It was a game that began and ended with undelivered promise, and the first one came off the field. In keeping with the BCCI’s more proactive stance on women’s cricket, media reports had indicated that India’s three-ODI series against England would be televised. The BCCI was beieved to have extended the contract of the home broadcaster, Star, by 15 days to accommodate these games. But when the first ODI arrived, it was only live-streamed on the BCCI website, not carried on the Star network. Sources in the broadcast industry indicated that while the agreement with the BCCI was made in principle, the paperwork was not finalised as it was too close to the frenzy that is the IPL auction. A tweet from Star confirmed that they had not yet secured the rights, but that they would "work closely with the BCCI" to broadcast the next two ODIs.
In the process, India’s last-gasp win in the first ODI, a near replay of the Women's World Cup final, with the opposite result, went untelevised, lost in the cacophony of crores.
Star did not have the requisite rights for the coverage of #INDWvENGW 2018. With the auction for the BCCI Media Rights now complete, Star & BCCI are working closely to bring the remainder of the series to everyone’s screens. Today’s game is streamed on https://t.co/71JxKxQ8RZ!
— Star Sports (@StarSportsIndia) April 6, 2018
The second ODI though brought more disappointment for Indian fans, both on and off the field. Another tweet from Star confirmed that they would not televise the remaining games, this time saying that the rights commenced only 15 April onwards. Insiders also cited the additional complication of not getting clearance from the ministry of information and broadcasting. The broadcast continued to be live-streamed on the BCCI website. English fans did not complain; it meant that they could see their team play, something that had not been possible whenever Star had televised the games. And they had more than one reason to be happy, as their team strolled to an eight-wicket victory in alien conditions.
Star India does not have the rights to telecast the India v England Women’s series 2018. Our rights commence effective April 15th and hence we will unfortunately not be in a position to broadcast the series. These matches will be available on https://t.co/hrIgEpIosp.
— Star Sports (@StarSportsIndia) April 9, 2018
Nagpur has provided the most Indian experience of England’s tour so far, testing both technique against turn and against temperature. With the mercury nudging 40 degrees and baking the pitch, India had the opportunity to set a decent score and then unleash their four spinners on the surface. But England’s spinners beat them to it, bowling India out for 113. And while some of the wickets fell to the turning ball, what often defeated the Indian batswomen was simply the threat of turn.
England’s Danielle Hazelle dismissed Mithali Raj for the second time in two games, with Monday’s dismissal being the more impressive of the two. After conceding a boundary off a full toss, Hazelle bowled her next ball on the perfect length, the kind that gives birth to indecision about whether to play forward or back. Raj chose to push forward, but the ball spun between her bat and pad and hit the top of middle.
Raj’s reaction – a stunned look, a glance towards her partner as if to consult whether to appeal if her stumps had been disturbed — was something you don’t see from Raj every day. Another rarity is for Raj to go so long without crossing fifty. It has now been nine innings since she has crossed that mark, and you have to go back to 2002-03 to find a time when she has not scored a fifty for a longer string of innings (10 innings).
However, it was more disheartening to witness the performances of Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy in the middle order. Both players had strong tours of South Africa, with three fifties between them in six innings in the ODIs.
With Raj and Smriti Mandhana also enjoying success in South Africa, and Jemimah Rodrigues making a strong impression, it seemed like the dawn of the most exciting phase in Indian batting. Instead, Rodrigues is being benched when the Indian team need the extra batswoman, Harmanpreet is mistiming full tosses, and Veda Krishnamurthy has shown the kind of consistency that earned her the nickname (from this very author) ‘Dearth Veda’. The pair have now gone a total of 10 games without scoring a fifty.
If Krishnamurthy seems short of confidence, it is no surprise; the team management have been capricious with her selection in the side. No such insecurity dogs Harmanpreet though, so it is strange to see her struggle against spinners whom she so recently treated with impunity.
The confidence of another player might be rattled by recent selections. Rodrigues scored her first international fifty in the tri-series last month, to go with two impressive 40s in seven innings.
She has provided everything that the opening combination has lacked of late: intent, the ability to rotate the strike, as well as the willingness to clear the infield. And yet she found herself on the bench, replaced by Devika Vaidya, who has rarely opened the innings in domestic cricket. It was a trade-off India seemed to make in an attempt to play four spinners, but on a surface where every run is be worth a double, leaving out an in-form batswoman was ill-advised. If three spinners cannot deliver on a turning track, then four spinners can make little difference. And if four spinners must play, it could be at the expense of a medium pacer instead.
England showed with the way they batted in the second innings that the pitch had less demons than Raj and Co made it out to be, with the commentary team labeling it a better one than in the first ODI. From Rodrigues to Krishnamurthy, India have the most exciting top five batters they have had in a while. But it is now up to the coaching staff to give them the belief that they can win the series-decider on Thursday, and ensure some joy from India’s home season.