Relentless Gardner tempers India’s Mumbai dominance

On an otherwise tough day two in Mumbai, Ashleigh Gardner again stood up for Australia

Deepti and Pooja put Aussies to the sword after Gardner burst

Australia will need to make history to save the one-off Test in Mumbai, but the tourists’ position in the match would be even more perilous if not for the herculean efforts of Ashleigh Gardner.

The second day at Wankhede Stadium firmly belonged to India, who will go into Saturday in a position of strength with a first-innings lead of 157 and three wickets in hand.

Australia’s women have never recovered from a 100-plus first-innings deficit to win a Test, with England’s 1984 Ashes side the only women’s team ever to achieve the feat.

Alyssa Healy’s side toiled in the field for 100 overs on Friday, but it was the indefatigable efforts of Gardner that rightfully earned the praise of coach Shelley Nitschke following the day’s play.

The off-spinner entered rare territory, sending down more than a third of the day’s overs – 36 in total – entirely from the Tata end.

The 25-year-old spearheaded the brief fightback that saw India lose 4-14 after drinks in the middle session, and briefly had Australia believing they were right back in the game at tea, when India led by 57 runs.

In all, the 25-year-old has bowled 41 of the 119 overs faced by India so far, taking four wickets for her efforts.

To put that workload into perspective, Gardner is the first Australian woman to bowl more than 40 overs in a Test innings since pace great Cathryn Fitzpatrick against England during the 2005 Ashes.

By comparison, leg-spinner Alana King has bowled 19 overs, left-armer Jess Jonassen 18 and the entire five-strong pace attack has sent down 41 overs between them.

Even during Gardner’s match-winning efforts against England at Trent Bridge in July, when she captured 12 wickets including 8-66 in the fourth innings, she only bowled 45.2 overs in total for the entire match.

She started Friday bowling in tandem with Annabel Sutherland and ended it with Jonassen, delivering 13 over straight in the first session, during which she got the wicket of Sneh Rana.

Gardner and Australia celebrate the wicket of India captain Harmanpreet Kaur // Getty

Gardner was deployed in spells of seven and six overs in the second session, with a five-over break in between, and sent down a further 10, split over three spells, in the final session.

"It probably wasn't the plan that she was going to bowl that many, but I think just the way the day played out and the way she was bowling and creating opportunities, it just seemed right to keep her going," Nitschke told reporters after play.

"We felt like she was always in the game. She's played a big part in previous Tests matches for us as well.

"She's pretty fit, she's pretty resilient, but I dare say she's very, very tired tonight and she'll rest up well."

The off-spinner would have been be as frustrated as her teammates following that wicketless third session that saw India’s lead swell to 157.

And the chances of Gardner having the opportunity to replicate her final-innings heroics from Nottingham to win this game look increasingly unlikely.

Nonetheless she has further enhanced her credentials as Australia’s leading bowler in the longest format of the game, and she is the first Australian spinner to take three consecutive hauls of four or more wickets in Tests since Betty Wilson in 1958.

"Ash is just a real classical off-spinner, she gets a lot of revs on the ball and in this format, it's just her consistency," Nitschke said. 

"She's just continually able to put the ball in a good spot and ask questions and then with the revolutions she puts on the ball, she's able to extract whatever she can out of the wicket.

"A combination of that with her consistency coming back into the right-handers, it just enables her to keep persisting and keep asking questions of the batters."

Australia will need to quickly park their disappointment at a second day dominated by India.

With two days remaining and India’s lead swelling, the tourists’ chances of winning the game are slipping away, but Nitschke said Australia could learn from how India approached their batting when they commence their second innings at some point on Saturday.

"It's been a tough Test match for us so far and we haven't played our best cricket," she said.

"We're certainly not surprised by the way India have come out and played in their own conditions, and we probably haven't played our best.

"I think India showed there's plenty of runs out there if you can just be patient and at times, we probably weren't able to build the pressure, but they were also really patient and played the long game.

"And when we did give them something to hit, they made sure that it went to the boundary. 

"They built some really good partnerships, which we didn't do as well as we would have liked in the first innings."

Australia's CommBank Tour of India

December 21-24: Test match, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

December 28: First ODI, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

December 30: Second ODI, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

January 2: Third ODI, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

January 5: First T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

January 7: Second T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

January 9: Third T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

Australia squad: Alyssa Healy (c), Tahlia McGrath (vc), Darcie Brown, Lauren Cheatle (Test only), Heather Graham, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Grace Harris (T20s only), Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham

India Test squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana (vc), Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma, Deepti Sharma, Yastika Bhatia (wk), Richa Ghosh (wk), Sneh Rana, Shubha Satheesh, Harleen Deol, Saika Ishaque, Renuka Singh Thakur, Titas Sadhu, Meghna Singh, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Pooja Vastrakar