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England take pride in white-ball sweep as Kate Cross admits Ashes loss doesn’t feel fair

Heather Knight, England’s captain, hailed her team’s success in taking two white-ball trophies off the double World Champions, Australia, even though the overall Women’s Ashes trophy slipped through their grasp on account of their loss in the one-off Test match at the start of the series – an upshot that her team-mate Kate Cross admitted “didn’t quite feel like it’s fair”.

England’s 89-run defeat in the Trent Bridge Test cost them four points right at the start of the multi-format competition, and meant that they came into the white-ball leg of the Ashes needing to win five out of the six matches to recapture the Ashes for the first time since 2015.

That prospect looked pretty forlorn when they were pipped by four wickets off the penultimate ball of the opening T20I at Edgbaston, and yet England battled back to claim each of the next two T20Is to inflict Australia’s first bilateral series defeat since 2016-17. When England then squared the points at six-apiece in the opening ODI at Bristol, thanks to a record-breaking run-chase marshalled by Knight’s unbeaten 75, hope sprung eternal, but Australia found just enough resolve to put the Ashes out of reach at the Ageas Bowl with a three-run win, despite a heroic unbeaten century from Nat Sciver-Brunt.

Nevertheless, after a bus journey to Taunton and a night to reflect on their missed opportunity, England emerged with renewed resolve to close out the campaign on a high, and did just that by inflicting a 69-run loss in the final ODI – Australia’s heaviest defeat by runs since their tour of New Zealand in 2008.

“I am hugely pleased, it was a draw [in the points competition] and we’ve got two trophies against the world champions and that is hugely special,” Knight said at the post-match presentations.

“The way the group has turned it round after the Ageas Bowl, it was a pretty quiet bus journey on the way here because there was a lot of emotion and disappointment that the Ashes had slipped away, but credit to the group and staff. We really turned up today. We wanted to entertain and inspire the crowd, we owed that to everyone. I’m very impressed with how the girls did that.

“The fact we’d gone so close in the Test and first T20I built more belief. It was just about staying level but accepting that we couldn’t do a lot about it because we were very close. We knew we had the players to compete with this very good side. The staff deserve a huge amount of credit for keeping us believing. The turnaround has been hugely impressive and I think there are a lot of leaders in the group and credit to them.”

Asked whether the points system would require a change of weighting, given that England won two series to Australia’s one, Knight acknowledged that England themselves had been beneficiaries of that anomaly in the past, when their victory in the Perth Test in 2013-14 (then worth six points) proved sufficient to retain the trophy that they had won the previous summer, despite Australia on that occasion being the side to pull off a sweep of the white-ball legs.

“I’m sure the boffins will have a little fiddle around with it,” she said. “But obviously it is a little bit harder to win when you’re going in having not retained it before. Whether there could be an odd number of points for something to make it not end in a draw, I’m not too sure.”

England’s hero on that tour was none other than Cross, whose match haul of 6 for 70 was instrumental in closing out England’s victory in the Perth Test. And a decade later, she was once again in the thick of the action in this campaign, with a crucial match-winning cameo in the first ODI, followed by match-winning figures of 3 for 48 at Taunton.

“I think the T20 series win was the start of it,” Cross said. “We couldn’t regain the Ashes after the last game, but we knew there was still a series on the line. It was our goal to come here today and win, take the series 2-1 so I’m really proud of the girls.”

England had to hold their nerve during an untimely rain break during Australia’s chase, which resulted in a revised target of 269 in 44 overs. “There was a moment where it could have gone either way and we stuck at it so I think we won it in that little moment just after the rain break,” she added.

“I think the fact that we’re at eight-all at the end of it, it doesn’t really quite feel like it’s fair that it’s going back to Australia. We’ve played some really good cricket, we’ve gone toe-to-toe with the best team in the world for five weeks now. So yeah, there’s a lot of really happy faces over there and I think it’s really deserved.”

Sciver-Brunt, who was named Player of the Series after her twin hundreds at the Ageas Bowl and Taunton, added: “It feels like a moral victory. From the position we were in, we felt we were going to do it. The last game was as close as it’s been. We’re happy we got the draw.”

Alyssa Healy, Australia’s captain, acknowledged that their retention of the Ashes would be accompanied by mixed emotions.

“Yeah, we can tuck that little one away in the changing-room and know that we got that done, but it’s a little bit bittersweet,” she said. “It feels a bit dirty in a way, but we got the result we were after. I think the gap’s not necessarily been there as much as everyone has spoke about.”

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