Harmanpreet Kaur’s Indian women’s cricket team created history by entering their first-ever T20 World Cup final after the semis ended in a no-show. Persistent rain hampered the match against England Eves on Thursday, which meant that India, courtesy of finishing on top of Group A, advanced to the summit clash.
Though India have been on a roll in the ongoing tournament, winning four of four, their big batting stars have failed to fire, with Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur unable to get going.
The washout also means that the team will enter the all-important clash on Women’s Day without having played a competitive game since 29 February (when they took on Sri Lanka in their last league encounter).
How the long gap affects the momentum of the unit, and how the poor form of the experienced guns affects the side will be the biggest concerns as the Women in Blue gear up to play in front of a packed MCG on Sunday.
A Combined Batting Effort Led by Shafali
Youngster Shafali Verma could easily have been bogged down by the magnitude of the event. Having turned 16 just recently, the Rohtak girl walked out to bat in her maiden ICC platform with bundles of confidence.
Oozing out “Aisi Dhaakad Hai” vibes, the swashbuckling star has emerged as a serious prodigy during the course of the four games India played in the tournament.
More than the runs scored (161 with a high of 47), the way she has attacked and toyed with the bowling unit has remained pleasing.
A strike rate of 161 at the top, more than any batter who has scored more than 10 runs in the tournament, ensures that Mandhana has been able to escape with a below-par tournament thus far.
Regular Stars a Shadows of Themselves
Scoring just 38 runs in three matches, the left-hander has looked a pale shadow of her aggressive best. With a high score of just 17 along with an average of 12.66, Mandhana has been unable to get under the bowlers, falling prey to indifferent shots throughout.
Largely considered as one of the most flamboyant batters of the current era, Mandhana’s record in T20 ICC events is rather underwhelming.
In 16 matches in the ICC T20 World Cup (she played her first T20 WC in 2014), Mandhana has scored just 287 runs in 16 games with one fifty and an average of just over 19.
She has smashed 12 fifties at 25.44 overall in her career.
Her form though has slipped under the radar as players like Jemimah Rodrigues, Taniya Bhatia and Veda Krishnamurthy have chipped in after the fall of Mandhana’s wicket upfront.
While Mandhana has been poor, captain Harmanpreet’s World Cup has been poorer, with just 26 runs in 4 matches at an unacceptable average of 6.50.
Last year, in the shortest format, Harmanpreet could score 152 runs in 10 innings with no fifties to her name and an average of just 19. Regarded as one of the most dangerous hitters, the Punjabi has scored her runs at a strike rate of only 96.10 since January 2019, which has reduced to 90 in 2020, and her continued poor form has forced former Indian cricketer Diane Edulji to state that captaincy might be affecting Harmanpreet’s batting.
Stars Falters, Team Steps Up
The opener was the first to fall against the defending champions Australia, with Verma following suit, but the duo of Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma held fort to take India from 47 for 3 to 100 for 4, from where they went on to amass 132.
Though Mandhana did not play India’s next game against the Bangla Women, the team had collapsed to 113 for 6 from 78 for 2, and were in danger of putting up a below-par total.
However, vital contributions from Krishnamurthy (20 in 11), debutant Richa Ghosh (14 in 14) and Rodrigues (34 in 37) ensured that the team eventually made more than 140.
Against New Zealand, Mandhana was out when the score read 17 for 1, but the team eventually posted 133 for 8, led by Verma’s 46 in 34 and Radha Yadav’s 14 off 9, which came while she was batting at number 9.
In India’s last game against Sri Lanka, Mandhana showed glimpses of returning to form as she struck 17 in 12 before falling to Udeshika Prabodhani. Yet again, Verma was aided by Rodrigues and Deepti as they took the team over the line.
The Bowlers Come to The Party
Team India have not scored many runs in the edition, but the quality of the bowling attack has ensured that even scores of 135+ have been competitive. Poonam Yadav and Deepti have led the attack with their variations and googlies, while experienced pacer Shikha Pandey has emerged as the go-to player.
Picking up 7 wickets in 4 matches with the new and the old ball, Pandey’s expertise and her skills have helped pull the team from a precarious situation, like it did against the White Ferns.
Poonam has managed to pick 9 at a stunning average of 9.88, while Deepti has only two, but her economy rate of 5.75 has meant that she has been able to create pressure
Radha Yadav has played just two games but already has best figures of 4 for 23, while Rajeshwari Gayakwad has slipped under the radar, but her efforts are commendable as well. She has 5 wickets at 19.20 at an economy rate of just 6.
What is noteworthy in India’s bowling displays Down Under has been how tight and accurate they have been, despite the wicket not assisting them at times. Other than Arundhati Reddy, no other Indian bowler has conceded more than 6 runs per over, with the trio of Pandey-Poonam-Deepti conceding less than 6 in the four games thus far.
The spinners have been on the mark, the pacers have silently ensured that they have got the work done, the fielders have thrown themselves around the park while the batters have pitched together to keep the scoreboard ticking despite the failure of their two top guns.
A champion team rallies around together in a big event, and the Indian Eves have managed to do just that.
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