THERE WAS an immediately discernible difference between the sides in the match which may, or may not, decide the destiny of The Ashes. England donned long flannels, Australia sported traditional skirts. This applied only to the kit. As far as the cricket was concerned Australia wore the trousers all day at Worcester.
England scored at fewer than two runs an over, having put up the barricades from the start and were dismissed for a score at least 100 short of what was truly required. Australia buzzed along at approaching four and over, went for their shots and never looked as though they considered that being bowled out was a possibility. England tried desperately, gamely to hang on but Australia bowled like demons and batted slightly better than that. There have been other Ashes Tests like this in recent times.
By the end of a gruelling day England were 36 runs behind. Australia still have nine wickets in hand and plenty of forceful, attractive strokeplayers to come. Belinda Clark, their captain, compiled a century of quite consummate grace from a mere 160 balls. Her footwork was imaginative and delicate, she was beautifully effective through the covers and her late cutting was reminiscent of Steve Waugh in all his glory.
Clark shared a rapid opening stand of 127 with Lisa Keightley and was then joined by the blisteringly proficient left-hander Karen Rolton. It was a thoroughly unpleasant sight for English eyes and it was only a small mercy that they had opted last year for trousers instead of the traditional divided skirts (known as Mayfield Shorts) partly to help them to be more effective in the field. It did not at all assist the consistent accuracy of their bowlers.
This is the first series to be played by women in which an urn full of burnt wood has been at stake. The ceremonial fire (fuel: a bat) was lit at Lord's before it started. In the case of a draw it is presumed that England will become the holders as they provided the trophy. It is now their only hope. Australia romped the one-day series between the sides at the start of the tour and although they have been held in two high scoring draws in the first two Tests they have suddenly shifted up a gear or two.
This much was evident as soon as play resumed on the second of the four days. Cathryn Fitzpatrick, the world's quickest woman bowler and looking it, is also appropriately menacing. She gave England the hurry-up by coming round the wicket and digging a few in short, a tactic that should disabuse anybody of the notion that women's cricket is just an extended version of all girls together.
It accounted quickly enough for the nightwatchman Sarah Collyer who could only manage a high top-edge to the wicketkeeper. The whole of England should have cheered at what happened next. England's opening bowler Clare Taylor, from Yorkshire, twice stood up tall and hooked Fitzpatrick for four off her eyebrows and if you want comparisons imagine Darren Gough doing similarly to Glenn McGrath.
Taylor was run out by a piece of breathtaking fielding. She went for a run after hitting the ball to backward point where Jane Broadbent gathered and threw down the only stump she had to aim at before the batsman could regain her ground. Australia are favourites but history is on England's side. While it may well require Jan Brittin's third century of the series to save them, the figures show that more than two-thirds of the 101 women's Tests have been draws.
It may not bring in the crowds but, heck, this is The Ashes.