In the second half of the Intercontinental Cup final in Mumbai, India’s football team brave a relentless onslaught on their goal. They pull through with a clean sheet though, thanks to some dogged defense, and the cushion of their two-goal advantage. Similarly, after waltzing through the first two sets on the red clay of Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal is struck with a pain in his left hand so severe he cannot hold his racket. He later admits to being genuinely scared at the time, but he soldiers through it, knowing that his two-set advantage means a few games more will give him his 11th Grand Slam in Paris.
Sport rewards the double, the brace, the consolidation. It values it two more than twice as much as one. That’s why a deuce is broken only if you can win two points in a row, as is a tie-breaker in table tennis. You have to show that it is more than just luck; that you can win once, and then be good enough to do it again.
On an action packed Sunday, that is exactly what the Bangladesh women’s cricket team did. At the Kinrara Oval in Kuala Lumpur, they beat defending champions India for the second time in the Asia Cup, giving their maiden final a golden finish. Add their win against Pakistan to the mix, and Bangladesh made it three T20I wins in a row for the first time. The fact that this title came on the back of a 15-match losing streak makes it all the more remarkable.
It was that kind of tournament. On the back on Bangladesh’s upsets, Thailand registered their first win against a full-member country when they beat Sri Lanka in their last league match. Besides Bangladesh’s ascendancy, the tournament confirmed that the T20 format was the best vehicle to equalize the playing field in women’s cricket: Since it has shifted to the T20 format, the final of the Asia Cup has produced closer results, culminating in the end of India’s inveterate domination of the tournament.
Asia Cup Winning Margins in ODIs:
Asia Cup Winning Margins in T20Is:
The win also reopened the discussion about why Bangladesh are not a part of the ICC Women’s Championship. They, along with Ireland, have ODI status, but were not included in the second round of the ICCWC that runs up to the 2021 World Cup. This means less tours, and no chance to fast-track their progress. The performances of the two teams this past week highlighted the flaws of the ICC decision: while Bangladesh proved they can compete with established sides, Ireland conceded 490 and 418 in two ODIs against New Zealand, showing that the ICC had let the gap between the top and the bottom grow far too wide.
For India, two moments in the final summed up their tournament. The first came when Shikha Pandey left the field with a twisted ankle four balls into her first over. Rather than bowling those two balls herself, captain Harmanpreet Kaur chose to use Deepti Sharma to finish the over. This meant Deepti would only be able to bowl three more overs. It proved costly in the end; a bowler short, Harmanpreet had to bowl the 18th and 20th over herself, despite having not bowled in the previous two games. She took two wickets but gave away 19 runs.
It epitomised some strange decisions from the Indian camp, the biggest being the benching of precocious Jemimah Rodrigues, instead preferring to experiment with Mona Meshram. Besides the obvious talent the Rodrigues has shown, her record too suggests she should have been the first choice: since making her debut in February, she averages 24.15 at a strike rate of 118.85. Meshram has played an equal number of T20Is, but spread out over six years; she averages 15.5 at 81.57. The other standout talent unearthed this year, Pooja Vastrakar, was not backed either; after a poor game against Bangladesh, she was benched for the rest of the tournament. Surely both players are central to India’s plans in the WT20 in November, and should be playing as many games as possible.
The second moment came in the 19th over of the Bangladesh chase. Deepti had a chance to run out Rumana Ahmed at the non-striker’s end off her own bowling, but didn’t release the ball fearing an overthrow. Ahmed was on 15, and eventually scored 23 to earn Player of the Match. Contrast that with the intrepid approach Bangladesh showed all throughout the tournament, and you could say India played timid cricket, especially with bat in hand. Powerplay scores of 48, 25, 21 and 21 make grim reading when the top sides are deliberately targeting that phase. With the WT20 less than six months away, India must make some bold decisions with the batting order soon, and get the right players in the right places.
There are lessons to be learnt from Sunday, across sports. Rafael Nadal showed how to carry the weight of the ‘favourite’ tag, and Sunil Chhetri showed how to follow up a social media appeal with match-winning performances. Bangladesh reminded India that they have still not figured out the formula for success in T20 cricket. They also showed that in T20, it’s not always the better team that wins. Often, it is the braver.
With statistical inputs from @_hypocaust