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Memories of Perth glory inspire Kate Cross to hit her mark in Ashes Test

Kate Cross claims another wicket Getty Images

Kate Cross knows a thing or two about women's Test matches. Last time England won one, at Perth in 2014, she played a central role, taking 6 for 70 across both innings as England triumphed in a low-scoring thriller. Since then she has sometimes struggled to escape being pigeon-holed as a red-ball specialist, a somewhat useless designation in the women's game given that only one Test is played every two years.

Nonetheless, as England gear up for a must-win four-day encounter at Taunton this week, it is that very reputation which both she and England are hoping can once again bring home the Ashes bacon.

"If someone's telling me that they think that I'm a specialist Test player then to me that is a compliment in a way, it's someone saying how consistent you are," Cross says as she reflects on the double-edged sword that is her red-ball reputation. "In Test match cricket you know you've got to keep bowling in the same areas and you've got to put pressure on batsmen and starve runs. I think it's a format that suits me."

"We relish the opportunity to play in a Test match, and when you get your whites it's really special, because it's such a rarity. It's quite hard to train for because there's not many opportunities to get the red balls out. But everyone wants to play in it - it's a childhood dream for a lot of the girls."

For Cross, the dream is one step closer after she was on Tuesday announced in England's 13-strong squad for the Test. Only six of those players, including Cross, survive from the 2014 Perth Test - which was also the last time England won the Ashes. This time around, with England already 6-0 down on points and the spectre of a 194-run defeat at Canterbury looming large over the England camp, success against Australia seems an elusive thing.

But Cross - something of a Test veteran, with three under her belt (they've only played six in the past decade) - knows that the longer format represents an opportunity for a clean slate for her teammates, and something of a leveller for both sides: "we don't play a lot of it, so no one really knows what to expect."

Her own memories of the 2014 Test at the WACA are ready and waiting to be drawn on this week as she seeks to inspire her teammates to a repeat performance.

"It's probably going to be one of my all-time highs of my career," she says. "I remember my dad texted me the day before and he said, 'just take everything in, just enjoy the moment. It doesn't matter the result, you're getting a Test cap for England, just enjoy every second of it'."

"And that's an overriding feeling that I've got from that Test match, is the enjoyment that I had. Even though it was 40, 50 degrees and we were sweating our asses off, and it was difficult and I'd never been in a situation like that when we were fighting for four days, I still really enjoyed it and I had so much fun out there.

Replying to England's first innings of 201, Australia had already lost both openers to Anya Shrubsole, when Cross was called into the attack in the tenth over with Jess Cameron and Sarah Elliott in her sights.

"I remember when Lottie [captain Charlotte Edwards] threw me the ball, I thought to myself 'just land it on the strip at least!' I bowled quite straight, my first delivery was quite a straight one, and I thought, 'okay you're going to be fine here. Just imagine you're playing at Heywood [her home club] on a Saturday, this is fine'.

"My first wicket [Cameron] was a big one because I took it in my first over, which really settled me into the game. It was my fourth ball. And I think if you watch my reaction and my celebration, I'm just in shock! I thought 'you can't have just got a wicket in your debut Test'. If you look at any photos, it's just pure shock!"

Many consider Perth in 2014 to be one of the greatest women's Test matches ever played - with Cross again in the thick of the action in the second innings, claiming three wickets for no runs in the space of seven balls as England successfully defended a target of 185: looking back, Cross recognises what a privilege it was to be at the heart of such an occasion.

"I remember just taking myself off at the end of the game, and I just sat on the hill with a beer. I remember I was sat there on my own at the end of it all, because I just wanted to take it all in and cherish it, I guess."

It's a moment she would often return to over the years, as - after that spectacular start to her international career, only her fifth appearance in an England shirt - she struggled to retain her place, and eventually went two years (between July 2016 and July 2018) without playing a single international match. That included missing out on England's 2017 World Cup win - a period she describes as "the toughest summer that I've had to go through".

"I think if you watch my reaction and my celebration, I'm just in shock! I thought 'you can't have just got a wicket in your debut Test"

Did she consider giving up and walking away? "If the ECB kept offering me contracts I would never have said no," she says. "If [coach] Mark Robinson had turned round and said 'look, we don't quite think you're good enough', I would have walked away and said, 'well I've given it my best shot'."

"But while you're still getting the opportunity to be a professional cricketer, and still getting the opportunities to learn, even though you're not playing international cricket - which sometimes for us is really difficult, because we feel like we train more than we play. You often don't get the opportunities that you want to showcase all the skill development that you do in the nets."

Robinson, though, never gave up on Cross: late last year he made a crucial intervention to which she attributes her recent return to form.

"We sat down before I went to Australia and we tweaked my action a little bit. So my bowling hand, the one that carries the ball, I've got a bit more fluid motion in that. I used to load up quite near my hipbone, and now the ball comes up past my ear, and that's to get a little bit more fluidity in my action, which consequently has helped my consistency as well."

Her returns for Perth Scorchers in the WBBL last winter were not spectacular - six wickets across 14 matches - but something, somewhere along the line, clicked. She returned to the England side for their T20 series against India, and saved them from what looked like certain defeat in the final match by defending three from the final over. She has subsequently been part of Robinson's first-choice XI in every match this summer, and opened the bowling in all three of the Ashes ODIs: she feels that she is "back to somewhere near my best".

"I'm probably a bit fitter, which helps. For me, I'm quite a rhythmical bowler, so if I'm running in and attacking the crease, and if I'm staying tall and I'm getting seam movement then I'm generally in quite a good place."

"It's great for me to be able to help out Anya [Shrubsole] and Katherine [Brunt]. I would like to think that I offer something different. I try and contain batters, and put pressure on. If you look at the wickets that I took against the West Indies, they weren't absolute jaffas of deliveries, I just felt like I created pressure and bowled a lot of dot balls, which then led to wickets being created. Robbo jokes with me that I've got the workhorse role in the team, I'm the one who bowls uphill into the wind and does the job that no one wants to do."

"For me I love the challenge," she concludes. A good thing too. Being handed the new ball in a must-win Test against Australia - challenges don't come much bigger than that.

England squad for Ashes Test Heather Knight (capt), Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Kirstie Gordon, Amy Jones, Laura Marsh, Nat Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Lauren Winfield, Sarah Taylor (wk)