The women’s T20 world cup has thus far proved to be a big advertisement for Indian women’s cricket. After making a mark in the 2017 women’s 50-over world cup in England, where they lost to the home team in the final, the women in blue have sparkled in the shortest format of the game in Guyana.
The four games thus far have all been played on what constitutes prime time in India – starting at 8 pm IST. But now as the tournament moves from the South American mainland to the Caribbean island of Antigua for the knockout stage, the games would be played under floodlights. This would mean that to watch the action against England in the semi-finals, ardent cricket lovers would have to be up and about at 5 am IST.
Many have grumbled that the Board of Control for Cricket in India could have done better and impressed upon the International Cricket Council to host all the games at a time when more Indians could also watch them, but it has not.
Incidentally, during the 2010 T20 men’s world cup in West Indies all the games in which India played were held during the daytime there so that people caught the action in the evenings here. More recently, the Asia Cup held in the United Arab Emirates had seen all the games being played at 7 pm. IST which provided a huge audience for the tournament in South Asia. It is keeping in mind the viewership that all the premier leagues also have evening games.
Unfortunately, while the women’s cricket team through its sterling performance has done all it can to popularise the sport in India, the BCCI administrators have disappointed. They should have tried to impress upon the organisers the need to hold the women’s T20 world cup semi-finals and final too at times when most people could have watched them. But that did not happen. In India people will have to rise early on Friday, which is a working day, to see some part of the game.
For their part, the girls have not put a foot wrong so far. They topped their group by authoritatively defeating all their four opponents, who by the way were no pushovers. Among them Australia is the top ranked and New Zealand is the second placed. The first to feel the heat were the Kiwis, who are ranked fourth, just behind India in the T20 rankings.
The New Zealand girls were out-batted by India. Captain Harmanpreet Kaur hit a scintillating 103 of just 51 balls, her second 50 coming of just 17 deliveries. A half-century at the other end by Jemima Rodrigues and two three-wicket hauls by spinners Poonam Yadav and Dayalan Hemalatha gave India a 34 run win and announced its arrival at the world cup.
The next match was against arch-rivals Pakistan, which was riding high over its win over Ireland. But the girls in blue held their nerves. They restricted their neighbours to 133. Then as they walked in to bat, they did not carry the burden of the 10 runs they had been awarded as Pakistani players – in a first for any team in international cricket – were docked five runs twice for running on the danger zone.
With Mithali Raj anchoring the team with a calculated half century, the team easily reached across the line with an over to spare and seven wickets in hand. In doing so, they sent across the message that they could have hauled another 10 runs too.
Ireland was up next against India. But as in their game against Pakistan, they choked while chasing. India which had put up a sub-150 score still managed to win by over 50 runs. Again it was Mithali Raj who led with a half century and in doing so became the top run scorer among both men and women for India in the 20-over format.
Finally, as India went on to play Australia, whom they had never defeated in a world cup earlier, they were full of confidence. The girls had ticked all the right boxes so far. The batters – Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemima Rodrigues and Smriti Mandhana – had all delivered and shouldered the responsibility.
The bowlers, especially the spinners, had stuck to their plan. Bowling slow on the turning tracks, they had both contained and deceived their opponents.
Though Raj had to sit out of the game due to injury, Mandhana’s 83 ably supported by Kaur’s quickfire 43 helped India post a challenging 167. And then when it came to defending it, all the players lifted their game. The spinners adopted the strategy of bowling slow and from up to a yard behind the crease. This induced mistakes as it ensured that the well-built Australians had to hit every ball hard to keep pace with the asking rate.
The girls lifted their level of fielding when it mattered the most. Spinner Radha Yadav, who early on let a four slip by, made amends by lunging at a ball and stopping a certain boundary the same over. Later, she took a stunning catch off her own bowling by running backwards and leaping for it.
Behind the stumps, Tanya Bhatia has been a pleasure to watch. She has stood firm like a wall and while her shades and stance may remind one of Dhoni, her stumpings appear even better and take the memory back to how Sadanand Vishwanath, would take the bails off in a flash in the 1986 Benson and Hedges world cup. As more batters rushing out to hit the balls out of the park were defeated in the air, Bhatia added to her tally. Ultimately, the Australians fell short by 48 runs – leading to India topping the table. It also set up their semi-final clash with England, which had won the 50-over world cup last year.
In arrangement with TheWire.in