Lanning masterclass draws Australia level
Australia Women 259 for 6 (Lanning 104, Perry 48) beat England Women 196 (Edwards 58, Taylor 43, Schutt 4-47) by 63 runs
It was one of those days - one of those days that happens with alarming regularity - on which Meg Lanning made cricket look so much easier than everyone else she shared the field with.
With the bat, Lanning has a way of making it look like she is hitting the ball harder than anyone else, simply through Rolexian timing. She is always like that. But at Bristol, once Lanning was done pummelling a spectacular, savvy, sumptuous century - her sixth in ODIs, she produced a dyamic performance in the field, shuffling her bowlers shrewdly and serving up a run out for the ages to ensure England were never to come close to the target she had constructed. The only thing she called wrong all day was the toss, but what does that matter when the rest is this perfect?
And how timely all this was. Of course it drags the Women's Ashes series back to level-pegging after Lanning's ring-rusty Australians were defeated down the road in Taunton. This was some turnaround, with England losing 9 for 74 in 18 overs after their mid-innings drinks.
But delve a little deeper and a second consecutive crowd upwards of 3,000, whose demographic was so fresh-faced that it made a Big Bash stadium look positively senile thanks to £1 tickets for under-agers, have seen the world's premier player put on a clinic.
While it is a shame that - despite Sky's presence - the series does not have DRS (Lanning would have longed for it when given LBW in Taunton, as would Sarah Taylor today), and the boundaries were at least five metres too big to attempt the sort of six-hitting strokeplay (not one has been scored yet) that so excites the crowd and can further sell the game, especially when televised, the series is poised beautifully. The Ashes series leaves the West Country having truly left its mark. The third ODI, in Worcester on Sunday, is already sold out.
The two innings followed a comparable shape, with life simpler up top but more tricky once the single ball (unlike the two balls used in the men's game) was worn. The difference was Lanning, and her partnership of 132 with Ellyse Perry, who was far less fluent - finding the boundary just twice - but rotating the strike impressively for her captain, eventually falling two short of a record seventh consecutive ODI half-century.
The pair's platform had been laid by openers Elyse Villani - who unfurled five brilliant pull shots - and Nicole Bolton, who looked steady on her return from concussion, weathering impressive new-ball bowling from Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole. Villani fell cutting Rebecca Grundy, Bolton bowled attempting an ugly hoick off a Shrubsole delivery not nearly short enough for the stroke.
Charlotte Edwards chose to frontload her bowling as Lanning ghosted her way to 20 at a run a ball, rotating the strike, stealing singles and occasionally showing her immaculate timing on a pitch that was good for batting. She steered to gaps - at one point Edwards posted four fielders in a cover cordon - and punished anything remotely wide, then sweeping Grundy and chasing the bowling of Heather Knight. On 83, she offered Kate Cross a caught and bowled chance hit so hard that the bowler required an x-ray at the innings break, then she swatted the Cross consecutively behind square leg to move into the 90s, with a misfield at point taking her to a masterful century.
Eventually she provided Taylor a simple stumping attempting to up the pace and, in the same vein, her team followed, ambitious strokes - Alex Blackwell reverse swept her first ball for four, for instance - mixed with ugly dismissals - Jess Jonassen stumped off a last-over wide - to reach 259: above par, but not by much.
England's chase could barely have started better. Edwards was soon into her stride, square-driving imperiously and flicking through midwicket with disdain. Knight led a more charmed existence, edging between keeper and slip on 4 and having Healy adjudged to have grassed a catch on 11, but settled, driving with authority.
What was required was a moment of genius, and who better to provide it than Lanning? Knight middled Sarah Coyte to leg and set off, perhaps anticipating a boundary, when Lanning, stationed at midwicket, and sprawling, somehow grabbed and threw down the stumps in one mind-boggling movement. Knight had not made it far, but even with an impressive turn and athletic dive, she was nowhere near.
Edwards and Taylor continued at a good rate until drinks, when Lanning later revealed Australia resolved to bowl fuller and straighter. They immediately reaped rewards with Edwards bowled off the third ball after the break - from Australia's second impressive recalled player, Megan Schutt, who would finish with 4 for 47.
Taylor played with typical wristy style and was deeply unfortunate to be adjudged lbw to one going down leg, but the rest folded without a trace. Tellingly, all of the last nine were bowled or leg before, as Lydia Greenway provided a modicum of resistance and Brunt biffed with the game beyond repair.
Knight's pause when asked post-match how to get Lanning out when playing like that was telling. If she touches these heights again, England have plenty to ponder if they are to retain the Ashes.