An unbeaten half-century by Ash Gardner has steered a rusty Australia to a six-wicket comeback win in their opening Twenty20 women’s cricket international against New Zealand at Hamilton.

All eyes may have been on Ellyse Perry on Sunday as she made her international return after more than a year sidelined with a hamstring injury.

But it was another Australian all-rounder who stole the show at Seddon Park after Gardner rescued the visitors from a top-order collapse with a match-winning 73 not out.

World champions Australia were contesting their first international series in six months after emerging just 24 hours earlier from a two-week quarantine in Christchurch – and it showed during a nightmare start to their run chase.

Australia’s batters looked like they needed to blow off some cobwebs as they dramatically stumbled to 2-3 and 3-14 after being set 131 for victory.

However, Australia showed why they haven’t lost a T20 series since late 2017 by regrouping to cruise to 4-133 with 12 balls to spare thanks to Gardner’s 48-ball knock.

Gardner rode her luck in the three-game series opener after being dropped on 30, thrashing six fours and three sixes – including two straight maximums off leggie Amelia Kerr – to notch her fourth T20 half century.

Perry was still able to turn heads on Sunday.

She shared an unbeaten 71-run fifth-wicket stand with Gardner, finishing on 23 not out off 16 balls after hitting the winning runs.

But eyebrows were raised when Australian captain Meg Lanning did not throw Perry the ball during New Zealand’s innings of 6-130, marking the first time the all-rounder had not been used as a bowler in a T20 since 2015.

It wasn’t a good look after Perry’s T20 future had recently been called into question by Australian great Lisa Sthalekar.

But Gardner played down the snub, citing Australia’s bowling depth which was further bolstered on Sunday by the international return of quick Tayla Vlaeminck after more than a year sidelined with a foot stress fracture.

“I guess we just have so many bowlers for Meg to choose from,” Gardner said.

Lanning was just grateful to have Perry back.

“She has obviously missed a little bit of cricket but she has a lot of experience – it’s nice to have her back,” said Lanning, who hit a run-a-ball 28 after a life on 24.

Lanning saluted her team’s fightback but admitted there was plenty of room for improvement ahead of Tuesday’s second T20 in Napier.

“I think we are a little bit rusty,” she said.

Earlier, Australian spinner Jess Jonassen took 3-26 – her best T20 return against the White Ferns – after at one stage taking two wickets in four balls.

Kiwi Amy Satterthwaite enjoyed a life off Vlaeminck (0-26) on 16 but fell for 40 off 31 balls, sharing a 58-run third wicket stand with Amelia Kerr (20 off 29 balls).

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