Matches (21)
IPL (3)
Pakistan vs New Zealand (2)
PAK v WI [W] (1)
ACC Premier Cup (1)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
WT20 WC QLF (Warm-up) (5)
Feature

Harris and Gardner treat fans in Mumbai to stroke-making of a different kind

The OG and her successor came together beautifully in the final T20I to put together yet another dominating batting show for Australia

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
21-Dec-2022
Harris and Gardner hit an unbeaten 129-run stand for Australia  •  BCCI

Harris and Gardner hit an unbeaten 129-run stand for Australia  •  BCCI

"I don't like to run between the wickets!"

Grace Harris would rather do the six-hitting for fun than run. She was candid in her admission while being mic'd up in the fifth women's T20I against India. She is the OG when it comes to hitting prowess in the Women's Big Bash League - she is the first to hit a century in the competition - and the domestic circuit. But an injury in 2016 saw lose her place in the side.
Ashleigh Gardner then came in and made that spot and the role - quick middle-order runs and some handy offspin overs - her own. Harris couldn't force her way back despite consistent, shattering performances in the domestic circuit. Such is the competition for spots in the Australian side that it took a fractured jaw for Beth Mooney earlier this year for Harris to return.
Harris showed glimpses of her ability in the third and fourth T20Is. Gardner came into her own with bat and ball in the fourth match. And on Tuesday, the sparse crowd at the Brabourne Stadium was treated to stroke-making of a different kind. One you would have only imagined while watching both Harris and Gardner do their thing for different sides in the WBBL.
The pair got together when Australia were losing their way at 67 for 4 when in-form Ellyse Perry fell in the tenth over. India's spinners were finding enough purchase on a pitch that was seeing a second successive game played on it. A thick outside edge to deep third saw Harris open her account.
Harris and Gardner then bookended Shafali Verma's second over with a four each before the latter tore into Anjali Sarvani hitting her for four successive fours in a 19-run 13th over. From 84 for 4 after 12 overs, Australia had rocketed to 144 for 4 in the next four overs. Fire it short, you'll be pulled; toss it up, you'll get walloped in the arc between long-on and deep midwicket; give width and extra cover will be a mere spectator - it would've been tough being a bowler with the attack coming on from both ends.
Come the death overs, India turned to one of the regulars in offspinner Deepti Sharma. Admittedly, Australia haven't found the going easy against the wily allrounder. "Deepti, throughout the entire series, has gone slow and wide or full and wide with pace," Harris said on-air while fielding. "We thought if she did the same, we got plans for that to step in the line and baseball-bat it."
While Bazball seems to be the mantra for the England men's team, baseball came to Harris and Gardner's aid on Tuesday. Deepti stuck to her line outside off, and, to her disbelief, saw it being swung away to deep midwicket.
'A one-off,' she must've thought and bowled another one full delivery outside off. This time Gardner walked across and swept it aerially just out of reach of a diving Renuka Singh, running to her right from deep square leg. Gardner played the ferocious sweep again in Deepti's last over before Harris pummelled one past the non-striker leaving the straightish long-on and long-off fielders spellbound.
"Tonight they bowled at the stumps, straighter and flatter. So we thought if we are to get boundaries here we've got to hit it straight back past them," Harris said. "Because of the inconsistency of the bounce - the slower one actually held on the wicket and popped up and turned while pace on [the ball] just shot through - we had to be very careful.
"If you stayed at the back foot and played a cut shot, you had to pick your ball [carefully] and also the sweep shot, you had to be certain of it. We mainly tried to hit back under the bowler's feet early while we had ten overs still to bat, and not give up a wicket. Then towards the back end just free up and have some fun, swing back through the line of it and see where it goes."
A wristy flick that Harris hit off Renuka - picking the low full toss from outside off and swatting it over deep square leg - brought up her maiden fifty in T20Is off just 28 balls. Two balls later, Gardner got to her half-century in 25 balls by bludgeoning one to beat long-on.
The duo added an unbroken 129 for the fifth wicket - a record in women's T20Is - and it was also the fastest hundred-run stand in the format. It helped Australia amass 112 in the last eight overs and almost out-bat India from the contest.
In T20Is this year, Australia's middle order [nos. 4 to 7] have scored at a strike rate of 156.32 and average 54.40, with the next best Full Member team being India with 121.52 and 23.50 as corresponding figures. Harris and Gardner are quite the prototype for such a rapid acceleration. Does it really matter, then, if Harris - or even a Gardner, or any batter with power-hitting skills - likes or dislikes sprinting between the wickets?

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo