In a parallel universe, Alyssa Healy would currently be nursing her fourth consecutive duck in Ashes Tests and England, in all probability, would be favourites to seal a compelling contest at Trent Bridge and steal a march in their bid to win back the trophy for the first time since 2015.

Instead, Healy – Australia’s stand-in captain in the absence of Meg Lanning – survived a near-unplayable first delivery from Kate Cross, one that took a low edge and deflected off the tip of Amy Jones’ gloves, to halt Australia’s dramatic post-lunch collapse with a typically gutsy knock of 50 from 62 balls.

On her watch, Australia inflated their total from a ropey 198 for 7 to a daunting 257, for an overall lead of 267, and after the capture of five England wickets in a feisty evening onslaught led by the offspin of Ashleigh Gardner, they reached the close of day four with their dominance restored.

And speaking after play, Gardner, whose figures of 3 for 33 mark her out as Australia’s likeliest matchwinner as the contest moves into the uncharted territory of a fifth day, acknowledged that Healy’s knock had been a “huge” factor in reasserting her Australia’s position. And it had been especially important on a personal level too, given that Healy’s first-innings duck – bowled by England’s ten-wicket star Sophie Ecclestone – had followed on from her pair in the last Ashes, a thrilling draw in Canberra in January 2022.

“We spoke at tea about how crucial those last few runs were,” Gardner told Sky Sports. “To see her stand up and have a captain’s knock in our own right was fantastic, and a bit of a monkey off the back for her as well. But for her, it was leading from the front and then taking a bit of that confidence into her keeping as well. I think she’s kept fantastically this whole Test match and, as bowlers and fielders, we just need to back that up as well.”

Beth Mooney‘s Test-best 85 was another critical factor in Australia’s overnight dominance, after she and Phoebe Litchfield had added 99 for the first wicket prior to England’s mid-innings fightback.

“That’s Alyssa to a tee,” Mooney said at the close. “She loves being in the contest. She’s a competitor. And there’s been no doubt in our changing-room that her luck was going to change a little bit in this format, and she showed everyone the class that she is out there today with her innings.

“I think that will be the difference for us, in terms of getting over 200, so I think she played beautifully and showed really good intent in really trying conditions.”

Healy’s response to her own struggles with the bat had been to drop herself down to No. 8 in the order, and trust Australia’s formidable lower-middle-order to ride the confidence they had shown in their first-innings performances. Gardner’s first-innings 40 from No. 7 had been a vital factor in rescuing Australia from a dicey 238 for 6 in the first innings, while Annabel Sutherland’s maiden Test hundred had taken the attack back to England on the second morning.

When, however, both players were undone in consecutive overs, with Kate Cross and Ecclestone combining to instigate a collapse of 3 for 3 in 12 balls, Healy’s formidable resolve was just what Australia needed to get their innings back on track.

“To Midge’s credit, she’s always trying to do the right thing by the team, and get a few different people into the game,” Mooney said about her demotion. “So I wasn’t surprised at all. I think she’s one of the most selfless players I’ve played with so, absolutely, she was trying to get the team in the best position possible. But there’s not going too No. 8s floating around world cricket with her credentials, so I don’t think she was too unhappy about it.”

As for the overall match situation, Mooney acknowledged it was still very much in the balance, even though Australia’s capture of five late wickets, following a composed opening stand of 55 between Tammy Beaumont and Emma Lamb, has left them with the momentum going into a final day that the authorities at Trent Bridge have confirmed will be free entry.

“I think it is teetering a little bit,” Mooney said. “I think the first hour tomorrow will go a long way to finding out who’s going to come out on top. We’ve still got to bowl really well on that wicket, and try to extract as much as we can out of it.

“I back our bowlers to take five wickets,” she added. “There’s a lot of time left in the game and not that many wickets for us, compared to what we had an hour and a half ago. So I’m really excited to see what’s to unfold tomorrow, but certainly, we feel like we’re probably the happier team walking off this afternoon, for sure.”

Ecclestone, whose ten-wicket haul reaffirmed her long-held status as the premier spinner in women’s international cricket, was phlegmatic about England’s overnight position – not least because her prowess with the bat will doubtless be a factor in the contest’s denouement. She is likely to bat at No. 9 in England’s order for this run-chase, following the promotion of Cross as nightwatcher shortly before the close.

“We’re definitely winning tomorrow,” she said. “We’ve put ourselves into a lot of practice games, a lot of pressure situations. So, tomorrow, I’m backing our team all the way.

“[Hitting the winning runs] would top it all off,” she added. “Hopefully [Danni] Wyatt can keep batting, and Crossy [Kate Cross] looked lovely those last few balls…I mean, I wasn’t watching to be honest. I was sat in the physio room, just waiting for the balls to be over, to be honest.

“It’s just the beauty of Test cricket, it’s mad how things change,” she added. “It’s such a great form of the game that things happen so fast and things change so fast. So hopefully we can put them under a little bit of pressure tomorrow morning, and go back at them.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket


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