A very Perry-esque moment of brilliance

Smriti Mandhana waved Ellyse Perry in as soon as she had regained her breath after making the first breakthrough for Royal Challengers Bangalore with a low sliding capture close to the ropes. Perry bowled all of six overs for 51 runs in the WPL 2024, failing to pick up a wicket in his previous four efforts. However, the captain of the RCB had a hunch, supported by some homework.

With three boundaries off the left-arm spinner in the span of four balls in the PowerPlay, S. Sajana, the Mumbai Indians’ hero from the opening night with a [her]first-ball, last-ball six, and their temporary opener in Yastika Bhatia’s forced absence due to illness, was just starting to free her arms against Sophie Molineux. In an attempt to gain an advantage, Perry cramped Sajana for a room first ball as Mandhana chose to pick up the tempo again. The ball bounced up, but in the dim light, the two overlapping fielders at extra-cover and point mishandled it. Sajana also made it through the final delivery of the over, nearly reaching mid-off with a full ball that she drove uppishly. Despite this, Mandhana continued to bowl with the Australian for an extra over because he saw Perry cause difficulties for the batter by getting the ball to seam back in sharply between those two close calls. Or, as events would unfold, knock her out cold.

Sophie Devine let up 15 runs in the eighth over, which included a four and a six to Sajana. The Mumbai opener then hit another boundary, this time a half-volley from Perry past mid-on. But the 33-year-old produced an incredible comeback, smashing her stumps with a shot that sneaked in from a decent distance. Harmanpreet Kaur, the next batter, ended up pulling an inside edge onto the stumps to fall for a golden duck. Two nights prior, he had produced a blinder of a knock in MI’s thrilling last-ball win on an adjacent ground.

After blocking the hat-trick ball, Amelia Kerr didn’t play much longer. The Kiwi all-rounder was trapped LBW off Perry’s following ball after being sharply diverted in again, beating him on the inside edge. Perry skillfully drew Amanjot Kaur’s short ball welcome to the fence, but then used the strategy that was working beautifully for her to come back and kill the threat. Another victim, another nip-backer, another inside edge deflected against the stumps.

After Pooja Vastrakar hit a four-ball down the ground and beyond the bowler, the bowler responded by taking another wicket, her fifth of the evening. As her RCB teammates gathered in a huddle for a head pat, the off-stump was uprooted along with several records.

In that opening over, Nat Sciver-Brunt had escaped an LBW appeal and a DRS referral from Perry because the ball had nipped back in so quickly that it had completely missed the leg stump. Finally, off the final ball of Perry’s period, the MI vice captain became her sixth scalp. The ball hit her pads squarely in front, and once more, it was the seam movement that beat her bat. Sciver-Brunt, or MI, soared to 113 all out in the penultimate over, and not even a review could stop them.

Perry didn’t take a wicket in the first nine balls she delivered, but she managed an incredible stretch of 4-0-15-6 to record the first-ever six-fer and, consequently, the best bowling numbers in the WPL’s short history.

By the time she finished her ball session, Mumbai had fallen from a commanding 65/0 midway through the ninth over to a frustrating 82/7, Perry having a role in all seven of the team’s dismissals so far. However, Perry did not end there for the roughly 24,000 people in attendance during the week at Feroze Shah Kotla. In the final over of RCB’s meek chase, she came back with the bat in hand and, with three wickets falling for little money, held one end up with her 40* in an uninterrupted 76-run stand with Richa Ghosh. By the time Perry finally called it a night, she had single-handedly marked her team’s name in the standings with a “Q.”

Perry, the seamer, is noteworthy for having established the groundwork for this playoff qualifying; she possesses a skill that the world hasn’t seen much more of since women’s cricket resumed with COVID-19.

Perry’s bowling effort has gradually decreased in her 93 T20 games since the start of 2021, across internationals, the WBBL, and the WPL. This is partly because of the abundance of bowling resources in the Australian lineup. Even yet, before her brilliant performance against MI on Tuesday, the all-rounder had only bowled 132 overs, taking 39 wickets for 989 runs, including her lone WBBL five-fer. Compared to her lifetime norm of 6.45 for the 207 wickets throughout her 307 T20 caps, Perry’s economy of 7.42 over this time frame represents a notable increase.

To put it even more simply, in the 31 games Australia Women have played throughout this time, Perry has not been called upon to bowl 14 times. She has bowled more than two only once, against South Africa in Canberra last month, and has only claimed 11 wickets from her combined 25 overs of bowling on other occasions.

“Australia might have missed a trick there, haven’t they,?” Charlotte Edwards, the head coach of the Mumbai Indians, made a joke during the post-game press conference.

The captain of the team Perry made her T20I debut against, as well as her coach from the Sydney Sixers, were among those expressing gratitude to Perry for putting an end to rumours that her career as a T20 bowler was waning. Perry recorded her first T20 wicket (5/22) just last November. Edwards was gushing about the Australian, whom she had earlier termed “the greatest female cricketer we’re ever going to see” without holding back.

The 44-year-old reaffirmed, “I’ll still stand by what I said five years ago.” “She is not only an incredible person, but the best player I have ever seen play the game with such energy. Ellyse is a fantastic role model and a huge asset to our game.

“Over the past few years, I’ve had the honour of working with her at the Sydney Sixers. The thing about Ellyse that I respect the most is that it doesn’t matter if she’s playing international, WPL, or club cricket. She plays it the same way, and I think that’s fantastic and really extremely admirable. Hopefully, she won’t have such a terrific day on Friday [Eliminator] as she did today.

“Yeah, but clearly, we are witnessing greatness. Furthermore, I believe she’ll be around for a little while longer,” Edwards said following her team’s seven-wicket loss.

After RCB advanced to the WPL 2024 playoffs and, in a sense, finished a redemption arc following a forgettable first season, Mandhana was a proud captain. Mandhana told the media, “Someone with her experience, you never feel like oh she doesn’t have it in her.”

“I’m not sure why, but I experienced this [feeling] today. Regarding the strategy to bring Perry on after Powerplay, Mandhana remarked, “Especially around the fifth or sixth over finished, with Sajana opening [we knew that] pace is not maybe her strength, because we’ve seen in the tournament hitting a lot of sixes off the spinners.”

“I decided that Pez could be a decent alternative at that moment, so I just brought her in. I had anticipated that she might bowl one or two overs, but it was incredible to witness how she got started. She may have taken six wickets today, but other than that, I think she’s been a really fantastic addition to the team. Many young Indians, including myself, have been inspired by her work ethic and general demeanour after seeing her; in fact, I have become inspired too. A true team player—I don’t believe many people talk about that about her—her interactions with the group are just so wonderful, and it really makes my job simpler.”

Even with Ghosh’s flair, the heartbreaking 1-run loss to the Delhi Capitals may have required a stroke of luck for the injured RCB to remain in control of their destiny against the formidable reigning champs. That’s exactly what their most seasoned player—and probably the best in the game—produced on a chilly Delhi night.

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