Here they are. The semifinals, a stage where many expected India to be at the start of the Women’s T20 World Cup, and facing an opposition that many fear would eventually end their run – Australia. If there was any script, it has been followed to the T with a bit of course correction here and there. But largely, India’s campaign has panned out exactly the way the team didn’t want it to.
Given the format of the T20 World Cup, reaching the semifinals was always a given for India. In a 10-team tournament involving two groups of five each, all it needed was three wins to get this far and given the squad at their disposal, they managed it successfully beating Pakistan, West Indies and Ireland. Had they defeated England, they could have avoided facing Australia in the semifinals, but that match was a stark indicator of where the team stands right now.
The exuberance of youth and the stability provided by their seniors mean India have the right blend of players. And standing opposite them is a bunch of players and a team that India wants to emulate in the near future. In short, Australia are the team India want to be. Of course, there are other teams who have such aspirations, but with the onset of the Women’s Premier League and the deepening talent pool, it is India awaiting the eureka moment that could spur them even more. A victory against Australia in Cape Town on Thursday could well be that moment, but the challenge ahead of them is enormous.
Not because this is a semifinal. But because it is Australia – a team that has lost only two of the 33 matches it has played since beating India in the final of the 2020 T20 World Cup. And to make it more daunting for India, they are playing a team against whom they have won only seven of the 30 matches played. There is a reason why India, who have relied far too heavily on spinners over the years, have struggled against them. Unlike other teams, Australia are blessed with the sort of firepower in the batting line-up that very few teams can even dream of. Their batting depth and a settled line-up means they have been able to outmuscle the opposition in any given conditions.
Richa Ghosh, who has been India’s best player so far in the tournament, didn’t even think twice before picking Australia’s attacking game as their strongest suit. “They attack a lot. So, whatever happens to them, even if a batter gets out, they don’t leave the attacking (game) because they have batters from top to bottom. We also have batters from top to bottom. So, we will play an attacking game. We are improving our mindset. One who is mentally strong in the game will win. So, we are working on that,” Ghosh said on the eve of the match.
It is easier said than done though. The reason why Australia have been so dominant is they hardly hold back in T20s, a concept that not many women’s teams have embraced. Even if they end up losing a wicket or two, Australia’s go-to option is to attack their way out of trouble and the firepower they have allows them to do so. Out of their top nine that are expected to take the field on Thursday, six of them have a strike rate of over 120 and two of their middle-order mainstays Ashleigh Gardener and Tahila McGrath strike at 131.44 and 142.79 respectively. And in Grace Harris they have a floater who can hit at 176.11. Having resorted to a more flexible batting line-up, unless an opposition finds a way to take wickets regularly, it is hard to stop a batting unit that is in full flow.
India, on the other hand, are not blessed with such firepower. Richa’s strike rate of 135.55 is the highest for any batter in their squad and captain Harmanpreet Kaur’s 106.22 just shows the gulf in terms of the teams’ approaches. The batting might of Australia means teams that are batting first are invariably made to take more risks than they normally do to put a total that is at least 20 or 25 more than par. With a strong bowling to back their batting, Australia have been hard to dislodge and Thursday will be no different.
Australia are also aware that with each ICC tournament, India are only growing from strength to strength. Two of their seven defeats to India have come in World Cups, and there is a bit of familiarity between the teams. While history and form weighs in favour of Australia, their captain Meg Lanning believes both teams will start on an even scale in the semifinals. And they are counting on another important aspect: their ability to absorb pressure, especially in big matches.
“I do feel as though as a group, we are very calm and know that teams are going to come pretty hard at this and they have done over the last few years, and just to be able to absorb some pressure, I think is really important. You’re not going to have it all your own way. There’s so many good teams out there now that there’s going to be times when they have the momentum. But that’s the nature of T20 cricket in particular. And for us, it’s just about staying calm in those moments, being really clear on what our plans are and trusting our ability as well. And that’s something I think we do really well. We back ourselves and know the style that we want to play,” Lanning said.
Few would disagree with it.