Ash Gardner, you absolute hero.
The destructive all-rounder steered Australia to a tense three-wicket victory against India after a horror batting collapse in Friday evening’s Commonwealth Games opener at Edgbaston.
Gardner, the reigning Belinda Clark Award recipient, struck an unbeaten 52 from 35 balls to help the gold medal favourites chase the 155-run target with six balls to spare in Birmingham.
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Indian seamer Renuka Singh tore through Australia’s top-order during the Powerplay, claiming 4/18 in a stunning four-over spell.
The 26-year-old removed wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy for a second-ball duck in the first over of the run chase before dismissing opener Beth Mooney and rival skipper Meg Lanning cheaply soon after.
Then in the fifth over, Singh sent all-rounder Tahlia McGrath back to the sheds for 14 with an absolute peach that nipped past the right-hander’s inside edge and crashed into leg stump.
The Aussies were suddenly reeling at 4/41 at the end of the Powerplay, and their woes deepened when vice-captain Rachael Haynes chipped a regulation catch towards backward point in the eighth over.
Incredibly, Singh had only taken three wickets in T20 internationals before Friday’s demolition, with career-best figures of 1/23 before the Commonwealth Games.
But the right-armer has proven why she’s a dangerous weapon in English conditions, getting the new ball to hoop wildly during the Powerplay.
Queensland all-rounder Grace Harris, batting in a T20 international for the first time since March 2016, pummelled an entertaining 37 off 20 balls to keep Australia in the contest, combining with Gardner for a crucial 51-run partnership.
Indian spinner Deepti Sharma then held onto a miraculous return catch to remove Jess Jonassen for three in the 15th over.
Australia needed 36 runs from the final four overs with only three wickets to spare — most cricket pundits would have tipped India as the favourites.
But Gardner expertly counterattacked at the death — after scoring 10 runs from her first 16 deliveries, she smacked 42 off her next 18 balls.
It was the first time in women’s T20Is where a team successfully chased a target after being five down with more than 100 runs still required.
Earlier, India registered a team total of 8/154 with skipper Harmanpreet Kaur scoring a classy half-century.
Jonassen was the chief destroyer with the ball, claiming four wickets to stem the flow of runs in the middle overs.
The veteran tweaker joins Ellyse Perry and Josh Hazlewood in an illustrious list of Australians to take four or more wickets in a T20 international on four occasions.
Meanwhile, Healy became the first cricketer to claim 100 dismissals in T20 internationals — men’s or women’s.
Australia will next face Barbados at Edgbaston on Monday at 3am AEST.