India’s loss at the hands of the West Indies in the Women’s World T20 in Mohali on Sunday meant that they had missed the bus to their own party. After much hype, high expectations, and best-ever preparation, even the talk of a women’s IPL, India unfortunately proved that all that glitters is not yet gold.
Placed in group B, India were expected to beat at least one among the West Indies or England as well as Pakistan and Bangladesh to progress to the semis, something the team last did in 2010. But the shock defeat to Pakistan meant that the pressure in the next two games multiplied faster than Bellatrix Lestrange’s treasure in the final Harry Potter book. India could say the rub of the green went against them in three close games which could easily have gone either way but since they made similar mistakes in all three, it is a meek defence.
Batting: Putting aside the opening game against Bangladesh, where India scored a record 163, the Indian batting looked unsure, not just of themselves, but also what a par score was. The positive approach that India demonstrated in Australia where they chased a record 140 to set up a T20I series win disappeared at the first sign of pressure, faster than a turtle ducking inside its shell. Granted that the pitches were not as good for batting, but the inability to use soft hands and take singles cost us. India’s power play score against Pakistan, a record low of seven, was the epitome of their sluggish batting.
Mithali Raj, with scores of 16 (35 balls), 20 (33 balls) and 0 (one ball) had a lean tournament to say the least. More of a concern than the low scores was the rate at which they came. It raises the question of whether she is suited to batting at the top of the order in the T20 format, where the field restrictions in the first six overs need to be taken advantage of. Both she and the team could benefit if Mithali played in the middle order, maybe even as a finisher, where her experience under pressure will be invaluable.
Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur, too, flattered to deceive. Both were in good form coming into this tournament but struggled in the business end. While Mandhana was guilty of getting out in similar fashion in the first two games, Harmanpreet struggled to rotate strike under pressure. Fans were longing to see the attacking game that the two had showcased in Australia but were disappointed. Veda Krishnamurthy’s batting, though, was a balm on those wounds. In every game, she showed a fearless approach and played her natural game, unfazed by the situation.
Fielding and running between wickets: Traditionally, India have never lacked skill with bat or ball, they always lagged behind in these two departments. While the fielding has improved somewhat with the influx of younger, fitter players, the running remains a major concern. These same players, who certainly have the legs, seem to lack the attitude of looking for a single off good balls, and putting pressure on fielders by running hard between the wickets.
Bowling: The spinners, barring the game against Pakistan, had a good tournament in conditions that favoured them. The bowlers tried their best to defend less-than-par scores against Pakistan and England. The pace bowling blew hot and cold and Mithali showed a reluctance to use both Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey if she could get by with the spinners. In contrast, Australia and England pacers were effective even on the slower tracks, using their variations to good effect.
All-rounders: Anuja Patil made useful contributions with both bat and ball, and impressed in the field as well. Entrusted with the new ball on many occasions, she proved especially effective against left-handers. Pandey meanwhile, was underutilised and underperformed with bat and ball. There is a case for her to open the batting in T20s in future, as she has scored at the top order before. It would allow the team to play an extra bowler or batter as the conditions required, and lengthen the batting line-up.
The campaign in this WT20 broke down like Archie’s Jalopy after a big opening win, much like in the 2013 ODI World Cup that India hosted. Back then, inconsistent selections were a major issue; the core of this Indian unit has been the same for a while now.
Mithali Raj chose to look at the bright side, that the three close games will have taught the players a lot. “There is always slip-up in the game but with this experience of having handled pressure, the girls will be able to do better in the coming tournaments.”
India are yet to play Pakistan and the West Indies in the ICC women’s championship. Should they not finish in the top-four, they will have to play a qualifying tournament before the Women’s World Cup in England in 2017 to determine their ranking. This might be the best possible result, as nothing forges steel nerves and cool heads like match practice.
The players have shown over the last year or so that this bunch has the talent to beat even the best. If the BCCI is truly concerned about more than making up the numbers in 2017, a systematic and concerted effort towards improving the fitness, fielding and running-between skills of the team must be put in. The team — including the coaching staff, who often seem to be playing musical chairs — that will play in 2017 needs to be finalised now, and preparations made with an eye on English conditions.
India have much that glitters. A Test win against England, and a T20I series win against Australia have proved that. It is now up to the BCCI to put the machinery in place to smelt, polish and refine it, and deliver the finished goods.