Australia's stars align as Alyssa Healy fifty sets up thumping win
New Zealand blown away for 76, Ashleigh Gardner bags 5 for 12
Australia 173 for 9 (Healy 55, Lanning 41, Kerr 3-23) beat New Zealand 76 (Gardner 5-12, Schutt 2-8) by 97 runs
A total of five match-winners stepped up for Australia in their opening match of the T20 World Cup, as the defending champions began their pursuit of a sixth T20 title with a 97-run demolition job of Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand.
The tone in Australia's victory was set by their captain Meg Lanning, with her 33-ball 41 allowing Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy to build through the middle overs. Perry smacked 40 in 22 balls, Healy hit 55 in 38 deliveries and Australia handed New Zealand 174 to chase.
But New Zealand had the worst possible start when Megan Schutt took two big wickets in the first over of the chase. New Zealand could never recover from thereon, and Ashleigh Gardner feasted on their misery to run through their tail. She finished with a five-wicket haul and her career-best T20I figures while Sophie Devine's side return to the drawing board following the heavy defeat.
Australia's big three step up
Healy and Lanning linked up when Australia were in a spot of bother. Opener Beth Mooney was out for a duck to a terrific diving catch from Eden Carson, and Lea Tahuhu was getting the new ball to swing. Instead, the pair counterattacked, and the 15 runs they took in the last over of the powerplay took Australia to 47 for 1 after six.
Lanning enjoyed most of the strike in the period and was enterprising with her charges down the track that ended up with boundaries through the V. With seven fours, she raced to 41 in 32 balls before a googly from Amelia Kerr had Lanning missing a cut and she was out bowled in the tenth over
The dangerous Gardner fell soon after to Tahuhu after getting a leading edge to an attempted flick, and that brought Perry - in rich form from the away series in India - to the crease. Perry was off the blocks quickly, but on 11, could've been out lbw had New Zealand reviewed a shout from Kerr. She made full use of the second life to bludgeon Tahuhu and Fran Jonas around, and after a slow start, Healy too came out of her shell.
Healy turbocharged her way to a fifty in 35 balls with runs coming from both ends, and the duo reached their fifty partnership in only 25 deliveries. But Healy was out on 55 when Tahuhu outfoxed her with a slower ball that was mistimed to the deep.
Perry, though, kept going for the big shots, hitting Tahuhu and Kerr for sixes. Even though Kerr had her lbw for 40, Perry's innings at a strike rate of 181.81 ensured Australia did not stagnate through the middle overs, more so with Healy struggling early on.
With Grace Harris run out cheaply and Jess Jonassen, Alana King and Tahlia McGrath showing little resistance, it appeared Australia would be all out - a rare occurrence for the T20I side - but No. 11 Darcie Brown finished the innings with a boundary to take the defending champions to 173 for 9.
Kerr was the pick of the New Zealand bowlers, taking two of her three wickets with googlies, and finished with 3 for 23. Tahuhu's three-for cost her 37 runs, with a few loose deliveries interspersed between the 11 dot balls in her spell.
Schutt, Gardner run through NZ
At the halfway stage, Healy said that 173 was solid but not out of reach for a side of New Zealand's calibre. Therefore a tidy new-ball spell against Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates was imperative. Instead, Schutt produced an imperious opening over to break New Zealand's back.
After conceding five wides off her first ball, Schutt went full with Bates dancing across her crease to play the scoop. Schutt's extra pace did the trick, and Bates was gone for zero with her middle stump flattened. Two balls later, Schutt got a length ball from wide of the crease to angle in, and Devine's missed flick meant she was out for zero first ball as well.
Schutt could have had a third wicket in her second over when Bernadine Bezuidenhout was caught in front of the stumps to a ball angling in from a good length, but the batter survived on a tight "umpire's call" decision.
Bezuidenhout would go on to pull, reverse sweep and slog three boundaries in quick succession. Playing her first game since 2020 and on a comeback trail after two years out of the game to recover from a health issue, Bezuidenhout's shot-making was spunky but she was adjudged caught soon after in a contentious call that saw the umpires going upstairs to a catch from Brown that even Australia were only half convinced about. Once she was gone, Harris then had Maddy Green, trying to pinch a second run, run out and New Zealand were reeling at 38 for 4.
With the procession of wickets, the No. 4 Kerr showed restraint early on, but later took McGrath on for a hat-trick of boundaries with some smart use of her feet. But when Gardner went full, she failed to connect with a sweep and was out for 21.
With New Zealand needing 113 runs in the last ten overs with only five wickets in hand, their aim in the game should have turned to mitigating the run-rate damage, but instead the back end of the second innings began with Gardner picking off Hannah Rowe and Tahuhu.
With only the last two wickets remaining, Gardner went full and fast in her penultimate over. Her guile and turn was too much for Jess Kerr and Eden Carson to handle, and she picked off the last two wickets to finish with career-best figures of 5 for 12 as New Zealand were all out for 76.
New Zealand's next game is against South Africa on Monday while Australia meet Bangladesh on Tuesday.
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx