India Women 3 for 177 (Mandhana 55, Verma 49, Rodrigues 30) beat Australia Women 5 for 173 (Gardner 93, Lanning 37, Deepti 2-27) by seven wickets
A stunning innings by the 16-year-old wunderkind Shafali Verma launched India Women on the way to a dramatic victory over the T20 World Cup favourites Australia. In doing so they announced their genuine candidacy for the global tournament and also ensured the hosts need to beat England at the Junction Oval on Sunday to qualify for the final of the triangular series that is proving to be a bruising warm-up for the event.
Verma's 49 off 28 balls, combined with a calming 55 off 48 from her opening partner Smriti Mandhana, were the difference as India ran down Australia's 5 for 173 with two balls to spare. The hosts had appeared well-placed at the innings break after Ashleigh Gardner's powerful 93 off 57 balls with support from Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney, but a halting last few overs proved costly as India went on the charge from the very first over of their chase.
With Verma batting fearlessly and Mandhana providing key support, there was further support from Jemimah Rodrigues, before captain Harmanpreet Kaur and Deepti Sharma helped India to their highest successful chase in the format. With two losses in three T20Is, this is the first time the Australians have struggled to this extent since 2017 when they lost four out of five.
Gardner builds after first over dramas
Late-comers to the Junction Oval missed a dramatic start to the afternoon as Alyssa Healy's survival of a missed stumping cost India precisely one ball. Deepti's offbreak lured Healy down the pitch out of what seemed idle curiosity as much as intent to score, and a lack of turn saw the ball pass the bat. But Taniya Bhatia was unable to collect the ball cleanly, allowing Healy to scramble back into her crease and reset - for a moment.
The very next delivery was dragged down short, only to be tugged straight to midwicket by Healy as India celebrated their good fortune. Gardner walked out to join Beth Mooney, and there were a few more nervy moments as a few lofted shots landed just out of reach of the fielders. These near-misses soon gave way to cleaner blows as Gardner unfurled her power game in the fashion that has prompted Australia to use her at No. 3. Mooney was content to rotate the strike, and when she perished to a Harleen Deol full-toss, Meg Lanning offered similar support, albeit speckled with a few more boundaries.
Haynes, Perry splutter at the finish
India's fielding display was far from the standard required, exemplified by the missed stumping to start with and several other clear missed chances besides. Gardner made merry as a result, piling up 11 boundaries and three sixes while adding 62 in 47 balls with Mooney and then a whip-cracking 79 in 42 balls with Lanning. That stand meant that the Australians looked ready to launch at 2 for 141 with 29 balls remaining, but the exits of Lanning for 37 and then Gardner, much to her chagrin, for 93, signalled a loss of acceleration.
Ellyse Perry and Rachael Haynes added 22 together but took 19 balls to do it, even with one mighty six from Perry in the final over bowled by Rajeshwari Gayakwad. They also survived another Indian fielding muck-up, this time a comedy of errors when it appeared easier to run out one of Perry or Haynes than neither. In the end, Perry was lbw when she moved too far across the stumps on the penultimate ball of the innings.
Verma's shots heard round the world
On what had dried out into a beautiful batting pitch, the tourists had a chance provided they got a swift start. "Swift" proved to be too mild an adjective for the hurricane that was Verma, who took a hyper-aggressive approach from the very first over of the chase and was rewarded with a series of boundaries. The opening overs read like a list of cricket teams and squads: 11, 12, 11, 14 and 14 meaning the powerplay was to be worth 70 and the target drastically reduced.
Verma's fearlessness and sharp eye were complemented perfectly by Mandhana, who found her own occasional boundary in between plenty of singles and alert running between the wickets. Some formidable Australia bowlers - Jess Jonassen, Megan Schutt and Perry - were momentarily humbled by Verma, and captain Lanning was left looking far and wide for bowling options. No fewer than seven bowlers were to be tried, but it was Perry who snared Verma for a breathless 49 from 28 balls to pull Australia back into the contest.
Tourists hold nerve for victory
In Verma's slipstream, Rodrigues kept scoring at the required tempo with her own sparkling contribution, adding 37 with Mandhana with only a slight dip in the run rate after the opening stand of 85 in 50 balls. When Rodrigues did err, offering a thin edge behind to Healy off Schutt, Harmanpreet provided plenty of experience and poise to the pursuit as Mandhana reached a meritorious half-century.
With 16 still required off 12 balls, a tight over from Nicola Carey could have turned the game towards Australia. But although she managed to win an lbw verdict against Mandhana, two fours including one swatted between mid-on and midwicket by Deepti off Carey's final ball meant only four remained to be collected from the final over. Harmanpreet and Deepti kept their heads for a rousing win. The World Cup race is widening by the day.