When Australia took up batting at 327 for seven on the second morning of the Canberra Test match, Plan A was to push towards 400. With Jess Jonassen and Annabel Sutherland batting in positions well below their abilities, it was realistic. But as England swung the ball around and took wickets under heavy cloud, things changed with a hasty statement. Plan B was to make the most of those same bowling conditions. With England 38 for two at lunch and 120 for six at tea, only Heather Knight’s outstanding innings of 127 unfinished kept it from performing like a charm.

Australia added just 10 runs from 7.1 overs overnight, declaring at 337 for nine rather than sending 18-year-old fast bowler Darcie Brown to join debutant Alana King with the bat. Sutherland was beaten for eight by a Katherine Brunt special that went over a defensive shot to hit the top of the stump, before Jonassen got the better of two. It gave Brunt figures of five for 60 and Amy Jones a sixth take, equaling the women’s Test innings record set by England keeper Lisa Nye in 1992.

As much as Australia’s bowlers produced a concerted performance, England’s sloppy batting played its part. Lauren Winfield-Hill scored a boundary through the cord before throwing a slice down the width of Brown, edging out Beth Mooney at the second slip. Tammy Beaumont’s high backlift, honed for offense in clean-ball formats, left her looking vulnerable on defense, and it showed as Ellyse Perry kicked a ball to hit her into the back of the thigh before the bat could intervene.

With Beaumont going for five, a score of 23 for two was still better than Australia’s start to the first innings of four for two. But where the Australians had combined holding and counter-attacking from that point to keep the score moving, England stopped. Perry threw seven overs early in the innings, yielding little, but fellow tailors Brown, Sutherland and Tahlia McGrath all occasionally delivered short wide balls that were rarely put aside.

Natalie Sciver made it 15 from 42 before one of Sutherland’s mids broke from the seam, taking the inside edge at the wicketkeeper as Sciver tried to protect his stumps. Sophia Dunkley started slow before hitting three limits but was also out for 15 years, hooking her bat on Perry and chopping her stumps from the last ball before drinking mid-session. Amy Jones made a slow 13, eventually trying to pull off a delivery from Sutherland that wasn’t short enough, edging the top midway where Brown made up ground to take a great diving hold.

Heather Knight of England acknowledges the crowd after finishing on 127 unspent points on day two. Photography: Lukas Coch/EPA

In the meantime, the England captain had to do the job alone. After a few first slices of riding, Knight looked flawless. She worked singles at Brown’s pace, drove elegantly to the side when King overshot, and played the pull shot and cover drive well against the seam. By the time the fifth wicket fell, Knight had 56 runs to England’s 118. The trailing mark of 188 now seemed distant, and even more so when Brunt, hitting too high at No. 7, played lbw against the leg spinner. This meant that King, Sutherland and Brown had each taken their first Test wicket in the innings.

But Knight wasn’t giving up, even as Charlie Dean and Anya Shrubsole made cheap catches thanks to rotation. The captain was 92 when Sophie Ecclestone joined her at 169 for eight years, and the left-arm spinner kept her company until Knight shook his bat violently in the air to celebrate his second Test century. With that done, the pair moved past the straight, then past 200, in an unbroken partnership of 66.

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It made for an extraordinary scorecard: When Ecclestone smashed a ground limit with 10 minutes left in the day, Knight was on 121 and Ecclestone had become the first of her teammates in the heats to exceed 15. There will be plenty more work for the pair to do on day three, with Ecclestone on 27, and England 102 trailing at 235 for eight. But considering how the day had gone up to this stand, things could have been much worse. There are still two days to see who can chart a course to victory from here.

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