Australia have drawn first blood in the Commonwealth Bank Women’s Ashes Series with a pulsating two-wicket win at Allan Border Field on Sunday.
It was the Ash Gardner show in Brisbane, whose hard-hitting cameo in the tense closing stages turned the match in the hosts’ favour after taking three wickets with the ball.
Gardner struck two thrilling sixes in her 18-ball 27 to perfectly complement the patient and all-important innings from veteran Alex Blackwell, who finished unbeaten on 67.
It means Australia take a two-point lead in the multi-format series. The two sides now travel to Coffs Harbour for the remaining two ODIs on Thursday and Sunday, before the day-night Test in Sydney and three T20 internationals.
Having whittled their squad down to 12 on the eve of the match, Australia announced their playing XI at the toss, with Beth Mooney and Kristen Beams dropped from the side that lost the Women’s World Cup semi-final against India.
Dynamic wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy was elevated up the order to open the batting in place of Mooney, with allrounder Tahlia McGrath brought into the XI to offer an extra seam option while South Australian leg-spinner Amanda-Jade Wellington replaced Beams.
Captain Rachael Haynes won the toss and elected to bowl on a field that looked unrecognisable from the billabong of 24 hours earlier after persistent heavy rain flooded the entire outfield.
The groundstaff worked from 6.00pm Saturday to 4.30am this morning to get the ground fit for play, a remarkable effort that was not lost on and appreciated by the sold-out crowd.
Megan Schutt and Ellyse Perry found swing with the new balls but no early wickets until Tammy Beaumont chipped Australia’s star allrounder to mid-off in the tenth over.
A partnership 56 between Lauren Winfield and Sarah Taylor lasted 175 balls before the hosts struck again when the pair were involved in a mix up and Winfield run out for a team-high 48.
Middle-order resistance came in the form Taylor, Nat Sciver and Fran Wilson, but Australia’s slow bowlers and elite fielding took control, suffocating the English batters who suffered a collapse of 5-31.
Wellington found prodigious turn on the dry surface, regularly beating the bat but couldn’t snag a wicket, while the off-spin of Gardner bagged three wickets from nine overs.
The pursuit started in electric fashion when the promoted Healy cracked three boundaries in the opening over, each one more impressive than the last.
Unfortunately for the Healy and the home side, her stay at the crease expired six more later, out caught at mid-off looking to loft Katherine Brunt down the ground.
Healy followed fellow opener Nicole Bolton back to the pavilion, the Western Australian out caught behind for two to give Any Shrubsole her first and only wicket of the day.
A stand of 54 between Perry and Elyse Villani was broken when the allrounder was stumped for 20 to bring Haynes to the crease with her side charges 3-74 in the 17th over.
Villani struck seven fours on her way to 38 before she was called through for a tight single by Haynes that ultimately proved too close for comfort, run out in part to some slick glovework by Taylor.
Haynes and new partner Blackwell steadied the rickety chase with a solid partnership of 63 before a brilliant catch by Sciver, who intercepted a full-blooded pull shot inches off the ground at short mid-wicket, ended the stand and brought the visitors right back into the contest.
As the saying goes, catches will win matches, and England will rue spilling Blackwell on 35 when Alex Hartley put down a return catch.
McGrath, who was brought in to address the sixth bowler issues Australia couldn’t solve during the World Cup, couldn’t get into her innings with the bat, out for seven from 26 balls as the asking rate crept over six runs per over.
Enter Gardner, who changed the complexion of the game with a series of furious blows which brought the crowd of 2,020 to their feet.
The right-hander sent her first two balls to the boundary; a flick behind backward square then a sumptuous square drive, but that was before a soaring six off Sciver onto the adjacent Ray Lindwall Oval.
Another six was crashed, this time off Brunt but in the same direction as her first, but her innings was ended when a tortoise-like slower ball from Jenny Gunn was toe-ended to point.
A mix up brought about the downfall of Wellington to allow Queenslander Jonassen to spank the winning runs to the cover boundary with five balls to spare.
Commonwealth Bank Women's Ashes
Australia lead England 2-0
Australia squad (ODI and Test): Rachael Haynes (C), Alex Blackwell (VC), Kristen Beams, Nicole Bolton, Lauren Cheatle, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Belinda Vakarewa (Test only), Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington.
England squad: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Jenny Gunn, Alex Hartley, Danielle Hazell, Laura Marsh, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Nat Sciver, Fran Wilson, Lauren Winfield, Danielle Wyatt.
First ODI Australia won by two wickets
Brisbane Charity Partner: Lord Mayor's Charitable Trust
Second ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 26
Third ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 29
Day-Night Test North Sydney Oval, November 9-12
First T20 North Sydney Oval, November 17
North Sydney Charity Partner: McGrath Foundation
Second T20 Manuka Oval, November 19
Third T20 Manuka Oval, November 21
Canberra Charity Partner: Lord's Taverners ACT