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Five wickets to go as Gardner awaits date with destiny

The Ashes Test is set for a thrilling climax and Australia opener Mooney insists the off-spinning allrounder is set to play the lead hand for the visitors

Ashleigh Gardner stands on the precipice of one of the most important days of her career, with the off-spinner poised to play a crucial role in Australia's hopes of pulling off a drought-breaking Test victory over England at Trent Bridge on Monday.

Gardner's match-turning three-wicket spell late on Sunday's fourth day removed England's three best batters as the hosts lost 4-14 and then found themselves five wickets down at stumps, still 152 runs away from their target of 268.

The 25-year-old will play the leading role with the ball when the Test enters an historic fifth day – the first time a women's Test in England has been played over more than four days – with the game set to produce the first winner in a women's Test since 2015, weather permitting.

Australia are sweating on the fitness of leg-spinner Alana King after she sat off the field throughout England's innings Sunday afternoon, having copped a blow on her left elbow while batting. The world's number two ranked ODI bowler, left-armer Jess Jonassen is another excellent spin option for Australia, though she has been sparingly used in this game, sending down just five overs in England's first innings.

"We always speak about batting in partnerships, but I think bowling in partnerships is just as important," Gardner told Sky Sports after play.

"(Tahlia McGrath) and I were able to put some pressure back on them because I'm sure they came out here quite confident, and we've swung that around now and we can take the upper hand going into tomorrow.

"You have to stay patient, you want to take wickets every single ball but on a wicket like this it just doesn't happen … keep the stumps in play and it will happen, balls will turn big or cut off the seam.

"We have to go in with confidence (because) they'll go in with confidence as well knowing they only need 150-odd.

"As a bowling unit we know we're good enough to take these last five wickets."

It was a day for the spinners on Sunday at Trent Bridge, after England star Sophie Ecclestone picked up 5-63 as Australia were bowled out for 257.

Her heroics completed the left-armer's 10-wicket haul for the match, as she became just the fourth woman to achieve the feat.

'I'd back our bowlers to defend 270 every day': Mooney

Ecclestone has been the world's leading spinner in recent years – she is the top ranked bowler in both limited-overs formats – but Mooney believes the strides Gardner has made in her bowling in recent years could soon have her included in those sorts of conversations.

"Soph's set the benchmark across a number of years in white-ball cricket and now she's showing her class in Test cricket, but I think Ash isn't too far behind her," Mooney said.

"She has been outstanding in the last couple of years for us.

"There was probably a time two or three years ago where Meg (Lanning) would tend to not throw the ball to Ash in T20 cricket and to her credit she changed what she did and changed her variations, and things like that.

"The last WBBL season was probably the turning point for Ash. She was player of the tournament, bowled the house down and batted well, and now she's just a mainstay in our line-up with bat and ball.

"She has improved her off-spin bowling out of sight in the last couple of years and we know that she can settle into one end in this format and bowl the ball in the right areas, exactly where we want it."

 

Australia are confident they can capture the five wickets they require to win their first Test since 2015, ending a run of four consecutive draws.

But Ecclestone was likewise bullish the hosts could rally and pull off what would be the highest fourth-innings score in the history of women's Tests.

"We're definitely going into tomorrow ready to win that Test match, absolutely I am backing our team to do it tomorrow," Ecclestone said.

"To come out the way we did and to bowl them out and be in this position now, we're just ready for tomorrow.

"I mean the pitch didn't do much to be honest, I think it's quite hard to get wickets on that pitch.

"We've just got to have a plan in mind of how we're going to play that and how we're going to win the Test match."

CommBank Ashes Tour of the UK 2023

Australia squad: Alyssa Healy (c), Tahlia McGrath (vc), Darcie Brown, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham

England Test squad: Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver-Brunt (vc), Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Bell, Kate Cross, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Lauren Filer, Danielle Gibson, Amy Jones, Emma Lamb, Issy Wong, Danielle Wyatt

Test: June 22-26 at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, 11am local (8pm AEST)

First T20I: July 1 at Edgbaston, Birmingham, 6.35pm (3.35am July 2 AEST)

Second T20I: July 5 at The Oval, London, 6.35pm (3.35am July 6 AEST)

Third T20I: July 8 at Lord’s, London, 6.35pm (3.35am July 9 AEST)

First ODI: July 12 at The County Ground, Bristol, 1pm (10pm AEST)

Second ODI: July 16 at The Rose Bowl, Southampton, 11am (7pm AEST)

Third ODI: July 18 at The County Ground, Taunton, 1pm (10pm AEST)