Sublime Smriti steers India to top on rain-affected day

Smriti Mandhana © Getty Images

An outstanding partnership of 93 runs from the Indian openers – Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana – including an unbeaten half-century from the later has put India in a strong position before the play was called off due to rain on day one of the pink-ball Test at the Carrara Oval on Thursday.  The southpaw was batting on her highest Test score – 80 from 144 balls at stumps.

The play had just resumed after a 100-minute rain break. Mandhana, who was batting on 70, did not waste any time to get the innings going. She welcomed Tahlia McGrath with an elegant pull shot over the deep square-leg boundary. Mandhana followed it up with a similar shot in the allrounder’s next over – this time for a one-bounce boundary to the rope.

Punam Raut, too, joined the party as she came down the track, lofting Ashleigh Gardner over deep mid-wicket for a boundary. Mandhana played out the first over of Annabel Sutherland before rain interrupted again, forcing the players to walk off the field, and an early Tea break was taken.

Earlier, Meg Lanning opted to bowl first, Mandhana and Verma was up against Perry and Brown. The left-hander took the first strike against Perry, who was struggling  with the lin against her during the ODIs. There were a few moments when Perry was on the money with the line and length, but Mandhana played the allrounder confidently, making sure that Australia didn’t make any early inroads.

Debutant Darcie Brown was consistently pitching it on the shorter side, trying to rattle the India batters. Verma played through an over of Brown cautiously. The 17-year-old’s backing away tactic after going on a forward shuffle across got her into trouble a couple of times forcing her to get squared up against Perry and Brown. Mandhana, on the other hand, was quick to rock back and punch through cover or pull through square-leg.

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When the ball was pitched on a good length and swung away, Verma kept pushing the bat towards the ball without any feet movement. A couple of outside edges fell short of the first slip, Lanning almost catching one of them. India were 21 for no loss after seven overs, with Verma struggling against the new ball.

Trying to take charge of the innings, Mandhana launched a counterattack against Brown, hitting four boundaries in an over – a square cut, slice through the gully, pull shot through square-leg, and a crunching drive through cover. Over the next six overs, Mandhana played most of the deliveries, keeping Verma away from facing the new ball as much as possible.

Verma scored her first boundary – a cover drive – off a full-length ball from Perry in the eleventh over, the 24th delivery she faced in the innings. Meanwhile, the Australian pacers continued to bowl short to Mandhana, who made the most of it, picking up easy boundaries through the leg-side. The fast bowlers struggled to adjust to the right-left combination. They often overcompensated on their lengths after Mandhana hit boundaries off good deliveries, and it did not help their cause.

The batters brought up their second fifty partnership in three innings, and Mandhana cruised to her third Test fifty in 51 balls with her trademark cover drive off McGrath. Verma had her share of fun when the other debutant Stella Campbell pitched short and wide outside the off-stump. She smashed the fast bowler over the backward-point and picked up another easy boundary off the pads on the very next delivery. India had raced to 70 without any wickets in 15 overs, scoring 50 runs during that period of eight overs.

Lanning tried to get the run rate under control by bringing on Sophie Molineux into the attack from one end and McGrath from the other. The duo bowled tight, not giving away any easy boundaries to the Indian openers. Verma, in particular, looked susceptible against Molineux as she tried to take the attack to the spinner.

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She edged one to Lanning at first slip on the very second delivery from the spinner, only for the Australian skipper to drop the catch. Verma got another life as Sutherland could not hold on to an easy chance at mid-on off Molineux’s bowling. Between overs 15 and 25, India managed to score only 23 runs, and the pressure was building on them, especially Verma. The left-arm spinner eventually had the last laugh as Verma tried to loft her down the ground and was caught at mid-off by McGrath for 31 from 64 balls. The Indian openers missed out on their second hundred partnership by seven runs.

Raut joined Mandhana in the middle, and they played out the rest of the session with caution, ensuring that India did not lose another wicket. India were 101 for one as the players walked off the field for the Dinner break.

Lanning started with McGrath and Gardner after the break as Mandhana struggled to pick up boundaries against them. The southpaw ended the boundary drought with a pull – her most productive shot of the day – off McGrath. Soon, bad weather stopped play, with the forecast of a thunderstorm looming over.

Brief Scores: India 132/1 in 44.1 overs (Smriti Mandhana 80*; Shafali Verma 31; Sophie Molineux 1/18) vs Australia