It was business as usual for Australia as Alyssa Healy’s side cruised to a nine-wicket win over India in the first T20I here on Friday.
The Women’s T20 World Cup is just a couple of months away, making this series against Australia on home soil a virtual audition for the Indians to cement their places in the team that would fly to South Africa. Everyone was well aware of the stakes.
The build-up to the series was far from perfect, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) reshuffling the coaching staff just two three days before the first game. And things weren’t too bright on the field either as India suffered a big defeat against the top-ranked Aussie side.
Being put in to bat, there were a few hiccups in the Indian innings but Deepti Sharma guided the team to a mammoth 172 for five, with her late unbeaten 15-ball-36 cameo.
Chasing a tall total, Australia started off cautiously with Beth Mooney (89 not out, 57b, 16x4) and captain Healy (37, 23b, 4x4, 2x6) ensuring that they didn’t take unnecessary risks. They managed just 68 runs in eight overs before Healy hit it straight to Harmanpreet Kaur at cover off a low full toss from Devika Vaidya.
While the Indian team dreamed of a comeback in the game, Mooney, with her vast experience, stood firm and forged a 100-run partnership off 56 deliveries for the second wicket with Tahlia McGrath (40 not out, 29b) to guide her team home with 11 balls to spare.
India handed a debut to Anjali Sarvani, who became the first left-arm seamer to feature in a women’s T20I for India, in a bid to bolster its pace attack, but that move did not yield results as the youngster went wicketless and conceded 27 runs in four overs. With Mooney and McGrath taking things in their stride, none of the Indian bowlers made an impact. The biggest moment of Mooney’s innings came in the 15th over when she hit Devika for four boundaries to pick up 18 runs from the over.
Deepti’s efforts in vain
India got off to a perfect start as Shafali Verma hammered a four and a six to pick up 12 runs off Megan Schutt’s inaugural over to set the tone.
Shafali kept the momentum going until the third over, sending Ellyse Perry for a four and a six before the Australian cramped Shafali for room on the leg side, forcing her to offer a catch to stumper Healy. This was the fourth time she has lost her wicket to the wiley Aussie.
Smriti Mandhana made the most of the next over where Healy brought on debutant Kim Garth, with four boundaries coming off that passage of play. However, any confidence gained was short lived as Perry struck again in the fifth over, dismissing Jemimah Rodrigues for a duck.
This dried up the flow of runs with the Indians managing just 48 for the loss of two wickets in the Powerplay. Vice-captain Smriti was soon joined by skipper Harmanpreet Kaur as the duo tried to anchor the ship with India’s net run rate nosediving.
Healy’s decision to introduce Annabel Sutherland worked as she broke the partnership, with Mandhana holing out to Mooney at point. While the team management expected the captain to take charge of things, Garth - playing her first game for Australia after representing Ireland until 2019 - dismissed Harmanpreet, who played away from her body and hit it straight to Sutherland at cover.
Having lost four wickets for 76 runs, a 56-run partnership for the fifth wicket between Richa Ghosh (36 off 20 balls) and Devika Vaidya (25 off 24) put India back in the game.
Richa, who along with Shafali finds herself in the U19 side for the inaugural World Cup in January, made a statement with some fluid striking against an imposing attack. She struck a six and a couple of fours off Alana King in the fourteenth over to help India find its footing.
After Gardner got a breakthrough by removing Richa, Devika - returning to the T20I team after eight years - partnered with Deepti to ensure that there was no slip-up. The two held firm at the end as India amassed 30 runs in the final two overs - much of which came off Deepti’s bat. She hit Schutt for four successive boundaries in the final over to help India finish with 176 runs on the board, which, however, wasn’t not enough in the end.
It was India’s first home series in 21 months - the last time it played at home was against South Africa in March, 2021. In an effort to test the waters ahead of the Women’s IPL, which is scheduled to be held in the first week of March, the BCCI offered free tickets to fans. Initially, the stands were empty but as the game progressed, more than 27,500 fans turned up to cheer for the Women in Blue.
Every time the Indian players hit a boundary or saved a run, they chanted their names to boost the team’s morale. But in the end, it was another evening of heartbreak.
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