It was a thrilling match that went to the final ball, with multiple shifts in momentum throughout an epic day of World Cup cricket.
Two wickets in 10 Kristen Beams deliveries wrested the energy from England and allowed Australia to chip away.
A seventh-wicket stand of 85 off 78 balls between veterans Katherine Brunt and Jenny Gunn lifted England to 259 for 8, handing impetus right back to the hosts.
A half-century opening partnership meant Australia was gaining the upper hand, but the dismissal of Beth Mooney by Alex Hartley turned the worm once again.
Ellyse Perry chased the game with her 21st career fifty and Ashleigh Gardener showed why she is so highly rated as a batter but in a game of wildly shifting momentum, excellent death bowling from Brunt and a calm catch in the final over off Gunn sealed a thrilling three-run win for England on Sunday.
A 4316-strong crowd had packed the stands at the Bristol County Ground for one of the biggest games of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 – Australia’s ‘HABS’, the Mitchell Starc-led ‘husbands and boyfriends’ group, following the team around, were distinct in their gold jackets. The entertainment included cricketers and kangaroos on stilts, play areas for the kids and a choir, but as it should be, the best action happened in the middle.
Australia’s batting depth came through to bring the equation that was 91 from the last 10 deliveries down to 16 in the last over, and six off the last ball. But the England bowlers held their nerve and, with every fielding attempt and dot-ball cheered on vociferously by the partisan crowd, pulled through to end Australia’s dominant streak in the tournament.
Perry, who was solid rather than flashy, anchored the chase, bringing up her third half-century of the tournament in 71 balls. It included a couple of big sixes over mid-wicket and long-off, but the task of soaking up the dot-ball pressure England was building.
Perry, promoted to No. 3 even as Meg Lanning nursed her shoulder, put on an eleventh 50-plus partnership with her captain and 44 with a struggling Elyse Villani.
A batting Power Play from the 36th over, which yielded just 16 runs, left the world champion needing 91 from the last 10. Alex Blackwell and Perry, dropped on 68 by Nat Sciver, made it seem well within reach, with 54 needed off the last five.
Then, the fiery Brunt, in her fourth World Cup and with the experience of years of England-Australia clashes, came back with a brilliant double-strike in the 47th over of the game. Blackwell swung and missed to be bowled, while Sciver at the mid-wicket boundary held on to Perry’s slog and made up for a previous drop.
In a final flourish, Brunt, running to her left from the long-on boundary, held onto a straight shot from Gardner in the last over and, having taken England closer to a win, raced away in manic celebration.
Earlier, Beams came in when Tammy Beaumont and Sarah Taylor were picking up from where they had left off during their record stand against South Africa.
The duo had joined forces in the fourth over after Megan Schutt had Lauren Winfield caught at short mid-wicket. Lanning set attacking fields, sometimes having only one fielder at the boundary and keeping a short mid-on in place for Taylor (and once in the innings a long stop to cut off the paddle shots and scoops from Beaumont). But with the bowlers erring in their lines, the partnership grew to 46 off 50 balls.
Taylor got going with a couple of stellar cover-drives off Jess Jonassen, took Perry for another pair of fours either side of the track, and paddled Schutt. With a Power Play score of 48 for 1, England had the edge.
Beams, introduced in the 12th over, struck with her first ball. Taylor came down the pitch to one that pitched outside off and got an inside-edge onto the stumps. A similar line invited Heather Knight to charge down, only to find the safe hands of Lanning at mid-off, chronic shoulder injury notwithstanding.
The Australian captain is reportedly advised only to throw underarm now and she avoided falling to her right to complete stops, but enthusiastically dived forward to catch the dangerous Sciver.
Sciver, one of England’s centurions this tournament, had been the one to end a boundary drought of 41 balls forced by the spinners, and was looking good to build on her start. Villani, with the kind of bowling that tempts the batters to up the strike-rate, ended the fourth-wicket stand at 46, soon after it had guided England past 100 in the 23rd over.
Danni Wyatt clubbed a couple of sixes to thrill a packed stadium and Beaumont joined in with a leg-side effort over the ropes of her own as England enjoyed its best period since the start.
Beaumont, however, was denied a 50, top-edging a full toss to unexpectedly hand Gardner, the off-spinner, a return catch.
Then, an on-field decision of caught behind was overturned with replays showing the ball had rolled out of Alyssa Healy’s hand, allowing Gunn, then on nine and the one inclusion to the squad, to combine with Brunt to keep the runs coming.
The first of Gunn’s two sixes, over mid-wicket, brought up the 50 partnership in 60 balls and Brunt got to a career-best 45 not out. The pair backed good running with big hits over the fence to add 76 in the last 10 overs, making up somewhat for the 20 runs in the batting Power Play earlier.
Australia’s tidy fielding saved a good number of boundaries, but the 32 extras (including 23 wides) undid that good work.
Unlike Australia, England stuck to pace at the start of the chase. Brunt and Anya Shrubsole did best when coming around the wicket to the two left-handed openers, but Mooney and Nicole Bolton gave themselves a steady platform to build on.
Two bowling changes got England the breakthroughs. Mooney, the aggressor of the partnership, immediately looked to take on Hartley, the left-arm spinner, giving Winfield at mid-off a tumbling catch. Then Gunn, with her first legal delivery, had Bolton chasing a wide ball to be caught behind.
Hartley returned for her second spell to have Lanning bowled, misreading a delivery while charging out of her crease. Hartley finished her quota by the 38th over, but along with Gunn, who was clever with her slower delivery during the Power Play, had done what was needed.
The loss means Australia will have to wait to confirm its semi-final place, while England, with four wins in five games, is sitting pretty ahead of their next group game against New Zealand in Derby on Wednesday.