There is a phrase used, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, around the anniversaries of the wars that the two countries fought together in. ‘Lest we forget’, they say, in remembrance of those who lost their lives. Lest we forget.
Sport is not war, no matter how much ultra-macho posturing athletes and teams may adopt, but that phrase came to mind as I thought of the first IPL T20 Women’s Challenge match. For parts of it, the game threatened to be unimpressionable. When the Trailblazers, asked to bat first, pottered along to just 25 runs in the Powerplay, there were concerns. Smriti Mandhana had faced 19 of the first 36 balls, but scored just 10, a far cry from her usual blazing starts.
There were concerns when Trailblazers fielded as well. After a smart catch from the ‘keeper R Kalpana brought them their first wicket, they spilled as many as three chances in the space of 12 balls after the Powerplay. In that period also came a terrible misfield, with the ball passing through the legs of the fielder at mid-off for an embarrassing boundary. Both overseas and Indian players were guilty of these lapses, beamed into thousands of homes, replayed over and over on the big screen for the sparse crowd to consume.
Was this the best that women’s cricket has to offer, some might have been asking. This was the start of a heavily publicised series, and many people might have tuned in for the first time. When they saw the cautious start to the first innings, they might have switched channels. When the saw the butter-fingered epidemic in the second, they might have switched off.
Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur, the two captains of the two sides, made sure that didn’t happen. Both put in sparkling performances with the bat, ensuring there was so much to talk about in the game. Their efforts engineered a thrilling last over-finish, one where all three results were possible on the last ball. They made sure we would talk about women’s cricket for the right reasons at the end of the night. Lest we forget everything that is good about this game.
First, Mandhana set the platform with her second-highest T20 score, threatening to score her second T20 hundred. “The way I started, I wasn't timing the ball well,” she said after the game. Batting didn’t look easy on a slightly slow pitch, especially since Harmanpreet used only two overs of pace in the first six, and four in the first 10. “I expected the wicket to be a lot better, that is why I was struggling in the first five-six overs. Then I adapted,” Mandhana continued.
If you ask Mandhana which innings she rates highly, she always picks those that come in tough conditions, and that is why she will be proud of this one. After being on 13 off 23 balls, having hit just one four in the first seven overs, she started her acceleration. She picked match-ups that favoured her; stepping out against leg-spin and waiting for the introduction of extreme pace, which Harmanpreet denied her for the first 10 overs. By the 11th over, she was up to run-a-ball, and her first six (and the first of the game) came in the 16th. Two more sixes followed, and by the time she was dismissed, she had scored 77 off her last 44 balls. An innings to savour, lest we forget.
Harmanpreet was not to be outdone, rushing from a 28-ball 30 at the penultimate over to 46 off 34 by the end of the game. That charge included four fours off Jhulan Goswami, with 19 needed for victory in the last over. The last of those, with seven needed off two balls, was nearly six, with multiple replays needed to determine where the ball landed. With three needed off the last ball for a win, two for a Super Over, Harman missed, giving the Trailblazers a heart-stopping win. In a chase that lacked momentum, Harmanpreet provided the burst that made the last leg a photo finish. Lest we forget.
What would we remember this game for had it not been for these two knocks? Harleen Deol contributed 36 in a partnership of 119 with Mandhana. Sophie Devine hit a breezy 32 off 22 balls, and Sophie Ecclestone bowled a brilliant 19th over to leave the Supernovas needing 19 off the last over. But it was the two Indian captains that grabbed the viewers' attention by the scruff of its neck, and didn’t let go. This is what the best of women’s cricket is, they told the world.
Even under immense pressure to deliver, with the weight of a future IPL on their shoulders, these two players stood tall and showed that women have the power game that works so well on television. This is the potential of Indian cricket, they said. This is it’s present. And this can be its future.