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China v New Zealand T20: Stars shine brightly in opener against White Ferns

Power hitting: Elyse Villani smashed 73 not out off 47 balls in the Southern Stars’ 40-run win over New Zealand at the MCG. Photo: Scott Barbour – CAIt was an afternoon Meg Lanning had every right to be slightly bewildered by, but the n captain ultimately got what she craved – a first-up 40-run win in the three-match Twenty20 series against New Zealand.

Bankrolled by a 110-run stand off 77 balls between Lanning (60 off 52 balls) and Elyse Villani (73 not out off 47), the Southern Stars set the tourists 152 to win at the MCG. In reply, the White Ferns stumbled to 8-111 against a balanced attack.

“It was good to get the first win out of the way. Obviously, it wasn’t perfect on our behalf but we will be looking to get better and better as we go along,” Villani said.

The series now shifts to Geelong on Sunday, with the Stars keen to claim a series victory.

Lanning’s innings on Friday was punctuated with sumptuous stroke play but she enjoyed lives on 20 and 24. Then in the field, she grassed chances off Rachel Priest and Suzie Bates, although neither proved to be damaging, but held on to a thunderbolt from Priest at mid-wicket.

The Stars had three debutants – Molly Strano, Amanda-Jade Wellington and Ashleigh Gardner, the latter the first Indigenous n representative in almost 60 years since since Faith Thomas (nee Coulthard) against England in February, 1958 – and all had a day to remember for varying reasons.

Wellington claimed three wickets with her leg-spinners, Strano, who appeared to have her own cheer squad from her local club Essendon, claimed one wicket with her off-spin, while Gardner, handed the prized No.3 spot in the order, was run out first ball.

Having been hit on the pad first ball by Holly Huddleston, Gardner had taken a few steps down the pitch, in part considering a run but also to make the lbw call more difficult for the umpire. She survived the appeal but Lea Tahuhu, fielding at short point, swooped on the ball from silly point and her diving underarm throw smashed the stumps. The appeal was sent to a decision review, with replays showing Gardner’s bat had not crossed the crease. This left the hosts at 2-20 after four overs but any signs of trouble were short-lived.

“Meg and I have, fortunately, batted a lot together and it never changes – that is to just play really positively and score off as many balls as possible,” Villani said.

Lanning quickly found her groove. There was a well-timed late cut for four using the pace of Tahuhu, while her half-century off 41 balls was confirmed when she danced down the deck to the off-spin of Leigh Kasperek and lofted a boundary through long off. She was finally out in the 17th over when Huddleston completed a fine diving catch at long-off.

Villani, from WBBL side Perth Scorchers, thumped a full toss off Erin Bermingham for six  and her 50 came off 31 balls.  The power hitter would remain until the end of the innings, ensuring the visitors were set an intimidating challenge.

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