Everything about Sunday at the County Ground in Bristol said fresh and summery. The blue skies, the family crowd settling into this cosy ground smack in the middle of a quiet, residential area, the deckchairs out in the flats overlooking the green, the local rock choir’s upbeat invitation to Shut Up and Dance With Me.
This was a ground that had seen two massive hundreds in its last game. Much entertainment was expected from two of the top contenders for the title in one of the biggest games of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 so far.
There was, however, surprisingly little dancing and more awkward shuffling about this Australia-New Zealand clash. Australia completed a tight five-wicket win on a tiring surface, as the slow bowlers again held sway.
Amelia Kerr, the 16-year-old leg-spinner, took two in two balls, including the big wicket of Meg Lanning, but Australia’s batting depth came through. A 50 from Ellyse Perry guided a tricky chase.
This, after half-centuries from Suzie Bates and, crucially from Katie Perkins, the No. 6, pushed New Zealand to 219 for 9 in the face of tight bowling.
With 55 runs required off the final 10 overs, scoreboard pressure could have told on the Australians, but Alex Blackwell and Perry held firm. Perry, who had taken the backseat in the stand with Lanning, brought up her fifty off her third four of the day, through covers.
There was little flashy in her 91-ball 71 over the course of an innings that took her past 2,000 ODI runs.
The duo added 76 for the fifth wicket. Perry, trying to finish it off, fell with the scores even, leaving Alyssa Healy to bring up the winning single in 48.4 overs.
It was perhaps a few too many runs more than the Australians would have expected to chase after the early work done by the spin trio of Jess Jonassen (3 for 33), Amanda-Jade Wellington and the economical Ashleigh Gardner.
A finger injury had kept Wellington out of Australia’s opening two games. She returned to the playing XI for the big clash, and caused all sorts of problems for familiar foes.
A classical leg-spinner, perhaps the only thing she did wrong was concede four overthrows. Her drift was a standout, and while her wickets column wasn’t flush, her role in holding down one end can’t be overstated.
Wellington, 20, struck with her first legal delivery, having Rachel Priest caught to break the opening partnership at 35.
Bates had chosen to bat first in her 100th One-Day International, and was doing all the running. Priest, looking uncomfortable from the outset and struggling to rotate strike, had contributed to Megan Schutt's three maidens in the Power Play.
Amy Satterthwaite came on to keep the scoreboard ticking in a nervy period where the boundaries could easily have been catches. She became the first of Jonassen’s two wickets in the 23rd over, rapped on the pad by one that went straight on. Katey Martin went for a scoop before really getting her eye in, popping a soft catch to Healy behind the stumps.
Bates brought up her fifty with a driven four, but was out lbw immediately after, going down on her knee to sweep Jonassen. And with Sophie Devine’s departure from another leg before leaving it at 120 for 5, New Zealand showed itself bereft of ideas in facing the spinners.
Perkins’ 49-run seventh-wicket stand with Erin Bermingham was vital in her side crossing 200 and lasting the 50 overs. Employing the sweep to good measure and attacking the short balls off the pacers, the duo played steady hands.
Perkins’ innings too ended unfortunately right after she got her half-century, caught short going for a second run after a brush with the bowler.
New Zealand also began its defence by taking the pace off the ball, with some success. Devine, the medium-pacer, opened with a good shout, as she and Anna Peterson, the off-spinner, conceded only 29 in the Power Play. Nicole Bolton and Beth Mooney tried to give themselves room and cut – and found the odd boundary – but it wasn’t easy pickings.
Peterson got the breakthrough, having Bolton caught at mid-on, and Lea Tahuhu came back well after an expensive first over to send Mooney’s stumps clattering with sheer pace.
Lanning and Perry though are two batters at the top of their game, and they made batting look easy on a pitch that suggested anything but. Lanning’s straight six, hit coming down the ground to Bermingham and sent screaming into the sight screen, was a statement of intent.
She had struck five fours to go with that and seemed set for 50 fifty until, against the run of play, she was denied by Kerr’s brilliance.
The Australian captain came down the pitch, but was surprised by the turn and opened herself up to a stumping; she edged the delivery all the same, only to be caught – after a slight fumble – by Priest, who didn’t have to attempt the stumping.
Elyse Villani then was bowled first ball, failing to pick a wrong ‘un.
The New Zealand fightback, however, was nipped in the bud by the experience of Blackwell and Perry.
Blackwell remained not out on 35 as Australia maintained its unbeaten run in the tournament.