Commonwealth Games – Twenty20 semi-final cricket: White Ferns v Australia
Where: Edgbaston, Birmingham; When: sunday 5am [NZ time]
Live coverage: Sky Sport, live updates on Stuff
ANALYSIS: Contenders or pretenders?
The White Ferns’ return to semifinal cricket for the first time in six years – and five major tournaments – should have been a moment worth celebrating.
They’re in the final four of the Twenty20 tournament at the Commonwealth Games, which means they have two matches to play – a semifinal against reigning T20 world champions Australia on Sunday (5am NZT) and a medal match the following day.
Silverware is still there for the taking for New Zealand’s national women’s cricket team, but they will have to be far better than they were in their final group B outing against hosts England, which took the gloss off their long-awaited achievement.
It has been six years since the White Ferns played a semifinal – a loss to the West Indies at the 2016 T20 World Cup in India – and 12 years since they won one, against the same opponents at the 2010 T20 World Cup in the Caribbean.
In that time they did advance straight to a final – losing to England at the 2013 one-day World Cup in Australia – but it’s nevertheless been a while since New Zealand enjoyed success at the business end of a women’s cricket tournament.
The 2018 and 2020 T20 World Cups and the 2017 and 2022 one-day World Cups passed without them even getting that far and their presence in proceedings this weekend is a welcome sight.
Especially after their painful one-day exit on home soil earlier this year, where they had three narrow losses when one win would have been enough to change their fortunes.
The White Ferns’ outing against the hosts on Friday at Edgbaston in Birmingham – where they managed just 71-9 from their 20 overs, after Sophie Devine won the toss and chose to bat – was a more challenging watch than any of those matches, making it hard to picture them heading home with medals.
They’ve gone from relying on four star batters – Devine, Suzie Bates, Amy Satterthwaite and Melie Kerr – to relying on three, following NZ Cricket’s decision not to offer Satterthwaite a contract in May, which prompted her retirement.
That trio led the way in the White Ferns’ opening win against South Africa and while others chipped in as they beat Sri Lanka, they were opponents well below those in the medal mix this weekend.
If none of Devine, Bates or Kerr fire with the bat – as was the case when they combined to make 10 runs against England – it’s hard to see the White Ferns winning at present and it might take all three of them against a side as stacked with talent as Australia.
The record books will tell you that the White Ferns have won two of their last T20s against their trans-Tasman rivals and that they are the only team to have beaten Meg Lanning’s side since their World Cup triumph on home soil in early 2020.
But if they look back at those matches for inspiration, they will see match-winning innings from Satterthwaite and Frankie Mackay, who also wasn’t offered a contract and is therefore absent. Both of them could have bolstered the team this week.
A bounce-back win against Australia can’t be ruled out, but it is an extremely unlikely prospect, and it’s likely to be a match for bronze that awaits the White Ferns on Sunday.
If that’s where they end up, they’ll have to turn around and play within 12 hours and they’ll be hoping it’s India in front of them, not a rematch with the hosts.
England have a hoodoo on the White Ferns in cricket’s shortest format, having won 19 of their last 21 T20 meetings, a record that stretches back more than a decade to 2010, and you’d fancy them to add another if the two teams meet again in a medal match on Sunday.
India have looked a stronger side than New Zealand this week, having pushed Australia close for two-thirds of their opening match, but they’ll be the team the White Ferns will feel the most comfortable against.
They were the only genuine semifinal contender they managed to beat at their home one-day World Cup earlier this year and that, if nothing else, would give them confidence.
When it comes to knockout rounds in sport, by simply being there you give yourselves a chance.
Now it’s time to see what the White Ferns have got.