Such was the strength of the Trailblazers' bowling attack that they had to put in little effort while defending 119. Jemimah Rodrigues and Taniya Bhatia started well, but the Trailblazers spinners tightened the screws, ensuring Harmanpreet Kaur could not rotate the strikes as frequently she could in the two league matches. Kaur left the final onslaught for too late, eventually succumbing when the asking rate assumed gargantuan size.
The Trailblazers' spinners, who were not at their best in the league match against Supernovas, finally found their mojo. The four specialists combined to return figures of 15-0-76-6 with their myriad variations and different styles. They adjusted according to the slow, low pitch, taking the pace off the ball as much as possible. The Supernovas' batters, big hitters some of them, could simply not force the pace.
Salma Khatun, who had not got many opportunities in the tournament, decided to provide the final blow to the Trailblazers coffin by taking out Anuja Patil, Kaur, and Pooja Vastrakar in the space of four balls — all in the 19th over. She finished with 4-0-18-3.
While the spinners kept tightening the screw, there was obviously no question of them finding some respite against the lone fast bowler, for Jhulan Goswami does not seem to age. Not only was she quick, but she made sure all but one ball in her first three overs were on or outside off-stump, returning 3-0-11-0 in the powerplay overs.
Then there was the fielding, and this is where Nattakan Chantam deserves special mention. An opening batter, Chantam did not get a chance in the first two matches, but the Trailblazers retained her for the final. She came out to face the last ball of the innings and was run out.
But it was not over for her. The YouTube-worthy moment of the final came when Taniya Bhatia steered Sophie Ecclestone in the fourth over. Chantam chased the ball, flung herself forward just before the ball reached the rope, pushed the ball back with her fingertips, and tumbled over the rope — all in one fluid motion. Still not content (or tired), she prevented another boundary off the next ball.
Then she flew to her left and caught the ball with both hands to send Jemimah Rodrigues back. Videos of the two efforts may go some distance to inspire Thai youngsters to take up cricket more seriously.
Earlier in the day, Smriti Mandhana had waltzed her way to a 49-ball 68, as good as setting up the match for the Trailblazers. But it was not enough for a big score. At 101/1 after 14.4 overs, they looked set for a total of 150 or thereabouts. They finished on 118/8, largely due to some incredible death bowling by Radha Yadav (4-0-16-5).
There is little doubt that Radha thrives in the Women’s T20 Challenge. The Supernovas needed 7 in 4 balls in last season’s final when she walked out to bat. She ran three twos, then cover-drove the last ball for four to seal the title.
She took 4-0-25-1 and 4-0-30-2 in the first two matches in this edition. In the second, she sealing a thrilling win to help the Supernovas reach the final. Here, she came to bowl in the 18th over and conceded four off the first ball. At that point her figures read 2.1-0-14-0. Trailblazers were 112/2 after 17.1 overs.
Then came the wickets. Most bowlers would have tried to bowl flatter, cramping the batters for space. Not Radha. She tossed the ball up, lured Deepti Sharma to go over the top. Sharma went for it, mistimed, and was caught.
Two balls later, Richa Ghosh stepped out, only to find that the ball was not quite there, and holed out. Ecclestone followed suit as well. Harleen Deol attempted to hit against the turn, and the ball ballooned to extra cover. And Goswami, beaten comprehensively in flight, was stumped.
In the space of 11 balls Radha had taken 5 wickets for 2 runs. It went in vain, but at least she was — rightfully — named Player of the Series. Standing out amidst a galaxy of world-class spinners across teams is no mean feat.
With every team winning at least one match, the tournament was more or less hard-fought despite the shortage of match practice. Unfortunately, such was the length of the tournament that it got over just when the cricketers seemed to ease in. A couple of failures meant that the cricketers never got to showcase their talent.
Consider the example of Shafali Verma, the toast of the nation during the T20 World Cup earlier this year. Verma batted the way one should in T20 cricket: she went after the ball in the powerplay overs. Her strike rate of 150 remained the highest in the tournament (nobody else hit even the 135-mark), while only two Velocity batters scored at a quicker rate.
And yet, she faced only 20 balls. These were the first balls she faced in competitive cricket since the T20 World Cup earlier this year and would be the last for some time.
Yes, multiple changes are in order to ensure that this never happens. Now that the tournament is financially independent, an increase in the number of teams (hence matches) is definitely in order.
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