Ashleigh Gardner, Megan Schutt hand Australia a comfortable win in first T20I

Ashleigh Gardner in action. © Getty Images

A brilliant half-century from Ashleigh Gardner and Megan Schutt’s four-wicket-haul ensured a 17-run win for Australia in the first T20I against New Zealand at the Allan Border Field in Brisbane on Saturday (September 26) to mark their return to international cricket after the T20 World Cup.

When the hosts were stuttering at 93 for 5 at the end of 16th over, Gardner’s late flourish with the bat helped the team reach a competitive total of 138 for 6. Consistent bowling by Australia’s pacers made sure that the visitors fell short of the total. Schutt, in particular, was the pick of the lot as she took 4 for 23 in her four overs.

Having been put into bat by Sophie Devine, the Australian openers struggled to get their timing right. In the initial overs, they looked a bit rusty. Beth Mooney, who was the player of the tournament in the T20 World Cup, had a hard time putting bat to ball, and was eventually caught at mid-off trying to loft Rosemary Mair over the inner-circle. Alyssa Healy, too, found it difficult to hit through the line as the pitch was two-paced and the ball was holding up a little. The aggressive batter was caught at cover off the bowling of Devine when she tried to smash a length delivery that appeared to rear off a length.

With her side in a bit of strife, it was Aussie skipper Meg Lanning who hit back-to-back boundaries off Lea Tahuhu in the third over to get the innings going. The first one was a short-ball pulled comfortably through square-leg, before Tahuhu over-compensated with a fuller delivery that Lanning flicked over the mid-wicket for a boundary.

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Joined by Rachael Haynes in the fifth over, Lanning tried to forge a partnership with the left-hander. Just when the duo started to build one, Devine brought back Tahuhu to dismiss her counterpart with a good-length delivery that held its line, took the edge and went through to the ‘keeper.

Haynes, who had a good warm-up game earlier this week, took the lead, and Gardner was happy to play second fiddle. The 33-year-old added 35 runs in 30 balls with Gardner, and New Zealand’s lapses in the field helped them a bit.

Devine took it on herself to break the partnership, and she dismissed both Haynes and Sophie Molineux in the same over. Haynes miscued a hoick across the line from outside off-stump, and Molineux had a brain freeze moment, playing a half-hearted lofted shot into the hands of the mid-off fielder.

With only four overs left in the innings, Gardner switched modes and smashed Amelia Kerr for two massive sixes over mid-wicket into the wind. In the next over, she made some room and hit over the cover and through point for back-to-back boundaries. She went after the bowlers in the direction of the breeze was flowing, and reached her third half-century in just 37 balls. She was eventually dismissed for a 41-ball 61 in the 19th over. Her onslaught saw Australia collect 45 runs in the last four overs.

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Chasing 139, New Zealand tried a new opening combination in Maddy Green and Devine, and they did not get the kind of start the team would have wanted. Lanning brought the spinners into action right away in an attempt not to give the New Zealand batters any pace to work with. Jess Jonassen and Molineux bowled an over each in the powerplay, and they were successful in keeping the batters quiet.

Megan Schutt picked up from where she left off in March, taking four wicket. © ICC

Though Devine managed to find the boundary on the odd occasion – including a massive six off Schutt over mid-wicket – Green could not provide ample support. She perished trying to flick Delissa Kimmince with a closed bat; the ball held-up a little, took the leading edge and she was caught at short mid-wicket.

With Suzie Bates at the other end, Devine tried to up the run rate. However, she wasn’t able to get the boundaries they needed. Having seen how the pitch behaved, the Australian bowlers varied the pace consistently and kept the batters guessing. Devine got out for a 34-ball 29 when she was stumped by Alyssa Healy, who covered the down-the-leg delivery from Kimmince brilliantly and knocked off the bails.

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Amy Satterthwaite, who was making a comeback after the birth of her first child, did not have a great match with the bat. Healy was at it again as she took a brilliant catch off Satterthwaite’s reverse sweep. Bates, who was joined by Katey Martin, tried to take the chase deep into the innings.

The pair added 41 runs in the next 29 balls. Martin, in particular, was the aggressor in the partnership. She made a 16-ball 21 before she got out trying to hit Schutt over cover. Two balls later, Bates followed her with a 38-ball 33 as she was caught at mid-off in the same over.

The right-arm seamer used brilliant changes of pace at the back end of the innings, to snuff out any hope New Zealand may have had. She dismissed both set batters when the team needed a breakthrough, and then came back to take two more wickets in the last over of the innings, keeping New Zealand to 121/7.

Brief Scores: Australia 138/6 in 20 overs (Ashleigh Gardner 61, Rachael Haynes 23; Sophie Devine 3/18) beat New Zealand 121/7 in 20 overs (Suzie Bates 33, Sophie Devine 29; Megan Schutt 4/23) by 19 runs.

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