Don’t say Knight Knight.

Must win? For England, you would think so. Six points down if they lose, Robinson’s side must collect the two points on offer at Coffs Harbour tonight or face the prospect of either utter humiliation in the series or a climb of the vertical-ascent, ropeless and in the dark variety, to make the event remotely competitive. So no hiding from the disappointments and only one way to go – upwards, onwards, with determination.

The England coach, however, does seem well-equipped to steer through challenges to his (and by implication his squad’s) resilience; it’s a word he uses a fair bit, although not entirely without that corporate-sounding vibe so prevalent in interview, these days. Whatever, it’s refreshingly and unavoidably plain that this is action time, for England.

My previous coverage suggested the differing contributions of the two captains has been important. It would be wrong, I think to overstate this but Knight’s relative passivity with the bat so far, coupled with the sense that Haynes has been arguably more proactive in the field has surely contributed to where we’re at – with the home side dominating.

The Australian skipper has impressed, with a broadly dynamic contribution, having been flung rather surprisingly into the spotlight. Haynes was fabulous with bat in hand in game two but has also been positive and intuitive around bowling changes and field placement. She has that knack of anticipating and making things happen. Gratifying for her, then, that it is widely appreciated things have gone well partly because Australia have been led well.

Schutt starts with a maiden to Winfield. Attempted in-duckers with two genuine yorkers. Then Perry gets some away swing to Beaumont, before trapping Winfield playing marginally but fatally across one on middle and leg.

Enter Taylor, who seems scrambled, early on  – playing a weak attempted ramp-shot and two horrible wafts, half-charging, outside off, in the first handful of overs. 5 for 1 after 4 overs feels like an intimidatingly good start from the home side.

It’s risky but Taylor does seem intent on a reaction – ‘breaking the shackles’.

Schutt’s going well – getting some more of that trademark inswing and finding the blockhole with regularity. Both batters do seem to happy to play through to leg (which may, as it were, use that swing) but this may bring lbw into play again. Certainly, in the first six overs, almost nothing is driven to off. With Beaumont and Taylor batting well outside the crease, Healy comes up to the sticks – initially to the out-of-sorts opener.

After 7, Beaumont has managed only 2 off 11 balls, Taylor 10 off 22, confirming the strength of the Australian start. Signs, though, that Taylor may be settling as she puts Perry away twice, in the 8th, either side of a wide and a full-toss. Next over Healy comes up to Taylor, too.

Beaumont finally strikes one from Schutt through extra for four: the outfield looks slick in the sunshine. With McGrath replacing Perry and Taylor finding another level of timing now, runs do begin to come. After 10, we are 45 for 1. Haynes responds, right on cue, by introducing Wellington.

The young leggie again drops beautifully into her full, loopy groove and concedes just the one from the over; getting a little turn in the process: great contest breaking out.

McGrath backs this up with some very full stuff, getting some away-shape as Perry had done before her. An important time as both teams wrestle for momentum: or rather Australia contest this with Taylor, as Beaumont is doing little more than hanging on in there whilst her partner takes it to the bowlers.

That is, until she throws the hands through at McGrath – clouting one straight at mid-on then the next for four over mid-wicket. Thought strikes that somebody in the contest will get big runs very quickly – not sure that will Beaumont, despite her increasing conviction. Three hundred seems do-able again, here: eleven come off  Wellington in the 15th, as England move to 73 for 1.

Jonassen replaces McGrath for the eighteenth; again you sense that Haynes has the timing of this just right. England rotate, within themselves, for four singles from the over: acceptable to both sides but merely a stalling before a further surge? Gardner replaces Wellington.

Taylor deflects Jonassen down behind square leg to reach her 50 off 55 balls: she’s been excellent, fluent and expansive, after that unconvincing start. After 20, England are 97 for 1; they break the hundred as Taylor thrashes Gardner through midwicket and the hundred partnership comes up soon after.

The visitors, then, are nicely set but the necessary ‘kicking on’ must be emphatic and sustained, you suspect, as a) the pitch is again a beauty and b) Australia have batters who can hurt you; Healy, Perry, Haynes, Gardner. Etc. A genuinely big score is imperative; could be a great game then, this.

With the opposition now having some measure of control, Haynes turns back to Schutt. Taylor reverse-sweeps her for four first up but then cuts aerially to backward point next ball. Unforced error but good captaincy again – huge moment. Now, can Knight maintain or build the momentum of the innings? Previously, she’s failed to do that.

Beaumont’s contribution continues to develop – albeit slowly. She has 43 off 66 – good enough for a supporting role but England will need her either to change gear or bat through whilst Knight and possibly Sciver really launch. Perry returns for the 26th and Beaumont continues to pick out the fielders. 133 for 2 and now more from Wellington.

Beaumont gets to a determined fifty: both she and her captain have the necessary experience to read the game situation and judge what the target should be. For me, looking at the strip, outfield and the (un)likelihood of England taking bundles of wickets, they have to be going over 300.

Jonassen contributes to the surge by dropping short twice and getting duly punished. Eleven come from the 30th as England get to 160.

Knight and Beaumont are comfortable but not yet explosive, at drinks on the 32 over mark. They are running well and rotating notably coolly, given the heat and that series pressure. Strike rates are decent – meaning 70-80% – and there have been few false-shots, until Beaumont mistimes one over the keeper from Wellington.

It’s absolutely the kind of platform England would have aspired to. So when? When will they go boom? Or will they decide that just the one of them goes? My reservations against Knight – who, let’s be clear, is a quality player and is batting well now – centre on exactly this kind of scenario. Is she bold enough, free enough to make the decisive bolt for glory?

Whilst I contemplate this one, Beaumont is slightly freakishly stumped, falling forward. Great work, from Healy but does this change the situation vis a vis that target? Hardly.  Hardly, that is, until the impressive Schutt cleans out Sciver.

The question around Knight daring to (as the hashtag said) #goboldly (enough) may be becoming less relevant as England transit from 192 for 3, to 200 for 4 and crisis looms.

Ah. It becomes 201 for 5 as Fran Wilson is given lbw to a peach of a yorker from Perry. Sadly for her, she edged it. 3 wickets have fallen for 9 runs – a horror show for England.

All of this may relieve the captain from the responsibility of leading the charge – or a prolonged charge. It feels spookily clear right now – 01.47 a.m. Pembrokeshire time – that Australia will again go on and win this and that the series may be gone. Just do not see Knight plundering enough runs quickly enough from here or leading a dismantling of the Australian batting. Pitch is too good, Australia are too good and Knight is insufficiently inspirational to overthrow the odds. It’s over.

All this may sound unwise or unfair when followed by the fact that Knight has (at this moment) made 50 from 54 balls. Still I stand by it, miserablist or not.

England are 234 for 5 after 43. A brilliant finish gets them to 300, still but 280 is more likely. My gut feeling is that even though this would be a half-decent total, Australia would get 320 on this strip, today, if necessary. Hence the Morrissey-like disposition. Did I say, by the way, Brunt just holed-out to Perry?

So let’s examine this negativity. Part of it is around Haynes’s dynamism trumping Knight’s relative lack of spark. In addition, my hunch is that Shrubsole and Brunt may not do quite the damage (in Australia) that Schutt and Perry will or have done. Plus – despite her lack of wickets – I reckon Wellington is the best spin bowler on the two sides…

Knight strikes the first six of the innings, going powerfully over straight midwicket.

First ball of the 49th and Gunn is caught behind by Healy, who is standing up to Schutt. Early candidate for player of the series, the squat-then-run-in seamer finishes with 4 for 34. Shrubsole is then taken by Schutt, in the outfield, off Jonassen for 1.

Knight finishes on 88 from 80. I can’t fault her for that. Disproportionately, for me, the Aus commentators on BT Sport talk up the ‘pressure on Australia’: it’s clearly a goodish score… but surely 40 short of where it might be – where it needed to be.

There is unforeseen rain during the break.

Brunt inevitably opens up for England. Healy cracks her powerfully through the covers for four. Shrubsole then draws a sloppy cut from the wicketkeeper-batter but Wilson fails to take a regulation catch at point… ouch.

(Note that it was raining… then insert own cliche about ‘taking every chance’).

Brunt is getting some shape away but Healy smoothes her over mid-on then through extra cover for successive fours. Impressive timing, impressively bold.

Bolton gets in on the act with four but it’s her partner who’s making the statement here. She races to 25 from 33 for 0 after 5 overs. Will Knight change something early?

Bolton, pushing hard, edges towards but short of third man. It may be that the aggression of the batters could be more of a threat than the bowling – not because the bowling is especially wayward but because the boldness is pret-ty remarkable. Knight does withdraw Brunt, for Gunn but rain reappears: could be better for the visitors than the home side, who are racing away…

After a break of forty minutes or so, we have a revised target of 278 off 48 overs, which, as we go again, feels like it makes little difference. Gunn continues. Healy again wastes no time in lifting one carefully to the midwicket boundary. It’s great cricket; positive but not wild; challenging. At the 8 over mark, Australia are 46 for 0.

Shrubsole is bowling reasonably tightly but there seems no threat, until Bolton misreads a single badly and offers Danii Wyatt (on for the injured Beaumont) a viable shy at the stumps. Missed. Similarly, Healy almost gifts Gunn her wicket by spooning one towards mid-off. It may, to be fair, have stuck slightly in the pitch. The flow of runs has checked very slightly but Australia are 63 for 0 after 11- so bossing it.

Ecclestone replaces Shrubsole but starts with a rank full toss. She gets away with that but not with the third, slanted well down leg and dismissed.

Gunn continues. She may contain but will she take wickets? Not convinced and England need a break. Healy reaches 50 off 44. Gunn does get one to lift and cut away from Bolton but only gains the dot ball.

Ecclestone flights the ball nicely but lacks turn and therefore threat, tonight. Healy, in the 14th decides to put her away. Holding her form superbly, the Australian creams her left and right; Knight has to act and next over, Ecclestone is withdrawn in favour of Hartley.

Sciver replaces Gunn – good, from Knight. Just 3 from the over. *That picture* in my head – that Australian will win, with something to spare – remains but as Sciver puts down a sharp chance at midwicket, the universe reminds us that this is not over. Australia get to 100 off 18.4 overs.

England need a period of pressure. Hartley and Sciver suggest they may just offer that: the game is statistically closer – Aus 108 for 0 where England were 106 for 1 at 21 overs completed – and there is the sense that the batters, maybe for the first time, feel cramped.

Bolton, this time, breaks out, with two fours off Hartley but Healy, in trying to follow suit – rather unecessarily(?) – is caught by Brunt in the outfield. That’s the good news for our lot. The bad news is the incoming bat is Perry.

Bolton, absurdly for this potentially key moment, swooshes hard at Sciver towards midwicket. Gunn misjudges it: it was catchable, she parries it away. Poor cricket all round and another low-point for England, whose fielding is moving into the dodgy-to-embarrassing spectrum now. Brunt will come in to bowl the 25th.

A warning comes in via social media that more rain is heading in: in fact we have no further interruptions.

Bolton has drifted into a strange phase of her innings, despite having gathered fifty. She may be trying too hard to bully the rate: the result is a series of mishits which may contribute to Perry’s slow start. There may be edginess.

Brunt is going well – tight and with variation. However even she offers a shortish one just outside leg, which Bolton accepts. The opener finally does run out of luck though, when miscuing Ecclestone – this time fatally – to mid-on. It’s been an important but rather dysfunctional innings, yielding 62 important but hardly stylish runs.

Perry has 19 from 28 when Villani joins her in the 30th. Are there more signs of nerves, when the former lofts Shrubsole rather weakly towards mid-off… but escapes?

The superstar quick and number three goes soon after, caught – just – by a weirdly wooden-looking Gunn. Not sure if the England veteran didn’t see the ball ’til late; whatever, it was another oddish submission suggestive of tension in both camps. 106 are needed of 93 deliveries. Enter the captain. (To prove my theory, right?)

Now we do get weird. Villani offers more catching practice to Winfield at deep mid-off… and she’s gone. Poor, poor match sense from Australia to be going aerial so often when the moment is so charged. I did not think they would give England a sniff. I still think England’s total was markedly short. Alex Blackwell, with an astonishing 250 games to her credit, has joined Haynes to try to sort out the mess. 104 from 83 needed; can Australia gather?.

Sciver returns and backs up the previous wicket maiden (Hartley’s) with a maiden. Meaning England are really battling. We enter the powerplay but the runrate required has just topped 8. Sciver has bowled 5 overs for 11. I do not mind if my earlier,confident prediction of a straight-forward and series-defining win for Australia turns to poop. I really do not.

In the previous game at this ground, Haynes batted superbly and aggressively; she found a higher level: she has to find that again.

Hartley dives over one in the 38th – concedes four. Then Sciver claims the wicket of Haynes, attempting to clear the midwicket boundary – Brunt coolly taking the catch.

England become strong favourites – my favourites, even! Gardner, who can hit, as we’ve seen in Brisbane, has joined Blackwell but the flow is truly against them, extraordinarily. As we enter the 40th over, with Gunn’s slow medium-pacers denying pace off the ball, the required runrate is 8.8 and rising again.

The stats on telly are showing that after that stunning start, the Australians failed to build. Despite England gifting them three or four lives, scoring stalled and continued to stall. Without being unplayably good, the England attack ground away. Shrubsole and Brunt were okaaaay rather than threatening, Sciver and Hartley good.

Hartley claims a third wicket – that of Jonassen – caught and bowled. Blackwell, with all her experience, remains, but she has looked doughty and skilled rather than explosive. Australia need explosive. By the time McGrath and Blackwell get themselves to the last (48th) over, they need the small matter of 31 runs. Blackwell picks out Sciver off Gunn, Taylor stumps Wellington brilliantly and Australia finish on 257 for 9.

Is it ironic then that the strategic boldness exemplified by Healy, early doors, proved so costly? She broke open the game, or so it seemed, chiefly by going over the top – straight or wide. She steered the ball around the place to bring England’s total back into sharp focus. (Of course it was good but by no means inviolable).

Healy’s team members did not necessarily all freeze, but there was some brain-freeze out there. Too many blows into the outfield lacked direction or real power or both. Or they were played at manifestly the wrong time. England could then build on that profligacy.

Knight led with the bat and managed in the field. The series – alleilujah! – is alive and the England skipper’s role… was key.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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