Women’s World Cup: Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh get India past West Indies for their second successive win

With four needed to win, Richa Ghosh lined up for a pull. With Shamilia Connell’s delivery not short enough for the shot, she just whacked it to the deep square-leg fence before ending up with her left leg in the air, a follow-up pose that would have made many in the Caribbean proud. For the second consecutive match, the India wicketkeeper played a gem of an innings, once again remaining unbeaten as her reputation as a finisher only grew, and with that the team’s confidence.

To be fair, the result was on expected lines. The six-wicket loss in Cape Town was West Indies 15th in a row – their longest losing streak – and their eighth successive against India. They are a team low on confidence and in a phase where they don’t know when and where their next win is going to come. They are not the team that clinched the T20 World Cup seven years ago in India. And ever since Deandra Dottin announced her shock retirement during the Commonwealth Games saying the “team environment has been non-conducive to my ability to thrive and reignite my passion,” the West Indies have been on a downward spiral.

It showed once again on Wednesday. Their only chance to win against the odds was reliant on captain Hayley Mathews and Stefanie Taylor. And once the skipper perished in the second over to Pooja Vastrakar, it left Taylor to do the job. In the company of Shemiane Campbell, she built a 74-run stand, laying the sort of platform from which she could tee off in the end. Without enough firepower in the middle order, it was pertinent for the West Indies that Taylor stayed till the end. Whatever hopes the duo was building were blown in the space of three deliveries by off-spinner Deepti Sharma. From 78/4 at the end of the 14th over, West Indies managed only 40 more runs in the next six overs for the loss of two wickets as they set India a target of 119.

The only academic interest at that stage was how quickly could India get to the target and thereby stand a chance of overhauling England to the top spot in Group B on the basis of net run rate. True to expectations, India went hard at the start, but once they lost Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Shafali Verma inside eight overs, they focused on just getting the job done. And Richa, in the company of skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, did exactly that, stitching a 72-run partnership for the fourth wicket before the captain perished with four runs needed.

Rich (a) vein of form

While Deepti’s bowling returns (3/15) undoubtedly turned the tide for India, Harmanpreet & Co will cherish what they are seeing in Richa. Ever since she burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old during the T20 World Cup in 2020 – where India lost in the final to Australia – Richa has come a long way. With a career strike rate of 135.67, the 19-year-old is India’s trump card in the middle order. In the current T20 World Cup cycle, her strike rate of 143.72 is second only to Australia’s Ashleigh Gardner and on Wednesday, she showed once again how she has matured into her role as a finisher. Having been watchful at the start, once she got her eye in, Richa was in the mood to punish any bad delivery or the ones that came in her arc.

“Whenever she and Rishi Sir (batting coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar) are speaking, they are only talking about picking the right ball. That is very important for her. Earlier, she was in a little hurry. She is someone who can always clear the boundary and that is why they have been discussing picking the right balls,” Harmanpreet said. “It is good to see her understanding her role and also which ball she can hit and which one she can just take a single off. Showing that maturity is something we are really happy to see.”

Not many are content playing second fiddle, but on Wednesday during their partnership, the India captain was happy just knocking singles and giving the strike to Richa. And whenever the West Indies bowlers erred in length, especially short deliveries, Richa was ready to pounce, just like her Under-19 World Cup-winning teammate Shafali.

“They really like to play the short balls. They are not the traditional Indian batters, who like to play the drives. They really enjoy playing the short ball and are now with the senior team for a long time and have played more than 50 matches and know what international cricket is, and what type of balls they are going to face and at what speed. They are very mature and understand their game very well and it is good to see that they are taking responsibility and taking us through,” Harmanpreet added.

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