It was the fifth over of the first innings in the first semi-final between West Indies and Australia at the Sir Viv Richards stadium in Antigua. West Indies got what they wanted – bowling first. Australia got what they wanted, as they would have batted first anyway.
Shakera Selman ran in and bowled a harmless good-length delivery at her medium pace. The ball landed on the pitch (that would go on to become a talking point through the day) and took its own sweet time to reach Meg Lanning. The Australia captain broke into a wide smile, as if wondering “well, that took forever.”
You knew at that instant that the pitch was not going to produce a high-scoring encounter. There were hints before then as well, when Beth Mooney chipped one to mid-off while trying to hit through the line.
Lanning took just a ball or two to realise this was not a pitch filled with runs. After promoting herself to number three, her first three runs were all drop-and-take-off singles. In her mind, she had re-calibrated the radar.
As did Alyssa Healy. The belligerent Aussie opener tried clearing the infield inside the Powerplay but soon after resorted to taking singles and doubles. The boundaries she found after the first four overs were all behind square. A reverse sweep past short-third, a conventional sweep,
This was Australia at their tactical best. For a team that scores at over nine runs per over in T20 internationals, the first six overs yielded 35 runs but crucially, just one wicket lost – 35/1 was Australia’s lowest Powerplay total of the tournament, but, crucially, the highest by any side against West Indies at the the tournament so far.
Healy and Lanning went about adding 51 runs for the second wicket, setting a platform for the lower order to finish with a flourish – well, as much as possible on this pitch.
Stark contrast to India
That batting effort was in stark contrast to India’s in the second semi-final of the day when, if anything, the pitch had gotten slower. Smriti Mandhana came out swinging in the Powerplay and did connect with a fair few but her dismissal off the last ball of the sixth over meant she was back in the pavilion with 14 overs still left in the match.
For a couple of overs, it looked like Jemimah Rodrigues and Harmanpreet Kaur had tried to adapt the Lanning-Healy approach but the former’s run-out (that came just a few deliveries after she had hit a couple of boundaries) threw the brakes on the innings.
That was another cue for Harmanpreet to make sure she buckled down and batted through. But, in an error of judgement, she went for a big shot off Kirstie Gordon, without getting to the pitch of the ball – in the very over that Veda Krishnamurthy had thrown her wicket away – and had to walk back.
India’s inexperienced middle order was exposed. Where Australia could fall on the experience of Rachel Haynes (who played a match-winning cameo in the end – 25 off 15 balls, four boundaries, strike rate 166.66) and Ellyse Perry, India were left with newcomers who, for some reason, thought they could step down and clear the boundary when Harmanpreet couldn’t.
Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Healy, the Player of the Match for the fourth time in this tournament, summed it up perfectly. “I think it was one tricky wicket out there, and the way we just fought, fought really hard with the bat. And the ball was just executed again and again. Really proud of that win. That meant a lot to the group,” she said after the match.
“We could not just swing through the line like I have been in the last sort of six weeks. So it was – that left a bit of fluff, I like to call it, on top of the wicket, and just sort of gripping the ball and made it quite tricky for the batters.
So you really had to play smart, and we’ll take a lot out of that going into the final.”
Smart cricket. That’s exactly where the Indian batting lineup faltered badly, despite having a template laid out to them by the Aussie batting line-up hours before. We can sit and debate whether Mithali Raj would have made the difference (for what it’s worth, Lanning’s 39-ball 31 is the kind of innings that the Indian veteran could have played) but the fact remains that the players selected to to do a job failed to learn as quickly as Australia did. They paid the price for some head-less cricket.
In a World T20 semi-final, it proved to be too costly for India while Australia marched into their fifth consecutive final.