It was a day for the cricketing purists. In an England innings which featured 436 dot balls and saw them bowled out for just 168 to trail the visitors on first innings by 106 runs, the Australian contingent of the healthy Canterbury crowd spent much of it mulling over unwanted reminders of the last time these two teams met in a Test on English soil.
As England’s sixth-wicket partnership between Lydia Greenway and Natalie Sciver (126 balls for 32 runs) racked up dot ball after dot ball, trying to stave off the braying Australian bowling attack on the second day of the women’s Ashes Test, memories of Heather Knight’s 338-ball 157 and Laura Marsh’s 304-ball 55 sprung to mind.
On that occasion, the English pair’s dogged resistance ensured that their side hung on for an unlikely draw and eventually, after victories in the ODI and T20 series, an Ashes win. This time the story could be different.
Meg Lanning, on the losing side on that previous occasion, was a portrait of concentration here as she stood for much of the day’s play at second slip with one hand on her hip, the other stroking her chin, trying to marshal her side into preventing a repeat of that 2013 Test at Wormsley
“We’ve got to try and take 20 wickets,” Australia’s head coach Matthew Mott had said leading into the Test. Lanning, with only two Test caps to her name and yet to captain her side in the longer format, had to muster all of her limited experience to counter England’s war of attrition.
Already the world’s leading batsman at just 23, Lanning proved more than capable in her role as captain. She had the luxury of her bowlers responding near perfectly to every task given, but it was Lanning’s captaincy that proved the stand-out performance.
Throughout all of England’s innings, all 84.4 overs of it, on only two occasions did Lanning use any bowler for more than five consecutive overs.
“Change of bowling” became the familiar call over the loudspeaker as Lanning mixed and matched the pace and bounce of Ellyse Perry (3 for 38) and Holly Ferling with the seam and swing of Megan Schutt (4 for 26) and Sarah Coyte (2 for 30). When Jess Jonassen arrived on the scene with a jaffa of a ball to bowl Georgia Elwiss through the gate, the party was complete.
And all this without the looping leg-spin of Kristen Beam, described by Lanning as Australia’s “wicket-taking X-factor”, who was sidelined for the day with a calf injury.
“We applied pressure really well throughout the entire day,” said Schutt. “We bowled good lines and kept restricting the score and that paid off with wickets.
“It’s paid off in the last few games – bowling straight at the stumps and that’s made it hard to score. A combination of our bowling and tight lines really restricted them. At times they did play – not negative cricket, but a slow Test match game. We’ve seen that in the past, like at Wormsley last time. We knew they were capable of playing that sort of game so we just needed to keep going with our plans.”
Lanning’s fearless risk-taking and penchant for mind games first came to light right at the start of the day’s play. In a morning session reduced to just half an hour before lunch and with Australia’s Jonnassen falling just one short of a debut international century, Lanning sent out Ferling, her last batsman, for just one ball before declaring and leaving England to face out a solitary over before lunch. “We’re in charge,” was the message.
In reply England’s batsmen could muster a top score of just 39, coming from No 9 Katherine Brunt. Anya Shrubsole’s 47-ball duck proved an accurate reflection of England’s travails. “It was really hard work today,” admitted Greenway. “The wicket probably slowed up and was keeping a bit low. The Australians were bowling really well, which made it hard to score.” Now the prospect of a long day in the field looms as Australia look to forge ahead.