Australia 6 for 138 (Gardner 61, Devine 3-18) beat New Zealand 7 for 121 (Bates 33, Schutt 4-23) by 17 runs
On a day Australia’s cricketers made a public statement of solidarity with Aboriginal Australia in their opening match of the new season, it was the ferocious counterattack of the Muruwari woman Ashleigh Gardner that gave Australia enough runs to comfortably defend against New Zealand for victory at Allan Border Field in Brisbane.
On a windy afternoon and at times tricky pitch, the hosts were far from from the fluency they had displayed in the Twenty20 World Cup decider back in March. But Garder’s powerful striking ensured that they had enough runs to pressure the visitors into error. That all this came in the absence of Ellyse Perry, even as she gets to the finish of her recovery from a serious hamstring injury, made it more special.
New Zealand and their captain, Sophie Devine, were on the wrong end of a couple of contentious moments. First, Devine had a raucous caught behind appeal turned down against Nicola Carey when the Australian innings wobbled. Then in the chase, Devine was adjudged stumped off Delissa Kimmince’s bowling in a decision that was marginal at best.
Nos. 1 and 5 make just 2 and 6
Australia’s previous match, the small matter of a T20 World Cup final in front of more than 86,000 spectators at the MCG in March, was more or less decided by the opening partnership of Beth Mooney and Alyssa Healy. Mooney batted through the innings after Healy had crashed an opening salvo of boundaries that India could not cope with. But in the quieter, windier surrounds of Allan Border Field, neither Mooney nor Healy could get going, on a surface that required a little more careful assessment than the MCG’s had done.
Mooney was facing her fourth ball when she tried to get after Rosemary Mair and managed only to spoon a catch to mid-off. Healy and Meg Lanning formed the foundations of a partnership before Healy also tried to force the pace and could only loop a catch to cover. Australia’s Powerplay at the MCG had reaped 0 for 49; this one scraped 2 for 33.
Gardner thrives after Devine intervention
That sluggish start provided Devine with an ideal scenario in which to pressure the Australians still further with ring fields. Her own excellent combination of a tight line and subtle variations in pace on a pitch that also offered its own inconsistencies helped too. Her third over fetched the wickets of Rachael Haynes and Sophie Molineux, as both fell trying to clear the inner ring and reach the boundary. Devine should have had a third when Nicola Carey edged behind but was reprieved when the umpire apparently missed the nick due to the wind. Without any technology available, New Zealand couldn’t take the DRS.
At the other end, Gardner was slowly building into her innings, doing so with the confidence of a performer who knows how quickly her enormous power can help “catch-up” an innings after a sedate start. Against the leg breaks of Amelia Kerr, Gardner aimed for straight midwicket with devastating effect, crashing two of her three sixes in the space of three balls. A trio of further boundaries took Gardner as far as 61, the third highest score by an Australian at No. 5 or lower – the other top three scores all contributed by Haynes.
Healy’s photo finish
If Devine had a right to feel hard done by after Carey was given not out and then stayed on right to the end of Australia’s innings, the feeling was enhanced just as she and Suzie Bates appeared to be building a sound foundation for New Zealand’s chase. Delissa Kimmince appealed for caught behind as ball drifted down the leg side and brushed Devine’s pad on the way through to Healy, but as New Zealand’s captain overbalanced slightly, the gloves were whipped off for a stumping chance.
It was extremely close – made to look tighter still by the fact that Australia’s uniforms are black, the same colour as the sponsored bails – and the most likely result was that Healy had lifted the bails in the frame between Devine lifting her foot and returning it to safety. Nevertheless, the third umpire Michael Graham-Smith chose to give Devine out, breaking up the pivotal partnership of the innings and allowing Lanning and her bowlers to tighten things up still further.
Lanning, Schutt close the net
With Devine and Bates separated, the Australians had engineered for themselves a position from which they lose remarkably few matches – one of being able to gradually push up the required run rate up the point where the pressure creates a flow of opposition wickets. Lanning was helped on this day by the sluggishness of the pitch and the challenges presented by the breeze, as her bowlers worked through now familiar sequences of discipline, backed by a familiar desperation in the field.
With the exception of Georgia Wareham’s two overs and Gardner’s one, none of the Australians conceded more than six runs per over, and the most effective performer was, as is so often the case, the miserly and resourceful Schutt. After her first two overs went wicketless and cost 15, she returned at the death with the run rate in her favour, and capitalised supremely by scooping the wickets of Bates, Katie Martin, Kerr and Hayley Jensen. Give Lanning, Schutt and their fielders any sort of total to defend and they are fiendishly tough to beat.