever needed. Ellyse Perry was the clear star of the Test match, scoring 192 runs across two innings and also taking one wicket. She batted Australia into position of strength in the first innings with a measured 116 and played another impactful knock of 76 not out to make sure the visitors couldn't lose. Rachael Haynes, Lanning and Alyssa Healy also scored half-centuries.
The usual suspects aside, Sophie Molinuex, the debutante, also had a big impact on the game. Having grown up playing two-day cricket with the boys back in Australia, the 21-year-old took to Test cricket like an old pro. She became the seventh woman to take four wickets (or more) and score more than 50 runs on her Test debut. She also became the second youngest Australian woman in the last 25 years to take a four-fer-- behind none other than Perry herself.
"I thought she fit into Test cricket seamlessly," said Lanning of the allrounder. "She looked really comfortable at the crease with the bat and with the ball we thought she was really going to be quite dangerous. It’s nice to see a young player come in off the back of some form with the Aussie A girls while they’ve been over here and perform well. Hopefully that shows a good pathway for the younger girls coming through to be able to perform on the big stage."
Despite having retained the Ashes, Lanning said Australia will not let up. Having only managed to draw the series in 2017, they intend to right that wrong and will take nothing less than a win.
"We won't let up, no! I think our group has developed some really good resilience over the last couple of years in terms of keeping the foot down when we are on top of the other side."
"(We know) England are a world-class side, they will come back and play well in the T20s, so we need to match that."