The women’s international showcase came to Geelong, along with some irritating weather, as the WHITE FERNS looked to save their short T20 Series against the Australian Southern Stars.
Rain delaying the toss, Meg Lanning opted to bowl first with questions about the weather still looming. Likewise, with the possibility of a DLS curve ball, Suzie Bates and Rachel Priest looked to get going efficiently and, when Priest got off the mark pulling a juicy full toss to the boundary, it was a portent that it wasn’t going to be one-way traffic to Australia despite their thumping win in the Series opener.
Australia started poorly, giving away too much width. Jess Jonassen and Megan Schutt were both carved away for a pair of boundaries each from their opening over. Priest had been finding the fours while Bates lifted the first six off Jonassen and, at 33 for no loss after five, it was just the power start they had wanted.
But it was clear Lanning and her troops had a plan to hold the ball up to try to frustrate the WHITE FERNS into risky territory against her fresh set of tweakers. They just needed to put it on the spot — and the second quarter would almost immediately deliver a wicket, Rachel Priest stumped after her run-a-ball 20.
Amy Satterthwaite had looked the most assured of the WHITE FERNS at the MCG, so this time came in at first drop to join Bates to try to continue the good start. She had barely arrived at the crease before striking a six off young Amanda-Jane Wellington, the aggression putting the New Zealand 50 on the board inside eight overs.
It prompted Lanning to turn to the more experienced Kristen Beams and rookie spinner Ashleigh Gardner — bowling for the first time for Australia, having been restricted to the fieldwork in Melbourne — to try to stop the rising run rate. Gardner did the trick for Australia, claiming a gold-plated maiden wicket in Satterthwaite with the last ball of her first over of T20 International cricket — caught by Beams.
The Australian spinners were starting to sort out their act, Wellington superbly bowling Katey Martin around her legs two overs later. Bates was meanwhile going well, and looking to loft the errant ball, but it was Wellington yet again to deal the biggest blow — sprawling across the deck to brilliantly remove Bates caught and bowled on 30.
Had Lanning been able to stretch a couple of centimetres further at slip, Wellington might have had her fourth victim the very next ball as Maddy Green got a life. The WHITE FERNS were meanwhile mindful of needing to get over their speed bump quickly to re-assert themselves through the last five overs.
Unfortunately Liz Perry fell victim to the pressure, taking off down the wicket to the delight of Alyssa Healy who pounced for a second stumping, bringing in Anna Peterson at 82 for five with four overs to go. Green had come into the WHITE FERNS XI for the injured Leigh Kasperek (broken finger) in the only change, but their partnership would last just three balls before Green, too, was caught and bowled.
Another Hearts combination formed with Katie Perkins joining Peterson, whose ability to hit a big ball at the death was what the WHITE FERNS needed now to get up. She went for the rope, only to watch in horror as it held up just short, dropping into the hands of a deep Alex Blackwell. When Perkins became the third stumping victim next ball, Molly Strano was on a hat-trick, and, while she conceded a single next ball, Lea Tahuhu then swung and missed her to make it three wickets in four balls — a bag for Strano, sitting on sensational figures of five for eight.
One more wicket would have given Strano a T20 record haul, but the last chance was dropped and she finished with 5-10 off her four. The WHITE FERNS survived her ripping last over to finish at 101 for nine.
Once again, it had been a case of strength at the top, then some sobering exposure once the new-look Australian pick’n’mix spin attack had got it right — something the new arrival in the WHITE FERNS camp, 16-year-old leggie Amelia Kerr, would have been studying with interest.
Australia needed just a touch over five an over but Holly Huddleston had a terrific first over, getting Beth Mooney to chop on a bottom edge. Tahuhu made a sterling attempt at a leaping caught and bowled next over that would have sent Lanning packing — a tough half-chance against the momentum of her follow-through.
It was at the least encouragement and Bates kept the field up, attacking as Gardner came in at first drop. The stand didn't last long with Gardner once again run out early, this time by a mile after poor communication between the new combination.
The required run rate was already going up and Tahuhu helped it with a maiden over in the fifth, Australia 19/2 compared to the WHITE FERNS' 38 without loss at the same stage. The next wicket would be a memorable one for leggie Erin Bermingham, Lanning done for just nine runs to have Australia 29/3 needing a further 74.
Blackwell joined Ellyse Villani in the sixth while Bates kept her team in attack mode, bowling Lea Tahuhu out at the front end (perhaps mindful of the rain on the horizon of the stadium) for a return of 0-11.
Economical Bates followed up with Australia lagging behind the DLS par score. Every dot counted as drizzle started to peep into the arena, and the captain was delivering. Off they went after eight overs, Australia 35/3 and four runs behind on the maths sheet, or, still needing 67 from 12 at almost run a ball.
Play resumed with the edgy chase reduced to 13 overs, and a revised target of 70 or seven-plus per over for the Australians, Suzie Bates meanwhile keeping up the pressure with her well-directed cutters. Holly Huddleston had been complementing her skipper well with her energy at the other end and caught the edge of Alex Blackwell's bat to leave Villani and Alyssa Healy needing 21 off two overs at 10.50 RPO.
Bates meanwhile now had fewer bowling options at her disposal so brought spinner Satterthwaite into the attack, backing her calmness. With a four swiped first ball, it looked a pivotal moment. It was, but for the WHITE FERNS as Bates got under the ball the very next delivery to see the back of the dangerous Villani: 53 for five, Healy coming in with 17 needed off 1.4 overs.
Then the Australian Southern Stars needed 11 off the last, or 10 for a Super Over. Standout Bates was unable to bowl the last due to Tahuhu having already bowled four overs before the rain, and turned to spinner Anna Peterson, who hadn't bowled at all in the Series to this point.
"Suzie told me just to bowl full and straight," Peterson recounted afterwards, "which I did. She set the field according to the batter so I didn't have to think, I just had to bowl, which was great. Her support and Amy's as well with tactics was fantastic."
Jonassen swatted her first ball, only to send up a simple catch to ace fielder Katie Perkins.
Eleven off five, Healy on strike after the batsmen had crossed. A thriller in the making. Healy backed herself and got under it, but all that happened was the ball went to the moon and back before dropping into the hands of Maddy Green. The Australians were paying for their audacity with Peterson on a hat-trick!
Megan Schutt and Wellington were now the new pair, Schutt on strike after the batsmen crossed. Coming off a shocker at the MCG, Peterson bowled the ball of her life as the third catch in a row now sailed to her captain, this time, to claim for Peterson a rare women's T20 international hat-trick (there have been only five previously), and the first for the WHITE FERNS.
Ten needed off the last ball, the match ended with a runout. The WHITE FERNS had levelled the Series 1-1, accidental death bowler Peterson writing a page in cricket history with her career-best 3-2 off her sole, pressure over.
What a thrilling comeback it had been from both the unlikely last ball heroine and the WHITE FERNS as a team as they got back to their winning short format form.
Remarkably Peterson has now been both a victim in an international hat-trick (in ODIs) and the perpetrator of one (T20) in the last two seasons. Her achievement was only the third hat-trick in any format for the WHITE FERNS, Julie Harris and Emily Drumm each having taken a One-Day International hat-trick for New Zealand.
The decider is at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday afternoon, live on SKY Sport.