By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
Australia Women pays for injudicious stroke making after its bowlers did well enough to set up a 129-run target
It was billed as a battle of the heavyweights, but the match barely lived up to the high standards the two teams have set for themselves over the years.
The ICC Women’s World Twenty20 game between Australia and New Zealand was reduced to a scrap midway through, but Suzie Bates, the New Zealand captain, played her slow bowling options to perfection as Australia, the defending champion, was outclassed by seven runs in the Group A opener at the Sylhet Divisional Stadium on Sunday (March 23).
Upward of 8,000 people turned up to witness the tournament opener on a sparkling day and had their money’s worth as the seesaw battle entered the last over with both sides in with a shot: Australia needed 10 runs, but had just two wickets in hand.
Sarah Coyte, who had bowled admirably to return figures of 2 for 8 in her four overs earlier, had been dismissed in the previous over, and Frances Mackay stole the honours with the wicket of Holly Ferling after Rene Farrell had been run out to seal the deal.
Spin and slow bowling was the order of the day on a pitch that demanded application from the batters. New Zealand posted 128 for 8 after being sent in to bat on the back of Nicola Brown's cameo of 31. Mackay chipped in with 25 quickfire runs at the top, but New Zealand seemed to have dug itself into a hole.
Bates was the first to go when she failed to read Jess Jonassen's arm-ball that caught her plumb in front of middle stump in the second over. The loss of an early wicket didn't prevent Sara McGlashan from playing her natural game as she smashed Ferling twice over the infield in her first over. But her 'live by the sword and die by it' mantra also accounted for her downfall.
At 27 for 2 in the sixth over, the heat was on New Zealand. Erin Osborne, the offspinner, choked runs superbly in the middle overs, but the pressure was released courtesy some inventive batting by Mackay. Unafraid to step out or walk across to play the paddle, she set the tempo on a surface where stroke making wasn't particularly easy.
At various stages, New Zealand looked in danger of posting a total far below what it eventually did, but Katie Perkins came to the rescue by scoring a 36-ball 31 to steer them to a fighting total, with Katy Martin making a vital 15.
That Australia got into a tangle in pursuit of a relatively small target was due to some injudicious shot making. The rut started in the second over when Ellyse Villani played a wild slog that only met the humid Sylhet air and the middle stump went for a walk to give Holly Huddleston, the medium pacer, a wicket off her first ball. In her next over, Huddleston dismissed Meg Lanning, the Australian captain.
When Cameron was dismissed, the Australian innings lay in tatters at 14 for 3 in the fifth over. Alex Blackwell kept the fight going with a robust knock of 31, but Australia kept sinking into a quagmire of sorts.
Ellyse Perry and Osborne attempted a late fightback, but to add to Australia’s other woes, the running between the wickets wasn't entirely up to the mark. But that may have also been partially because of the atmosphere at the ground that even left Bates screaming her lungs out to get the attention of her fielders. Blackwell and Perry were both out to direct hits by Martin and McGlashan respectively and that left Coyte to fend for herself and the team.
Coyte, attempting to hit her way out of trouble, led a charmed life as she was put down twice. At a vital stage of the game with Australia needing 21 off 14, she was dropped by Huddleston at long-off, but Browne accounted for her soon after.
With Australia needing 10 off the last over, Farrell ran herself out in an attempt to get Osborne on strike, while Ferling's attempted mow over mid-wicket off Mackay resulted in her being trapped in front of the stumps to bring an end to a clash.
On another day, Huddleston's dropped chance could have come back to haunt New Zealand, but Australia's inability to cash in on some poor fielding and catching at various stages of the innings cost it the game.