England “going into tomorrow ready to win that Test match”, says Ecclestone after ten-for.
On a Trent Bridge ground that was increasingly yielding something to the bowlers on the fourth day, a tussle between two spinners has set up an intriguing climax in the Women’s Ashes Test.
Sophie Ecclestone, who appeared to be born brilliant and has been dominant for England for so long, and Ashleigh Gardner, who has worked hard to become a lynchpin of an all-conquering Australian side, were both equally influential for their respective teams on a hard-fought day.
Ecclestone took her second five-wicket haul of the match to dismiss Australia for 257 in their second innings, which might have been worse if Beth Mooney and Alyssa Healy had not hit half-centuries.
While England were still set a target of 268 runs, which would be by far the biggest successful run chase in women’s Test history, and would necessitate a record fourth-innings total, it did not seem out of reach with the likes of first-innings double-centurion Tammy Beaumont in their line-up.
Gardner then took 3 for 33 in her nine overs, including the wickets of Beaumont, skipper Heather Knight, and the dangerous Nat Sciver-Brunt, making the hosts’ task much more difficult. England were five wickets down and needed 152 runs with Tahlia McGrath and Kim Garth each taking a wicket.
Gardner’s tenacity in becoming Australia’s go-to spin-bowling allrounder in a squad rife with spin-bowling allrounders was lauded by Mooney.
“Ash, to her credit, has improved her offspin bowling out of sight in the last couple of years,” Mooney remarked. “We know she can settle into one end in this format and bowl the ball exactly where we want it.” So it’s a lot of payback for a lot of hard work she’s put in on and off the pitch, and I couldn’t be happier for Ash; I believe she’s done a fantastic job for us.
“Soph has set the standard in white-ball cricket for many years, and now she’s showing her class in Test cricket, but I don’t think Ash is far behind her.” She’s been fantastic for us over the last few years. It was maybe two or three years ago that [regular captain] Meg [Lanning] tended not to throw the ball to Ash in T20 cricket, and to her credit, she adjusted what she did, changed her variations, and so on.
“The last WBBL was most likely a watershed moment for Ash. She won the competition, bowled the house down, batted brilliantly, and is now a mainstay in our line-up with bat and ball, so I’m very happy for her. Hopefully, she’ll continue to progress, and she’ll become a permanent fixture in Australian cricket.”
Gardner could be called upon again early on the final day, with legspinner Alana King still off the pitch after taking a blow to the elbow while batting, but she was anticipated to return to the pitch at some point on Monday.
Ecclestone has long been a mainstay at the top of the International Cricket Council’s bowling rankings, making her a dependable choice for England as their only frontline spinner in this Test side. She bowled 46.2 overs in Australia’s first innings, yielding 5 for 129, prompting several jokes that she should be drafted into the England Men’s team as injury insurance for the ailing Moeen Ali. Her 5 for 65 in 30.5 overs in Australia’s second innings was still a great achievement.
Her role also allowed England to give a debut to Lauren Filer, a 22-year-old quick who repaid England’s faith with a crucial session in Australia’s second innings that included the wickets of Ellyse Perry and McGrath.
“We know the class that is Sophie Ecclestone, she’s been around for a long time,” Mooney explained. “She bowled really well and changed her pace beautifully.” Lauren is clearly a young raw talent who can get the ball in some nice locations. It was a difficult situation. I believe the wicket had a role in that, and Soph, to her credit, bowled superbly to the circumstances, as did Lauren, with her raw pace and young potential. Tough circumstances, but that’s what Test cricket is all about.”
Ecclestone stated that she couldn’t do much to prepare for such a significant role in this match, so she just went with it.
“I just made sure I played as much golf as I could to get out and about and take my mind off cricket,” Ecclestone explained. “I knew I was going to bowl a lot of overs, but I didn’t think it’d be this many, but I’m glad I did because I came out with ten wickets and I’m completely satisfied.” You can’t really prepare for something like that; you simply have to go with it and be mentally tough.”
“Some of the girls take the mick out of me, say I’m a bit of an airhead, just have a bit of a laugh,” she said, telling Sky Sports, “but when it comes to cricket, I do kind of know what I’m doing.”
Returning to seriousness, Ecclestone stated that England still believed they could win despite surrendering a 10-run lead to Australia in the first innings.
“We’ve always believed in that locker room, and we’re going into tomorrow ready to win that Test.” We’d have eaten your hand to be in this place yesterday after our disappointment last night; we missed a bit of a chance, but to come by the way we did and bowl them out and be in this position now, we’re just ready for tomorrow.”