Feature

Indomitable Australia produce a statement win, even by their extraordinary standards

Crushing victory over New Zealand sends reminder of unmatched standards to rivals

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
11-Feb-2023
Meg Lanning scored 41 off 33 deliveries and was disappointed at missing out on a bigger innings  •  Getty Images

Meg Lanning scored 41 off 33 deliveries and was disappointed at missing out on a bigger innings  •  Getty Images

On a scale of one to inevitable, how much of a statement did Australia make in their T20 World Cup opener, a tournament at which the other nine teams might as well be competing for the right to play them (and probably lose to them) in the final?
On the evidence of their 97-run win over New Zealand: a massive one.
Australia recovered from losing Beth Mooney for a duck to what will be one of the catches of the tournament (Eden Carsen's low diving take to her right at backward point) to post their highest score against New Zealand and earn their third-largest win. Their big three - Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry - shared in the partnerships on which their total was built, before Ash Gardner took a career-best 5 for 12 in 18 balls. New Zealand were dismissed for their third-lowest total - 76 - to demonstrate how deep the chasm is growing between Australia and the rest.
"It just shows where our team is and how we adapt really quickly," Gardner said afterwards. "You have to look at the way that Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy went about it. It was a bit of a grind at times and I think they just showed a way to fight back."
Knowing that they bat as deep as No.9, Lanning and Healy were all over any errors in length and New Zealand made several. Lea Tahuhu and Jess Kerr were too full upfront while Fran Jonas was too short. More than the shots they played was the intent they showed, much like England in their zippy chase against West Indies earlier in the day, to take the bowling on and move the innings forward.
"We've always got that freedom that there's going to be a really good batter behind us, so we can play quite fearlessly and not have to worry about the consequences that we're going to get out," Gardner said. "We know that the next person coming in can also change the game."
That was embodied in Lanning's knock which also came across as a sign of things to come. She had hit a half-century in her second innings after her return from a mental-health break and went on to notch up two ODI half-centuries against Pakistan, but had not found her T20 fluency until this innings. Her first boundary was a carefree whip over deep square leg and though the next one came off the edge, five more followed and she seemed to grow in confidence with each one. Her stunningly timed drive through the covers off Carsen was laced with the authority of a batter who seemed set for a big score.
When she was bowled by an Amelia Kerr googly four balls later, Lanning's reaction let on that she had thought so too. She left the field clearly furious with herself for letting the chance to make a statement in the tournament opener go, but that's a good sign for the defending champions. A captain who cares enough to get that angry only wants one thing: to win.
Though Lanning did not go on to get a half-century, Healy - who seems to live for the big moments - did. "Sometimes I think she has a bit of white-line fever," Suzie Bates, who plays with Healy for the Sixes at the WBBL, said. "She's a great, great friend off the field. You want to get her out early because when she gets stuck in, she's one of the best players in the world. Being able to take her wicket early in big matches is really key to beating Australia."
The same could be said of many of Australia's top-order batters, and New Zealand missed an opportunity to get rid of Perry for 11 when they failed to review an lbw shout off Kerr. Perry went on to score 40 and though the extra 29 runs she scored was significantly less than New Zealand's eventual margin of defeat, Bates was not convinced that Australia have left the rest in their wake.
Asked how wide she thinks the gap is, Bates said "probably not as big as [it looks] today." She conceded that New Zealand "didn't quite respond with the ball", after their early breakthrough and are "really disappointed with their effort", but "know we can compete with them much better than that".
They know that because they have done it before, and fairly recently at that. New Zealand are the only team to have beaten the champions in a regular T20I since their victory at the 2020 final (India beat Australia in a Super Over since then too) and are one of only four teams that Australia have lost to in this format. Ever.
But when asked to complete their highest successful chase, on a ground where 170-plus targets have been set 15 times and reached just twice, it was always going to be difficult. Against an Australian attack pumped up by what their batters had achieved, and energised by a small but boisterous Boland Park crowd and their enthusiastic stadium announcer, New Zealand never stood a chance.
When they lost their two most experienced players - Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine - in the first over, both for ducks, it was all but over. After Devine was confirmed lbw to Megan Schutt, a small clutch of England players who had earlier beaten West Indies and were watching from the VVIP section left. Inevitability, it seems, will do that to you.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent