Mithali Raj's masterful 89, guided India to a comfortable five-wicket victory in the final ODI in Hobart. © Getty Images

Mithali Raj’s masterful 89, guided India to a comfortable five-wicket victory in the final ODI in Hobart. © Getty Images

A masterful innings of 89 by Mithali Raj guided India Women to a comfortable five-wicket victory over Australia Women in the third and final One-Day International at the Blundstone Arena in Hobart on Sunday (February 7). Australia still clinched the series 2-1, having already wrapped things up by winning the first two matches.

Opting to bat after Meg Lanning won the toss, Australia played themselves into a position of strength on the back of half-centuries by Ellyse Perry and Alex Blackwell and their partnership of 99 for the third wicket, but India fought back through their spinners to restrict them to 231 for 7.

Chasing 232 for a consolation victory, India got off to a positive start through Smriti Mandhana and Veda Krishnamurthy. Mandhana, in particular, took the attack to Megan Schutt and Rene Farrell with some exquisite hitting down the ground.

Perry came into the attack in the seventh over and struck with her very first ball, trapping Krishnamurthy plumb in front.

Unperturbed by the loss of her partner, Mandhana continued to play the role of the aggressor as Raj struggled to find the gaps. After 10 dot balls, it seemed as if the pressure had gotten to the Indian captain. She stepped out to Grace Harris, the offspinner, and completely missed the ball, only for Blackwell to mess up the stumping. Blackwell had taken over wicketkeeper duties from Alyssa Healy, who was off the field with a hamstring injury.

After that reprieve, Raj punished anything with width and slowly began to manoeuvre the field, while Mandhana continued on her merry way, smashing the bowling around. The duo had added 151 in the second ODI, and looked set to repeat that feat on Sunday.

Kristen Beams, the legspinner, had other ideas. Soon after Mandhana brought up her half-century, Beams found a way through her defence. The left-hand batter was dismissed for 55 off 52 balls, but India were handily placed at 94 for 2 in the 22nd over.

Mandhana’s wicket put the onus on Raj to help India stay ahead of the scoring rate. With the help of Harmanpreet Kaur, she managed to do just that, bringing up her half-century along the way. Once she crossed that landmark, the Indian captain seemed to find another gear. She unleashed a flurry of lofted strokes off the bowling of Jess Jonassen, tilting the advantage in India’s favour.

Harmanpreet, meanwhile, was not at her fluent best. The Australians managed to tie her down by effectively attacking her stumps. In her second spell, Perry got the right-hand batter to jab awkwardly at a delivery on her stumps and the ball carried straight to Lanning at midwicket.

Soon after Harmanpreet’s dismissal, Raj received her second reprieve, this time on 69, when she was dropped by Perry at cover-point. The Indian captain then began to chance her arm, throwing her hands at anything with the slightest bit of width. But when she looked all set for a century, she was run out for 89 off a direct hit from Beams from midwicket.

Needing only 36 runs for victory, Punam Raut and Shikha Pandey took charge. Raut played a lovely shot over cover, while Pandey smashed a pull off Perry for a boundary.

Pandey threw her wicket away with victory only eight runs away. She was castled by Holly Ferling trying a wild heave across the line. Raut and Jhulan Goswami ensured there were no further hiccups, guiding India to victory in 47 overs.

Earlier, Australia lost Nicole Bolton early. The Indian bowlers maintained a disciplined line and length, making sure the pair of Lanning and Perry was not gifted easy runs. Perry, who was struggling to find her timing, failed to turn the strike over to her captain who was striking the ball well.

India’s plan worked when Rajeshwari Gayakwad, the left-arm spinner, bowled Lanning for 27, and Australia were reduced to 43 for 2.

The entry of Blackwell, however, turned things around. The vice-captain completely took the pressure off Perry and swept her way to a half-century. She toyed with India’s spinners, hitting them forward and backward of square on the legside at will. She brought up her half-century at better than a run-a-ball and was motoring along before Pandey had her caught at mid-off for 60.

Blackwell’s dismissal started a phase of Indian domination. From 142 for 3, Australia were reduced to 155 for 5 as Pandey bowled Harris for a duck, and then had Perry brilliantly caught and bowled for a laboured half-century off 92 balls.

Healy and Jonassen tried to resurrect the innings, but the Indian bowlers kept a tight leash on proceedings. Healy was dismissed for 21 by Gayakwad, Schutt was run out by Pandey without facing a ball, and it looked as if Australia were in danger of being bowled out for under 200.

It was the eighth-wicket stand between Farrell and Jonassen that propelled Australia to respectability. They added 45 runs off 39 balls, Farrell contributing a 23-ball 29.

Pandey was India’s best bowler with figures of 3 for 50, while Gayakwad picked up 2 for 41.

The 2-1 series victory strengthened Australia’s position at the top of the ICC Women’s Championship table with 20 points, while India moved ahead to Sri Lanka into seventh place with seven points.