Women’s WT20, March 2016.
India had come into that tournament on a high. Just two months before, they had beaten Australia in Australia in a T20I series for the first time. They then whitewashed Sri Lanka at home. In their WT20 opener, they hammered Bangladesh by 72 runs. Everyone was talking about how this could be a good tournament for them.
Then it unraveled faster than a sweater in the hands of an angry bear.
First India lost to Pakistan, after a shocking display of hesitant batting and an unfortunately timed rain intervention. Then they went down to England in a low-scoring thriller, before losing in heartbreaking manner to the West Indies. India eventually fell short of the semi-final in yet another global event. Every game was televised, played in front of big crowds with high expectations.
This ICC Women’s World Cup campaign is starting to look eerily similar.
After burning bright against England in the tournament opener, India’s performances have started to fade away. Wins against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which should have been facile, were hard-fought. Against South Africa, they were blown away by a power-hitter, and a fielding team with a plan. Now, their campaign stands on a precipice; they face Australia in Bristol on Wednesday, and even if they win, they are not assured of a spot in the semi-final.
There are differences between this team and the team of 2016 though. It is more balanced, has variety in the bowling attack, and batswomen who are capable of both aggressive and waiting games. More tangibly, they have come into this World Cup having won two multi-nation tournaments. They were on a 16-match winning streak. So this team know how to win, and how to sustain a winning performance.
But in this tournament, it is no secret that the batswomen are not on song. After scoring at 5.6 runs per over in the first World Cup game, their average run rate in the next four games is 3.9. Against England, the batswomen showed that they have the ability to manipulate the field by playing drop-and-run cricket. But they have not used those skills consistently against other teams, resulting in a large proportion of dots (194 against Pakistan, 164 against Sri Lanka). The aggressive batting and smart running seems to be packed away like fine china, brought out only on occasion and not every day.
Then there is the pace of progress of the other teams. In the ICC Women’s Championship — the qualification stage for this World Cup — India scored at 4.26 runs per over. In the same period, their opponents Australia scored at 5.01 runs per over. In this World Cup alone, Australia have raised that bar to 5.34 runs per over. So while India are in better shape as compared to 2016, the other teams have not been idle either.
Before departing from India, Mithali Raj spoke about the World Cup being the perfect opportunity to showcase the brand of cricket her team had been playing for a couple of years. On the eve of Wednesday’s game, she admitted that the last few matches were not the best exhibition of it.
“We started well, but we have not been consistent with the way we wanted to play in the tournament,” she said. “The first two games were good for the team, but we really didn’t look anywhere close to that brand of cricket against Sri Lanka or Pakistan, and we dipped hugely in the game against South Africa.”
Rain confined India indoors on the eve of the match, and the forecast is for some more on the morning of the game as well. India will be hoping that there is some moisture on the wicket on Wednesday, as a low-scoring game plays more to their strengths. Australia have the longest batting order in the tournament; Jess Jonassen, their No 10, has a high score of 99 in Tests, and opens the batting for her franchise in the Women’s Big Bash League. So India’s bowling could benefit from a sluggish pitch.
Barely a year after their deer-in-the-headlights moment, India must face a similar test. A high-pressure game, television coverage, and the increased expectations that come with a good start, all are present again. It is up to the 11 women who will take the field to script a different result.
History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme, said Mark Twain. This campaign is sounding more and more like the melancholy of the last WT20. A win against the defending champions could help put to bed that ghost, take India closer to the top four.
This team is better than 2016. But are they good enough?
Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 09:24 AM