Only six months ago, after the nightmare of the Asia Cup, India seemed to be slipping behind in the shortest format. They had suffered two multi-nation T20I tournament defeats— the first in a tri-series involving Australia and England at home, and then twice at the Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur against Bangladesh. Their approach seemed to be outdated, and even the most optimistic fans would have found it hard to believe the team had any real chance going in to the 2018 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 in the West Indies.
However, three matches into the tournament, India have secured a place in the semi-finals after a resounding 52-run win over Ireland at Providence Stadium in Guyana on Thursday. They will join Australia as the second team from Group B to cement their spot in the knockout stage. Their match on Saturday against the Southern Stars, will determine whether they top their group or not.
After the match last evening, Snehal Pradhan, former India cricketer-turned-journalist, tweeted: “I remember watching painfully as India didn’t make the semis of a home #WT20 in 2016. Six months ago, after the Asia Cup, it seemed 2018 would be the same. Now they are in, and two good games away from a world title. It feels surreal. #WatchThis team.”
Following comfortable wins against New Zealand and Pakistan in their first two games, Ireland were never going to be much of a challenge for the Indian team. Although they have shown promise through the tournament, and clearly have a group of very capable players, a win over India would have been too much to ask for Laura Delany’s team.
Despite a decisive victory that saw them reach the semi-finals, India’s tactics against the no.10 ranked team were a little baffling. With both bat and ball they seemed a bit laid back— not the same high intensity approach they have shown in the previous matches.
For one, the team showed no real intent with the bat managing a score of only 145 for 6 in their 20 overs. Granted, Ireland bowled quite well, and the pitch may have been two paced and a little damp due to the overnight showers, but India’s inability to find the boundary and put away the bad deliveries was troubling. Mithali Raj for one, was extremely sedate. She looked in good touch, but quite surprisingly wasn’t able to pierce the field against the spinners. Smriti Mandhana too, took a while to find her feet, the slow nature of the surface didn’t help her strokeplay. India stuttered through the innings, none of the batswomen ever looked in complete control, as Ireland clawed their way back at the end, having lost their way slightly in the middle.
“I didn't think that 140 was good enough because in T20s you can't keep thinking about the wicket and the outfield because it's such a fast game," said Mandhana in the mid-innings interview, who scored a 29-ball 33. "So I think we were aiming at 165 to 170, but unfortunately we could not do that.”
With the ball too, their tactics were quite negative. India chose to stick to their plan of bowling on one side of the wicket— way outside off stump—,pack that side of the field and force the Irish batswomen to try something different. While such an approach against more established/attacking opposition is understandable, considering it involves minimising or controlling the amount of damage, against Ireland it seemed unnecessary. In their game against Pakistan, as many as seven of the Irish batswomen were dismissed bowled or leg before wicket (lbw), indicating that Pakistan had attacked the stumps. Against India, Ireland lost only three wickets in that fashion.
Ireland’s inexperience meant they fell for the tactic— trying to walk across the stumps to access the leg side or simply running past the ball only to get stumped. However, this is unlikely to work with Australia and England, whose batswomen are more than happy to go over the off-side: they feed on width.
The last time India qualified for the semi-final of a World T20, was in 2010 in the Caribbean. Only two members of that squad remain— Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur— and both have played a significant role in India’s campaign so far.
Kaur got the ball rolling for her team with a match-winning century against New Zealand in the opening game of the World T20. She set the tone for India and also stamped her authority on the tournament. Raj, who did not bat in the first match, scored back-to-back half centuries in India’s wins over Pakistan and Ireland. She is the rock within India’s otherwise flamboyant line-up.
Kaur has admitted that the team has a lot to work on, but for now they can celebrate what is a significant achievement: they have set the bar a little higher than it was when they went into the tournament.
“I am happy that we have qualified for the semis now,” said Kaur in the post-match presentation. “Still there are lot of areas where we have to improve, and we have to sit and think about that. In batting we need to improve and in bowling also… When it comes to the batting, today we didn’t bat according to our plan, and bowling also, we didn’t bowl according to the plan. We have to improve on that.”
This Indian team has still not ticked all the boxes going into the semi-finals. In many ways, that they are still searching for a complete performance is a good sign— it may just come in a knockout game!