England 463 and 116 for 5 (Wyatt 20*, Cross 5*, Gardner 3-33) need 152 runs to beat Australia 473 and 257 (Mooney 85, Healy 50, Ecclestone 5-63)

Another five-wicket haul, and ten for the match, from Sophie Ecclestone set England up for an enticing final-day pursuit at Trent Bridge before Australia roared back via their own game-changer, Ashleigh Gardner, who claimed three key wickets on the fourth evening to turn the Women’s Ashes Test on its head.

England were left needing to pull off the highest successful run-chase in Women’s Test history, well beyond Australia’s 198 for 3 in the 2011 Ashes, and surpass their own record for the highest fourth-innings score of 245 for 9 during last year’s draw with Australia in Canberra after they were set a target of 268.

Their hopes were dented when Gardner, Australia’s off-spinning allrounder who predicted on the third evening that the tourists could use a pitch displaying some cracks to their advantage on day five, had England’s first-innings double-centurion Tammy Beaumont caught at slip for 22 and removed Nat Sciver-Brunt to a mistimed pull either side of Tahlia McGrath’s lbw dismissal of Emma Lamb.

Gardner then trapped Heather Knight lbw as she took three wickets for nine runs in the space of 17 balls to leave England floundering on 73 for 4. Just as Sophia Dunkley and Danni Wyatt had started to steady things for England, Kim Garth had Dunkley caught behind and by the close England still needed 152 runs with five wickets in hand.

England had missed six chances against their opponents, who built a 267-run lead firstly on the back of partnerships worth 99 between openers Beth Mooney and Phoebe Litchfield and 50 between Mooney and Ellyse Perry before Alyssa Healy discovered some timely form – and luck – to put on 59 for the eighth wicket with Alana King. That limited the damage as Australia went from 149 for 1 to 257 all out in their second innings, thanks largely to Ecclestone’s 5 for 63 which gave her match figures of 10 for 192.

Making Ecclestone’s achievement all the more remarkable was her relentless toil during Australia’s first innings, when she bowled 46.2 overs, 28 of them on the trot, for 5 for 129, her maiden five-for haul in Tests. This haul came from fewer overs, 30.5, but that was still close to double England’s next hardest-working, seamer Kate Cross with 17, and Ecclestone was operating as the hosts’ sole frontline spinner, with Knight sending down five overs in Australia’s second innings and fellow part-time spinner Sophia Dunkley just two in the first.

Litchfield had added just one to her overnight score of 41 when she hit an Ecclestone delivery to Cross, who failed to hold on at cover. But Cross was smiling again when she had Litchfield out leaving for a second time in her maiden Test, this time with one that jagged back in sharply from a good length and crashed into the top of off stump four runs shy of a half-century.

Mooney brought up her fifty sweeping Ecclestone to the boundary and survived on 55 when Sciver-Brunt entered the attack having sent down just five overs in Australia’s first innings due to a knee issue but couldn’t hold a firmly struck return catch on her follow-through.

Lauren Filer, the young quick, turned things back in England’s favour with two wickets in four balls when she had Perry out chopping on to a short ball and then produced another, fuller, ball that seamed in again to beat McGrath’s flick and deflect off the front pad to peg back off stump.

Filer kept the Australians under pressure with her pace and movement, but it was left-arm spinner Ecclestone’s variation in speed which accounted for Jess Jonassen, a quicker ball that was too full for her attempted slog sweep and skidded low under the bat into the stumps. It was the second time Ecclestone, the No. 1-ranked bowler in both white-ball formats, had dismissed Jonassen this match.

Annabel Sutherland was promoted to No. 6 after her unbeaten century from No. 8 in the first innings and she received a life on nought this time when she swept Ecclestone hard and low to square leg where Wyatt shelled the opportunity. But then Ecclestone got one to turn in a long way and Mooney edged onto leg stump to fall for 85.

When Gardner walked out ahead of Healy – who was staring down the prospect of a double pair in Ashes Tests – the tension mounted, and threatened to boil over when Cross had Gardner pouched at second slip on the third ball she faced. Then Cross fired one in that looked to have missed Healy’s bat by a hair’s breadth first-ball before striking the bottom of Amy Jones’ gloves only for Ultra-Edge to show Healy had got a feather to it and another, albeit difficult, chance had gone begging for England.

Healy faced four more balls before she was off the mark, bisecting slip and gully and from there she seemed to settle gradually into her innings, her stunning off-drive to dispatch Filer’s fuller ball down the ground for four proved it. She needed to after Wyatt made up for her earlier blunder when Sutherland spooned Ecclestone to her at square leg, Australia having lost four wickets for 20 runs in the space of 33 balls.

Filer was able to exploit one of the cracks Gardner had mentioned when she got one to spit up into King’s back as she took evasive action and, after Healy brought up her fifty with a single towards cover, King edged Lauren Bell to slip.

Healy perished spooning a full toss from Ecclestone straight to midwicket and Ecclestone sealed her five-for when she trapped Darcie Brown lbw for a third-ball duck.

There hasn’t been a result in a Women’s Test since 2015 when Australia defeated England at Canterbury, but this match is now poised to break a run of six stalemates.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women’s cricket, at ESPNcricinfo


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