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‘Freedom’ the message to end unwanted trend

A recent string of games where Australia has had to set totals has brought about a surprising statistic for coach Shelley Nitschke

Australia’s historic defeat to South Africa in the second T20I in Canberra continued a recent trend that has emerged for the world’s No.1 ranked team – one they will want to correct before this year’s T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.

Since the Ashes T20I at Lord’s last July, Alyssa Healy’s team have lost four of their last five games in which they have batted first.

Across that period, they have won all four matches where they have been asked to chase a target.

Prior to the Ashes, Australia had won 10 out of 11 games when batting first since October 2021, including both the 2023 T20 World Cup semi-final and final, and the 2022 Commonwealth Games Gold medal match.

"That statistic (is something) we didn't realise that until last night, but it's something we're always looking to improve," Australia coach Shelley Nitschke said in Hobart on Monday.

Australia v South Africa | Second T20I

"It's something we pride ourselves on, if we do get an opportunity to bat first, is trying to put a really good marker out there for the opposition to chase and unfortunately, we were unable to do that yesterday.

"I think it's something that we'll continue to work on.

"We know we've got the team to do it, so I think it's just a matter of being able to put those performances out there when we do have that opportunity."

In two of the defeats, conditions significantly favouring the chasing team – in one case, wet weather and a revised target, in the second, dew – played a role in the outcome, while in another, it took a career-best innings to chase a record target.

Shafali, Smriti fire to chase down Aussies in T20 opener

But Australia will nonetheless want to address any potential chink in their armour before they defend their T20 World Cup title in Bangladesh in September-October.

At Lord’s last July, Australia put on 7-155, before England reeled in a revised target of 121 with four balls to spare.

At North Sydney Oval in October, the Aussies piled on a massive 6-216, and it took a remarkable unbeaten 132 from West Indies captain Hayley Matthews to snatch an upset win.

Hayley heroics! Matthews breaks records in unreal chase

Healy’s team was humbled by India in the opening T20I at DY Patil Stadium earlier this month when their 141 all out was chased in 17.4 overs for the loss of one wicket, albeit in dewy conditions assisting the chasing side.

On Sunday, Australia took the opportunity to bat first at Manuka Oval hoping to flex their batting muscle, but were restricted to 6-142 by a disciplined Proteas’ attack, before South Africa captain Laura Wolvaardt steered her team to their first ever win over the hosts.

Australia boast what is, without question, the deepest batting line-up in women’s T20I cricket – an XI that lists Grace Harris at No.7 and includes genuine allrounders all the way down to No.9.

In Canberra on Sunday, the inclusion of Hurricanes allrounder Heather Graham, listed at No.10, took it even deeper.

Australia have spoken in recent months about wanting to raise the bar in T20I batting and make use of that immense depth, and Nitschke said she would continue to implore her batters to play with freedom.

"It's about just playing a really free brand of cricket, but also being able to adapt to the conditions and what's happening out there as well," Nitschke said.

"(We’re) giving them that freedom to just play a style of cricket (where we) show off our skills."

'We love a series decider': Harris upbeat despite loss

Australia’s commitment to that brand of cricket saw them change the balance of their T20I XI heading into that leg of the multi-format tour of India earlier this month, when they brought in explosive hitter Harris in place of a frontline bowler.

Harris, who produced a late unbeaten cameo of 31 from 18 balls on Sunday to push Australia’s total above 140, said she did not think much needed to change in the group’s approach, rather it was a matter of execution.

"Maybe it is something we need to look at, just how we pace our game out when setting – in a chase you've already got the number on the board that you need," Harris said on Sunday.

"Maybe there might be a little tweak here or there, or just (assessing) the conditions earlier or how are we can play a bit more aggressively to get a few more runs on the board - but not too much needs to change, I don't think.

"If we're chasing or if we're setting, the difference really between getting the 200 and 180 scores, and the 140 scores, is just a little bit more intent earlier in your innings, and then actually executing your skill set.

"(On Sunday) we probably had the intent, but maybe we were off a little bit in execution."

Women's CommBank T20I Series v South Africa

January 27: First T20, Manuka Oval, Canberra 10.45am

January 28: Second T20, Manuka Oval, Canberra 10.45am

January 30: Third T20, Blundstone Arena, Hobart 7.05pm

Women's CommBank ODI Series v South Africa

February 3: First ODI, Adelaide Oval, 2.10pm

February 7: Second ODI, North Sydney Oval, 2.40pm

February 10: Third ODI, North Sydney Oval, 2.40pm

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

South Africa squad (T20Is & ODIs): Laura Wolvaardt (c), Anneke Bosch, Tazmin Brits, Nadine de Klerk, Mieke de Ridder (wk), Ayanda Hlubi, Sinalo Jafta (wk), Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Suné Luus, Eliz-Mari Marx, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Chloe Tryon, Delmi Tucker

Women's CommBank Test Match v South Africa

February 15-18: Only Test, WACA Ground, Perth 11.00am