A cool Melbourne morning rapidly turned up the heat, the MCG a steambowl by the time players took the field that afternoon in the first of two Twenty20 Internationals at the ground.
Like the Sri Lankan men afterwards, Suzie Bates would win the toss and bowl in the matinée, but the joy of two exciting early wickets quickly faded as dropped catches gave the Southern Stars a chance to settle, and then motor onwards and upwards.
Those chances were, unusually, from the bat of generally relentless Australian captain Meg Lanning — one of them a big, high ball sitter that left Anna Peterson kicking herself on her recall to the team.
But it wasn’t just the New Zealanders pulling up shy of their best in the field in the nervy tour opener.
Lanning herself dropped a sitter, one of two lost chances from her off the bowling of spinner Jess Jonassen, later on — much to the relief of opposing captain Bates, the benefactor. It was as if both sides were just a little too tense, knowing the recent history.
Lanning was dropped on 20* and 24*. She had already been joined by Ellyse Villani by then, early, after a brilliant start from Lea Tahuhu saw Beth Mooney caught behind in the third over and then debutante Ashleigh Gardner run out for a golden duck, from Tahuhu’s arm.
Gardner’s wicket was perhaps typical of the day, a costly distracted moment as she ambled back to her crease. However, from 20/2, Lanning and Villani staged a recovery that ensured the WHITE FERNS would regret their errors more.
The pair combined for a third-wicket stand of 110, Lanning underpinning it with her 60 while the aggressive Villani caught up with her quickly to post her own half century soon afterwards.
The hosts were on the way to a solid 151 for four from their 20 overs, Lanning eventually caught by Bates on 60, much of the damage done; with the final wicket to fall a run out off the last ball.
Villani ended unbeaten on 73 off just 47 balls.
The WHITE FERNS’ reply never really got going until it was too late.
Nineteen-year-old Amanda-Jane Wellington was also on T20 debut for Australia and her teammates mobbed her as she quickly claimed Katey Martin’s wicket as her first.
Wellington would go on to memorable figures of 3-17 from her four overs.
Suzie Bates (26) was losing partners at the top, and when Bates herself fell, the Australian clamour was even louder and more delighted than it had been for adopted Melburnian Rachel Priest.
Opener Bates had got the team to past the halfway park, lofted boundaries falling frustratingly just shy of the rope in the big arena.
When she fell — caught by a thrilled Villani, Amy Satterthwaite took over as the anchor. But the calm left-hander would also lose a chain of partners in quick succession as the required run rate escalted into double figures.
Satterthwaite — who collected her 1000th T20 International run in the process, on the same ground and day as Aaron Finch for Australia — would eventually combine with Tahuhu in an unbroken partnership for the eighth wicket, but by then the Australians already knew they had this one in the bag.
“We were disappointed after starting the match so well,” said Bates. “We thought 152 was chaseable, but Australia bowled too well and we didn’t find the rope when we needed. We’ve just got to be better and take our chances, which tend to be costly in Twenty20.”
After close games and a series win to the WHITE FERNS last summer, Australia’s 40-run winning margin was a tough pill to swallow as the team heads to Geelong for the crucial second match of a rapid-fire Series on Sunday.
“We need to step up quickly,” said Bates, “ but it is the type of game where you have got to bounce back quickly and can’t dwell on a performance like that. Learn what we can do better, but still have confidence in our game plan.”