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Childhood memories fuel Kate Cross' Test hunger

First use of Dukes ball excites England's new attack leader ahead of South Africa Test

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
After her enthralling Ashes innings which helped England clinch a draw on the final ball of the match, Kate Cross received a reminder from her childhood: "That was one of the things that we played out in the garden, you've got to save the game, or battle."
The memory came from Bobby Cross, reflecting on hard-fought contests with his sisters Kate and Jenny. "To actually in real life do it, that was pretty special," Kate said.
Cross faced the last 12 balls of the match, from which England needed 13 runs and Australia needed one wicket with Sophie Ecclestone as her batting partner. Cross had walked out at No. 11 with instructions to save the game. "We don't get out," she told Ecclestone, relaying head coach Lisa Keightley's instructions when she arrived at the crease, Cross later revealed on her No Balls podcast.
Cross was beaten twice in the penultimate over as Annabel Sutherland almost drew an outside edge with consecutive balls and she managed to retain the strike for the final over. With two balls remaining, she cut an Alana King delivery which would have knocked back her off stump had she not made contact then she defended a high full toss, ultimately walking off unbeaten on 1 with Ecclestone not out for no score having faced one ball. Match saved.
"Looking back, and almost seeing how the men have been playing their Test cricket recently, I keep thinking, could we have gone for the win? Could we have done it? And I'm sure me and Sophie could have potentially done that," Cross says. "But obviously, in the context of the Ashes, with the points system, we needed to keep ourselves alive.
"There's so many ifs and buts in cricket but it just makes you want to play more of it. If we'd had a three- or four-match Test series there in Australia, it could have been pretty special to have seen how we could have played out more matches and the storylines that develop through series."
The experience has made Cross and her England team-mates "desperate to get out and started" after what feels like a long wait ahead of the Test against South Africa starting in Taunton on Monday. The match kicks off the home summer for England Women and their multi-format series with South Africa, which also includes three ODIs and three T20Is in July.
It's a similar schedule to the Ashes, although the Test was at the mid-point of the series in Australia and therefore crucial to England staying alive in the series after they had lost the only one of three T20Is that wasn't washed out.
"Hopefully I've put my hand up for night-watcher," Cross laughed when asked what she had learned about herself during that January Test that she could take into the next.
She was also hopeful that women's Test cricket would become more common, contrary to ICC chair Greg Barclay's recent remarks that he didn't much of a future for it, comments Cross said were "disappointing".
"It's no different for women growing up, the pinnacle is Test cricket," she says. "That's what I was playing in the garden. When I was a kid I was playing my own little Ashes series with my brother and my sister. So to hear comments like that from the powers that be is obviously disappointing.
"The most disappointing thing is how exciting our Test cricket has been when we have played it. I think if you could give us the opportunity to play more of that and to learn the game quicker... obviously by playing more of it then you will hopefully see even better spectacles."
England also hope that playing with the red Dukes ball for the first time will inject even more excitement. In Taunton on Friday, the Test squad met with Somerset seamers Peter Siddle - the former Australia quick who is vastly experienced in using both the Kookaburra and Dukes balls - and Jack Brooks, who recently claimed his 500th first-class wicket, to discuss getting the most from it.
"We've done a lot of red-ball prep this week, a lot of match scenarios against ourselves, and it does swing for longer, which is great obviously as a bowler," Cross said. "We're just trying to tap into anyone at the minute and try and get as much knowledge about the ball and the conditions that we possibly can.
"It's something that I'm really looking forward to. We've been crying out for the Dukes ball for a while now so the fact that we've got the opportunity to play with it, it's going to be something that hopefully works in the bowlers' favour for once."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo