MATCH REPORT: Australia v New Zealand
The most hotly anticipated game of this World Cup so far lived up to its billing, as Australia ended a thrilling chase against New Zealand at Bristol with a 5-wicket win, but with just 8 balls remaining.
Chasing 220, Australia were cruising at the halfway stage at 100-2, until 2 wickets in 2 balls from 16-year-old Amelia Kerr in the 34th over put the pressure firmly back on the chasing side.
Ellyse Perry (71) and Alex Blackwell (36*), though, ultimately came together in a 76-run partnership to finish the job for Australia.
It had all started so well for the Kiwis, as a runs-hungry Suzie Bates - playing in her 100th ODI - looked to punish the shorter deliveries from Perry and Megan Schutt early on.
Her opening partner Rachel Priest struggled to get going, waiting until the 6th over to get off the mark with a single through the leg side. She duly became Amanda-Jade Wellington’s first World Cup wicket, walking off with just 8 runs (from 30 balls) to her name.
But that brought Amy Satterthwaite to the crease, and while the world’s number 3-ranked batsman looked unusually out of sorts, having to rely on singles and overthrows to accumulate her 21 runs, she provided good support for Bates, who moved swiftly onto her 23rd ODI 50 (71 balls).
At 85-1 after 22 overs the pair had laid a good foundation, but the introduction of Jess Jonassen to the attack proved disastrous. Her second over of the day saw her trap Satterthwaite LBW and, two balls later, dismiss Katey Martin caught behind - both deceived by the moving ball.
Bates (51) followed two overs later, failing to convert her half-century as Jonassen trapped her plumb in front with a straighter ball.
When Ashleigh Gardner then also removed Sophie Devine cheaply (14 off 30 balls), it left New Zealand 120-5 with 18 overs of their innings still remaining, and in a whole heap of trouble.
But a tremendous rearguard effort from Katie Perkins (52) and Erin Bermingham (35), who piled on a 49-run partnership - Perkins dispatching the ball to all corners of the boundary, and Bermingham deftly lofting the ball over the infield for 2s and 3s - somehow dragged New Zealand up to a competitive total, 33 runs coming off the last 5 overs.
In reply, Australia lost two wickets in the first 20 overs, as both Nicole Bolton (32) and Beth Mooney (26) struggled to keep up with the required rate. Meg Lanning and Perry, though, gradually became more expansive, both giving little hope to the New Zealand bowlers, with Lanning hitting the only six of the day against Bermingham, driving over long-on.
The wobble, when it came, was unexpected, with Kerr - who Lanning had successfully attacked earlier in the innings - removing Lanning and Villani with successive deliveries. What had seemed such a foregone conclusion now became a genuine contest, with Australia still needing 55 runs from the last 10 overs.
Blackwell, though, was the essence of calm from the time she strode to the crease, defending out Kerr’s hat-trick ball, stroking boundaries and rotating the strikes with ease. She eventually finished the match in the 49th over with a single pushed into the off-side, after Perry had departed the previous ball, slogging it straight to Satterthwaite at deep midwicket.
Australia now sit second in the points table behind India, with 3 wins from 3 games, and captain Meg Lanning said that she was pleased with the way things were progressing for her side:
“We’ve started off really well which is important in really big tournaments… We feel like different people are stepping up at different times.”
“All in all I’m pretty happy with the performance. The win was set up by our bowlers. We were able to take wickets at crucial times… There’s some things that we can still keep working on, but it’s nice to keep winning.”
Meanwhile Perry, who today brought up 2000 ODI runs, said that it had been a difficult chase:
“It was a tricky wicket to get in on and coupled with that New Zealand bowled really well. [Kerr’s over] definitely swung the momentum a bit."
"Chasing 5 an over you’re reasonably comfortable to a degree, but it was hard-going.”