A sublime combination of the old and the new gave Australia a 1-0 series lead over Pakistan with an eight-wicket victory in the first of three one-day internationals on home soil.
The old – in experience, rather than age – came in the shape of captain Meg Lanning, playing her first international match after a five-month mental health break. Alongside her was the new kid on the block, 19-year-old Phoebe Litchfield, making her highly anticipated ODI debut a month after appearing in her first T20I in India. Together they put on a 137-run partnership that broke the back of Australia’s chase in a match reduced to 40 overs a side by rain that delayed its start at Allan Border Oval.
The pair were united in the middle in the first over of Australia’s innings, after Beth Mooney dragged a Diana Baig ball onto her stumps, and both made half-centuries, Litchfield batting through the innings and finishing unbeaten on 78 as she scored the winning runs with 67 balls remaining and claimed player of the match honours.
Three days before her maiden ODI, Litchfield was out for a duck playing for the Governor General’s XI against Pakistan, caught chasing a wide delivery from Baig. And not long after walking out to open the batting with Mooney, the teenager again flayed at a wide one. She immediately practised her leave and blew her cheeks out. It was a telling moment in an innings that grew more assured with every over; Litchfield was decisive in leaving, patient during Baig’s probing opening spell and, once she was set, unfurled the range of elegant left-handed shots that has excited observers of her batting for several years.
At the other end, Lanning showed no sign of any rust left over from her international absence. Her trademark cuts, drives and flicks over midwicket were as glorious as ever. If anything, she has expanded her already impressive repertoire, unveiling an unfamiliar lap shot which she played to three successive balls. It allowed her to manipulate the field and signalled a warning to opposing teams at the upcoming T20 World Cup that a refreshed and reinvigorated Lanning has a few new tricks up her sleeve.
When Lanning departed on 67 in the 28th over, caught behind attempting to sweep a loose leg side ball she should have left, Litchfield decided the chase had gone long enough. The next two Omaima Sohail deliveries she faced were dispatched for successive boundaries; the third she met skipping down the pitch and launched the ball over wide long-off with all the assuredness and audacity of a seasoned veteran.
There was some irony in this partnership; Lanning’s return has likely cost Litchfield a place in Australia’s T20 World Cup squad. And Lanning is the only Australian woman to have opened the batting for the first time in an ODI at a younger age than Litchfield. Belinda Clark is third on that list. It’s an impressive batting sandwich for Litchfield to fill.
Pakistan’s poor fielding didn’t help their cause. Lanning was dropped at backward point on six by Muneeba Ali and multiple misfields, particularly on the boundary rope, made Australia’s chase of the 158-run target (adjusted for DLS) easier.
Lanning’s first win of the day had came at the toss and, with clouds still thick in the Brisbane sky, it was no surprise she elected to field. The conditions were tailor-made for swing but Australia’s seamers were wayward early on and the 27 extras conceded – 23 of them wides – will give coach Shelley Nitschke pause for thought.
But only two Pakistan batters could outscore the sundries: captain Bismah Mahroof with 28 and Nida Dar, whose 59 marked her first half-century against Australia. Their 46-run partnership was the backbone of Pakistan’s innings of 160-8 off 40, a total that was always likely to be light against Australia’s batting firepower.
It was Australia’s spinners who squeezed impressively, the trio of Jess Jonassen, Ashleigh Gardner and Alana King finding turn and offering control as Australia took wickets at regular intervals.
The second of Jonassen’s two wickets provided another telling moment. Fatima Nana top-edged the ball, which flew straight up and seemed to hang for an age. Lanning, fielding in her customary position at cover, called loudly for the catch and took it comfortably. The grin that lit up her face said it all.
Lanning is back, Litchfield has arrived, and the Australians are all smiles.