The enthralling finish to the women’s one-off Ashes Test highlights the need for the sport to have more female Test cricket in the future. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. The time has come.
We were treated to four fantastic days of Test cricket with the best players in the world fighting it out for red-ball honours in Canberra with the direction of the series hanging firmly in the balance.
One of the most entertaining days of cricket in recent memory ensued on the final day. A staggering 449 runs were scored and 14 wickets tumbled as both sides looked destined to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was like the main course at an upper-class restaurant, unbelievably good, but you’re left wanting more due to the small portion size on offer.
The fact all four results were still possible in the final over showed just what an epic game of cricket this was. It’s a great advertisement for the women’s game and hopefully the powers that be take notice and provide a menu where women’s Test cricket features as a staple rather than a wheeled out special every once in a while; because the appetite is there among players and fans alike.
Unfortunately, women’s cricket is a diet full of white-ball feasts. This standalone Test match is a case in point, sandwiched between three T20Is and three ODIs. In fact, this Ashes series as a whole is an appetiser that will long be forgotten when the 50-over World Cup takes place in New Zealand in a few weeks time — the cherry on top of the women’s cricket calendar cake.
Meg Lanning’s Australia, who are Ashes holders, T20 world champions and favourites to claim England’s 50-over World Cup crown, were in control for the first two days.
But Heather Knight’s courageous tourists came within a whisker of a famous victory on the last day at the Manuka Oval.
Knight’s England, chasing 257 to win in 48 overs, needed 12 off the final over as No 11 Kate Cross blocked it out for a dramatic draw, just weeks after James Anderson did the exact same thing in the men’s Ashes in Sydney.
Getting within two shots of a historic win meant it was the highest fourth-innings score in a women’s Test. A phenomenal achievement given where England were at the halfway stage.
Australia’s declaration helped as they tried to retain the sacred urn before the three-match ODI leg of the multi-format series. But the cricket showcased was of the highest order.
Criticism in the past has stemmed around the dull nature of games and the sheer amount of draws. But what do you expect if you play over four days on slow, lifeless pitches? England have drawn 63 of the 95 Tests they have played since 1935, whilst the Aussies have competed in 46 stalemates from their 76 matches. But none came more entertaining than this Canberra contest, and without a third day decimated with rain there would have been a result one way or the other.
A good cricket wicket provided us with a brilliant battle between bat and ball and some incredible individual moments of magic that will live long in the memory.
The movement Katherine Brunt, who became the first female player to take 50 international wickets in all three formats, and Anya Shrubsole extracted with the new ball was exquisite.
Captain Knight’s unbeaten 168 was one of the best innings you are ever likely to see given the situation, full of grit and dogged determination. The next generation of players are built on watching moments like this unfold. Young girls will grow up wanting to be like Katherine Brunt or Heather Knight, two fantastic role models, clawing their side back into an Ashes Test.
But anyone who was gripped by this solitary game will be left unable to watch women play the longest format for the foreseeable future.
Since 2008, there has only been one Test match which included a team other than England, Australia or India. In the 13 games since, yes just 13 games in 14 years, only one game has been played which hasn’t involved either England or Australia.
New Zealand, West Indies and Pakistan haven’t played a red-ball international since 2004. But now’s the time to renovate the women’s game and get them playing more Tests.
So many talented female cricketers have been robbed of the opportunity to make a name for themselves in long-format cricket.
It’s a crying shame that Brunt, now in the autumn of her illustrious career, has only played 14 Tests since making her debut 16 years ago. Ellyse Perry has represented Australia in both cricket and football and is widely regarded as one of the best sportspeople the country has ever produced.
She averages over 75 with the bat and under 20 with the ball in her 10-game career, nine of which have been against England. Perry produced a famous unbeaten double hundred in Sydney in the 2017 Ashes; her 213 not out is the third highest score in women’s Test cricket and an accolade she treasures dearly.
The great Sir Donald Bradman would be proud of statistics like that. But will we ever truly know how good she could have been due to the small sample size of her incredible achievements?
It’s easy to invest in the short forms of the game, and they have been life savers for women trying to make their way into the sport. But the time has come for the national boards around the world to offer their talented players more opportunities to play.
The more long-format cricket women play the better they will become and the more financially viable the format will be. The 22 players who competed in Canberra showcased skills of the highest level and proved just why they deserve the spotlight on a more regular basis.
What better legacy could veteran captains Knight and Lanning leave than for this match to be the catalyst for more women’s Test cricket around the world?