21/02/2024

Australia claimed gold in T20 cricket. (Photo: Australian Women's Cricket Team/Twitter)

There is a line in the Southern Stars victory song that states, “nothing can make this team give in”.

Twice in the past week India has had Australia on the ropes, poised to strike the final blow. On the first occasion, its bowlers were the ones that created a position so seemingly impregnable that eventual victory seemed assured. 

Now, when the destination of the gold medal was to be determined and the demons of finals past were there to be slayed, India’s batters held the weapons.

With Jemimah Rodrigues and her great friend and captain Harmanpreet Kaur in full flow, India needed 44 runs from 33 balls with eight wickets in hand. The gold medal was theirs to lose.

Nobody told Megan Schutt. So often Meg Lanning’s go-to girl when Australia needs to make something happen, Schutt began the 15th over knowing that it was make-or-break time.

From the third ball Rodrigues gave herself room to deposit the ball into the off-side and hammer another nail into the Australian coffin. Schutt, the ever-reliable Schutt, was up to the task. Full, straight and unerring, Rodrigues missed and Schutt took her castle down.

Three for 118.

Enter Ash Gardner. Australia’s tormentor-in-chief with the bat when last these two sides met, it was now time to wreak havoc with the ball.

Having earlier removed young Indian firecracker Shafali Verma, whose attempted boundary hit went high but not quite so wide or handsome before nestling in the safe hands of Tahlia McGrath at mid-on, she returned to bowl the 16th over on which the result eventually pivoted.

Pooja Vastrakar is a batter made for situations such as this. She is a pocket battleship; an explosive cricketer who can take the game away from an opposition in the blink of an eye through an innate ability to send the ball either to, or over the boundary, and often.

Not today. Here she tried to take Gardner over the mid-wicket boundary but didn’t quite have the length required, and Beth Mooney did the rest.

There was still the problem of Harmanpreet Kaur. She played a superb captain’s innings of 65 from 43 balls, and while she was still at the crease India held the whip hand.

From the very next ball, Gardner solved that problem. For reasons best known to Kaur herself, she determined early that the scoop was the appropriate shot to play to Gardner’s length ball on off-stump. 

She only succeeded in playing the ball onto her helmet where keeper Alyssa Healy moved surely to her right to pouch the vital catch.

Five for 121.

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41 runs from 25 balls, whilst a difficult task, is still very much achievable in this form of cricket, but vital momentum had been lost. No team in world cricket is able to squeeze the life out of an opposition quite like this Australian side, and now it was they rather than India that had the scent of victory in their nostrils.

Deepti Sharma briefly threatened to wrestle the initiative back; two boundaries and some hare-like scampering in her eight-ball innings briefly hinting at further shenanigans in the later overs.

The combination of brilliant Australian fielding and kamikaze running between wickets, however, accounted for the bulk of the Indian lower order as first Sneh Rana, then Radha Yadav and Meghna Singh were run out.

When the video umpire confirmed the on-field decision that the third ball of Jess Jonasson’s 20th over would have hit the stumps were it not intercepted by Yastika Bhatia’s front pad, Australia had the win and the gold medal. The victory song could be sung loudly and proudly.

“We know what it takes to win.”

The victory had earlier been set up by the sort of innings that one almost comes to expect from Beth Mooney in big matches. 

Not for nothing is she considered to be one of the world’s premier players – her technique and her temperament mark her as one of the finest ever to wear the green and gold – but the presence of a trophy at the end of a match seems to lift her game to another level.

Here she peeled off a smooth and assured 61 from 41 balls to anchor the Australian innings, only falling in the 18th over having been there for the first.

Brief but dynamic cameos from captain Meg Lanning (36 from 25 balls), Ash Gardner (25 from 15), and Rachael Haynes (18 not out from 10), gave Australia the impetus to finish with a total of eight for 161.

161 still looked as though it may have been a few runs short of what was needed, especially when Rodrigues and Kaur were adding 96 from 71 balls for India’s third wicket. These Australians, however, are not your ordinary cricket team.

“When you hear us, you will fear us”. One wonders how much Australia’s aura, as much as its considerable ability, contributed to the recent recoveries against this admirable Indian side. 

Certainly though, today’s was a gold-medal worthy performance from a true gold-medal team.

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