England women target Tests after historic victory

The triumph of the England women's team at Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday may not have had quite the same impact as the victory of Michael Vaughan's men (by exactly the same margin) at Edgbaston a fortnight earlier, but in its own context it was even more epoch-making.

While their male counterparts have enjoyed occasional successes during Australia's 16 years of Ashes domination, England's women had gone 12 years and 20 matches without a victory over their great rivals before their thrilling triumph in the third NatWest Series one-day international.

Claire Taylor's dogged innings of 82 helped England, batting first, to make 200. Australia faltered but Cathryn Fitzpatrick hit 26 from 21 deliveries before she was stumped off the fourth ball of the final over, bowled by 20-year-old Katherine Brunt. Julie Hayes was run out on the fifth and Alex Blackwell could manage only a single off the sixth, when four runs were needed for victory.

Australia, who cemented their reputation as the planet's best team by winning the World Cup earlier this year, are here to play one Twenty20 international, two Tests and five one-dayers. The second Test starts at Worcester today, the first having finished in a draw, while England's victory at Stratford kept the one-day series alive, with Australia leading 2-1.

Despite England's progress in recent years - partly a reflection of the fact that more than two million women now play the game in this country - defeat to Australia in the World Cup semi-finals four months ago seemed to show that the gap between the two countries was still sizeable.

However, Richard Bates, the coach, said that his side had built winning positions in each match this summer before Sunday's triumph. "We had Australia at 115 for 7 at the start of the first Test, but their tail wagged and they scored 355, which meant that we had to play some good cricket to save the match," he said. "Then we got them out for 222 and 193 in the one-dayers, got off to good starts and then suffered batting collapses. We knew we were closing in on Australia, but the girls had to hold their nerve.

"The Australians have had this aura, in cricket and in other sports, but we've seen this summer that they're not invincible. We've definitely benefited from the feelgood factor of the men's success."

The public have responded, too, with packed houses at the club grounds where the three recent one-day internationals have been played.

Bates is particularly pleased to have beaten Australia before the expected retirement of two cornerstones of their successful years, the opener Belinda Clark and fast bowler Fitzpatrick. "We wanted to show we could beat them with their best players still available," he said.

Two of England's team, the wicketkeeper Jane Smit and fast bowler Taylor, played in the last victory over Australia, in the 1993 World Cup, while Clare Connor, the captain, has been playing international cricket for 10 years and been England captain since 2000.

Bates has also put his faith in youth. He gave a 15-year-old, Holly Colvin, her debut in the first Test and 18-year-old Jo Watts was brought in for the one-day internationals.

Can England build on Sunday's success? "We said that if we could just win one game there would be no reason why we couldn't go on to win another," Bates said. "After that, who knows?"

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