This loss was supposed to happen.
The naysayers had been predicting it ever since India lost their first warm-up match to England. After India beat England in the tournament opener, it was still supposed to happen, they said. They pointed it out when India ‘bottled it’ against South Africa. They pointed it out when India were pulverised by Australia. When the pressure is on, they said, India will invariably lose.
They pointed out India’s skewed domestic system. They pointed out India’s sacking of a successful coach two months before a tournament. They pointed out India’s over-reliance on Mithali Raj.
Then India hammered New Zealand in a virtual quarter-final. They left the defending champions Australia shell-shocked in the semi-final. They almost won the World Cup final. And then the loss caught up with them. So did England.
Batting first, twice England looked like they would accelerate to a point where they could bat India out of the game. And they were thwarted both times, once by spin and once by pace.
The first occasion was when Tammy Beaumont, player of the tournament, and her partner Lauren Winfield had raced to 43 for 0 in the first 10 overs. They looked at home against pace, and played the disruptors against spin, using paddle sweeps to exploit unprotected areas in the powerplay. But spin accounted for both, within 21 balls of each other.
The second occasion was when Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver were in the middle of their 83-run partnership. The two looked utterly at home, until Jhulan Goswami removed them, as well as Fran Wilson, in two spells that together read 5-1-14-3. In her last World Cup match, it was a heroic performance, and she seemed to have set herself up for a fairytale finish. But more on that later.
Raj used innovative fields for the England batters, often using two mid-offs to block the use-the-feet-to-spin policy later employed by England. She made a rare tactical error though. After bowling Goswami out in the powerplay, she could have used spin in all 10 of England’s last 10 overs. But she chose to use pace for the 46th, against batswomen who were struggling against spin. Shikha Pandey conceded 14 off that over, and England finished with 228.
When it came to Raj’s own team’s batting, it started and ended with two run outs. First, Punam Raut called Raj across for a dodgy single, which she seemed to know she could never complete. Raj was run out for only the 11th time in her career spanning 186 ODIs.
The second was the run out of Pandey. “We were still in the game until Shikha’s wicket fell,” said Raj after the game. “She was the last person I thought could pull that match through. When she got out we needed 11 runs. After that I thought we may not get those 10 runs to even equal the total.”
In between those two dismissals, Raut struck her fourth significant score of the tournament. While all the focus has been on the performance of her young partner Smriti Mandhana, Raut put together an innings (86 off 105) that held India’s chase together and almost took them home. Like she did in her century against Australia, she rose above her tournament strike rate (67.43) to build a busy innings that included just 30 runs in boundaries. With Harmanpreet Kaur (51 off 80) and Veda Krishnamurthy, she built two partnerships that kept the run rate below a run a ball heading into the last 10 overs, until she was undone by a ball that slanted in from Anya Shrubsole. India needed 39 runs in 42 balls when she got out.
Shrubsole had conceded two boundaries before getting Raut out. She later said. “Heather (Knight) was about to take me off, so I managed to sneak a wicket and convinced her to keep myself on.”
It proved to be the turning point, as Shrubsole sent back the other set batswoman, Krishnamurthy (35 off 34), in her next over. After hitting Shrubsole for two boundaries over the off-side in her last over, Krishnamurthy tried a slog over deep midwicket, and could only top edge the ball to Sciver in the circle. Shrubsole followed up with a yorker to castle Goswami on the first ball, and went from being within two balls of being taken off, to having figures of 3 for 2 in eight balls.
If it hadn’t already, it then became a game of nerves, played out in front of more than 25,000 people. Sushma Verma was sent ahead of the in-form Deepti Sharma, but she swept her second ball to drag it on to the stumps. It was a risk by the team management that didn’t come off, and the pressure doubled on Krishnamurthy; she smashed her bat on the ground in exasperation at the other end, and then played the uncharacteristic slog the next over. Pandey, who is in the side as an all-rounder, had only had chance to bat seven times in the 18 matches she has played in this year, facing less than 100 balls. The inexperience told, as she ran herself out with a manageable 11 needed off 16 balls. That sealed the game even before Shrubsole returned to take the last two wickets, finishing with 6 for 46.
“The last four five batswomen probably, at this final platform, they could not handle the pressure,” said Raj. “We mixed it up in the end.”
If this were the Olympics, we would be celebrating this team like we celebrated PV Sindhu’s silver medal. Instead Raj looked on helplessly as her team lost yet another World Cup final.
But this loss needs to be celebrated, just as India should celebrate Raj and Goswami, two veterans who fell inches short of what could have been the perfect swansong. India made the highest total in a World Cup final batting second, and they did it without Raj. It was the third highest total overall.
The loss that was coming finally caught up with India. Not playing high-pressure domestic games cost them. Not having stability and vision in the management cost them. But they cheated death till the end, missing their date with it in the quarters, then the semis. Even when it did come, they raged against it. And a nation watched them do that.
That is something to be celebrated.
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Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 09:49:55 IST