Alyssa Healy shows fighting spirit as Australia puts itself back on the map

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In a parallel universe, Alyssa Healy would currently suckle her fourth consecutive duck in Ashes Tests and England would likely be favorites to seal a riveting match at Trent Bridge and steal a march in their bid to win the trophy for the first since 2015.

Instead, Healy – Australia’s substitute captain in Meg Lanning’s absence – survived an almost unplayable first throw from Kate Cross, one that got a low edge and deflected off the tip of Amy Jones’ gloves, to make Australia’s dramatic post a to halt. lunchtime collapse with a typical gutsy knock of 50 off 62 balls.

During her watch, Australia increased their tally from a pitiful 198 for 7 to a daunting 257, for an overall lead of 267, and after taking five England wickets in a spirited evening attack led by Ashleigh Gardner’s offspin, they reached the close from day four with their dominance restored.

And speaking after play, Gardner, whose figures of 3 for 33 mark her as Australia’s most likely match winner as the match enters uncharted territory of a fifth day, acknowledged that Healy’s knock had been a “massive” factor in reaffirming its position in Australia. And it had been especially important on a personal level too, given that Healy’s duck in the first innings – bowled by England’s ten-wicket star Sophie Ecclestone – followed her pair in the final Ashes, a thrilling draw in Canberra in January 2022.

“We talked over tea about how crucial those last few runs were,” Gardner told Sky Sports. “It was fantastic to see her get up and knock a captain herself, and also a bit of a monkey from behind for her. But for her, it led from the front and then took a little bit of that confidence away, too. in her possession. I think she’s kept this whole Test match fantastic and as bowlers and fielders we just have to support that too.”

Beth Mooney’s Test-best 85 was another crucial factor in Australia’s overnight dominance, after she and Phoebe Litchfield added 99 for the first wicket ahead of England’s mid-innings battle.

“That’s Alyssa to the core,” Mooney said at the end. “She loves being in the competition. She’s a competitor. And there was no doubt in our dressing room that her luck would change a little bit in this format, and she showed everyone the class that she’s there today with her turns.

“I think that will be the difference for us, in terms of getting over 200, so I think she played beautifully and really showed good intention in really tough circumstances.”

Healy’s response to her own struggle with the bat had been to drop herself to number 8 in the order, and trust Australia’s formidable lower middle class to have the confidence they had shown in their first innings performances. Gardner’s first innings 40 of No. 7 had been a crucial factor in saving Australia from an unpredictable 238 for 6 in the first innings, while Annabel Sutherland’s first Test hundred had taken the charge back to England on the second morning.

However, when both players were undone in successive overs, with Kate Cross and Ecclestone together causing a collapse of 3 for 3 off 12 balls, Healy’s formidable determination was just what Australia needed to get their innings back on track.

“To Midge’s credit she always tries to do the right thing by getting the team and a few different people on the game,” Mooney said of her demotion. “So I wasn’t surprised at all. I think she’s one of the most selfless players I’ve played with, so absolutely, she was trying to get the team in the best possible position. But not too many No. 8s going to float cricket all over the world with her credentials so I don’t think she was too unhappy about it.

In terms of the overall match situation, Mooney acknowledged it was still very even, although Australia’s capture of five late wickets, after a controlled opening stand of 55 between Tammy Beaumont and Emma Lamb, has given them the momentum to go into a final day that will see the Trent Bridge authorities have confirmed, admission is free.

“I think it’s faltering a little bit,” Mooney said. “I think the first hour tomorrow will go a long way to find out who comes out on top. We still need to bowl really well on that wicket and try to get as much out of it as possible.

“I support our bowlers to take five wickets,” she added. “There’s a lot of time left in the game and not that many wickets for us, compared to what we had an hour and a half ago. So I’m really excited to see what’s going to happen tomorrow, but we definitely feel like we’re probably the luckiest team to walk away this afternoon, that’s for sure.”

Ecclestone, whose ten-wicket haul reaffirmed her long-held status as the foremost spinner in international women’s cricket, was phlegmatic about England’s overnight position – not least because her prowess with the bat will no doubt be a factor in the termination of the match. She is likely to bat at number 9 in England’s order for this run-chase, following Cross’s promotion to nightwatchman shortly before the end.

“We’re definitely going to win tomorrow,” she said. “We played a lot of friendly games, a lot of pressure situations. So tomorrow I will support our team all the time.

“[Hitting the winning runs] would complete it,” she added. “Hopefully [Danni] Wyatt can keep hitting, and so can Crossy [Kate Cross] looked great those last few balls… I mean I wasn’t looking to be honest. I was in the physio room waiting for the balls to pass, to be honest.

“It’s just the beauty of Test cricket, it’s crazy how things change,” she added. “It’s such a great form of the game that things happen so quickly and things change so quickly. So hopefully tomorrow morning we can put a little pressure on them and get back to it.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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