India 132 for 4 (Sharma 49*, Jonassen 2-24) beat Australia 115 (Healy 51, Yadav 4-19, Pandey 3-14) by 17 runs
A bewitching spell of wrist-spin bowling from Poonam Yadav sank Australia on the opening night of the T20 World Cup at the Sydney Showgrounds, underlining India's status as genuine contenders to win a tournament that has heaped untold pressure on the world No. 1-ranked hosts.
In front of a crowd of 13,432 - the best for a standalone women's cricket match in Australia - the Indians began with familiar bombast at the top of the order before the loss of three wickets for six runs lowered their expectations. Deepti Sharma was not daunted, reverting to plan B of running as many singles as possible and guiding India to a competitive 132.
While Alyssa Healy made a much-needed return to runs and confidence at the top of the Australian order, the rest struggled for timing on a slow, dry surface that proved to be ideally suited to Yadav's art. A legbreak and three wrong'uns delivered her the wondrous figures of 4 for 19, and with the strong support of Shikha Pandey, Australia were confounded. Having entered 2020 as the world's undisputed T20 dominators, the hosts have now lost three games out of six and are no guarantee to make the semi-finals.
India boom, then bust
If it was a surprise to see Molly Strano go from missing Australia's World Cup squad to bowling the first ball of the tournament a couple days after she was a late inclusion for the injured Tayla Vlaeminck. India's top-order approach after blocking out the offspinner's exploratory first over was not.
After she was dropped by Strano at midwicket, Smriti Mandhana found the boundary off Ellyse Perry, and Shafali Verma found her range against Megan Schutt, pinging four boundaries as the Indians vaulted to 0 for 40 from four overs.
The Australians knew they needed to maintain composure, and did so through the intervention of the in-form Jess Jonassen, who pinned Mandhana lbw on the slog sweep and was later to be the beneficiary of a foolhardy dance down the pitch by a keyed-up Harmanpreet Kaur and then a fortuitous stumping as the ball rebounded off Healy's pads. That after Verma had pulled her 15th ball straight to mid-on off Perry to depart for 29 off just 15 balls. Three wickets down for six in 15 balls made the rest of the innings a salvage job.
Sharma keeps her cool
A decidedly sluggish surface at the Sydney Showgrounds recalled some of the desperately slow pitches the Sydney Thunder men's team had played on at the neighbouring Sydney Olympic Stadium in the early years of the Big Bash League. This meant that it was fiendishly difficult to force the pace against anything but the longest of half-volleys, something Sharma recognised as she sought to pull the innings back from the brink.
Singles were the order of the day, and Sharma was to collect no fewer than 29 of them in her sturdy, unbeaten 49. She received useful support from Jemimah Rodrigues, who had been reprieved from an early lbw decision in Perry's favour when a review showed the ball sliding past leg stump, and scored 24 runs in singles herself. So while a tally of three boundaries in the final 16 overs of the innings sounds paltry, the approach at least meant that India could reach a couple of runs beyond the average T20I score at the venue.
Healy turns a corner
Nine, one, duck, one, four, nine. That sequence of six sickly innings represented Healy's run into the T20 World Cup, and left her team hoping as much as expecting that she would be "due" for a big score when the main event began. The fact that the long build-up was finally over had to help Healy's mind, and she was soon back into the sort of stride that had seen her win the Player of the Tournament in the Caribbean in 2018 and also take out the T20 and ODI Player of the Year trophies at the Australian Cricket Awards earlier this month.
Healy's power down the ground, along with some deft touch on the cut and glide past short third man, put India's bowlers on the back foot quickly, and also saw the return to some Australian batting line-up permutations that had not been needed so long as she kept being the first out for her team. Meg Lanning came in at No. 3 in place of Ashleigh Gardner when Beth Mooney cut to backward point, and Rachael Haynes replaced Lanning when she was beaten wonderfully in flight by Rajeshwari Gayakwad.
Australia were comfortably placed if not quite dominant when Yadav entered the attack, having not played at all in the triangular series before the Cup proper. Her high, looping legbreaks and googlies provide a tantalising sight for opponents and spectators alike, and Healy was soon teased into a return catch. That was nothing, though, on the sequence of googlies Yadav would present to the middle-order. Haynes was beaten and comfortably stumped, Perry even more comprehensively bowled first ball, and Jonassen's edge was only millimetres too thick to allow Taniya Bhatia to hang on to.
Nevertheless, another wrong'un soon claimed a slighter deflection and a safe catch for Bhatia, giving Yadav the figures of 4 for 15 from three overs and India control of the contest. More smart work from Bhatia saw Annabel Sutherland stumped off Pandey, and when Harmanpreet brought Yadav back, only the quirk of a second bouncing short ball denied her a fifth wicket. Australia had needed 75 off 66 balls with eight wickets in hand when Yadav came on. By the time she was done, the equation was 28 from 12 with three in hand: the game-changer without doubt.