Beth Mooney and Rachael Haynes celebrate after guiding Australia to victory. (AAP: Dean Lewins)
It was a strange way to win the Ashes. There’s something incongruous having an august series decided by a January format. Twenty20s are what we watch just after Christmas, when our brains are addled with glucose and intoxicants, while our holidays stretch hypnotically ahead of us.
Here, the shortest form came a few days after a Test match, which came after three ODIs. The multi-format series is a confusing beast to watch. One can only imagine how much more baffling it is to play.
The difficulty of adjustment seemed to be the overriding influence on a bizarre game, as Australia retained the trophy won in 2015 by taking an insurmountable 8-4 lead on points.
The only unoxidised batting came from a cheerfully counterattacking 50 by England all-rounder Danni Wyatt, then a clean-struck 86 from Aussie opener Beth Mooney. Left out of the ODIs, both had a point to prove and the energy to do it. Around them, England made eight single-figure scores, while no Australian got above 17.
The whole night was shambolic. England came out needing a statement but got a fragment, captain Heather Knight caught behind from the night’s second ball. She left the ground, was replaced by Sarah Taylor, then swapped back when the umpire saw a replay of Alyssa Healy breaking the wicket with her gloves before the catch.
Further protest revealed that this doesn’t affect catches, so like the QE2 backing out of a small Caribbean harbour, the umpires eventually reversed the reverse. Knight and Taylor swapped again in what was now becoming a square-dance.
Taylor was LBW a few balls later. Tammy Beaumont’s bottom edge saw Healy notch an obscenely sharp low take. It was the fifth over. Katherine Brunt came out as a pinch-hitter. She nicked Ellyse Perry for a golden duck.
All tour, England had resisted talk of “must-win games”. The first one that literally was, and it was lost in less than five overs. Then the shambles switched sides, Australia dropping five catches to let England slip the chain to 132.
Weirdness rolled on. Coming out at 4 for 16, Wyatt skipped down the wicket to dump her second and third balls down the ground for four. Healy had taken the hard chances, then dropped an easier one on 11.
Nat Sciver had already been dropped on 1, as the easiest return catch of Jess Jonassen’s career popped out of the bowler’s hands and nearly ran out the non-striker. It was that sort of night.
The pair piled on 64 from 49 balls, with a breeziness that made no sense given their match position. Sciver stepped outside off stump to an Amanda Wellington leg-break, watched it travel straight at her wicket, then used the width she’d created behind her legs to paddle it for four. Ludicrous, and a perfect fit for the night.
Beth Mooney played a remarkable innings to seal the victory for Australia. (AAP: Dean Lewins)
As was her dismissal, leg-before sweeping brisk seam bowling from Delissa Kimmince. And the all-rounder dropping Fran Wilson on 4 with a ball that went straight up and through the hands. And Wyatt running herself out right after bringing up her maiden international 50.
The strangeness was capped off when teenage spinner Sophie Ecclestone walked out at No.11, and sent her first ever ball in T20Is over midwicket for six. Never mind the Perry fumble that took it over the rope, Ecclestone then achieved a scorecard masterpiece: stumped second ball for six.
Or was it best captured when Brunt opened the bowling, punched the stumps as she delivered, and gave up a no-ball and a free hit? Mooney launched it straight for four, then pulled six, as the first over went for 14.
Australia’s opener was the only thing that made sense on the night. Mooney has sat awkwardly on the fringes of the national squad, often at risk of omission. She’s made a ton and five 50s in ODIs, but at times looks uncomfortable pacing the longer format. She also plays without her primary wicketkeeping role.
It was Healy who took Mooney’s opening spot in the ODIs this series, freeing up room for another bowler. In this T20, the keepers opened together, the incumbent holing out for five.
It was Mooney’s time to take primacy, in the format where her prodigious scoring for Brisbane Heat forced herself into national contention. She wasn’t relaxed: “Any moment you feel comfortable, you kick yourself walking off the field,” was her warning about cricket. But it was her natural environment.
The pick-up pull shots for six were one thing, but the show of confidence came later. Two Alex Hartley deliveries, almost identical. Twice moving down the pitch. One ball lofted over cover to beat Ecclestone into the rope, the next over wide long-on to tease Wyatt.
In the end, it was Mooney sealing the Ashes with an 11th shot to the boundary. A strange win, but gleefully accepted. For England, though, it’s not all over.
“To make it 8-8 would be a great effort,” said Knight. “The girls are really hurting at the moment but we want to turn it around quickly and finish this tour with a bit of a high.”
Her coach Mark Robinson said it would be difficult to rev up his charges, “but that’s our job isn’t it?”
“We came out to retain the Ashes, that’s our dream, and we haven’t done that. You look for your senior players to rally everyone else. We could easily have been 70 or 80 all out, we could have patted it around and been 90 off 20 overs. We threw a few punches back.”
As for another crowd of 4,000 people, “Tonight felt special as well. I know we’re on the wrong side of it but it’s great for women’s cricket. It shows it’s growing. It’s obviously attracting the attention of people.”
The show Mooney put on, you’d be mad if it didn’t.
–Top Twitter To Follow: