Sophie Ecclestone leads England fightback on penultimate afternoon of Ashes Test

Sophie Ecclestone took three wickets to lead England’s fightback on the penultimate afternoon of the Women’s Ashes Test but Australia increased their lead to 264 at Trent Bridge.

Australia were cruising on 149 for one but then lurched to 198 for seven, with Ecclestone to the fore as the tourists lost four wickets in 34 balls at a hectic juncture in the afternoon session.

Lauren Filer bowled Ellyse Perry and Tahlia McGrath in the morning, but there were a few let-offs for Australia’s batters as England dropped six chances of varying degrees of difficulty.

Beth Mooney’s 85 plus 47 from Alyssa Healy underpinned Australia’s teatime 254 for seven on day four in what is effectively a one-innings shootout at the start of this multi-format series.

Mooney put on 99 with fellow opener Phoebe Litchfield (46) and 50 with Perry (25) and was the beneficiary of being dropped on 55 as Nat Sciver-Brunt spilled a difficult return catch with her first delivery in Australia’s second dig.

Sciver-Brunt went off before tea after falling in a heap at the end of her ninth over, having been restricted in Australia’s first innings because of a jarred right knee.

Despite Tammy Beaumont’s historic double century on Saturday, Australia had edged ahead through Mooney and Litchfield, who outlined her intentions on the penultimate morning with an uppish drive at Ecclestone. She was reprieved after Cross spilled a simple waist-high chance at extra cover.

Cross required strapping on her left thumb but was able to continue bowling, and the England seamer’s drop proved not to be too costly as she got a delivery to jag back alarmingly towards Litchfield, who offered no shot and lost her off stump.

There was movement and spin in sunny and blustery conditions but England were largely unable to take advantage. Mooney offered a sharp caught and bowled chance after passing 50 but Sciver-Brunt could not cling on in her follow-through despite getting both hands to the ball.

Heather Knight’s off-spin drew the outside edge of Perry on 21 but the ball flew between wicketkeeper and slip. The talismanic Australia all-rounder’s luck ran out soon after as, leaning back and shaping to cut, she merely inside edged on to her stumps.

Cheered on by the Nottingham crowd, Filer struck in her next over as a fuller, pacy delivery proved too much for McGrath, whose leg stump was flattened, in a second successive wicket maiden.

Australia progressed to 178 for three post-lunch before Jess Jonassen saw her bails dislodged after missing a full-blooded sweep at Ecclestone, with the ball snaking under her bat, while Mooney’s cross batted shot to the slow left-armer ended with her under-edging on to her stumps.

Ashleigh Gardner lasted just three balls as a low edge off Cross was held by a juggling Knight while Amy Jones and Danni Wyatt put down difficult chances off first-innings centurion Annabel Sutherland, who was out for a streaky 14 after lobbing Ecclestone tamely to square-leg.

Healy demoted herself to number eight and might have recorded a fourth successive Test duck after getting a thin edge to her first delivery but the ball brushed the glove of Jones, standing up to the stumps, before rolling away.

Healy (47 not out) and Alana King (9no) steadied Australia following the flurry of wickets with an unbroken 56-run partnership but a few minutes before the end of the session there were England concerns as Sciver-Brunt limped off the field after falling to the ground in her follow-through.