King Richards applauds as Lanning’s Australia dominate in Antigua

Sidhanta Patnaik
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King Richards applauds as Lanning’s Australia dominate in Antigua

Meg Lanning in action. ©ICC

The king was there. Antigua is his home, and the ground is named after him. The classy arrogance has not diminished a bit. He had rallied around his team to reach the final. It was not to be, but Sir Vivian Richards must have been mighty impressed with Australia’s ruthless dominance in the first semifinal of the World Twenty20 on Thursday (November 22). The completeness of Australia’s performance must have reminded Richards of his playing days when he used to rule the field of play with his swagger like kings do.

Meg Lanning may not be Richards yet, but no one comes close to her cold blooded attitude in the women’s game. Always clinical and poker-faced, she takes emotions and drama out of equation, barely letting out a smile even after the job is done. She prioritises effectiveness over anything else as a matter of duty.

Her infectious nature as a leader comes through in the way Australia play, like their situational awareness throughout the contest billed as a revenge game after Windies had beaten them in the 2016 World T20 final at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

Windies had their pockets of happiness in front of an almost full house – partly because of the local government announcing half-day holiday for its employees – backing them to come good. But Alyssa Healy, who became the player of the match for the fourth time in this tournament, Lanning herself, Rachel Haynes, Ellyse Perry and the entire Southern Stars unit was too hot to handle. Match awareness was the striking feature in Australia’s 71-run win.

Stafanie Taylor handed Australia an early advantage when she opted to chase on a surface where batting got difficult as the game progressed.

On a pitch that assisted slower bowlers and where batters found it challenging to score in front of the wicket, Taylor also erred by continuing to bench Anisa Mohammed, the off-spinner who is the highest wicket-taker in T20Is.

Healy had not batted against India in the last league match because of a concussion, and was fresh and raring to go. As is her wont, she led the way with the first boundary of the match. She lost Beth Mooney early, but Lanning’s decision to promote herself back to No.3 on realising that hitting through the line on this pitch was not easy proved crucial.

While Healy followed her aggressive instincts – sometimes hitting balls on the offside to the vacant region in the leg side – Lanning was more interested in tapping and running. Australia made only 35 in the first six overs – their lowest Power Play score in the competition – but it was just a sensible route taken by Healy and Lanning to set the platform for their batting depth to come good.

Australia were 53 for 1 at the end of the tenth over, with Lanning having survived a stumping and run out scare off consecutive deliveries, and one could sense a change in ploy around the corner. The first sign of shift in gear came in the second delivery of the 11th over when Healy went forward to Hayley Matthews, the off-spinner, before going back and guiding the ball behind the wicket for a four after 21 balls. By then both Healy and Lanning were completely in charge, fully conscious that one needed to be intelligent rather than arrogant while batting on this surface.

Healy started the next over from Afy Fletcher, the leg-spinner, with consecutive forceful reverse sweep and sweep to the fence on her way to become the first batter in this tournament to cross the 200-run mark.

She fell in that over going for another sweep for a 38-ball 46, but her second-wicket stand of 51 off 55 balls with Lanning had given Australia the push. Then when Ashleigh Gardner edged Matthews to the fence in the 13th over, the run-rate was back to six for the first time after 45 deliveries.

Both Lanning and Gardner targetted at the boundaries based on the field setting, and succeeded thrice in their 24-run stand. Lanning’s 39-ball 31 may not be her best, but was just the kind of smart approach that gave Australia the best chance to put up a defendable total. The value of Lanning’s knock magnified when Haynes walked out at the fall of the fourth wicket. She used the pace offered by Deandra Dottin in the 19th over to hit three fours. Dottin, who was erratic and bowled on both sides of the wicket, finished with 1 for 23 in her two overs. It was another difference between Windies chasing 143 and not a target at least ten runs lesser.

Windies started off well in their chase, but Healy’s cheeky run out to send back Matthews followed by Perry beating Dottin with her pace in a space of six deliveries pushed the home team back. Eventually Windies were dismissed for 71 in 17.3 overs. Australia were through to their fifth consecutive World T20 final, and Sir Vivian Richards stood to clap in appreciation.