Magnificent Meg stars in a thriller as Australia become first side to qualify for knock outs

Shajin Mohanan S
19 Mar 2022
Magnificent Meg stars in a thriller as Australia become first side to qualify for knock outs

Alyssa Healy (L) and Meg Lanning (R) © Getty Images

Australia continued to march on as they build another winning streak - currently at eight matches after the solitary loss against India - as their World Cup 2022 campaign progress without any hiccups. On Saturday (March 19), they chased down a record target - the highest in the history of World Cup - against India at the Eden Park in Auckland to become the first side to qualify for the semi-final.

Chasing 278 for a win, Meg Lanning guided the chase with brilliant 97 after Alyssa Healy hit a quick fire fifty to keep Australia on track of the target. Despite a small rain-delay and a couple of wickets, Australia made sure that they were on the right side of the result as they reached home with three balls to spare. Earlier, fifties from Yastika Bhatia, Mithali Raj, and Harmanpreet Kaur helped India post a competitive total.

Healy and Haynes show

Healy and Rachael Haynes got Australia off to a whirlwind start to kick off the chase. India were guilty of providing a lot of width on both sides of the wickets to the openers and leaked runs in the power play. Nine boundaries were hit during this period with Healy, in particular, scoring 42 off the 35 balls.

Healy peppered the off-side hitting both Jhulan Goswami and Meghna Singh for three boundaries each. The wicketkeeper-batter got to her fifty from 49 balls and continued on her merry ways sweeping Rajeshwari Gayakwad out of the attack.

Left-handed Haynes was solid at the crease and let Healy take the limelight early on before hitting Gayakwad for her first boundary. She found another four off the left-arm spinner and then hit Pooja Vastrakar and Singh to the fence.

The duo added 121 in 19.1 overs to keep Australia on track in the chase.

Twin strikes

Time was running out for India when Rana struck to remove the dangerous Healy in the 20th over. The opener went for a reverse sweep and was safely caught by Mithali Raj at third for a magnificent 72 off 65 balls.

In the next over, Vastrakar got the better of Haynes with a bouncer as the left-hander was crammed for room and nicked it behind the stumps.

ALSO READ: Rachael Haynes: The crisis negotiator

Safe as houses

At 123 for 2, Australia had the services of Lanning and Ellyse Perry and the experienced duo didn’t disappoint. Lanning started with a drive off Rana before cutting Vastrakar for another four. She was severe on Singh and hit her for four boundaries on the way to a fifty off just 56 balls.

Perry, on the other hand, was happy to play the second fiddle even as Lanning tore into Indian bowlers with cuts and sweeps. The duo continued to build on the start given by the openers and made sure that they were always in control of the chase.

Century partnership and the arrival of rain

According to the forecasts, the rain was expected to brace Auckland and threaten most of the match. However, by the time it eventually came, Australia were well ahead of the DLS target. But not before Lanning and Perry reached their 100-run stand without ever looking under any pressure.

Post rain-break wobbles and eventual exciting finish

When Australia came back on to the field, Vastrakar removed Perry as the batter hit it straight it to Raj at mid-off. But Lanning and Beth Mooney looked like they would knock off the runs with any further trouble. However, the game got more closer than Australia envisaged when Lanning was dismissed for 97. Mooney kept her cool and hit Goswami for a couple of boundaries in the final over.

Shafali in, Deepti out

Earlier, having had an up and down series with the bat, India once again resorted to changing the order to find answer for their woes. Yastika Bhatia was moved down the order to number three, while Deepti Sharma, who batted at three and four so far in the tournament, was dropped from the playing XI. But the big news was that of the return of big hitting Shafali Verma.

India lost in-form Smriti Mandhana early in the fourth over. At the other end, Verma eventually got going against Megan Schutt after scoring two off her first 11 balls. She thumped her down the ground for a maximum before guiding the ball through third for another four.

However, the promising beginning was cut short by a good catch by Beth Mooney at gully.

Brown show part two

Darcie Brown bowled full and got the ball to swing against New Zealand in her match-winning performance in Wellington. There was no let up against India either, as she drew Mandhana in to the drive and was caught by Lanning at slip for just ten.

Despite Verma getting stuck into Schutt’s fuller deliveries, Brown didn’t alter her length and tried to extract whatever swing that was on offer.  The pacer also used the bouncer sparingly, which forced Verma to back away from the stumps and play on through gully. Although she received good assistance from Mooney, it was once again down to Brown’s plan coming to fruition.

ALSO READ: Darcie Brown: Not just another tearaway fast bowler

Young Yastika impresses

Bhatia has had to move around the batting order in her short career of eleven ODIs until now. Back at number three after opening the innings in three matches, Bhatia started cautiously scoring only five off her first 15 balls. Eventually she got her first boundary when she cut Schutt past point in the ninth over.

The southpaw then guided Perry to fine-leg for a four with the allrounder struggling to find the radar in the opening over. Bhatia’s third boundary took some time coming when she on drove Tahlia McGrath to end the 24th over.

Bhatia reached her second fifty – second from as many matches against Australia – in the format from 77 balls when cut Ashleigh Gardner through backward-point.

Raj and Bhatia recovery act

Walking in at 28 for 2, Raj battled her indifferent form and testing spells from the Australia bowlers. She didn’t let the lack of runs affect her concentration and took her time to resurrect India’s innings. With Bhatia staying strong at the other end, Raj finally hit her first boundary in the 15th over off Jess Jonassen.

Raj used her feat against Jonassen and Gardner to get the scorecard moving. Once the duo took India to safety with a 100-run partnership, skipper came down the track to hit Jonassen over her head for a six. Raj got to her 70th fifty plus score off 77 balls.

Familiar collapse

With the third wicket partnership adding 130 runs, Australia brought back Brown in search of a breakthrough and the 19-year-old didn’t disappoint. Post her fifty, Bhatia was looking dangerous as she took on Gardner to hit another boundary. The left-hander stepped down the track in an attempt to hit the pacer through the off-side and was caught by Perry.

From 158 for 3, India slipped to 212 for 6 with Raj, Richa Ghosh, and Rana getting out in quick succession. Spinners Jonassen and Alana King ruled this period as they restricted Indian batters from finding boundaries at regular intervals.

Kaur and Vastrakar finish strong

Kaur was in her element right from the start, after playing herself in, she pulled out the sweeps against King either side of Raj’s dismissal. India vice-captain didn’t let the fall of wickets at the other end affect her. She added two more boundaries with McGrath bowling full tosses down the leg-side.

Kaur finally found some company in Vastrakar and the pair took 17 runs from King’s final over. Kaur reached her third fifty of World Cup 2022 from 42 balls. At the other end, Vastrakar smashed her second six off Schutt and India finished on 277 for 6 from the stipulated 50 overs.

Brown didn’t complete her quota of overs and was the best bowler on display with three wickets for 30.

Brief Scores: India 277/6 in 50 overs (Mithali Raj 68, Yastika Bhatia 59, Harmanpreet Kaur 57*; Darcie Brown 3/30) lost to Australia 280/4  in 49.3 overs (Meg Lanning 97, Alyssa Healy 72; Pooja Vastrakar 2/43) by 6 wickets.