Indian Women punch above their weight en route to World T20 semis
Not many gave Team India a chance before the Women's T20 World Cup began. The 2017 World Cup had been a bolt out of the blue but T20 had never been India's format.
Flashier and new-age teams such as England, Australia and even New Zealand were considered the prime contenders for the title.
Australia have the likes of Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney and a dynamic all-rounder in Ellyse Perry as formidable dashers; each of whom have lit up the Big Bash League.
England have Anya Shrubsole and Danielle Wyatt in their ranks who continue to headline the Cricket Super League. New Zealand have one of the finest top order in Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine who have aced the Super Smash. South Africa have tear-away pacers in Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp.
What do India have?
Accepted, that Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana have featured in the top T20 leagues across the world but India also have the likes Mithali Raj who are considered quite old-fashioned in the way they go about their business.
The senior pro must have been hurt when she was pushed down the order at No 6 in the opening match against New Zealand and never got to bat. But, the fighter that she has always been, she came back strongly in the next two matches. Raj cracked match-winning half-centuries against Pakistan and Ireland to consolidate her position at the top of the order.
Making the most of resources
India lack substantial acumen in the pace bowling department. With Jhulan Goswami bidding adieu to the shortest format of the game, the Women in Blue are left with Mansi Joshi after Pooja Vastrakar has been ruled out due to injury. She too is not quick enough to send chills down the opposition batting line up.
The team has too many similar looking spinners in the squad. Yet, they have managed to turn it - literally - in their favour. The leggie Poonam Yadav was always expected to be the trump card, but the likes of Deepti Sharma, Radha Yadav and Dayalan Hemalatha have risen to the occasion.
All of these spinners are quite classical in their approach. As opposed to the modern spinners, they don't bowl the hard length or fire it in at pace. Much like their newly appointed coach Ramesh Powar, the Indian tweakers give the ball a lot of air so that it grips and breaks upon pitching; a fast-dying art across both men's and women's cricket.
As has always been a typical Indian trait, the team has managed to make use of what they possess in the most effective manner. So much so, that they have been unbeatable in the tournament till now, winning all their group matches comprehensively.
Stunning the Aussies
Harmanpreet & Co were up against the mighty Australians, who are pitched to win the T20 World Cup, in their last and inconsequential group match. It were the Aussies who had drubbed India both in the 2005 World Cup finals and in the semis of the 2010 World Twenty20. Both the teams having already made it to the semis, this was deemed a dress rehearsal for the finals.
All odds were stacked against India, just like they were when the team faced New Zealand, but the Women in Blue stepped up their game yet again. Buoyed by a resurgent Smriti Mandhana and another explosive knock from the skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, they posted a huge target on the board and strangled the Aussie batting line-up.
Not again, India
Post the Aussie encounter, India are set to face England in their semi-final clash which would bring back memories of the heartbreak they had just one year ago.
Those who have followed the game long enough would know these semifinals and finals have happened before, only to end with a souring taste. Eight years ago as well, India reached the semis of a T20 World Cup held in the Caribbean. In 2005, India have already had their maiden feel of the finals. The wounds of a loss in the 2017 World Cup final still hurt.
Skipper Harman already knows that the expectations back home have soared. “Now the expectations will also increase, but that’s good for the team as well. It means we will get a lot of support from back home. And we can see that with the other teams too. Each team has more fans as compared to a few years ago, and that’s because everyone is playing well,” she wrote in her ICC column.
Under a new captain and armed with renewed vigour, India would be after nothing but the title this time.
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