Suzie Bates, the New Zealand Women captain, applied the same principle on a pitch where Kane Williamson and company pulled off a coup against India last week, by fielding three spinners on a slow, dry, and dusty Nagpur deck. They repaid the faith with an authoritative display to sucker-punch Australia Women, the three-time World Twenty20 champions, by six wickets to all but seal a semi-final berth at the Women’s World T20.
Meg Lanning’s glee at winning the toss, a record that she hasn’t been proud of, in recent times, subsided even before she could get a feel for the conditions as she was beaten by Sophie Devine’s rocket throw to walk back for a duck. By then, Australia had sensationally slipped to 2 for 3, leaving the middle order with the unenviable task of batting out a majority of the overs in the face of more spin. They eventually managed 103 for 8, courtesy sprightly knocks from Ellyse Perry (42) and Jess Jonassen (23). But it wasn’t enough to test New Zealand, whose 12-hour travel ordeal to reach Nagpur yielded fruit. Bates and Rachel Priest produced a fiery 58-run opening stand as New Zealand made light work of the target.
On a surface where batsmen had to curb their natural instincts, Australia came out looking to attack and the first sign of that resulted in a double-strike to Leigh Kasperek, the offspinner, as Ellyse Villani and Alyssa Healy holed out to mid-on. When Lanning walked back after a mix-up with Erin Osborne, Australia were completely taken aback by what hit them. Their struggle to get the ball off the square forced Bates to complete the quota of Morna Nielsen and Kasperek upfront; Australia limping to 17 for 4 in eight overs.
Alex Blackwell briefly attempted what the top order didn’t: batting outside the crease in an effort to smother the spin. Soon enough, she brought out the reverse sweep to bring up the first boundary of the innings, before being foxed by a delivery that spun across the face of the bat to hit the off stump.
Perry, however, comfortably rotated strike and brought out the big hits seamlessly to give her side some impetus. Particularly impressive was the manner in which she used her feet and her reach to combat New Zealand. She found an ally in Jonassen, who lived a charmed live after being dropped thrice, as the pair put together 49 in just 36 balls. After Perry fell, Jonassen and Beth Mooney unleashed their aggression as Australia blasted 76 off the last 10 overs, to give their bowlers something to defend.
Australia’s spinners did not learn from New Zealand’s. They came out bowling either too full or flat, and were duly punished. Priest climbed on to Kirsten Beams, the legspinner, as the openers reeled off 51 in seven overs. Australia’s faster bowlers didn’t particularly find the wicket to their liking either. Bates fearlessly hit through the line while Priest took the aerial route to muscle five fours and a six.
It was Bates, though, who unfurled the shot of the evening when he lofted Beams inside-out over cover for a six; the helplessness in Australia’s ranks was well summed up as Lanning applauded that effort. In many ways, the shot and the reaction summed up the day for both sides. While Australia did strike back with four wickets late in the day, the Bates-Priest stand meant the damage had been done.