Days out from departing for the ICC World Twenty20, a series already in the bag gave New Zealand WHITE FERNS coach Haidee Tiffen the perfect opportunity to give remaining squad members a chance to run off some cobwebs on Pukekura Park as the hosts looked for a clean sweep against Australia.
Bustling bowlers Felicity Leydon-Davis and Hannah Rowe came in for their first appearance and spinning allrounder Anna Peterson came back into the eleven.
The regular attack team of Morna Nielsen, Leigh Kasperek and Lea Tahuhu was given a well-earned break after an intense series; while Sophie Devine ran the drinks to give her injured quad more recovery time ahead of the big date in India.
The visitors were equally determined not to be swept 0-3, and to head off to India to the tournament that they have won three times on the bounce on a positive note.
Taranaki played its part by turning on azure skies, not a moment of snow on the mountain and a warm late summer day for the crowd of more than 1000, the terraces well populated for the final home International match of the 2015/16 season on an Friday afternoon.
It began on a poignant note, a minute’s silence held in memory of Martin Crowe, who had passed away the day previously; at a ground he had graced many times in his career.
Black armbands from both the New Zealand WHITE FERNS and Australian players were omnipresent.
WHITE FERNS captain Suzie Bates won her third toss of the Twenty20s — completing reversing her form from the Rose Bowl — and again opted to field first, on a track with no demons.
And, despite a new-look attack, it once again began promisingly against the world champions, Erin Bermingham stepping into Nielsen’s shoes by bowling her four overs up front where she her flight was eventually rewarded with the opening breakthrough, Elys Villani caught by captain Bates in the third over.
Australia’s young star captain Meg Lanning would once again be cut off quickly, too, when she was caught off first change Amy Satterthwaite, but not for the first time in the series Ellyse Perry answered the ship-steadying call for her country with a player of the match performance
The lithe aggressor would hit six boundaries in her run-a-ball 43 and built a key 51-run stand with Alex Blackwell for the third wicket that eased their tension as the bowling frayed, Bates bringing herself on in the 13th over in an attempt to break the growing momentum.
Her over produced a wicket as the sharp pair of Katie Perkins and Rachel Priest combined to run out Blackwell.
Perry on 29 was now joined by Alyssa Healy.
But the next introduction into the attack, 20-year-old Thamsyn Newton (2-16), would make an exciting double strike in the space of four balls of her second over, the 16th, Perry and Healy both comfortably caught in the deep by Amy Satterthwaite.
Jess Jonassen heaved a six off Satterthwaite in revenge to add some late heat in the last over, but Rachel Priest pounced on a stumping to remove Grace Harris, and then ran out Megan Schutt as she was going for a bonus run on the last ball of the innings.
But while catches stuck and the damage with the bat could have been greater, the pressure had evaporated in key phases, Australia settling on 145 for seven in their 20, an asking rate of 7.30 per over for the WHITE FERNS.
Getting the chase off to a solid start, Suzie Bates would again led from the front with a 49-ball half century, posted with a six belted off Lauren Cheatle and decorated with five fours as she operated at a triple figure strike rate.
First drop Sara McGlashan supported with a run-a-ball 35 in a healthy 62-run-stand for the second wicket.
It ended in surprise fashion when McGlashan was bowled looking to play a funky lap shot against Megan Schutt, and the wicket in the 11th over triggered a cascade that saw the WHITE FERNS lose their grip on the prospect of a clean sweep.
They had been on course well enough, and Bates remained until the death, but after the cluster of wickets interrupted proceedings, ultimately the run had been left late — 27 runs needed off the last two overs, with the hosts having descended from a platform of 72/2 to a wobbly 119/6.
Bates would ultimately fall to Perry with the scoreboard stuck on the same number, five wickets having fallen in the last five overs as the hosts finished eight down and 17 runs short for an otherwise successful 2-1 Series ledger against the world number ones.
The battle was over for now, and the war won.