There was a time, when players named Ponting and Waugh were running about, that Australian cricket’s dominant traits were ruthlessness and relentlessness. That is no longer the case in the men’s teams, as they have shifted into a quite endearing state of ongoing fallibility studded with bursts of brilliance. But as Meg Lanning’s charges have taken apart England on their current Ashes tour, they have started to bear resemblance to Australian sides of times past.
At Taunton on the first day of the solitary Test, it was a different ruthlessness to that men’s side which pushed to win at all costs. This was the ruthlessness of not needing to win, of suffocating the opposition’s hopes before they really had a chance to draw breath. It was also a ruthlessness that leaves Australia the option of being the only team that can conceivably win from here.
265 for 3. That was the score by the end of the first day, 100 overs long for England after losing the toss and the chance to bat first. A fast fifty from Alyssa Healy, a slower one from Meg Lanning. By stumps Ellyse Perry was 84 not out from 205 balls, Rachael Haynes 54 from 165. They had not exactly been on a go-slow, just a go-however-you-please. But in a four-day match with rain forecast, they had all but ensured that England cannot go on to win.
The power disparity comes because Australia whitewashed the three one-day matches to start this series, leaving England with a points deficit in the multiformat arrangement that can only be made up by winning the Test. Australia can retain the Ashes with a draw.
Less than a fortnight ago, Perry had struck a different tone when asked whether Australia would think of the draw first. “I don’t think so. It’s is in our culture and style to play aggressive cricket and we want to do that no matter what the situation.
“And secondly, these Test matches come around once every couple of years and I think it is a big responsibility for all players to play it in a really great spirit and in a way that is entertaining because I’d love to play more of them, and I think there is scope to play this kind of format series against some of the other top teams in the world.”
All true. But once the reality of the situation had hit, with England hoping for a resurgence after taking a third wicket at 160 during a searching period of spin, Perry and Haynes joined forces to firmly shut that down.
Sophie Ecclestone may have gone off with a shoulder problem in the opening hour, Katherine Brunt may have re-tweaked an old ankle problem, Tammy Beaumont may been booking an X-ray after being hit on the thumb at short leg. But Australia’s batters were not going to give any quarter. While Healy and then Meg Lanning had batted, there had been close leg-before shouts not given, and a catch from Lanning went down. Once Perry and Haynes came together, the chances ended.
But even though they made England bowl to them, neither was plodding through her day. Haynes started aggressively, sweeping the spinners to make sure she had boundary riders back, before closing up shop towards the end of the day. Perry was fully alert and on top of her game. Every full toss she saw was put away, hitting the boundary with a minimum of fuss, including full tosses that her footwork created.
Her pull shot when she got the right length was fierce, and when the new ball combined with width she dusted off her cover drive. In between those balls that she deemed were hers to hit, she waited. This player who famously loves to bat long and who gets kicked out of the nets hours before she wants to go finally had the luxury of batting as long as she would like. In the process, added to her unbeaten 213 at North Sydney Oval in 2017, she set a new record for the most runs without being dismissed in a women’s Test.
At the end of the day, of course it was Perry on strike, calmly blocking out the last over in a way that would have given England hives. She will resume on 84, with the chance to extend her record tomorrow. Haynes will resume on 54, with the chance to go one better than the 98 she made in her first Test a decade ago.
England could still win this, of course. They would need to rattle through seven wickets, rack up 500 runs, then bowl Australia out again before the close. It can in theory still be done. It is just that, on current appearances, this Australian team is so uncompromising that they will never allow such a thing to happen.