For England, it was as though the second one-day match of the Women’s Ashes series was the real thing after a dress rehearsal that had gone unaccountably awry.
The teams showed up to the same ground at Leicester as they had on Tuesday, two days later a better and more voluble crowd was in attendance under a warmer and sunnier sky.
The only hint that this wasn’t, in fact, the series opener was that the audio of the first match’s highlights package was broadcast at great volume on the PA around the ground, meaning every player warming up got to hear detailed descriptions of her own most recent dismissal.
Be that as it may, England batted first when the coin fell their way. And while there was one point of repetition when Amy Jones fell to another poor stroke at another innocuous Ellyse Perry delivery, the pattern thereafter was turned on its head.
In the first game, England collapsed to 4 for 19 in a matter of minutes after Tammy Beaumont was next out. In the second game, Beaumont turned the pressure back on the Australians, going after Perry initially before targeting Australia’s spinners.
No one went with Beaumont in a major way, but her pace kept the score rising. Her 50 came in 44 balls, as she added partnerships of 65 with Heather Knight, 39 with Nat Sciver, 31 with Fran Wilson, and 43 with Danni Wyatt.
Beaumont reached her sixth hundred in 60 matches, a one-in-ten strike rate that very few players in men’s or women’s cricket have reached. Those six have all come in the last three years and her last 43 innings, after a long period of sporadic selection.
It had been 10 years since an English woman had scored an ODI hundred against Australia, not since the now-veteran Sarah Taylor did so as a fresh-faced 20-year-old. Taylor was sitting this game out with a sore ankle, but initially, she wasn’t missed.
When Beaumont was sixth out for 114 though, it became clear that England had not avoided a repeat of their collapse, they had just transposed it to the end of their innings. From 5 for 187, England was bowled out for 30 more runs. They had hit four boundaries since the halfway mark of the innings.
That was partly down to excellent death bowling from Megan Schutt and Delissa Kimmince, who picked up the rewards with 5 for 29. It was equally down to half a dozen brilliant saves on the rope from the Australians, each drawing warm applause from the largely English crowd.
England’s bowling falls short
England had improved but fallen short with the bat and would do the same with ball. Where in the first game Australia donated wickets, this time they were taken.
The first step was seeing off the openers, with Nicole Bolton nicking and Alyssa Healy carving a lush square drive to gully. Then came the old firm. Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry have batted together 11 times in run chases. In descending order they have made 204 not out, 147 not out, 124 not out, 124 not out again, 105, 77, 71, 62, 57, and 2.
The 43 they put on this time was not insignificant in the match but was the second-smallest stand they’ve ever had. It gave England life when Brunt bowled a beauty, a wrist spinner out the back of her hand that snaked in, moved a fraction and bowled Lanning straight through.
But as if unwilling to claim the initiative, Brunt then jumped in the air to celebrate and landed awkwardly on her ankle, having to be helped off the field. Though she eventually returned to bowl three more overs, her effect was lessened.
Even without her favoured foil, Perry held the innings together. She has that skill particular to the game’s best accumulators that you can look up and find she has reached 40 without having hit a shot.
Fortune arrived for England with Perry on 62, when she edged a wide ball so rank that even the bowler Shrubsole could only laugh with some embarrassment, like a tennis player apologising for a net-cord winner.
Shrubsole then repeated her previous match’s effort by dropping a simple catch from her own bowling, then came back in the next over with a slower ball that drifted in and cut off the pitch to take Ash Gardner’s off stump.
Six down for 158, needing another 60 runs, a normal team might have looked vulnerable. Where the first match was superficially close, Australia was in control until the chase was almost done. This time the closeness was real, and down to England’s merit.
But as in the first game, Australia had too many weapons. Beth Mooney and Jess Jonassen both punished England’s key spinner Sophie Ecclestone, then off-spinner Laura Marsh, hitting lofted boundaries over cover and mid-off where Knight had gambled on keeping the field up.
The pair finished unbeaten, Mooney with 43 and Jonassen 31. England finished close but distant, and now have a huge task ahead. And Australia? They finish 4-0 up on points in the multiformat system, without having had to produce anything close to their best.
For England, this Ashes could get very ugly very quickly if they can’t match the standard. There are no more dress rehearsals. Showtime started days ago.