By Ravi Nair in Mumbai
Australia (209-4) comprehensively beat England (152-9) by 57 runs
A phrase apocryphally attributed to Gary Player goes: “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.” An earlier version of the phrase attributes luck to knowledge, instead. Today Australia’s practice and experience came together to show that they deserved all the luck they got, as they comprehensively beat England, despite batting first.
England’s chase eventually fizzled out as they chased Australia’s record T20 score of 209, a total powered by an unbeaten 88 from Meg Lanning, who does not have an average in this tournament, having not been dismissed throughout.
But practice, and perfection, showed up most in the difference between the fielding of the two sides since, once the batters got their hitting hats on, the bowling often seemed irrelevant. Alas for England, their newest players, Bryony Smith and Alice Davidson-Richards, were responsible for most of England’s fielding lapses, giving away boundaries and, on one occasion, letting a catch through the hands that might have made a more substantial difference to the result. Smith, in particular, had a tournament to forget, with both these fielding slips, and her lack of runs, proving a weak point for this young and developing England side.
As per usual, Australia’s Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney opened positively and took advantage of England’s slightly slipshod fielding. Then Tash Farrant had a huge slice of luck as Mooney was judged out to a delivery that, upon reflection, was clearly missing the leg stump. Later in the over though, the umpire didn’t make the same mistake, recognising the movement she got and rejecting an LBW shout for a delivery of prodigious movement, bowled from outside leg, pitching on middle, and turning so sharply it was missing leg.
Ash Gardner took full advantage of her let-off to join Healy in a stand that helped set up Australia’s monstrous total. Farrant lost her line entirely when put in on only her second over against the two “set” bats (it’s OK to call a batter “set” once she’s faced six deliveries in a T20, right?)
Luckily Gunn, taking pace off the ball, but not guile, induced a top edge that did for Gardner, and then had Healy going far outside leg and cutting onto her own stumps. But that was the last consolation England had, with Lanning and Elyse Villani joining each other at the crease.
Villani clearly has talent, and has worked on it over the last few years, making the most of what she has and turning herself into a bat that Australia can rely on. This is not to say that Lanning doesn’t work hard: it is just that when Lanning plays she seems to define the notion of timing, of using the crease, of easily making the bowlers look impotent. And she does it all with a cold-eyed look that could, you imagine, outstare the sun itself.
She put the English fielders under even more pressure than before, scoring fours apparently at will, down the ground and square of the wicket. Her timing and placement are so good she doesn’t seem to need the “360 degree” tricks of players like Tammy Beaumont. She never needed to sweep, or ramp a delivery; why would you when you can cut, loft and pull the ball for four?
When Villani finally got the opportunity to join her and get her eye in, we saw a slightly more conventional T20 innings, with two reverse swept fours followed by a conventional one to take advantage of the hole made when the fielder moved from fine leg to deep third man. In short, for fans of runs, runs, runs, this was paradise.
Dani Hazell was standing in as England captain for Heather Knight, who has a hamstring twinge. Knight’s form has not been such this series to believe that England missed her runs, but they may have missed her presence in the field: after all, the only match in their tour that Australia have lost is when Lanning didn’t play and Haynes was in charge. No matter what bowling changes Hazell made, Lanning gave us a masterclass in clean, frustratingly good, scoring. Hazell used up, perforce, her “gun” bowlers, Sciver and Gunn, through the middle overs, not because they went for fewer runs, but because they at least had the experience to know when they were up against an irresistible force and treat bowling triumph and disaster just the same.
The match did not involve India, so the free-to-enter crowd in the North Stand was down to a few hundred, if that. But the BCCI had helpfully brought in a number of school age spectators on an outing who took up a substantial amount of the West Stand near the Pavilion, and ensured the game was not played out to lone voices shouting in the wilderness.
Lanning and Villani, between them, showed how to bat first and set a target, to the extent that, even though Villani was out right at the last, and Lanning wanted to push the score along so much she actually forgot herself and hit a six, they still reached a record 209, now the highest score ever in a women’s T20 international.
So England were up against it right from the start. Here is where practice, or experience at least, again showed the difference between the two sides. Danni Wyatt started off, as always, brightly, like an Energizer Bunny on a 9 volt battery. She reminds one of the indomitable Gauls who populate the Asterix comics: nothing can hold her down. Until, of course, the inevitable happened and a lofted drive that should have gone straight through mid-on and to the boundary, was actually clasped by a leaping Lanning. Yes, that woman again, who ensured Wyatt’s adventure was cut off after 34 runs from 17 deliveries.
Even before that England showed that luck was not on their side, any more than experience and, maybe, big-match temperament. In the very first over Wyatt sent back the hapless Bryony Smith, who could only lose her footing disastrously and watch on all fours, as though nailed to the pitch, as she was run out by a delighted Jess Jonassen for a diamond duck. Tammy Beaumont, attempting to be positive, was out to the first ball she faced, nicking off while attempting an expansive drive against Ellyse Perry, who may not have the pace she once had, but can never be taken lightly.
Once Wyatt was out it was all down to Nat Sciver. Or could Amy Jones, perhaps, prove up to the task as well? Jones seems to have modelled herself on Sarah Taylor, standing up to the stumps at every opportunity when keeping and also using drives and flicks along the ground to get her innings going. Unfortunately for her, and England, while this technique, using a closed face of the bat for the most part, is very useful in ODIs, it doesn’t always answer the questions asked by a T20 chase. Eventually, after an innings that showed she has the ability to improvise, and talent to boot, she fell trying to push the rate along in an increasingly desperate chase, metaphorically opening the face of the bat and falling to a top edge to Villani at fine leg as she attempted a paddle sweep.
Even Sciver was not in a position, single-handedly, to somehow make a realistic chase of it for England. Forced to keep running quick singles and twos as the sharp Australian fielding relentlessly cut off the boundaries, she was red in the face and puffing by the time she reached her deserved half century. She was out, immediately after, trying to score in boundaries so she didn’t have to run.
After that it was a regular procession of wickets, with the admirable and excellent Megan Schutt easily having the best of the match figures (3-14), as England’s chase slowly deflated and they wound up 57 runs short, with just one wicket in hand. Schutt, for what it is worth, has not been called upon to bat even once in this Australian campaign, such has been the dominance of their top and middle order bats.
Of Australia’s newer additions Sophie Molineux and Delissa Kimmince have both had some success in wicket-taking, but for the most part they haven’t yet shown that they are up to the standards set by Perry, Schutt and Gardner, among others. For England, Davidson-Richards and Smith will probably want to forget this tournament altogether.
Eventually the ability to keep a cool head and perhaps the luck that comes with practice, ensured a comfortable win for Australia. England shouldn’t feel disgraced, but they know it is going to take a lot more practice before they can get as “lucky” as Australia. In the meantime, three slightly less pressured ODIs against India beckon. For Australia, Lanning can bask in the glory of the Player-of-the-Match award, well deserved, and Schutt in the equally well-deserved Player-of-the-Tournament award. They earned it.