Knight rides to England’s rescue with day two century in Women’s Ashes Test

When Australia resumed batting at 327 for seven on the second morning of the Canberra Test match, Plan A was to push on towards 400. With Jess Jonassen and Annabel Sutherland batting in positions far below their ability, this was realistic. But as England swung the ball and took wickets under heavy cloud, things changed with a hasty declaration. Plan B was to make the most of those same bowling conditions. With England 38 for two at lunch and 120 for six at tea, only Heather Knight’s outstanding innings of 127 not out stopped it working like a charm.

Australia only added 10 runs in 7.1 overs to the overnight score, declaring at 337 for nine rather than sending 18-year-old fast bowler Darcie Brown out to join debutant leg-spinner Alana King with the bat. Sutherland was bowled for eight by a Katherine Brunt special that swung past a defensive shot to hit the top of off-stump, before Jonassen edged behind on two. That gave Brunt figures of five for 60 and Amy Jones a sixth catch, equalling the record in a women’s Test innings set by England keeper Lisa Nye in 1992.

As much as Australia’s bowlers produced a concerted performance, sloppy batting from England played its part. Lauren Winfield-Hill scored one boundary through the cordon before throwing a bottom-handed slice at width from Brown, edging to Beth Mooney at second slip. Tammy Beaumont’s high backlift, honed for attack in white-ball formats, left her looking vulnerable in defence, and so it proved as Ellyse Perry decked a ball in to hit her on the back thigh before the bat could intercede.

With Beaumont gone for five, a score of 23 for two was still better than Australia’s first innings start of four for two. But where the Australians had combined restraint with counterattack from that point to keep the score moving, England ground to a halt. Perry bowled seven overs straight off the top of the innings, giving little away, but fellow seamers Brown, Sutherland, and Tahlia McGrath all offered short wide balls on occasion that were rarely put away.

Natalie Sciver made 15 from 42 before one of Sutherland’s mediums jagged back off the seam, taking the inside edge to the wicketkeeper as Sciver tried to protect her stumps. Sophia Dunkley started slowly before hitting three boundaries but was also out for 15, hanging out her bat to Perry and chopping on to her stumps from the last ball before drinks in the middle session. Amy Jones made a slow 13, eventually trying to pull a Sutherland delivery that wasn’t short enough, top-edging wide of mid-on where Brown made up ground to take an excellent diving catch.

In the meantime, England’s captain was left to do the job on her own. After a couple of early sliced drives, Knight looked impeccable. She worked singles from the pace of Brown, drove stylishly to the on side when King overpitched, and played the pull shot and cover drive well against seam. By the time the fifth wicket fell, Knight had 56 runs of England’s 118. The follow-on mark of 188 now looked distant, and more so when Brunt, batting too high at No 7, was lbw playing back to the leg-spinner. That meant that King, Sutherland and Brown had each taken their first Test wicket in the innings.

But Knight was not giving up, even as Charlie Dean and Anya Shrubsole popped up cheap catches from spin. The captain was on 92 when Sophie Ecclestone joined her at 169 for eight, and the left-arm spinner kept her company until Knight was viciously swishing her bat through the air in celebration of her second Test century. With that done, the pair sailed past the follow-on, then past 200, in an unbroken partnership of 66.

It made for an extraordinary scorecard: when Ecclestone drove a boundary down the ground with 10 minutes to go in the day, Knight was on 121 and Ecclestone had become the first of her teammates in the innings to go past 15. There will be much more work for the pair to do on the third day, with Ecclestone on 27, and England 102 runs behind at 235 for eight. But given how the day had gone until that stand, things could have been much worse. There are still two days to see who can plot a road to victory from here.

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