The final ball of an epic Test match in Canberra is an exclamation point and flag in the ground for the women's game. Image: Supplied

After the thrilling draw to the Women's Ashes Test in Canberra, the steps forward for Women's Cricket have never been clearer

Were you not entertained?

Were you not hooked in and locked into every delivery that was sent down in the final hour and a half of play and even more so when things started getting really interesting as we ticked into the latter stages of the match?

Were you buoyed by the brilliance of Heather Knight who was on the field for all but 51 minutes of play and in the first innings, stood alone in the centre waiting for an ally to go with her and take the game to the hosts and provide the most polished and classy performance from an English batter all summer?

Were you not astonished at the audacity of Beth Mooney, who fronted up to play Test cricket for her country, nine days removed from surgery to repair a fractured, playing with three metal plates in her face and throwing herself around in the outfield taking match-defining catches in the final hour?

Were you not inspired by Sophia Dunkley, a 23-year-old in her second Test match, making the most of a reprieve and batting with no fear at all? She was smashing back-to-back sixes, coming the first woman to do so in Test history en route taking England to the brink of what would have been the most remarkable win.

Were you not in awe of the courage of Meg Lanning who backed in her rookie bowlers, Annabel Sutherland and Alana King, with three Tests between them to deliver the final 11 overs of the day, after copping some tap and resisting the urge to turn to her senior pros who had been there before with years of cricket under their belts.

And making the key breakthroughs to make the crescendo even spicier with every passing over.

The madness of a final day thriller, coming down to the last minutes of the last hour. It’s how the game should be.

All the elements of what we love about Test cricket combined. Dark skies, fielders around the bat, the tailenders grimly holding on. It shouldn’t have come to it but that’s a conversation for another time. But what we can say with confidence is that it was hands down, the best Test of the summer. But, unfortunately, we will likely have to wait years to see another one on Australian shores again.

Yes, it petered out to a draw and that’s what it will say in the history books. Another draw in Women’s Tests, leaving the gap between the last result in a Women’s Test in 2015 to get bigger and bigger. Meg Lanning had to set up a declaration for the good of the game. Giving England the enticing chase of 257 runs off 48 overs in a rain-affected four-day game had said post-game that they were looking to give them the token bat, not thinking England would go for it.

Because sure, why risk losing your stranglehold on the Ashes when you can play it safe and do everything in your power to circumvent the pressure coming on in the final three 50 over games?

Yet they did go for it and it only made the spectacle more compelling. The statistics will tell you that this is the closest finish this game has produced. The stuff you can’t quite measure in record books and scoresheets like the feeling at the ground, the tension, the cheers, the teeth clattering from nerves from both dugouts told a story of a Test match that was brought to life out of necessity and produced a statement of everything the game is and can be.

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Australia, England and India’s women all played two Test matches in the past year. Each game nurtured the tastebuds with a thirst for more Women’s Tests.

None of these nations know when they will next play in the format again with no Women’s Tests firmly scheduled on any cricketing calendar in the next twelve months. Although that might change as England are reportedly set to play South Africa in a Test in their home summer. If it does happen, it will be the Protea’s first Test since 2014.

The final hour in Canberra’s Ashes Test should be the final selling point that the time has arrived to make them a regular fixture on the International cricketing calendar.

The players are ready and using not only their words but now when given their limited opportunities their actions to show it. And are re-writing their own history books in the process. Sophia Dunkley didn’t need to feel the pressure of ill-fated attempts to chase a Test match in the final hours of the day and get hammered for perishing trying because there hasn’t been anything like that brashness or bravery beforehand.

King and Sutherland didn’t need to feel the burden of history when bowling the final 11 overs and stick to their lines even when they were being thwarted and overawed by the stroke play because there was nothing to compare it to. So they mixed up their paces, lines, and lengths to make meaningful contributions in a Test match that will be spoken about for a long time.

The scarcity of Women’s Tests in the schedule means that they are seen as bigger events than what they should be and the constraints under which women’s Test matches are played meant that a finish and a result has to be engineered to make it feel justified.

It shouldn’t need to be.

The players want it. The fans want it as dictated by the record-breaking numbers of people that tuned in. Women’s Test cricket had been building to this moment and it was tipped into overdrive on Sunday afternoon in Canberra.

The foundation of the Women’s game has been built, mainly through white-ball cricket and yet the current crop and new generation of players remain largely unschooled and are learning on the job every time they don the whites and pull out the red ball in the nets.

Yet every time they are given the opportunity to go to work in the longest format of the game, they entertain and perform and show that their class shouldn’t be limited to one-off matches and hastily inject Test matches into the middle of white-ball fixtures.

Let’s celebrate what was a really good game of cricket, but let us not ponder how far or long we will have to wait to see the next version of it. As far as ‘growing the game’ is concerned, the next steps have never been more crystal clear.

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