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Alyssa Healy admits: 'The Ashes are on the line, proper' after Bristol cliffhanger

Moment of 'pure joy' for Knight, Cross as England stay in the series in epic fashion

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
12-Jul-2023
Alyssa Healy had a tough day for Australia, England vs Australia, Women's Ashes, 1st ODI, Bristol, July 12, 2023

Alyssa Healy had a tough day for Australia  •  PA Images/Getty

Alyssa Healy, Australia's captain, has challenged her side to throw out the excuses and galvanise for a response, after conceding that England's third consecutive victory in the white-ball leg of the Women's Ashes has left the series "on the line now, proper".
After slipping to a 6-0 deficit following defeat in the one-off Test in Trent Bridge and the first T20I at Edgbaston, England have now roared back to contention, squaring the rubber at six points all with a nailbiting two-wicket win in Bristol, with two final ODIs to come at Southampton and Taunton.
And while Australia need only to take victory in either match to retain the trophy that they have held since 2015, the fearlessness of England's fightback - led on this occasion by Heather Knight's superb captain's innings of 75 not out but epitomised by an astonishing penultimate-over ramp for four from Kate Cross - has put real belief into their team's challenge.
Fittingly, it was left to Knight to seal the chase with an emphatic slap for four through point off Jess Jonassen, after which she flung away her bat and let her emotions pour out as she leapt into Cross's arms and soaked up the acclaim of another packed house, with 5,731 fans in Bristol's County Ground.
"It was just pure relief and ecstasy," Knight said at the post-match presentation. "I thought it was slipping away there when we were eight-down, we kept losing wickets at regular intervals and kept making it hard for ourselves, but I was just trying to stay in my little bubble and keep really calm."
At 235 for 8, England still needed 29 to save the series, with only Lauren Bell to come, but Cross settled quickly into her work with back-to-back fours off Jonassen, before Knight climbed into the spin of Ashleigh Gardner with a huge six over cow corner. And then, with the requirement into single figures, Cross unfurled the stroke that telegraphed the extent of England's resolve.
"Kate Cross, what a hero," Knight said. "She was quite nervous when she came in, but we just broke it down, trying to get it in tens. And when fine leg came up, I just had a chat with her, 'paddle's on, I back you to do it'. I thought she might go pace off, but Crossy executed it brilliantly, and took all the pressure off."
Cross finished unbeaten on 19 from 20 balls from No.10, a priceless contribution that showcased all of her experience, and more than made up for a tricky day with the ball, with her six overs in Australia's innings going for 42. What's more, after being laid low by a tropical disease in March that disrupted Cross's preparation for this series, it was further proof of the fighting qualities that had got her back to full fitness for this campaign.
"I kept saying to her, 'Lauren Bell's in next, so keep going, keep getting it down," Knight joked. "Poor Lauren was a bit nervous, but I'm really pleased for Kate. She's probably not had the best day but she's one of the most resilient people that I know, so to see her do that was outstanding."
For Healy and Australia, however, it was a deeply chastening loss. Last week, their 2-1 defeat in the T20Is was their first loss in any series since 2017-18; now they have lost their first ODI in 16 attempts - and only their third in 46 - and have lost three matches in a row for the first time since February 2017.
"I mean, the Ashes is on the line now proper, isn't it?" Healy said. "So if that doesn't galvanise the group, I don't know what it does. We obviously haven't been in this position a lot. And you know, we either see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, or we see it as an opportunity to throw excuses out there. So it's up to us to turn it around for the next two games, [because] that Ashes trophy is well and truly on the line."
Defending 264, Australia were rattled early on by a brilliant Powerplay onslaught from Tammy Beaumont and Alice Capsey, whose fast-paced 40s helped lift England to 84 for 1, their highest 10-over score in ODI history. And though their spinners in particular helped to stem the tide, the run-rate remained below five an over for the bulk of the remaining chase.
And despite a scruffy display that contained 23 extras, the multiple World Champions refused to give up without a fight - a trait that gave Healy some comfort as she prepared for what will doubtless be a difficult post-match debrief.
"It ended up going right down to the wire," she said. "Look, we just got outplayed a little bit at the end but thought we fought really well to keep ourselves in the fixture. It was a good game of cricket all round.
"We were probably 20 runs short with a bat, and then we bowled 20-odd extras so I mean, that's 40 runs in the game, so it's probably what's done us at the end of the day.
"We've been showing it in patches," she added. "The way we took it as deep as what we did, shows it's still there. We've just got to be better, got to be sharper in different certain areas to get ourselves over the line. And that's what we're going to have to find over the next few days."
England, however, also have room for improvement even after this thrilling win, in particular their own fielding display which was marked by six dropped catches and a missed stumping. Knight, however, credited the Bristol crowd for playing their part in keeping the team's spirits high throughout, and carrying them over the line.
"We can be a lot better as well," Knight said. "It was definitely not our best day. But the fight in the side is remarkable and we showed that again today."
"I found it a really tricky wicket, I don't think I middled one until I was on about 30," Knight added. "It was quite hard to feel fluent and to rotate the ball around but the crowd kept us in it.
"We know Australia are a brilliant team and we're going to have to go again in Southampton, but the support from the crowd was unreal. I had to not get too high when everyone was singing Hey Jude at the end, and try not to sing along in my head, but it's been awesome.
"The support's really made the difference for us and hopefully that will continue over the next few games. It's been an awesome series. I wouldn't mind a few less nail-biters, to be sure, but it was just pure joy at the end."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket