India pacer Renuka Singh Thakur’s (4-0-18-4) dream spell went in vain as world champion Australia kick-started its Commonwealth Games campaign in style with a three-wicket victory. A thrilling contest ensured cricket made a rousing return to the quadrennial showpiece after 24 years.
However, one would have expected the sport-loving Brummies to share the 2022 Games CEO Ian Reid’s excitement and emotion surrounding the sport’s inclusion. The momentous occasion saw players playing in front of empty stands at the Edgbaston Stadium, which had also hosted the inaugural women’s World Cup final in 1973.
Chasing 155, Australia lost all of its top four batters – Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning, Beth Mooney and Tahlia McGrath - to Thakur within the PowerPlay. The Himachal Pradesh pacer made good use of the new ball, altering her lengths and pace to trouble the mighty Aussies.
Rachael Haynes walked in with the scoreboard locked at a dispiriting 34 for four. However, the southpaw couldn’t do much to help the reigning world champion’s cause as Deepti Sharma’s (4-0-24-2) change of pace saw her miscue for nine to Radha Yadav at point. Grace Harris (37, 20b, 5x4, 2x6) tried to undo the damage as well but succumbed to an excellent catch pouched by a back-pedalling Harmanpreet Kaur. Jess Jonassen perished eight balls later, drilling one straight back to bowler Deepti.
At the end of the 16 th over, it seemed like anybody’s game but Ashleigh Gardner (52 n.o., 35b , 9x4), who initially seemed to be running out of partners, found the perfect companion in Alana King as the duo punched its way to the finish line with an unbeaten 47-run stand off 28 balls.
Gardner registered the Games’ second fifty off 34 balls, two more than what Harmanpreet had taken to get to the first half-century of Birmingham 2022.
Earlier, Smriti Mandhana got India off the blocks in style off a full toss from pacer Darcie Brown. Brown, however, had the last laugh three overs later as the left-handed Sangli batter fell to a ball seaming away from her.
Yastika Bhatia teased the Australian fielders, sending a few misdirected lobs their way, before settling down to register a 43-run stand with Shafali Verma (48, 33b, 9x4) at the other end.
Verma punished the Aussies, after they dropped her on 19, and welcomed medium-pacer McGrath into the attack with three consecutive fours. To make matters worse for Lanning and Co., stumper Healy had a rare brain fade while trying to stump Verma out. She did whip the bails off in time, but with the wrong glove.
After Bhatia’s run out in the 10 th over, Verma hit four fours off the very next from Brown to release some pressure and bring up the joint-most expensive over of the innings (17 runs).
Jonassen (4-0-22-4), back into the attack, gave Australia what it wanted in the form of Verma’s wicket. A looped-up delivery down the leg side saw Verma get a feather on to Healy.
Kaur (52, 34b, 8x4, 1x6) and Jemimah Rodrigues kept the runs flowing until the latter mistimed one to Mooney at mid-off. Deepti left as soon as she came, scoring a single off two balls before Kaur’s flourish at the death took India to a serviceable 154 for eight.