Katherine Brunt turns back the Ashes clock in Canberra
Katherine Brunt © Getty Images
When Heather Knight won the toss and chose to field first on Thursday (January 27), the warning signs were already issued. In the recent past, choosing to bowl first on any Australian surface after winning the toss, has not gone down too well for several captains, especially the ones from England. But Knight was equipped with possibly one of the more experienced bowling attacks going around in world cricket. And at the heart of it, there is Katherine Brunt.
At the Manuka Oval in Canberra, Brunt started her spell with an early scalp of Alyssa Healy. The England seamer swung a few away from Healy while some into her, enough to create a doubt in her mind. With the fifth ball of her second over, Brunt swung one away from Healy, a delivery which was pitched just at the right length to catch the Aussie opener off guard. A faint edge to the wicketkeeper and England were on their way. In the very next over, Anya Shrubsole got the wicket of Beth Mooney to peg the hosts down to four for two.
Giving England a good start with the ball is not something new to Brunt. In the 2009 Ashes Test in Worcester, Australia won the toss and elected to bat first, only to be exposed to Brunt’s brilliance. Brunt took the wickets of Alex Blackwell, Karen Rolton, Lisa Sthalekar and Leah Poulton in the first session to put the visitors in all sorts of trouble at 28 for five at one time.
The Aussies did recover to score 309 in that innings, but Brunt ended with six wickets, which remains her best Test figures. That was also her last five-fer in Tests, until she turned up on Friday in Canberra, having picked three wickets on Day One. Despite a bright start to the innings, England lost the plot for a while. Knight dropped her counterpart, Meg Lanning, off the bowling off Sophie Ecclestone at the stroke of lunch. At the start of the second session, Natalie Sciver dropped Rachael Haynes off the bowling of Brunt, making things worse for England.
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But, the 36-year-old persisted. After tea, Sciver opened up things for the visitors once again with the wicket of Lanning. Brunt got into the act with her partner, getting rid of Haynes in the next over. Back in 2009 in that Worcester Test, Australia came back strongly after an early struggle against Brunt. Jodie Fields combined with Haynes, adding 229 runs for the sixth wicket. The England seamer dismissed Fields to get things rolling once again in that game.
Coming back to Canberra 2021, Brunt got into the thick of things once again late in the day, when the stand between Ashleigh Gardner and Tahlia McGrath was frustrating the visitors. To add to the frustration, McGrath survived a LBW dismissal, on the back of a DRS referral. Brunt bowled a perfect delivery after being smashed through the covers by Gardner for a boundary. It was the second new ball which didn’t swing much but enough to pitch on the stumps and shape back into the pads of Gardner.
At this point, Brunt had taken a third wicket in an innings of a Test match for the first time since that Worcester Test in 2009. Four years before that Test, Brunt had a career-defining spell in Worcester itself, against Australia. On that occasion, England skipper Clare Connor won the toss and elected to field first. Brunt, tasked to put pressure on the visitors with the new ball, responded at that time as well to her captain’s call picking up the wickets of Belinda Clark and Karen Rolton. She picked up three wickets off the tail to complete her maiden five-fer. Later in the Test, she picked up four wickets in the second innings to help England to a famous Test win.
Back in Canberra on Friday morning, Australia resumed the day on 327 for 7, with Annabel Sutherland and Jess Jonassen at the crease. Brunt who had bowled 18 overs on the first day, came back to have another go. But reserved her best for the second day.
The first ball of the 101st over was an absolute peach. The ball swung into Sutherland before pitching, squaring the batter up. Once it pitched, the ball straightened ever so slightly, moving away from Sutherland, hitting the top of off. A dream delivery to the right-hander and possibly the best ball of the summer.
A couple of overs later, Brunt got one to shape away from Jonassen, the delivery which was right on the off-stump channel, creating doubts in the mind of the batter and taking the edge on the way. That marked her five-wicket haul, which will most likely be her last. Brunt has survived 16 years 156 days between her first Test five-fer and this one.
At 36, Brunt, who will arguably retire as one of the best bowlers to have ever played the game, gave a treat to the Australian crowd. This is probably going to be her last Ashes Test. She has pushed herself through really tough times, which were both mentally and physically challenging. But her passion has carried her in a remarkable career and maybe that's what takes to be a fast-bowler of high-class. One can only wonder what Brunt's Test career would have looked like, had she got more opportunities. For now, a five-wicket haul in Australia gives her 48 Test wickets at 22.37, the cherry is deserved.