Danni Wyatt in action. ©ICC
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India’s woes in Twenty20 cricket continues as they were restricted to 111 for 8  in the second game against England in Guwahati. They had made only 119 in their chase of 161 in the first match few days back.

Harleen Deol started the innings with a glorious cover drive to the fence and then Smriti Mandhana hit two straight sixes as India got off to a flying start, but then things fell apart in a short span as both the openers and Jemimah Rodrigues departed, yet again exposing the brittle middle-order.

It is almost now a known secret that if you can get Mandhana and Rodrigues out early then India can be easily tamed. This is why I feel Mithali Raj should either open the innings or bat at No.3 in order to give that stability to the innings. If Mithali has to play the sheet anchor role then it has to be at the top because there is scope for a run-a-ball innings in T20Is even now. She will get time to get used to the conditions and at the same time ensure that one end is held, which perfectly suits her style.

While Mithali’s batting position will be debated, Mandhana made a pertinent point at the press conference after the loss. She said that the huge gap between India’s domestic structure and international cricket needs to be plugged for the team to make any kind of progress.

“I think if you look at it, the batters we get in domestic, we get very different bowling and fielding attack to international cricket. There is a huge gap between international and domestic cricket. That gap needs to be lessened. Our domestic circuit needs to step up. There should be a bit of fearlessness in domestic circuit because if you start playing fearless cricket in domestic, then is the only way you are going to play the same way in the international cricket,” Mandhana said. “If you look at our domestic scores in T20s, it is generally around 110-120. I think we all need to go back, step up (strengthen) our domestic circuit, take those scores to 140-150. If that is happening then all the batters will come with the same mindset of playing a fearless brand of cricket. Fearless doesn’t mean careless. There is a thin line between fearless and careless. I think we need to play fearless.”

Till this issue is not addressed there will always be over-reliance on Mandhana, Rodrigues, Harmanpreet Kaur, who is out of this series because of an ankle injury, and Mithali to an extent. Beyond them there is little depth, and it automatically allows the opposition bowlers to tighten things.

The focus during the nets ahead of the second game was to “get the batting order right and avoid collapse” as per Mandhana. She had also stressed for her, Mithali and Rodrigues “to take more responsibility, and bat more and take the team through (the finish line). We have to give a bit of cushion to the youngsters.”

Having said that the batting needs cushion, it was a bit strange to see Veda Krishnamurthy, who is on a comeback trial, being dropped after just one opportunity. It thinned the batting line-up even further.

Yes, Bharti Fulmali, who replaced Veda, did give a good account of herself on debut, but imagine the senior batter’s confused state of mind. It only adds to the problems.

India’s middle-order is clearly struggling and it is important to trust those with experience, and that is why I feel Veda should have played. She has played 59 T20Is and can clear the ground with ease. She is also an electrifying fielder. It’s about the team management giving her the confidence that she is being backed.

With the T20 World Cup in Australia less than a year away, it is imperative to get that perfect blend of experience and youth, and constant chopping and changing does not help the cause.

From England’s perspective, this was yet another perfect game. Katherine Brunt as usual was lethal, with her legcutters being the most effective. Just when Fulmali was looking to shift gears in the final over, she bowled a beautiful legcutter to uproot the stumps and finish with 3 for 17.

Of course the England bowlers were helped a bit by overnight rain after Heather Knight opted to field first, but even then India should have done much better with the bat. The game went into the final over, which means that if one of the top order batter could have played through then India could have got extra few runs that could have been decisive.

Danielle Wyatt showed how to construct an innings. She knew the target was not big, and all she just had to bat till the end. Her presence meant that even after England were reduced to 56 for 4 in 10.4 overs, there was not much panic in their dugout. Her crucial stand of 47 with Lauren Winfield sealed the deal in England’s favour. They hardly took any risks as the focus was on strike rotation and only hitting those deliveries in the zone to the fence.

Wyatt put her head down and got the job done, which is in a lesson in itself. Her knock made the chase look smooth and easy, which actually was not the case as the game finished with just five balls to spare. This knock of hers was a complete contrast to the fastest century she had hit against India in a T20I in Mumbai last year. The versatility makes her one to watch out for in the long run.

While Wyatt used the sweep shot to good effect, I think the field placements by Mandhana could have been much better to sustain the pressure after England lost Knight. Indian spinners, especially Ekta Bisht who was returning to the side after a long gap, bowled well in patches. Bisht went for two boundaries in her first over, but then changed her line of attack to finish with impressive figures of 2 for 23.

The crowd turnout was once again very encouraging. The noise made by the school kids added to the atmosphere, and one hopes that more people turn up for the final game on Saturday.

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