For Indian women’s cricket team, the World T20 campaign was akin to walking a tightrope when they came into their encounter against former champions England on Tuesday. After an unexpected loss to Pakistan in their previous game, the backdrop of the Himalayas in Dharamsala gave the team a good representation of the proverbial mountain they needed to climb to qualify for the semis. They had to beat an England team against who they had never won a WT20 match and who are discovering an attacking brand of play. Talking points from the game:
India have been hurt by their inability to quickly judge the wicket and get an idea of what a par score is.
Against Pakistan at the Kotla, they were too cautious on a pitch that was good for batting, which resulted in a disappointing total. The opposite happened on Tuesday as the Dharamsala wicket was incredibly slow and was taking appreciable turn as well. On a wicket where 120 could have been defended, India seemed like they were gunning for 140. Had it not been for a couple of dropped catches in England’s otherwise outstanding fielding effort, India might not have managed the runs they eventually did.
India’s two changes in the batting order were symptomatic of a knee-jerk reaction after a solitary but high-pressure loss: Smriti Mandhana was pushed to her regular opening slot, and Mithali Raj came in at one-down. The move made sense as Mithali might have looked to consolidate after the openers attacked. But V. Vanita’s suicidal shot in the first over meant that Mithali as good as opened, and for the second time in two matches, finished with a poor strike rate. Mandhana showed glimpse of the form she was in before this tournament but was defeated by the slowness of the pitch as she played too early and was castled by Shrubsole.
Then instead of Harmanpreet Kaur, Shikha Pandey came in at four. Harmanpreet and Veda Krishnamurthy have been India’s best so far, so it made no sense to push them down the order. Pandey has scored runs batting in the top order before but on a pitch where runs are hard to come by, surely the best batters must bat earlier. Harmanpreet duly top scored with 26 off just 25 balls, adjusting beautifully to the slow nature of the pitch.
Bisht’s day out
Ekta Bisht got her first game in the WT20, and immediately made an impact. With four wickets and a run out, she would have been a shoo-in to win player of the match, had England not won. On a wicket that was tailor made for spin bowling, she excelled and was at one point on a hat-trick. While she usually bowls quicker through the air, she was rewarded with sharp turn when she lowered her speed and adjusted to the pitch.
Harmanpreet, with her part time off-spinners and googlies, too made an impact. Her googlies in particular had the batters in all sorts of trouble. In the narrative of the contest, Harmanpreet’s role kept swaying between hero and villain. She batted well, but then with the ball conceded three consecutive boundaries in the sixth over. She came back well with two consecutive wickets, including the dangerous Sarah Taylor in the same over. But she then dropped a straightforward catch in the 19th over, with England 8 down and needing three runs to win.
“On a wicket like this, where there was uneven bounce and turn, any team would have struggled to chase the runs we had. If we had bowled with a little more ‘head’, we could have defended this total”, said Mithali. However, it did not gloss over the fact that for the second game running, India’s batting had not done the job.
England’s depth in batting
India might have thought they were in with a real chance when England slid to 71/6 in the 14th over. However, despite the similarities this game had to the India-Pakistan one, England are no Pakistan. Katherine Brunt (average of 16) and Jenny Gunn (more than 200 international caps) both have solid all-round credentials, and came in as low as 9 and 10 for England. It was the difference between a win and a loss, as Brunt stuck around for 15 balls and gave Shrubsole company as England hit the winnings runs. Heather Knight mentioned after the match that there was a lot of belief in the dressing room.
England now have a foot in the semis, while India will have to beat the West Indies handsomely and hope other results go their way, to stand a chance at progressing on net run rate.
Best advertisement for the game?
“When you’re promoting women’s cricket around the globe, it’s imperative that you put across the best brand of cricket that you can. If you have a good wicket where you can chase 150-160, that is a better advertisement for the women’s game”, said Mithali Raj after the match.
Speaking like a true batter, Mithali, to be fair, reflected the outlook of spectators who come to watch fours and sixes. But the low-scoring game that Dharamsala produced was no less exciting, and by itself, was an excellent advertisement for the women’s game. Why is a bowler friendly wicket not a good wicket? Yes there were no sixes but twice in the match there were the possibility of hat-tricks. On a difficult wicket, an adroitly placed three, or even a four, is surely an equal display of skill as is a full-blooded six? While the players understand this, it is perhaps the duty of the media to educate the public about the beauties and nuances of bowler friendly wickets in the batter’s game.