Madness. There was a little bit of madness around the game. A batting effort that threatened to be classed as pedestrian. A chase which a stronger side should have walked. A last over replete with nerves. All three results possible till the last two balls. An injury after the winning runs were scored. And more than 13,000 fans, hooked, on their feet, smiling and swaying with the game.
It almost started as a damp squib. Asked to bat first, Mithali Raj’s Velocity lost three wickets in the Powerplay as Lea Tahuhu finally cut through the bit she had been chomping on. After being given just one over in the first league game, and none in the second, the New Zealand fast bowler relished the chance to finally bowl the new ball. With her second delivery, she nicked out Hayley Matthews of the West Indies, and then won a cat-and-mouse tussle with 15-year old Shafali Verma. Anuja Patil removed the in-form Danielle Wyatt to leave Velocity 14 for 3 in the third over.
That became 37 for five, as Mithali and Veda Krishnamurthy both departed, falling to pace again. At that point, the prospect of a sub-100 total loomed large. Supporters of women’s cricket looked nervous as knives were unfairly sharpened; here was a match that was supposed to be a reflection of the strength and spectacle of the women’s game, about to be judged simply for the unscripted nature of live sport. You may wish for all the high-scoring thrillers you want, but you cannot control how a game pans out.
But the crowd got the next best thing; a low-scoring thriller with all the storylines you could hope for. First came recovery and redemption; out of favour ‘keeper Sushma Verma combined with teenager Amelia Kerr for a 71-run partnership. Sushma finished 40 not out off 32 balls in a total of 121, fine contribution considering she may not even have played if Alyssa Healy was here.
Then two Indian batters looked set to seal the chase for the Supernovas. Priya Punia, known to take her time, outscored Jemimah Rodrigues in both runs and strike rate, as their 44-run partnership blossomed. But then drama; both fell to spin, and then medium-pacer Jahanara Alam knocked back the stumps of the two overseas batters, Sophie Devine and Natalie Sciver.
58 runs were needed from 39 balls at that point, with Harmanpreet batting on 4, and just the all-rounders for company. So she provided the action the crowd was looking for. Known for her big-match temperament, she farmed the strike, dealing in boundaries for the first four balls of the over and singles off the last two. Jahanara went for 13 in her last over, Devika Vaidya was hit for two sixes in the 18th over, to reduce the equation to 10 off 12. In a 51-run partnership, Tahuhu provided just 2; she brought the legs, Harmanpreet the muscle.
And then the twist. With 7 required off 5 balls, Harmanpreet fell, a diving catch at deep cover ending a clutch innings. And then instead of sending in Anuja, who has 46 T20Is to her name, or Taniya Bhatia, India’s regular ‘keeper with a high score of 68, Supernovas sent in the 19-year old Radha Yadav.
An Indian teenager asked to score 7 off 4 balls against the opposition’s overseas bowler, with a raucous crowd cheering on. Lights pouring down on the ground, glinting off the two dozen cameras trying to capture every angle. A chance to put the finishing touches on a legendary innings, but also a chance to squander it. It is the kind of environment that you cannot create in domestic cricket, no matter how hard you try. In this moment, the Women’s T20 Challenge fulfilled its purpose, irrespective of what came next.
Hearteningly for India, what came next is courage. Kerr bravely flighted the ball up, but Radha just as bravely stepped out and smashed a four through the covers to hit the winning runs. The crowd may not have paid a paisa to enter, but it was a paisa vasool night. Thousands cheering on for a game of domestic women’s cricket in India. Like at Lord’s in 2018, it was astounding to see so many people at a women’s cricket match.
This final may have changed the game, and by that I mean the bigger one. It may not have been the high-scoring encounter that everyone wanted, but it sucked you in, it made you care, it played to the sporting narratives in your mind. Social media was brimming with demands for more next year, the players were beaming knowing they had put on a show while doing their jobs.
It is games like this, played in front of packed houses and under high pressure, that will mould the next generation of Indian cricket into international match-winners. It is why #WIPL needs to quickly become more than a hashtag.