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Gardner the hero as Aussies recover from early collapse to trump India




Australia’s Commonwealth Games campaign is off to a winning start – but not without a major scare from India.

Reduced to 5/49 chasing 154 after a stunning early spell from Indian quick Renuka Singh Thakur, it fell to Ash Gardner to see the Aussies home, producing an unbeaten 52 to reel in the target with three wickets and six balls to spare.

Gardner, playing the calm hand in a match-turning 51-run partnership with the explosive Grace Harris (37 off 20 balls) would fittingly be there for the end as an Alana King boundary confirmed the result.

After India won the toss and elected to bat, there was no room for Ellyse Perry in Meg Lanning’s selected XI – a surefire sign of the strength of the side.

However, Indian star Shafali Verma’s steady-handed 48 at the top of the order prove a difficult obstacle, with India reaching 68 for the loss of only one wicket.

With captain Harmanpreet Kaur bringing up a half-century herself to steer them to a competitive total, early wickets were few and far between, keeper Yastika Bhatia’s disastrous run-out one of the only openings for the Aussies.

Jess Jonassen stepped up to the plate just when a big score threatened, picking up Verma as part of a wily middle-overs spell that netted her four wickets at a cost of just 22 runs.

With Alana King’s leg-spin targeted by the Indians, Kaur in particular, the experienced left-armer’s loopy flight would prove too difficult for the batters to get away without risk – until the captain dealt a seismic blow with Jonassen’s final ball of the day.

With Kaur swinging for the fences, death bowler Meghan Schutt did well to restrict India to just seven for the final over, picking up the wickets of Kaur and Meghna Singh with the final two balls of the innings: but a target of 155 presented Australia with their biggest run-chase since running down England’s 169 for the loss of just one wicket earlier this year.

Given that, and having not lost a T20I match since March 2021, Australia would have been confident of chasing down any total: but a devastating opening spell from Thakur quickly set nerves jangling in the favourites’ camp.

Continuing Alyssa Healy’s miserable run of form via an edge to slip for a second-ball duck, Thakur would rip the heart out of the Aussie engine room. First, Lanning fell cutting a loose wide ball straight to point; if that ball won’t exactly make any highlights reels, the one that castled Tahlia McGrath shortly after will be hard to beat for the ball of the tournament.

With figures of 4/8 after just 13 balls of her spell, Gardner and Rachel Haynes resorted to seeing Thakur off, only for the latter to fall trying to up the run rate, skying a catch looking to deposit Deepti Sharma over cover.

If a 5/49 scoreline deterred the incoming Harris, she didn’t show it: an emphatic cut for four off her second ball showed the Aussies weren’t about to wilt under the heat.

Harris then took a liking to the left-arm spin of Radha Yadav, depositing the 22-year old back over her head for a pair of sixes in quick succession to continue the charge.

But when Kaur took a wonderful catch to remove her for a vital 37, the Aussies were still 55 runs shy of the target and needing almost eight runs per over – and it climbed even further when Jonassen fell to another blinder, this time from Sharma off her own bowling.

With Gardner still playing the anchor role, King played aggressor: lamping Meghna Singh for consecutive boundaries in the 17th over at a time of great need. With Gardner joining the party with her own boundary off the final ball of a 15-run over, the target was down to a manageable 21 off 18.

From there, Gardner took control: having compiled 30 runs off her first 26 balls, she’d need just eight more to bring up her half-century, driving Sharma through the covers.

It fell to King to do the honours; with two runs to win, an ungainly heave to the leg side produced the game-winning boundary. Australia, not for the first time in recent history, had got out of jail.

The Aussies are hoping to best the men’s team’s effort of a Commonwealth Games silver medal at the 1998 tournament.





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