Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Heather Knight shines bright to keep England's Ashes hopes alive

Heather Knight embraces Kate Cross after the chase PA Images/Getty

England 267 for 8 (Knight 75*, Beaumont 47, Gardner 3-42) beat Australia 263 for 8 (Mooney 81*, Sciver-Brunt 2-38) by two wickets

England have squared the women's Ashes at six-all with victory in the first ODI in Bristol by two wickets. And they did it by securing their highest-ever 50-over chase, inflicting a third consecutive defeat upon Australia, something they have not experienced since February 2016.

Australia led 6-0 after winning the Test match and first T20I, but three successive victories have England back on par with two to play. And you only needed to look at the reaction of a usually calm Heather Knight, tossing her bat away after punching the final boundary through cover point and embracing her partner Kate Cross, to understand just how much this meant, and how much England have achieved to keep the Ashes alive.

Knight's unbeaten 75 was indicative of what needed to be a one-woman show in pursuit of their target of 264. But just as she was running out of partners at the other hand to simply exist with her, Cross strode out to pull, drive and even scoop her way to 19 not out as victory was secured with 11 deliveries to spare.

As ever with nervy affairs, mistakes came in abundance. And most of them from the hosts. Australia's innings was littered with seven missed chances. Beth Mooney was the recipient of two such gifts on her way to 81 not out that allowed Alyssa Healy's side to post 263 for 8.

It looked above-par, and when England threw away a brisk start of 103 for 1 in the 13th over, a retention of the Ashes trophy looked on the cards, as did some introspection from Knight's charges as to how they let it slip away. But thanks to her - and Cross - all that can wait.

The England captain overcame a run of four failures since 57 in the first innings of the Trent Bridge Test at the perfect time with her 28th 50-plus score in ODIs. Similarly Alice Capsey, who refound her touch with 46 not out at Lord's, carried her form over in a turbo-charged second-wicket stand of 74 from 56 deliveries with Tammy Beaumont.

The pair came together in the fourth over upon the wicket of Sophia Dunkley, by which point Australia's opening quicks Darcie Brown and Ellyse Perry had provided England with 18 of their 29 runs to that point through extras. By the 10-over mark, the hosts had a new record powerplay score of 84. They went past Australia's equivalent total of 63 for 1 midway through the eighth over - which Capsey took for 16 on her own with four boundaries, including three in a row at the start to knock Perry out of the attack.

When Beaumont struck the first delivery of the 12th over down the ground for the first six of the match to take England to 100, before Capsey registered the second over long-on with a fielder stationed back, a squared series with two to play looked like a foregone outcome.

But Beaumont's dismissal in between those strikes and Capsey's inability to clear long-on for a second time gave Australia a whiff. And when a stalwart stand between captain and vice-captain ended on 42 with the latter - Nat Sciver-Brunt - reverse-sweeping Jess Jonassen to Georgia Wareham around the corner, a familiar tension set in.

Healy preyed on that anxiety, cycling through her options to frustrate and, eventually, draw a false shot from Danni Wyatt, who could not get enough on her shot to beat backward point, as Jonassen took a sharp low catch.

Even at that stage, the ask was a manageable 70 off the final 16 overs. Knight found a four in each of the next two overs, meaning the wicket maiden Wareham sent down - accounting for Amy Jones - did not affect the required rate. A single to keep the strike with 11 overs to go took her to a half-century from 69 deliveries, with England still 47 away from victory.

It was clear she would have to get the majority of them when Sophie Ecclestone, having been dropped on four, inexplicably went for a slog-sweep straight to the fielder at deep midwicket for five, and then Sarah Glenn punched straight to cover.

But out came Cross, striking consecutive boundaries off Jonassen, who had only conceded a single four from her previous 38 deliveries. Knight slog-swept Ash Gardner over the fence at midwicket to shift matters England's way, before Cross deftly guided one over the keeper and flayed the experienced Schutt through cover to level the scores. In a way, Cross leaving Knight to strike the winning runs off a full toss at the start of the next over encapsulated how considerate she had been to her captain at the death.

For England to have held their nerve was remarkable given they could not hold onto anything in the field. That they were not made to pay by a usually ruthless Australia is damning for the tourists' stock in this series.

A tacky pitch after heavy morning rains suited England's spin-heavy attack, who made Australia work for their big shots. Cross' removal of Healy in the first over - after the Australia captain had won the toss, opted to bat and hit two fours from the first three deliveries - ranked as a huge plus given this is the keeper-batter's strongest format.

But a litany of spurned chances, of varying difficulties, encouraged Australia to make England pay throughout. There were seven in total, though Cross' full-length dive that just missed Perry's shuffle-and-swat down the ground when the allrounder had 19, and Beaumont's athleticism at backward point to stop a hard cut from Tahlia McGrath on seven were at the top end of the scale.

Then again, so were some of those taken; Ecclestone leaping to pluck Phoebe Litchfield out of the sky at mid off with one hand, and Sciver-Brunt judging one over her shoulder running back from midwicket to eventually remove Perry on 41, after she had been missed again five runs earlier.

The costliest drops also happened to be the easiest ones. The first of Perry's three lives came when Ecclestone put her down at first slip on six. But Mooney's lives on 19 (dropped off a Glenn full toss by Cross at mid-off) and 39 (Jones missing a stumping after the left-hander ran past a delivery from Ecclestone) allowed her to see things through the 50 overs. From first miss to eventual dismissal, those two batters alone come to 97 extra runs together.

The left-hander arrived at the crease at the start of the 13th over, and had to really work to squeeze every muscle and sinue to get what she got. Healy's decision to bat first upon winning the toss was sound: the data backed up going first and getting a good total on the board, and without Mooney providing the backbone, the innings could have fallen away.

That there were just six fours from her 99 deliveries spoke of the toil. Litchfield and Perry gave her a platform with a stand of 61 - the highest of the match - before Mooney ticked over with cameo innings from McGrath and Gardner.

A minor blip of two wickets in three deliveries, as Gardner and Annabel Sutherland fell to Lauren Bell, was then negated by 55 runs between Mooney and Jonassen. And while they were kept under wraps for the final 10 overs, a burst of 29 from the final three, which included a brisk 12 off 6 from Wareham, pushed the total to 263.

The women's Ashes are not just alive, but all square. As we move to the Ageas Bowl for the second ODI on Sunday, there is one clear form team - and it is not the best team in the world.

ENG WMN 2nd innings Partnerships

1st29TT BeaumontSIR Dunkley
2nd74TT BeaumontA Capsey
3rd18HC KnightA Capsey
4th42HC KnightNat Sciver-Brunt
5th31DN WyattHC Knight
6th13HC KnightAE Jones
7th22HC KnightS Ecclestone
8th6HC KnightS Glenn
9th32KL CrossHC Knight