Hamilton (Agencies): England fell just short of a record chase in a nerve-shredding defeat by Australia in their opening match of the Women’s World Cup in Hamilton.
Set 311, the defending champions were taken agonisingly close by a magnificent 109 not out from Nat Sciver. Needing 16 from the final over, bowled by Jess Jonassen, England could only manage three to end on 298-8 and lose by 12 runs.
On a day when Australia paid tribute to legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne and wicketkeeping great Rod Marsh, the tournament favourites posted 310-3 – the highest total by any team against England.
Rachael Haynes compiled a superb 130 and captain Meg Lanning weighed in with 86. England needed 78 from 49 balls with only four wickets in hand when Sciver was joined at the crease by Katherine Brunt.
Their hitting gave England an outside chance going into the final over, but Australia bravely gave the ball to left-arm spinner Jonassen, who took a stunning one-handed return catch to dismiss Brunt and effectively end the contest.
Though England suffer yet another defeat by the Australians, who went unbeaten in winning the Ashes earlier this year, Heather Knight’s side can take heart from how far they pushed the tournament favourites.
England’s stiffest test in the group stage is now behind them, and they should still make progress towards the semi-finals, starting against West Indies in Dunedin on Wednesday (22:00 GMT on Tuesday).
In Saturday’s other game, South Africa avoided an upset against World Cup debutants Bangladesh.
The Proteas were bowled out for 207 but dismissed Bangladesh for 175 to win by 32 runs.
England give themselves too much to do
In the three one-dayers in the Ashes, England did not manage a total in excess of 178, so this batting display was hugely encouraging. In fact, England might wonder what could have been had they not invited pressure by allowing Australia to bat first, then delivering a flat display in the field.
Twice Sophie Ecclestone missed half-chances, the first when she was slow to move at long leg with Lanning on 26, and then as she stuck a hand out at a sharp caught and bowled when Haynes had 73.
Nevertheless, England were defiant with the bat, first through 74 from Tammy Beaumont and 40 from captain Knight. When Sciver took up the fight, she found support from Sophia Dunkley and Brunt.
Sciver reached three figures from only 79 balls but, ultimately, there was just too much to do.
Haynes stars before King’s Warne tribute
It was a poignant occasion for Australia following the deaths of Warne and Marsh, with both teams observing a moment of silence before play began.
Haynes and Lanning were superb, judging the conditions, running hard, then unleashing an acceleration. With Beth Mooney and Ellyse Perry playing cameos, Australia took 100 from the final 10 overs.
Even as Beaumont, Sciver and Knight were keeping England afloat, there was never the sense that Australia would lose control.
Fittingly, it was leg-spinner Alana King, like Warne born in Victoria, who made a telling contribution.
Her dipping, fizzing delivery to Beaumont was Warne-esque, pitching outside leg stump to beat the outside edge and off stump. Alyssa Healy, the niece of Warne’s former Australia team-mate Ian, removed the bails and King pointed to the black armband she was wearing.
King followed up by having Amy Jones caught at mid-wicket, and bowling Dunkley behind her legs as she attempted a pre-meditated sweep.
Jonassen had conceded 16 from only two previous overs, so it was a bold decision to trust her with the final set.
However, the catch she produced to dismiss Brunt, sticking up her left hand to hang on to a bullet, was worthy of winning any match.
‘I’m not down about it’ – what they said
England captain Heather Knight told BBC Sport: “I’m really impressed, particularly with how the batting unit went about things.
“It’s not the end of the world, losing the first game. There are a few things we could tighten up with in our bowling, but our bowling unit is so strong, I’m not worried about that. I’m not too down about it.”
England all-rounder Nat Sciver: “I’m a bit frustrated we couldn’t get over the line. From the Ashes, the batters wanted to make a shift in our mindset, which we have done. That’s certainly a positive.”
Player of the match Rachael Haynes: “There’s a bit of relief. We can take plenty of lessons out of today. We were a little bit off in the field, but it’s nice to get that first win.”