Medium pacer Tayla Vlaeminck left a mark with both her speed and strikes. Touching close to 120kph consistently, her blows in first two overs stunned India. First, she had Smriti Mandhana chipping one to midwicket and then Shafali Verma heaving across the line to mid-on. She could have had a third in her third over had Ashleigh Gardner hung on to a tough chance. But Jemimah Rodrigues couldn't capitalise on the reprieve, managing to add just one more before holing out to Hannah Darlington at mid-on. At 24 for 3 in the sixth over, India needed solidity.
Harmanpreet Kaur found the boundaries almost immediately. She used Vlaeminck's pace to flick her for back-to-back fours and then threw Ellyse Perry off her lengths by picking her for two more fours to signal signs of a counterattack. But in trying to play one big shot too many, Harmanpreet yorked herself against Georgia Wareham's legspin to stall India's recovery. She made 28. Then India handed two run outs on a platter, saw Richa Ghosh out bowled after a wild heave and then had a ripper of an off break from Gardner that spun viciously to crash into Shikha Pandey's stumps. India had collapsed from 50 for 3 to 78 for 8.
Strong bottom hand, powerful wrists and some muscle - Pooja Vastrakar used a fine cocktail of all these to pepper the boundaries at regular intervals with partners running out. She launched Nicola Carey straight over her head for a six, and then drove on the up nonchalantly over cover as a follow-up. Then with three balls to play out in the 19th, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, with a highest score of 5*, held her side of the bargain. This allowed Vastrakar to go after rookie Darlington, who was clubbed for 16 off the final over as India finished strongly on 118 for 9, having regained some momentum.
Alyssa Healy was victim to a Shikha Pandey magic delivery that cleaned her up two balls into the innings. The ball swerved in a long way and then deviated a bit more after pitching to beat her inside edge and crash into the stumps. An advancing Beth Mooney, at the other end, was kept honest with some terrific outswing, surviving a peach that she nearly nicked. With Renuka Thakur, bowling for the first time in T20Is, also deadly accurate, Australia needed a release.
In trying to do precisely this, Meg Lanning, who survived a series of miscues over the infield, fell to Gayakwad's guile as she was stumped after being drawn out by the flight. In the next over, India had a slice of luck when Gardner smashed a Harmanpreet long hop to Gayakwad at point. Australia were 38 for 3 in the eighth over, with Perry having to revive the innings. But that didn't materialise as she was brilliantly caught by Harmanpreet at extra cover to give Deepti Sharma her first wicket.
Fifty-five for five. India's spinners choking Australia for runs, the asking rate touching seven. And Australia showing signs of cracking. Then Vastrakar drew a thick edge as McGrath slashed at a short ball. Part-time wicketkeeper Ghosh was moving down leg when she had to change directions; not even a full stretch could help her hang on. From agony, Ghosh was soon ecstatic as a full Gayakwad ball beat Carey's defence to ricochet off her onto the stumps for a streaky stumping. But McGrath wasn't giving up, picking the odd boundaries to take it down to 25 off the last three. Then India cracked as Wareham crashed two boundaries in a 11-run Pandey over.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo