Jul 07, 2023

Women's Ashes: England's Mission Impossible accomplished to keep riveting series alive

Alice Capsey's fine innings helps hosts secure vital victory to keep fight for series well and truly on with ODIs to come

This was a night when Mission Impossible became Mission Possible for England. On a damp evening when the rain twice interrupted play, they showed bucketloads of belief to clinch a successive T20 victory over an underpar Australian outfit with a five-wicket triumph. Their Ashes series is still alive — just.

It was not always easy watching — although it was certainly entertaining — and the 21,610-strong crowd at Lord’s would agree. After a second rain break delayed England’s innings, they were set a revised run chase of 119 from 14 overs. Doable? Heather Knight’s team, which had limited Australia at 155 for seven, certainly thought so.

Granted, it got a bit too uncomfortable for England’s liking at the death. Requiring two off six balls, the win didn’t look in doubt — until Nat Sciver-Brunt and Heather Knight were dismissed in two quick-fire balls by Georgia Wareham and Jess Jonassen respectively.

Enter 22-year-old Dani Gibson, who strode to the crease in only her third international appearance. She went for a duck on her Test debut and England required two off five deliveries. Pressure? What pressure? She swung her bat with such venom to produce a fearless reverse sweep off Jonassen’s delivery and watched the ball race away for four. Under the lights in London, England were home and dry: they had inflicted a first back-to-back bilateral defeat over Australia in six years.

Earlier this week, England had proved this seemingly invincible Australian outfit were beatable with a three-run triumph at the Oval. They have backed that up again with a determined, rain-interrupted performance on a night when they embraced their underdog tag with the grittiest of performances.

They had not been lacking in confidence heading into this must-win encounter. Sensing the magnitude of this occasion — it was England women’s first time playing Australia at Lord’s in a decade — Knight decided to bowl after winning the toss.

England have played some of their finest cricket in this series when they have been under the pump and they would have been immensely satisfied by limiting Australia to 155 for seven.

They kicked on after a sloppy opening over to irk the tourists, who are usually so clinical with the bat, on a sticky pitch. Australia were sucked into England’s short ball and at 36 for one, it was their lowest powerplay of the series so far, with Charlie Dean dismissing Alyssa Healy for lbw in the third over.

The hosts were on top but the first short rain break, when Australia were 106 for four, stalled their momentum. Ellyse Perry smashed a six off the first ball after play recommenced to stretch her side’s tally to 137 for four, before Bell finally claimed a well-deserved wicket when Perry departed lbw.

From a neutral perspective, this record-breaking women’s Ashes has been a riveting success — the remaining three ODIs have already sold out — but there was an amateur feel when it emerged the DRS system was down. For Perry that wouldn’t have mattered, the decision looked pretty plumb.

England were conscientious in their wicket-taking — with Lauren Bell proving particularly economical — but as the heavens opened again after Australia finished on 157 — and after an age when the hosts’ revised run rate was still being worked out, the hosts’ flurry of missed catches threatened to prove costly. Sciver-Brunt dropped Healy on 13, had Dean moved a millisecond faster she would have caught Mooney while Australia’s key batter was on eight.

Their final over was an uncomfortable affair. Bell, despite her bowling brilliance, dropped Grace Harris at short third and then Gibson fumbled Annabel Sutherland’s drive at long-on. Sophie Ecclestone, who had been tasked with closing out proceedings, was fuming. When she eventually bowled Sutherland her stoney-faced expression seemed to say, “Fine, I’ll do it myself!”

It was that plucky attitude that personified England with the bat, with Alice Capsey their leading light. By the time she padelled the ball behind her with an outrageous shot leaving England to require 26 off 24 balls, the nervous hush that had fallen around Lord’s transformed into a raucous chorus of cheers, soundtracked to Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’.

“She was outstanding tonight, she basically got us over the line. She had an out performance and very much contributed to the win,” Bell said of Capsey. “We’re definitely closing that gap and the last two games have definitely shown that. There’s a lot of confidence in the group now. Ashes cricket isn’t easy, but it’s certainly very fun.”

Jon Lewis’ outfit trail 6-4 in the series after losing that valuable first Test at Trent Bridge, and the challenge will become ever harder when they face the tourists in the first of their three ODIs at Bristol this Wednesday. Whether they can truly capitalise on this momentum switch remains to be seen. All things considered, they look in pretty good shape to give it a good go.