Rachael Haynes returned to the Australian side earlier this year after a long gap – her last One-Day International before the comeback was in August 2013. On Wednesday, she played her first game of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, that too as captain, and led her side to a 159-run victory over Pakistan in Leicester.
With a chronic shoulder injury ruling out Meg Lanning, Australia’s regular captain and run machine, and Pakistan striking twice early to have the world champion at 7 for 2, Australia might have looked in trouble. But its so-far-untested middle-order came good. Contrasting half-centuries for Ellyse Perry, Elyse Villani and Alyssa Healy lifted it to 290 for 8, before Kristen Beams and Ashleigh Gardner picked up three wickets each and Sarah Aley two to dismiss Pakistan for 131 off the last ball of the 50th over.
With four wins in as many games, Australia is now one step away from cementing a berth in the semi-finals.
Perry, promoted to No. 3, played the anchor with her second half-century in as many games. A third-wicket stand of 53 with Haynes (28) helped stabilise the innings, before a whirlwind 40-ball 59 from Villani lit up the fourth-wicket partnership of 83 runs.
Villani, out for a first-ball duck last game, made up with five fours and four sixes in her innings. Perry couldn’t kick on, but Healy, with a 40-ball 63 not out, gave the innings the impetus in the end.
Asmavia Iqbal, who gave Pakistan the first breakthrough, and Sana Mir, who picked up three wickets, were the pick of the Pakistan bowlers. They must have been disappointed with the effort, after having restricted India to 169 for 9 in its previous game. Nashra Sandhu, who had kept a tight leash on the Indian batters with her four-wicket haul, went wicketless while conceding 59 in her nine overs. Equally expensive was Diana Baig, going for 56 in her nine overs for one wicket. Sadia Yousuf gave away 66, as Mir’s 3 for 49 and Iqbal’s good work were undone.
Australia then put in another clinical performance with the ball, the combination of spin and pace troubling the Pakistan top order. Jess Jonassen struck with her third ball to have Nahida Khan bowled, while Aley, handed her first cap at 33, sent back Ayesha Zafar with her second delivery.
With the scoreboard reading 23 for 3 in 11.3 overs, Pakistan had a mountain to climb, having never chased more than 135 successfully in World Cups. But Beams picked up two wickets in the space of four overs as Pakistan became 39 for 4 in 17.4 overs.
Iram Javed, who replaced the injured Bismah Maroof for the tournament, hit four fours in her 21, but the next best performance by a top-six batter was Iqbal’s ten. Mir was Pakistan's best performer with a knock of 45 before becoming the ninth wicket to fall off the penultimate ball of the innings, and Baig followed off the last.
The writing was on the wall much before it ended, and once Pakistan was 77 for 6, the focus shifted to which of the bowlers would cause the maximum damage. The spin duo of Beams and Gardner made the most of the opportunity, returning combined figures of 18-4-51-6.