Coming into the 2018 ICC Women’s World Twenty20, Australia were the team to beat. With a number of powerful strikers, a long batting line-up, a balanced and very canny bowling unit, and arguably the best fielding side in the world, they came to the West Indies as tournament favourites. Their results in their first three group games — a 52-run win over Pakistan, a nine-wicket win over Ireland, and a 33-run victory over New Zealand — only reinforced that belief.
India were at the other end of the spectrum — they were not thought of as tournament contenders; maybe dark horses at best. After the highs of the 2017 World Cup, the lows of the Asia Cup, and the entry of Ramesh Powar as head coach, a new-look Indian team arrived in the Caribbean quietly confident of their chances. They went on to beat New Zealand by 34 runs, down Pakistan by seven wickets and crush Ireland by 52 runs to book their place in the semi-finals.
On Saturday (17 November), India face Australia in their final Group B match at Providence Stadium in Guyana to determine which of them will top the group. Both teams are unbeaten so far , and will be looking to carry that momentum into the knockout stage of the tournament.
India have faced Australia 14 times in T20Is so far, and it is Meg Lanning’s team that holds the upper hand with 11 wins — two of which came in the tri-series in India earlier this year.
In the past, Indian teams often folded under the pressure of playing against the more established sides like Australia, England and New Zealand. More recently however, that trend has changed. Since their first T20I series victory against Australia in January 2016, the Indian team has modified their outlook and genuinely believe they can beat any side. They are now more focussed on their own game plans, rather than what the opposition has to offer.
“Ramesh sir has told us you should not be thinking (that) the opposition is dominating, (or) is aggressive,” said Smriti Mandhana, speaking of India’s changed attitude against the higher-ranked teams. “That really keeps us under pressure. We have to think that we are dominating, and we are aggressive enough to defeat them. I don't think it is going to help us thinking about what they do, how they dominated, how they play their cricket, because at the end, we have to go out there, bat and bowl and field.”
India’s aggressive mindset was on show in their very first match of the tournament when they handed New Zealand — initially thought of as tournament contenders — a real thrashing on the back of Harmanpreet Kaur’s maiden T20I century. She took the attack to the opposition and made sure India dominated the contest from start to finish.
Going into their final league match, Kaur will be hoping India can continue their good run, and she will play a crucial role. The Indian captain’s experience in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) means she knows the Australian players, and their preferred game plans quite well. It was something that helped her during that incredible knock of 171 in the World Cup semi-final last year, and it is likely to hold her in good stead even now.
Alongside Kaur, Mandhana, Mithali Raj and Jemimah Rodrigues will be crucial for India with the bat. Mandhana looked to have regained her touch in the game against Ireland. Her 29-ball 33 included a couple of trademark shots — one, a back-foot glide behind point for four, and the other, a lofted drive over extra cover for a boundary — before attempting (and missing) a wild heave to cow corner. Rodrigues and Raj have played important roles through the tournament. Rodrigues showcased her ability in the very first game with a wonderfully paced half-century and shared a 134-run stand with Kaur that guided India to 194. Raj, has meanwhile registered back to back half-centuries and appears to be in stellar form.
The 35-year-old hurt her knee in the field against Ireland, so it will be interesting to see whether she is fit enough to play, or whether India choose to rest her ahead of the semi-final.
With the ball, India will continue their spin-heavy strategy since the pitches in Guyana seem to suit that style of bowling. How Saturday’s match pans out will depend largely on how Australia handle India’s slow bowlers.
When the Southern Stars came to India for an ODI series earlier this year, they tackled the spinners very well. They nullified the threat of Poonam Yadav by playing her off the back foot, or stepping out to reach the pitch of the ball and hit her along the ground. Deepti Sharma and Ekta Bisht also proved ineffective through that series. India though have added two new faces to their squad since then — Hemalatha Dayalan and Radha Yadav — (who did play in the tri-series) who have proved their worth through the World Cup so far.
Against Ireland, Mansi Joshi replaced Arundhati Reddy in the Indian XI. Although the fast bowler failed to pick up a wicket, she looked in good rhythm and bowled at a lively pace. Both Joshi and Reddy have shown promise in the limited opportunities they have received, but between the two, it is the latter who holds the edge in the field — something that may count in her favour when India pick the XI.
Meanwhile, Pooja Vastrakar, the third pacer in the squad who recovered from an ankle injury just in time for the World T20, suffered a knee injury during the practice games, and has been sent back home. She has been replaced by Devika Vaidya, a left-hand batter who doubles up as a leg-spinner. Vaidya will arrive in the Caribbean in time for the semi-finals.
Australia’s ‘go hard or go home’ strategy has paid off so far in the tournament, but they have not posted an imposing score yet — 165 for 7 against Pakistan being their best. With the depth they possess in their batting line-up, one would think 170 was the minimum they would be looking to score.
Alyssa Healy has been in fantastic touch over the last year, scoring 510 runs in 14 matches at an average of 42.50 and a strike rate of 150.88. She has scored six of her eight T20I fifties in 2018, two of which have come in the World T20. Lanning, Beth Mooney, Rachel Haynes and Elyse Villani have all looked in good form, but have been unable to churn out scores of any substance. They will all be hoping to get some time in the middle against India ahead of the business end of the tournament.
As has been the case for the last year or two, Megan Schutt will be Lanning’s trump card with the ball. The right-arm pacer has been swinging the ball quite beautifully over the last few months, and has also added a couple of different slower deliveries to her repertoire. She is an intelligent bowler who understands her limitations and tries to out-think the batters. She will be partnered by Ellyse Perry, who seems to have found her mojo with the ball again. The spin trio of Ashleigh Gardner, Sophie Molineux and young Georgia Wareham will be tested against the Indian batting line up, but if they have shown anything through their short careers so far, it is that they respond quite well when the pressure is on.
Both teams have played an attacking style of cricket through the tournament, and there is not much to separate them. If anything, Australia hold the edge in the field, and possibly possess a little more power with the bat, but as India have often proven, on their day, they can dismantle any team.
“Before coming into the World T20, Ramesh sir had told us that you have to dominate each and every match, so that is the only mindset which we had the last three matches,” said Mandhana. “I don't think it will change in the next match."
Australia: Meg Lanning (c), Nicole Bolton, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Alyssa Starc, Elyse Villani, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham.
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (captain), Tanya Bhatia, Ekta Bisht, Dayalan Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, Veda Krishnamurthy, Smriti Mandhana, Anuja Patil, Mithali Raj, Arundathi Reddy, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Devika Vaidya, Radha Yadav, Poonam Yadav.