Big-match experience and composure under pressure is what counted as India aced a tricky chase to start their ICC Women’s T20 World Cup campaign on a perfect note.
With Smriti Mandhana out injured and Harmanpreet Kaur getting out at a crucial stage, it was left to youngsters Jemimah Rodrigues and Richa Ghosh to take India past Pakistan’s 149/4 with an over to spare at Cape Town on Sunday.
It was another example of experience in high-profile overseas leagues proving handy as both players who took the team home have appeared in the Big Bash League and The Hundred.
The target seemed to be getting distant when India needed 41 off the last four overs, but the onslaught by Jemimah and Richa ensured that the last six balls at their disposal were not even required. Playing in pressure situations and in front of big crowds helped the two pick the right moments to up the ante. Jemimah, 22, has already played international cricket for five years and has turned out for Melbourne Stars, Melbourne Renegades and Northern Superchargers, while the 19-year-old Richa has played for Hobart Hurricanes. The lack of this sort of experience is what went against Pakistan as they were found short in power-hitting at the top of the innings and fielding under pressure.
Richa and Jemimah had to do the heavy lifting themselves without any senior player to accompany them. The turning point of the game came in the 17th and 18th overs of the chase, which went for 27 runs. Richa took toll on some width offered by medium pacer Aiman Anwer to get three boundaries through the offside to bring the equation down to 14 off 12 balls, but only six were needed.
A target of 150 in a big match, in spin-friendly conditions, would have been testing, and it seemed that way when the openers – particularly Shafali Verma – failed to capitalise on a good start and skipper Harmanpreet couldn’t make a telling contribution.
At one point in time, it seemed more like a sweeping fest such was the frequency with which the shot was employed. With both teams banking heavily on their spinners, it felt as though the team that was more effective with it would come out on top. But at the crunch, Jemimah and Richa showed that they had much more in their arsenal as their finishing kick left Pakistan with few answers. It was Jemimah who hit the winning boundary through the offside, before leaping in the air and punching the wind.
“I knew we had to build partnerships. I knew if we take it deep, we will win,” the Mumbai woman said after the victory. “We were just taking it over by over. We knew if we were there till the end, we would win. We knew they would bowl a bad ball eventually and we would capitalise. It was a difficult wicket but being set helped.”
Riding a high
Indian women’s cricket has been riding high in recent times, with the U-19 World Cup title and the launch of the Women’s Premier League. And it augurs well for their future in this event and further down the line that it is the youngsters who are getting the job done.
The early exchanges in the game were telling about the difference between the two sides. India seemed at home and used to the big stage, while Pakistan looked as if they were yet to reach that level in their evolution. The lack of big-hitting ability forced them to resort almost exclusively to sweeps, reverse-sweeps and laps. The run rate took a long time to reach six per over, and it was only the fifth-wicket partnership (81 in 7.5 overs) between skipper Bismah Maroof (68 not out in 55 balls) and youngster Ayesha Naseem (43 not out in 25 balls) that took them to a competitive total.
It was Naseem, just 18, who turned out to be a revelation. She was the only Pakistani batter comfortable in hitting down the ground against both seamers and spinners. An 81-metre six would clear almost any boundary, as she took down Radha Yadav in the 16th over that cost 18 runs.
Maroof, who was trying to be the aggressor in the initial overs when her batting partners seemed to struggle to hit the ball off the square, was later content to give Naseem most of the strike.
As far as the Indian bowling is concerned, Radha Yadav was the banker for her captain, scalping two wickets while conceding only 21 runs in her four overs, while the usually reliable Deepti Sharma, who had to bowl the 20th over, had a tough day conceding 39 from her full quota.
Pakistan were hamstrung by the lack of a sixth bowling option as their seamers Anwer and Fatima Sana were taken to the cleaners. Left-arm orthodox spinner Nashra Sandhu ploughed a lone furrow, her two wickets keeping the Indians on tenterhooks while giving away just 15 runs in her four overs. But with the possible exception of Sadia Iqbal (1/25), none of the other bowlers were effective.
A win first up will be a confidence-booster for India, but by no means a guarantee of progress to the semifinals. Only the top two from the group of five teams advance, and with England, West Indies and Ireland to contend with, Harmanpreet & Co will have to raise their game in subsequent matches.
India were the losing finalists in Melbourne three years ago, and can’t afford to be satisfied by making the knockout stages. The country expects much more from them.