India defeated New Zealand by three runs to record their third successive win at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, on February 27. With the victory, they became the first side to book their spot in the semifinals of the 10-team tournament.
Despite their 100 percent record at the tournament, it has not been an imperious run by the Indian women. Each of their matches have been close encounters. Against New Zealand, a batting collapse in the middle overs meant India went from 80 for in 11 overs to just 133 for 8 in 20 overs. The victory was thanks — in large part — to the bowlers who restricted New Zealand to 130/6.
Truth be told the Indian side has been struggling to get the batting order firing on all cylinders for the past two years now.The lower middle-order has been iffy, and despite strong performances from the top batters, the team has been returning below par scores, leaving it to the bowlers to eke out victories. It is a habit that has stayed with them through the World Cup and India have a lot to worry about ahead of their final group game against Sri Lanka and the all-important knockouts, including the form of their star player, skipper Harmanpreet Kaur.
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The scoreboard paints a telling picture. In the last three matches, Indian batters have struggled to post match altering totals. Each of their totals — 132 against Australia, 142 against Bangladesh and 133 against New Zealand— have been chaseable. In each match, they got off the mark with quick starts — courtesy Shafali Verma — before losing way post the 10-over mark.
Even though India have topped Group A, and the logic goes that one should not tinker with a winning combination, there have been calls within the team management to tweak things so that they are ready for the do-or-die scenario of the semis.
In as much as Verma has been brilliant she hasn’t been left with much backup. In an eerie coincidence the Indian women’s team seems to play exactly like their men counterparts did in England last summer. An over reliance on a Rohit Sharma cost India then.
With the middle order in disarray and captain Harmanpreet’s form the centre of attention the danger of over reliance on Verma is very real. Add to that next to no real contributions from the likes of Jemimah Rodrigues or Smriti Mandhana and things don’t look as rosy as the results suggest.
Harmanpreet has been the sorriest of the lot, having not touched double figures in any of the matches. She scored 2 against Australia, 8 against Bangladesh and a measly 1 against New Zealand. The glare and pressure is on her at the moment. She would be expected to take the lead by example as far as personal performance is concerned, once the business end of the tournament begins.
To her credit though, this team is not like the men’s team. They are open about their faults. Harmanpreet acknowledged the team’s shortcomings during a media interaction after the match.
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“In the last three games we learnt a lot,” she said. “We made the same mistakes (while batting). We had a good first 10 overs, after that we didn't carry the momentum. We will focus on that and try to give our best. We did bowl well in patches. Sometimes we are not up to the mark, not bowling to our plans. Now we are going to the hard games and we can’t make silly mistakes. Shafali (Verma) is giving us a good start, her initial runs are crucial for us.”
The Indian skipper knows the importance of the only consistent batter in the mix at the moment. But the law of averages is likely to catch up with Verma, who opens the innings for India. She has, so far, scored 29, 39 and 46 for a total of 114 from three games. However, it is evident that even she has not been able to convert the starts into bigger scores. Perhaps that has got to do with the added pressure on her as wickets tumble at the other end.
Tanya Bhatia provided Verma company against New Zealand, sharing a 50-run stand with the opener. That partnership proved crucial. Consistency and momentum is key, she said during the post match press conference and expressed hope that the players would buckle up for the upcoming matches. “The results are in our favour and we need to keep up the momentum. If we do that, we will do well,” she said.
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On the bowling front, things have been much better. In many ways, Poonam Yadav and pacer Shikha Pandey, have been the game savers for India. Yadav, with her leg-spin, has picked up eight wickets so far in the tournament. However, she has had an off game already, taken to the cleaners by New Zealand’s Amelia Kerr in the third match.
Pandey, meanwhile, has been able to successfully fill the void left by the absence of Jhulan Goswami having scalped seven wickets so far in the tournament.
Stats apart, it is clear, especially from the match against New Zealand, that opposition teams know the chinks in the Indian set-up. Unless the whole side works as a unit, with each player delivering the goods in their personal capacity, things are going to be tricky going ahead.
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