By Dominic Farrell
Captain Charlotte Edwards and Sarah Taylor combined to steer England towards a seven-wicket win over Australia in the first NatWest International T20 at the Essex County Ground and keep their Women's Ashes hopes alive.
Defeat in the solitary Kia Test Match at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence left England down 8-2 under the multi-format points system and requiring a clean sweep in the three-match T20 leg to retain their crown.
The fact that Australia headed into the match boasting 16 consecutive wins in the shortest form made England’s task all the more daunting, but they turned in a bowling and fielding performance of the highest quality to restrict their rivals to 122 for eight.
Despite the early loss of Lauren Winfield, Edwards and Taylor played their way back into form with a with a wonderfully judged stand of 77 before the veteran was stumped off Erin Osbourne for 39.
Taylor brought up a 42-ball half-century but departed in similar fashion, leaving Nat Sciver and Katherine Brunt to see England home with some authoritative, clean hitting and close the deficit before the next encounter at the BrightonandHoveJobs.com County Ground on Friday.
Brunt opened up the contest finding menacing swing with the new ball after Edwards asked the tourists to post a total.
Anya Shrubsole struck in the second over, drawing a leading edge to remove Elyse Villani caught and bowled for her 50th T20I wicket.
Having largely struggled to shift England’s opening bowlers, Australia captain Meg Lanning started to motor with a crisp clip for six off Jenny Gunn.
A thumping drive from Lanning crashed into Danielle Hazell’s foot but the recalled spinner hobbled on and had the batsman caught by Lydia Greenway on the midwicket fence for 28.
Ellyse Perry, opening following her elevation during Australia’s recent series in Ireland, survived when Gunn could not take a spiralling chance off Hazell in the 12th over.
Perry timed a glorious one-bounce four between wide long-on and deep midwicket three balls later as she looked to cash in but Sciver had other ideas- bowling the all-rounder with her first delivery of the match.
Jess Jonassen fell for 15 when she failed to pick Sciver’s slower ball and a trio of run outs around Gunn's dismissal of Alex Blackwell for 19 denied Australia the late-innings acceleration they required.
The tourists also impressed with the new ball Winfield mis-timed Perry to Villani at mid-on.
Edwards backed away to slap Megan Schutt through the covers for England’s first boundary, while Taylor began to find her feet after sending an ingenious ramp shot off Perry to the fence.
A crushing Taylor four through extra cover welcomed Sarah Coyte to the attack and such strokes allied to some quicksilver running between the wickets helped the hosts to 29 from the final three powerplay overs.
Villani failed to take a leaping catch when Edwards miscued on a venture down the wicket to Osbourne, while the 50 partnership came off 38 deliveries.
Edwards just failed to regain her ground after attacking Osbourne one-time too many before Taylor turned a free-hit off the spinner for four behind to raise a half-century and banish memories of her Test pair last time out.
She fell next ball but Sciver and Brunt built on their fine work with the ball - powering five fours between them to finish on 20 and 13 not out respectively, with 15 balls unused.