England take wickets 200 miles apart to sum up knife-edge joy of dual Ashes

There was plenty that was memorable about the Ashes cricket that took place on Saturday evening. But one unique moment was when England took back-to-back wickets, 200 miles apart.

It is hard now to remember which appeal came first. Alyssa Healy had just missed a leg glance and Charlie Dean was asking the question, along with much of the 20,000-strong Lord’s crowd. Stuart Broad pinned Todd Murphy back on his pads at Headingley and the umpire’s finger went up. Healy walked. Murphy burned a review. Australia were simultaneously 20 for one and 211 for nine.

The joy of a concurrent Ashes series has never felt more acute than it did that night, when the men’s and women’s teams went out to play with everything on the line. Urns were at stake in two places at once and if either England side lost their match their remaining games would be dead rubbers.

It’s safe to say there has never been a moment like it. The women’s Ashes has existed in its current format for a decade and the sport’s administrators have only recently become confident enough in the product to schedule its fixtures alongside the men’s. Some worried that concurrent series risked overshadowing the female players, who have always been expected to take a backseat to their male counterparts. The record-breaking figures for attendances at their matches suggests we need not be too anxious on that score.

Who could possibly have predicted the series mirroring each other so well: two England teams needing to perform the comeback of a lifetime and both making a fight of it. Neither side expected to find themselves in such a situation. They underperformed in their early games, despite heroic efforts from figures such as Ben Stokes and Tammy Beaumont. The finishes in the first two men’s Tests were thrillingly close; so were those in the women’s Twenty20s.

And so to Saturday night at Lord’s, where the third and final game of that T20 mini-series was preceded with a 25-year-old anniversary event for the creation of the women’s Ashes. An elegant plaque was unveiled in the Harris Garden, whose close-cut lawns were populated with mostly female invitees – ex-players and administrators, journalists and sponsors, women who have contributed much to help the women’s game reach the place it currently occupies.

England women after their last-over win against Australia at Lord’s
England after their narrow win against Australia in the third T20 at Lord’s kept their hopes of regaining the women’s Ashes alive. Photograph: Steve Bardens/ECB/Getty Images

The elderflower fizz and canapés were a step up from the original, rather DIY ceremony of 1998 when women’s cricket was still an afterthought and the two captains, Karen Smithies and Belinda Clark, had squatted on paving slabs to burn an autograph-bat in a wok they had borrowed from the caterers’ kitchen. This time, Stephen Fry presided over a garden party atmosphere and several key members of the England and Australia teams socialised and posed for pictures 90 minutes before the start of play. It is hard to imagine either of the men’s Ashes sides being available for similar glad-handing in the immediate buildup to a series-deciding match.

The pavilion, meanwhile, was a far happier place than it had been the last time an Australian team visited. Some say that burning sage can cleanse a space of its negative energy, but it turned out the best way to purge the Long Room of the bad vibes it had accumulated during the final day of the men’s Test was to fill it with women and children. The tiny legs of little girls skipping up and down the wooden staircases in their summer dresses brought those echoey old walls to life in an entirely new way.

By 7pm, Australia were two wickets down – in London at least. They were all out in Leeds. Some of the crowds watching the women assumed it was now safe to focus all their attention on the action happening in front of them, but they had reasoned without the rain delays. Brows furrowed over mobile devices as livestreams showed Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley walking to the crease. England fans were now required to perform the paradoxical feat of demanding wickets and begging for none to fall at the exact same time.

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Dani Gibson came on to ball at Ashleigh Gardner, who was hit in the belly playing an air shot. As if in revenge, Pat Cummins scudded a short delivery into Duckett’s gloved hand. Duckett scored eight runs off his next two balls. Gardner took 10 more off the over.

The double jeopardy was thrilling, and it was almost a shame when England’s men were seen returning to the Headingley pavilion. Almost, but not quite. There’s only a certain amount of nervous energy you can expend and we could pour it all, undiluted, into the short-form game.

England’s women won, but not without a nerve-jangler of a final over. The following day England’s men followed their lead. Who knows how much their last-stand efforts are influencing each other, but you can only hope it will continue. England’s women play the first of their three ODIs against Australia on Wednesday and it will doubtless be their hardest challenge yet.

If they win at Bristol, and keep themselves in with a chance of winning the series for another game, the story of this summer will become more extraordinary. Two more fixtures follow on 16 and 18 July and by the time the men next meet at Old Trafford, one or other nation will have something to avenge. What could be a better way to draw these contests together?

source: theguardian.com