Australia and Ellyse Perry took the Test match by the scruff of the neck on day three at the North Sydney Oval, batting their way to a formidable total of 448/9 declared.
England reached the close at 40/0, knowing they’ve got a job on to bat tomorrow, save the Test and stay in the series.
The Australian all-rounder hit a superb unbeaten 213 – an Australian record – and was an immovable force all day.
The drama and excitement that surrounded first her century and then her double-century, while of no solace to England, were also a handy reminder of the spectacle that women’s Test cricket can provide.
Resuming 103 behind at the beginning of the day the game was in the balance, but a good session for England would have put them in the driving seat.
As it was, Perry and Alyssa Healy fought back across the first two hours to change the complexion of the Test.
And right from the get-go they were keen to grab the momentum. Healy hit a four in the first over and Perry two in the second.
The history of Test cricket is littered with the counter-attack, the moment at which the tide changes – and fast – and this was another example of that.
England’s bowlers struggled to settle and their enduring accuracy of yesterday was absent.
Healy hit the first six of the Test, and then the second, and Heather Knight couldn’t find the route to taking back control.
With wickets not on the agenda the crowd’s focus changed to if and when Ellyse Perry would get to her 100.
Her transformation into world-class batter was only missing a three-figure score.
She’d got into the nineties on four occasions – three times unbeaten – but had never quite reached that landmark score in international cricket.
In doing so here she ticked a number of boxes – Ashes Test, home city, important runs for her side – and the crowd loved it.
She was at the other end to see Healy depart for 45, a smart catch by Anya Shrubsole off Laura Marsh, but in taking her side through to tea with no further wickets lost and a lead of 12 the story of the day was already taking form.
She may actually have lost Tahlia McGrath to her very first ball. The young all-rounder was dropped at short cover by captain Knight, denying Georgia Elwiss a first Test scalp.
When Elwiss did register a deserved wicket, late in the day’s middle session, McGrath and Perry had put on another 103 and any hopes of an England win were surely gone.
After dinner England needed a change of fortunes but it wasn’t to come under the lights as the hosts looked to bat them into submission.
Jess Jonassen added 24 before Amanda-Jade Welington was trapped in front to inadvertently deliver some high drama.
Stuck in the 190s with only No.11 Megan Schutt for company, the crowd of circa 3,000 were now desperate to see if Perry could get past her new nervous (one-)nineties.
Some premature, fate-tempting celebrations on 194 – with Perry thinking the ball had gone for six – were, in the end, harmless.
In the next over she got there, and then reached an Australian record score for good measure.
That took Australia to 448/9 – a lead of 168.
England reached the close without losing a wicket and that should give them confidence ahead of a big day tomorrow, with a draw probably the limit of their aspirations.
Even that would leave the points tally for the multi-format series at 6-4 to Australia and as such require an English clean-sweep of the T20s to regain the Ashes.
However such thinking is for after the Test match – a match that, whatever happens, will be remembered for Ellyse Perry’s brilliance.
A full scorecard is available throughout the Test match.