The mission statement was simple. Win this test and salvage the chance to reclaim the Ashes, with Australia currently leading 6-0 on points after winning all three ODIs. Alyssa Healy, however, had other ideas, intent on flat lining any lingering tinctures of English optimism.
An opening batter for Australia’s white ball sides, Healy was a pastiche of her one-day self at Taunton, routinely and regularly beating England’s extra cover to score boundaries that made up the bulk of her maiden test half-century.
It’s not often that you see a player transition over to another form of the game so seamlessly and with such aplomb but Healy certainly looked up to the challenge. After an assiduous start on a worn pitch, the Australian was eventually bowled out by Kirstie Gordon for 58 just before lunch. She will have known that she was nearing something special.
England then had to contend with the wickets of Australia captain Meg Lanning, arguably the best batter in the women’s game, and Ellyse Perry. Taking seven wickets in the last ODI between the two nations and a former international with the Australian football side, Perry has a record for getting under England’s skin. Naturally, then, she took over where Healy left off, matching everything the hosts threw at her.
England needed another wicket, that much was certain. The pairing of two left arm spinners in Sophie Ecclestone and Gordon, to perhaps unnerve the settled Aussie batters, bore no fruit. But England couldn’t become entrenched in the quagmires of self-doubt. Ecclestone seemed to be England’s best hope of breaking this partnership, and clearly fed up of the numerous failed LBW appeals, bowled the Australian captain for 57 just as she started to accelerate. Yet another lifeline.
But England’s inability to build upon any of the shallow platforms they had built ultimately meant they were always fighting an uphill battle. By tea, any hope England had of staunching the flow of Australian runs, and restricting them to a modest score in their first innings, had surely diminished.
But this is what the Australian’s have done throughout this series. Giving their opponents that ever so cruel illusion of confidence before turning the tables.
Perry and Rachel Haynes reached an unbroken partnership of over 100 runs as the highlight of a subdued final session of the day, with a panoply of singles intersected by the odd boundary to ensure that Australia will go into the second day of the test knowing that they have the English firmly in the palm of their hands.
With rain predicted for the next three days at Taunton, and the Australians’ ability to sashay to an extraordinary total, it’s difficult to see where the divinely-inspired performance needed from the English will come from.
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