19/04/2024
Australia looked down for the count, but managed to drag itself off the canvas to defeat India in the Commonwealth Games opener.

It was Winston Churchill that surmised, late in World War II, that one should never let a good crisis go to waste.

It’s difficult to know what the cantankerous old curmudgeon would have made of the Australian women’s cricket team’s Commonwealth Games opener. If, however, you were looking for a crisis, this was the place to look.

In both innings of this encounter, the Australians found themselves in positions dire enough that it was difficult to imagine how they were going to extricate themselves from the mire.

They are a resilient and experienced lot though, and they have become adept at finding solutions to the problems that they create for themselves. India was not to reprise its famous Melbourne victory in the opening match of the 2020 World Cup.

This was quite the contrary game of cricket. In the 20-over format more so than any longer versions, it is often the side that settles quickest that emerges with the victory, and here it was India that looked the more dangerous in the early skirmishes.

Smriti Mandhana monopolised the early strike and contributed all but one of the 25 runs that comprised the opening stand, before slashing at a wide Darcie Brown outswinger and feathering a routine catch to Alyssa Healy. 

It was here that her younger opening partner Shafali Verma took the role of senior partner, several appealing strokes chiming from her bat with symphonic exhilaration.

The first swing in momentum came deep in the 12th over. 

With Verma and captain Harmanpreet Kaur well-set and an eventual total north of 180 looking a distinct possibility, Verma swept at a Jess Jonassen slider shown on video review to have taken a glove on its flightpath to Healy’s reliable grasp. Three for 93 left the door slightly ajar.

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Jonassen became destroyer in chief as she worked her way through the Indian middle order. She is Australia’s George Harrison – the steady hand that keeps the machine running smoothly whilst others are going about being Lennon and McCartney.

There was certainly something in the way that Jonassen took centre stage in this encounter, single-handedly pulling her team back into this contest. With the similarly reliable Megan Schutt contributing two wickets in the final over, suddenly Australia had a more manageable 155 to chase.

They reckoned without 26-year-old seamer Renuka Singh. The Himachal Pradesh opening bowler doubled her career T20 wicket tally by taking three Australian wickets in her first eleven balls. 

When she added a fourth to go with Deepti Sharma’s removal of Rachel Haynes, Australia was on life support at five for 49.

Grace Harris entered the fray, with all the bravado and swagger that BBL watchers have come to expect from the laid-back Queenslander with the big smile. 

One could imagine her chewing nonchalantly on a never-ending piece of gum whilst laying waste to the marauding enemy, all the while saying, “no worries – she’ll be right”.

And right she was as she carved and swatted her way to five boundaries and two sixes, her 37 off 20 balls dominating a 51-run liaison with Ashleigh Gardner that gave Australia hope.

The early dismissal of Jonassen still left the Australians with much to do, but in Alana King Australia have found another fighter in the mould that is typical of her country’s cricketers through the years. At the other end, Gardner continues to mature before our eyes.

No longer is she the player that looks capable of taking the opposition attack apart, and capable of throwing her wicket away with the most ridiculously audacious swipe in equal measures. This version of Ashleigh Gardner is the one that identifies a job to be done, and emerges determined to go out and do it.

Little by little, bit by bit, Gardner and King whittled away the target. Gardner brought up a deserved 50, her 35-ball effort proving invaluable on the day and possibly pivotal in the tournament as a whole even at this early stage. 

King’s hoist over mid-wicket to secure the improbable victory brought her to an 18 not out that carried the worth of an innings far greater in number.

Australian cricket teams have occasionally started slowly in recent tournaments.  Indeed, this team contains seven players that featured in the fabled World Cup final in Melbourne won by a team that played catch-up for most of the competition.

Although it looked likely at many stages that this opening match may also be lost, the Australian girls pulled victory from the fire just in the nick of time. 

Always be wary of the Australians with their backs against the wall.

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