Smriti Mandhana shines with half-century but rain frustrates

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Sophie Molineux gave Australia the breakthrough after they had dropped Shafali Verma three times

India 132 for 1 (Mandhana 80*, Raut 16*) vs Australia

After a 15-year wait for these two teams to face each other again in Test cricket, Smriti Mandhana‘s square drives and pulls were the highlight as India took the early honours on pink-ball Test debut. The less pleasing aspect was the Gold Coast rain which arrived shortly after dinner in torrential style and never really left, wiping 56 overs from the day to leave everyone frustrated.
After Meg Lanning put India in, Australia had a first hour to forget as Mandhana latched onto some loose bowling with a 51-ball half-century brought up before the drinks break. The home side offered a considerable helping hand by giving Shafali Verma three lives as the opening stand reached 93 before the spinners, Sophie Molineux and Ashleigh Gardner, offered Lanning some control – probably not Plan A at the start of the day. They had already used seven bowling options in 44 overs.

The heaviest rain arrived with India 114 for 1, causing close to a two-hour delay, and there was only a brief resumption possible during which Mandhana added to her boundary count with two crunching pulls off Tahlia McGrath, the first of them whipped off her hip for six backward of square. She made 66 of her 80 runs in boundaries. Showers then returned and there were no gaps big enough to get further play. There are 100 overs a day in women’s Tests, which are played over four days, and time can also be made up, but Friday’s forecast isn’t promising either.

After six new caps were handed out between the teams India had raced away, reaching 70 without loss at drinks, but Australia were then able to dry up the scoring rate. That brought the reward of Shafali’s wicket when she was taken at mid-off against Molineux, trying to go over the infield. It ended an opening stand of 93 which followed the 167 the pair had added against England in the first innings in Bristol earlier this year.

Shafali’s three lives came on 3, 19 and 25. The first was a tough, low outside edge to Lanning at first slip off Ellyse Perry who produced a far steadier performance in her seven-over opening spell than she managed in the ODIs. She was then dropped by Lanning again, this time off left-arm spinner Molineux, before the easiest of the three chances was put down by debutant Annabel Sutherland at mid-on.

Mandhana’s innings was full of superbly timed shots off the front and the back foot although the Australia bowlers fed her with too much width and, overall, were too short with the new ball. She had been out of the blocks quickly by pulling Darcie Brown’s first ball in Test cricket through midwicket and in Brown’s fourth over took her for four boundaries.

Brown’s opening spell ended with 4-0-28-0 while fellow debutant Stella Campbell went for 14 in her first three-over burst where the slowness of the surface negated her attempts to bang the ball in. Lanning was forced into more defensive fields to try and slow the rate and she was given some control by Molineux and McGrath, and then by Gardner with 18 overs up to lunch bringing 31 runs.

The pressure showed on Shafali, who had found life tougher than Mandhana throughout her innings, when she tried to break the shackles with Australia, in the form of McGrath, taking a catch at the fourth attempt. It was a good piece of bowling from Molineux, but with India in such a strong position it was an unnecessary risk from Shafali especially with a similar stroke bringing her third reprieve.

Punam Raut played herself in cautiously and was 1 off 22 balls at dinner but during the brief period of play possible afterwards was building a useful stand with Mandhana just as the ball was starting to nip around with the floodlights taking hold.

The home side handed out four debuts – Brown, Campbell, Sutherland and Georgia Wareham – with Mitchell Starc helping with the cap presentations while India fielded two new players in Yastika Bhatia and Meghna Singh who had both impressed in the ODIs. Spin-bowling allrounder Sneh Rana, who made a rearguard 80* against England in the Bristol Test, was left out.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo



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