Beth Mooney’s unbeaten 71 off just 54 – laced with nine boundaries and Jess Jonnasen’s chase-crippling five-wicket haul was enough to undo Smriti Mandhana’s fighting, stroke-filled 66 as Australia did enough to catch India short in a run chase to clinch the tri-series title at the Junction Oval in Melbourne on Wednesday (February 12).
With an above-par total to defend, Australia came equipped with lessons from their previous encounter against India that allowed Harmanpreet Kaur’s side to stay alive in the three-way competition. Australia’s first order of business was to neutralise the threat of the young Shafali Verma, who dragged the game away from Australia last time around with a 28-ball 49. Shafali began exactly in the way most – including Australia – expected, carting the No.1 all-rounder in the world Ellyse Perry for six straight back over her head in a 10-run first over.
Australia held back Megan Schutt and brought Tayla Vlaeminck into the attack. The 21-year-old quick, who only yesterday pocketed the Young Cricketer of the Year award, made an instant impact, troubling Shafali with her consistent pace in the early 120ks. Vlaeminck began with two short balls which Shafali swung at and missed, and then got the swashbuckling Indian opener to top-edge a back-of-a-length ball to depart for a nine-ball 10.
India beefed up their batting at the cost of allrounder Harleen Deol, bringing in 18-year-old uncapped Bengal batter Richa Ghosh, who has already been picked for this month’s T20 World Cup on the basis of her exploits in the women’s challenger series. Ghosh, who also comes with a reputation for no-nonsense big hitting, often danced down the track, against both spinners and quicks, looking to give India a move on. Despite the few dot balls she batted out, Australia saw the need to constantly change the field. Ghosh eventually got going in the first over post PowerPlay, getting two fours off Nicola Carey, but fell in a similar fashion as fellow teen Shafali – a leading edge going to Vlaeminck at short third man to give Annabel Sutherland her first international wicket.
Vlaeminck continued to impact India’s chase, as Jemimah Rodrigues followed the sorry script of Indian batters failing to get on top of the short balls dished out at them. Rodrigues top-edged her attempted pull to the fine leg fielder to trudge back for just two, leaving the chase in the hands of the most experienced pair in Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana.
The duo accepted the challenge, and dug India out of the hole they found themselves in at the halfway stage by going after Vlaeminck Sutherland, fetching 25 runs across the 12th and 13th overs. Mandhana in particular, played some exquisite strokes – going down the ground and over midwicket in style on her way to a 29-ball half-century. India saw a much-needed spike in the scoring rate between the 10th and 14th over, but the No. 1 T20 bowler in the world returned to turn the tables. Mandhana aimed to clear the square leg fence against a short ball from Schutt, but found Carey in the deep who took an exceptional, low catch.
From this point on, Jess Jonnasen arrived and triggered India’s collapse, starting with Harmanpreet’s wicket in the 16th, when she trapped her LBW with a well-flighted ball that slid on and hit her in line. India were six down even before that over ended, as Arundhati Reddy fell to an ill-timed sweep shot that ballooned off the top-edge and fell to Alyssa Healy. Australia turned the screws from this point on, as India’s lower-order wilted under the asking rate pressure and the accompanying need to take risks with big hits. India collapsed from 115 for 3 to 144 all out, with Jonnassen completing with a fifer.
Having just been beaten while defending a big total, Australia still went in with the decision of batting first in the big final, and were rewarded by Beth Mooney and Ashleigh Gardner’s brisk start. They were helped along the way by India’s wayward start with the ball, as they bowled too full and wide, much to the delight of the Aussie batters.
Though Arundhati broke the second-wicket stand – worth 52 runs – in the ninth over, Australia were carried forward in the same vein with the arrival of captain Lanning. Harmanpreet Kaur showed smart captaincy by unleashing spin from both ends against Lanning, who’d walked out with having batting with a strike rate of 1920 against quicks, as opposed to a modest 79 vs spin in this series. The move paid off as Lanning fell to a rather soft dismissal, toe-poking a tossed up ball while going for the sweep and getting caught behind square. Perry, fresh from having just bagged her third Belinda Clark medal on Monday, endured an off day with the bat, falling for just 1 run. India saw a brief period – of three overs – where they turned things around splendidly, even forcing Mooney into a corner by placing a lot of straight fields and inviting her to play across the line.
Annabel Sutherland earned some respite in the 13-run penultimate over before Rachael Haynes and Mooney laid into Rajeshwari Gayakwad in the final over. While Harmanpreet’s trust in her spinners saw some dividends during the day, it didn’t help that Gayakwad, a left-arm spinner, had to bowl to left-handers who smashed three fours and a six to take Australia to a winning total.
Brief Scores: Australia 155/6 in 20 overs (Beth Mooney 71*, Meg Lanning 26; Deepti Sharma 2-30) beat India 144 in 20 overs (Smriti Mandhana 66; Jess Jonnasen 5-12) by 11 runs
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