India started the Women’s Tri-Nation Series in Australia on a high, with a five-wicket win in the last over. This was their first win against England Women after four consecutive defeats. India first reduced England to 59/4; then restricted them to 147/7 despite a counterattacking stand between Heather Knight and Tammy Beaumont; and remained in the hunt despite losing wickets at regular intervals.
Then, finally, with the chase down to four off four balls, Harmanpreet Kaur lofted Katherine Brunt for six to seal the match. The shot, lofted over cover, almost evoked memories of another six she had hit in the 2016-17 WBBL (though that was on one knee) – a shot so exceptional that even bowler Gemma Triscari laughed in astonishment.
Kaur used her bowlers well, opening with Rajeshwari Gayakwad. In 20-over cricket, Gayakwad has often been considered India’s fifth-choice spinner, after Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Deepti Sharma, and Ekta Bisht. To toss the ball to her was a risk that might have backfired, more so because Amy Jones and Danni Wyatt are as dangerous an opening pair as any in the world.
But Gayakwad rose to the challenge, taking out both openers with her first seven balls, and eventually finished with figures of 4-0-19-2. India should have had England on the mat from there, but three of their best fielders – Kaur herself, Jemimah Rodrigues, and Veda Krishnamurthy – put down catches. Knight was the beneficiary from two of these, which helped England score at least twenty more than they should have.
Apart from catching, India’s ground fielding has not been at its peak either, especially when pitted against their English counterparts, who were more fleet-footed and energetic on the field. One of India’s gaffes was a misfield by Pooja Vastrakar at deep square leg that resulted in four – and resulted in her pulling a hamstring, ruling her out of the match.
Despite lacking a partner to Shikha Pandey, India had formed a bowling plan that had worked on the West Indies tour. They opened with a spinner along with Pandey, while Vastrakar bowled in the middle overs. Given that she can also hit down the order, this has come across as a major blow.
Vastrakar had been injured just ahead of the 2018 World T20 as well, which makes the current scenario an extremely unwanted déjà vu for both her and the team management. Indian fans can only hope that there is no encore of that.
The Indian top four – Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandhana, Rodrigues, and Kaur – all got runs at strike rates of 120 or more, which should keep the team management happy. Unfortunately, the middle-order problem continued to persist. Krishnamurthy failed to get going; Taniya Bhatia ran her singles hard but could not get the ball away, and the conundrum over Sharma continued.
There is little doubt that Sharma is the finest all-rounder in the Indian team. She walks into the side in both ODIs and T20Is as a bowler alone. She is also an excellent batswoman in ODIs, where she can fit into anywhere between opening and batting at six. Unfortunately, the brand of her batting is a bit out of place in T20Is.
Sharma strikes at just 87 in the format. Where to get her to bat? Certainly not in the Powerplays, where India fit in their most explosive batswomen. And she simply cannot explode when needed towards the end. So, if one has to include her (which is a must, given her bowling), she will probably have to bat in the bottom four. This makes things difficult, for none of the Indian spinners have batting credentials to write about.
With a strike rate of 125, Vastrakar fitted into the role of a middle-order slogger perfectly. Her injury has, thus, hit the line-up really hard. Pandey will have to step up in that case: her strike rate may be a mere 83 in T20Is, but an impressive 92 in ODIs.
All in all, despite the boost, the win left India with more questions than answers – in the middle-order, the pace department, and fielding.
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