Australia start favourites even as they sweat on the fitness of Ellyse Perry

Beth Mooney hits one through the on-side. © ICC

Reigning T20 World Cup champions Australia will return to cricketing action for the first time since their title triumph in March when they host New Zealand in the first game of the three-match T20I series on Saturday (September 26).

A lot has changed in cricket -and life in general – since that historic night at the MCG that saw a record crowd of 86,174 and cricket is slowing returning to normalcy amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All the matches will be played in a bio-secure environment at the Allan Border Field in Brisbane with a limited number of spectators allowed to attend – a first since the T20 World Cup final.

The last time these sides met was also at the T20 World Cup when Australia eliminated New Zealand in a virtual quarter-final with a four-run win. Ellyse Perry, who injured her hamstring during that match and subsequently underwent surgery, is a doubtful starter in the series opener having missed Thursday’s warm-up match as she continues her path to recovery. New Zealand will be bolstered by the return of former captain Amy Satterthwaite from her maternity leave. If the left-hander takes the field it will be her 100th T20I for New Zealand, making her only the second player from her team to reach the milstone.

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“I think it’s pretty special,” said Satterthwaite about the impending milestone. “It always just makes you reflect on your career so far and, I guess, what’s gone before. But I think [it’s] just really special to be able to have Grace here and to have my family here’s going to be nice on the day.”

Uncapped allrounder Maitlan Brown is the only new face in the 18-member Australian squad with Belinda Vakarewa and Tahlia McGrath marking their return as the two other additions to the T20 World Cup-winning side.

Sophie Devine-led New Zealand named a 17-member squad for the series with newcomer Deanna Doughty and allrounder Jess Watkin joining Satterthwaite. Leigh Kasperek, who is currently in UK, and Anna Peterson, who opted out for personal reasons, are the two players missing from their T20 World Cup campaign.

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Vice-captain Rachael Haynes, who scored 54 in the warm-up match, has said that Australia won’t be underestimating the prowess of the New Zealand side and expects them to be competitive in the series. “They have got a really strong team, and they are a pretty tricky opposition to come up against. They have got some really dangerous players in both formats,” said Haynes said during the media interaction after the warm-up game.

In the 40-over warm-up fixture, Australia emerged victorious defeating the visitors by 11 runs before New Zealand returned the favour in the practice super over with a five-run win. Allrounder Sophie Molineux was the star of the show hitting a fifty before taking five-wickets with the ball. Apart from Molineux and Haynes, Beth Mooney (80) was also among the runs for the home side. Devine led the side from the front with a valiant 73-ball 89 in the company of Satterthwaite (48), but couldn’t take her side past the 248-run target.

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Australia will go into the match as the favourites, like they have against most sides in the last few years, having won the last four encounters against their trans-Tasman rivals. Australia’s top-order consisting of Alyssa Healy, Mooney, and captain Meg Lanning would look to build on their good performance over the last couple of years and they will be hoping young Annabel Sutherland or McGrath can fill-in allrounder duties if Perry fails to be fit in time.

New Zealand will look to draw heavily on the experience of Satterthwaite, Devine, and Suzie Bates to challenge the number one ranked T20I side in the world. They also have two Brisbane Heat stars, who played a few matches at the Allan Border Field during WBBL05, Amelia Kerr and Maddy Green in their ranks who will be familiar with the conditions.

If past matches are anything to go by, conditions will be heavily in favour of the batters, and with plenty of big hitters in both line-ups, it will undoubtedly be a mouth-watering opening contest.

Squads:

Australia:  Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Maitlan Brown, Erin Burns, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry (subject to fitness), Megan Schutt, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham, Belinda Vakarewa.

New Zealand: Sophie Devine (c), Amy Satterthwaite (vc), Suzie Bates, Natalie Dodd, Deanna Doughty, Lauren Down, Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Amelia Kerr, Jess Kerr, Rosemary Mair, Katey Martin, Katie Perkins, Hannah Rowe, Lea Tahuhu, Jess Watkin.

Likely XI:

Australia: Alyssa Healy (wk), Beth Mooney, Ashleigh Gardner, Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes, Annabel Sutherland, Jess Jonassen, Nicola Carey, Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Megan Schutt

New Zealand: Jess Watkin, Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine (c), Amy Satterthwaite, Maddy Green, Katey Martin, Amelia Kerr, Hayley Jensen, Lea Tahuhu, Rosemary Mair, Deanna Doughty

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