Ashleigh Gardner’s unbeaten score of 52 helped Australia upset India by three wickets in the opening Group A match of the women’s T20 competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games at Edgbaston, despite pacer Renuka Thakur’s devastating spell of 4/18.
Renuka’s spectacular opening burst eliminated Australia’s top four after skipper Harmanpreet Kaur hammered 52 off 34 balls and opener Shafali Verma chipped in with a 33-ball 48 for India to make 154-8. At 49-5 and needing 89 runs off the final ten overs, Australia was in serious difficulty after Rachael Haynes was removed by Deepti Sharma (2-26).
But Ashleigh put together partnerships of 51 with Grace Harris (37 off 20 balls) and 47 with Alana King (18 not out) to remain unbeaten at 52 off 35 balls. Under pressure, she blasted nine boundaries to lead Australia to a decisive victory in the multi-sport competition and mark the return of cricket. Apart from Renuka and Deepti, the rest of the Indian bowling attack had a bad day, which also benefited them.
Alyssa Healy was forced to poke at a full delivery outside the off-stump and nicked to first slip as a result of Renuka’s chaos, which started with the second ball of the innings. She persuaded Meg Lanning to cut a short, wide ball in her subsequent over, and it dipped a little before being collected by a forward diving backward point.
Beth Mooney attempted to cut behind point four balls later but ended up cutting on to her stumps. Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s left-arm spin was met with three boundaries from Tahlia McGrath. But Australia was reduced to 34-4 in 4.1 overs as Renuka struck her out with an inswinger and rattled the stumps through the gate.
Soon after Haynes attempted to go inside-out over cover, the total changed to 49/5. However, Deepti’s tip managed to catch the thick outside edge. Grace had different plans in mind because half of the side was still in the pavilion.
Grace, who was batting in a T20I for the first time since March 2016, blended pure power and clean hitting to smash five fours and two sixes against the spin of Deepti, Rajeshwari, and Radha Yadav. In a 51-run partnership for the sixth wicket, she was well-supported by Ashleigh Gardner, who took two boundaries off Meghna Singh, who was making her debut.
Grace attempted to go big over cover but was caught when Harmanpreet took a reverse-cup catch off Meghna’s bowling while sprinting to her left from near mid-off. It appeared that India was cruising to victory as Deepti took advantage of a good caught and bowled opportunity to get rid of Jess Jonassen.
In contrast, Ashleigh took advantage of some subpar bowling in the final five overs by comfortably hitting boundaries off Radha and Meghna. When Australia was on the verge of losing, Alana helped them pull off the victory by slogging through mid-wicket to complete the chase and score her sixth T20I fifty.
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