Ekta Bisht, Pakistan, and personal milestones seem to go together.
The last time India played their neighbours in an ODI, she took five wickets, and passed the 50-wicket mark. On Sunday at the Derbyshire County Cricket Ground, she scalped five more, and with her fifth, became the fifth-highest wicket-taker for India in this format.
The circumstances though were very different. That game was part of the ICC World Cup Qualifier in February, held on the pitches of Colombo, which were more welcoming to the spinners. There, Pakistan were batting first, so she had no scoreboard pressure on her. Three of her wickets were lower-order batters . Her 5 for 8 with seven maidens constituted her career-best bowling figures.
But she will probably be more proud of this performance. She came through for the team when India were defending an eminently surmountable total of 169, in a World Cup game that was televised, and in front of more than 2,600 spectators. And it came on an English pitch — one that held no great demons for the batters, with the new ball no less.
Of her five wickets, three were from the top-order, three sent back for single digits, all three in identical fashion: The ball sliding on with the arm, and beating the inside edge to rap the pad in front of the stumps. It is something she has a habit of doing; of her 68 wickets, 29 have been bowled or leg before wicket. If this form of dismissal were to be given a name, a 'Bisht' is not a bad one. She then returned to claim two more in her second spell, assuring Pakistan never got anywhere near India’s total.
The performance won her the Player of the Match award, and her last scalp took her past fellow left-arm spinner Gouher Sultana, and into India’s top five wicket-takers.
"Ekta has always delivered time and again for India when given the new ball," said Mithali Raj of her lead spin bowler, "I’m very proud of her. Her spell was so crucial; the wickets that we got for the first spell really brought us back into the contest."
Verma leads recovery
Raj will not be overly concerned about her bowling department. But when India batted first after winning the toss, there were, what Raj described "anxious moments". India were reduced 111 for 6, and it was up to Sushma Verma and Jhulan Goswami to stage a comeback.
Before this game, Verma’s ODI batting figures looked more like a telephone number and less like a stat sheet. She had only 14 ODI runs in eight innings, and a top score of four, despite making her debut as far back as 2014. The wicketkeeper has had to bat just three times in 12 ODIs this year. So it was a surprise to see her walk in ahead of Goswami, whose experience was just what the situation demanded.
"At that point of time when we were losing wickets, it was important to slow down a little," said Raj of the decision, "We knew that she did play that role, she has done it with our Central Zone team and she bailed us out. So we expected that she would play that role, and she did for a long period."
Verma repaid the faith with a vital 33 off 35 balls. On a day where India played 194 dot balls, her knock had by far the best strike-rate among the Indian batters. Considering the situation when she walked in, her runs were more valuable than Punam Raut’s 47.
Too many dot balls
While India — both the country and the team — will celebrate their 10th consecutive win and spotless ODI record against Pakistan, there might be some stern words for the top order in the team meeting. In the first 10 overs, the batters played out 52 dot balls. Credit must go to Pakistan; their pace bowlers bowled relentless lines, and moved the ball just enough to trouble the batters. Diana Baig, playing in just her third ODI, worked up good pace and removed the in-form Smriti Mandhana with a superb in-swinger. She also bowled three maidens, and led the fielding effort with some electric stops in the point region.
Mandhana’s quick scoring in this World Cup had allowed the other batters to take their time. After she went early on Sunday, the scoring rates of Raut and Deepti Sharma almost bordered on prehistoric. At the end of the 10th over, Raut was on 5 off 27, and Deepti on 7 off 24. While Raut made up some lost ground before being dismissed, Deepti struggled to rotate strike, a problem the middle-order also encountered. India only found momentum through Sushma and Goswami’s 34-run partnership. Still, India’s total of 169 was their lowest total batting first against Pakistan.
India’s bowing effort ensured that this game never got as close as it promised to be at the halfway stage. India carry momentum into the business end of the tournament; two more wins should see them lock in a semifinal berth. They next play Sri Lanka at the same venue on Wednesday, and will be looking to iron out the creases before they face South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
The author is a former India cricketer, and now a freelance journalist. She hosts the series ‘Cricket How To’ on YouTube and tweets @SnehalPradhan