Tahlia McGrath of Australia celebrates the wicket of Maddy Green. Photo / Photosport
The White Ferns have blown one chance to beat Australia, and now they have to fight to ensure they get another.
An embarrassing 141-run defeat in their World Cup clash in Wellington has not only dented their title aspirations, but also significantly downplays the opportunity that slipped out of the Ferns’ grasp.
The Kiwis were brilliant for the first 25 overs then awful for the next 55, having Australia at 97-3 at the halfway mark, only for the visitors to first rebuild, then emphatically blast their way to 269-8, and finish off the turnaround by reducing the Ferns top order to rabble at 35-5.
And so what could have been a fantastic victory turned into a challenging chase and then a disastrous defeat, being rolled for 128 in 30.2 overs, leaving the White Ferns holding a 2-2 record with three games to go, and seeing their net run rate tumble.
That tiebreaker could yet be crucial, with the Ferns in a clump of four teams sitting behind the 3-0 Australians with two wins, while the 0-2 English are likely to fight back into the mix with their easier schedule incoming.
The Ferns will likely need to win two of their final three games against South Africa, England and Pakistan to advance to the semifinals, and avoiding Australia if they get there should now be a priority.
This was their 13th straight ODI defeat to the transtasman foe, and unlucky number 13 would have been particularly dispiriting given how well they played to start, and how irrelevant that strong start proved to be.
If these two sides meet again in the knockout rounds, it’s hard to envision New Zealand managing to dismiss Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney all without passing 30, but Australia are overflowing with talent, and Ellyse Perry and Tahlia McGrath dug them out of a hole at 113-4.
The pair added 101 runs off 98 balls, with Perry slowly reviving the innings with 68 off 86, while McGrath started watchfully with just five runs from her first 16 balls, but ended with a vital 57 off 56.
New Zealand’s bowlers that had been so economical to start began to leak runs as pressure built, and Australia reached 164-4 after 40 overs before unleashing.
The 41st over from Hayley Jansen went for 20, and Perry and McGrath were swinging freely in the knowledge they had the best finisher in women’s cricket waiting to come in.
When Perry departed for five overs to go, at 214-5, in came that finisher – Ashleigh Gardner.
Five overs later, the destructive right-hander walked back off unbeaten, having smacked a glorious 48 off 18 balls that featured some sumptuous shots mixed with pure power.
No New Zealand bowler was safe as 105 runs came off the last 10 overs, 55 off the last five and 30 off the last two, with Gardner, playing her first match since recovering from Covid-19, smiting the last ball for six to complete a superb fightback.
Lea Tahuhu ended with 3-53 off nine overs, while Amelia Kerr (1-42 off nine), Jess Kerr (0-34 off eight) and Frankie Mackay (1-34 off seven) were all tidy, but egregiously none of them reached their full 10-over allotment in a poor calculation from skipper Sophie Devine.
Ultimately though, it didn’t matter.
After a solid opening four overs, Perry broke through Devine’s defences, and from 22-0 the Ferns tumbled to 35-5.
Amelia Kerr was sent packing for one by a stellar one-handed grab by Mooney at second slip, Suzie Bates popped up an attempted pull harmlessly to midwicket, Maddy Green was caught behind and Mackay was trapped lbw.
Amy Satterthwaite was the only resistance with a scrappy 44 as the Ferns’ collapse doubled as a warning to every team – good luck beating Australia.