Ashleigh Gardner starred with ball and bat as Australia drew first blood in the Women’s Ashes by beating England in a tense series opening one-day international in Brisbane.
The 20-year-old followed up figures of three for 47 with a superb cameo of 27 from 18 balls, while Alex Blackwell underpinned Australia’s chase of 229 with an unbeaten 67 from 86 deliveries.
Blackwell was at the other end when Jess Jonassen creamed the first ball she faced for four which sealed a nervy two-wicket victory with five balls to spare for the Southern Stars at a sold out Allan Border Field.
England had earlier been restricted to 228 for nine after being put in to bat and it seemed they had done enough after Australia slipped to 181 for six in the 43rd over.
But Gardner marked her introduction to the crease with back-to-back fours off England’s World Cup hero Anya Shrubsole in the next over before clearing the rope twice to tilt the contest in Australia’s favour.
By the time Gardner departed the equation was down to nine from 16 and although Amanda Wellington was run out, there was to be no late twist as Australia took the two points on offer in this multi-format series.
Each limited-overs contest is worth two points while the winner of the one-off Test – which takes place in-between the ODI and Twenty20 series – will collect four.
England had been beaten 10-8 in the last Ashes series but triumphed in the 50-over World Cup earlier this year and had recently displaced their rivals atop the International Cricket Council rankings.
They seemed well-placed after reaching 103 for one but a 56-run stand between Lauren Winfield and Sarah Taylor was ended when a mix-up over a quick single left both players stranded in mid-pitch as the former was run out for 48.
Taylor departed for 34 after being trapped in front by off-spinner Gardner, who also nipped out middle order duo Natalie Sciver (36) and Fran Wilson (26) to keep England in check.
Indeed, despite their top seven all reaching double figures, nobody went on to a half-century although they were still able to post a competitive score against an Australian line-up shorn of injured captain Meg Lanning.
Shrubsole, who took six for 46 in England’s memorable World Cup final victory over India, and Katherine Brunt made early inroads before Australia lurched to 87 for four.
Rachael Haynes, leading Australia in the absence of Lanning, and Blackwell steadied proceedings although the latter was given a life on 36 after Alex Hartley dropped a caught and bowled chance.
Blackwell brought up her half-century off 62 balls and anchored the chase impressively, with her steely resolve allowing Gardner’s belligerence to come to the fore, which ultimately proved decisive.
The second ODI at Coffs Harbour is on Thursday.
England captain Heather Knight said: “We lost the first game of the World Cup. One thing about this team is we’re a resilient bunch and we’ll get ourselves up for the next game. We were a little bit off the pace, a little bit of rustiness and things to iron out for the next game. We were way off our usual standard in the field. That’s kind of why we’re so frustrated because we feel it was our game to win. But credit to Australia, they finished the job off. Ideally the fielding will be slightly better in the next game.”
Australian player of the match Alex Blackwell said: “One of my goals was to try and own those last 10 overs, bat the entire 10 overs. Ash Gardner at the end really took the pressure off, playing her natural game, and I encouraged her to do that. To get our nose in front I think is really important but there’s a long way to go.”