“Partnerships are really the base of our sport.” Belinda Clark, The Record
Every team sport is reliant on partnerships. The importance of these partnerships is even more in a strategic sport like cricket. Even though these partnerships are hailed as the core of the ODI format, multiple century partnerships are a rare occurrence in the women’s game. So, when we witness such partnerships it becomes necessary to stand up and applaud.
The second ODI between New Zealand and India saw two 100+ partnerships. Youngster Richa Ghosh and captain Mithali Raj took India to their highest-ever score against the hosts with a partnership of 108 runs. Meanwhile, another right-handed duo of Amelia Kerr and Maddy Green collected the pieces after New Zealand lost its three star batters early in the chase.
When Richa Ghosh joined her skipper at the crease at 135 for 4 in the 29th over, India were going through a lull. Boundaries had dried up and the run rate was below five per over. After an exceptional attacking display from the top 3, New Zealand had made inroads with some tight bowling to India’s captain and vice-captain. India needed a solid partnership.
In hopes of adding some extra pressure on the 18-year-old, stand-in captain Amy Satterthwaite positioned herself at slip. The pressure was evident. Ghosh almost chipped the first ball she faced straight to mid-off. The very next delivery, she got off the mark with a soft nudge. To make matters even nervier, Ghosh survived two LBW appeals in the next over. At that moment, going past 250 looked like a distant dream.
While Raj was taking a cautious approach, it was Ghosh who freed her arms first. A tossed-up delivery from Fran Jonas saw Ghosh clearing mid-on for her first boundary. An authoritative sweep against Amelia Kerr followed as the run rate started climbing. Raj, meanwhile, was rotating the strike, giving the young player some much-needed confidence in the middle.
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When Satterthwaite re-introduced the pace of Hayley Jensen in the 37th over, the partnership was already ballooning at 40. By this time, Raj had found her groove. A fluent pull shot off Jensen threaded two players and went for a boundary. With a six off a free hit in the 40th over, India went past 200 and for the first time since the 26th over, the run rate went above five. “Launch time is here,” suggested Craig Cumming on commentary.
Ghosh maintained her strike rate at around 100 and brought her maiden ODI half-century off 49 balls even though her left leg was bothering her for most of her innings. Things got worse when she slipped at the non-striker's end while trying to sneak a run. That didn’t stop her from hitting Jonas over cover or taking advantage of a full toss and sending it over mid-off. When the partnership crossed 100 (0ff 101 deliveries), Ghosh’s contribution was an impressive 63.
Shortly after that, Raj crossed the fifty mark with a lofted drive over point. Her 68th half-century in the format came with a classic Raj touch in the cover region. Three balls later, Devine ended the partnership of 108 runs, with boundary-rider Amelia taking an excellent catch. India were 243 for five with four overs to go. They eventually finished with a score of 270 for six, their highest-ever against the hosts. Raj and Ghosh contributed 108 of those runs.
The partnership couldn’t have been between two more different players. Ghosh preferred hitting down the ground and the old school Raj accumulated her runs square of the wicket. Ghosh was trying to loft the ball as early as the 10th ball of her innings, while Raj was firm in her crease, trying to put pressure on the opposition with her technical shot-making. Ghosh was the aggressor and her captain was happy to play second fiddle.
This was India’s third century partnership against New Zealand in New Zealand. This partnership between a youngster and the veteran was full of lessons for India. The pair was aggressive but not reckless. Of the 17 overs the partnership lasted, there were only three instances when less than five runs were scored in an over. It showed that there was no need to go bang every single time. It also showed that India can build on the solid foundation provided by the openers with patience and improved running between the wickets.
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It also showed the road Indian cricket has traveled since Raj made her debut for India. When the 39-year-old scored her first half-century in New Zealand in February 2003, Ghosh was not even born. 23 years after her debut, the Indian team is still more or less reliant on their leader. If this innings in general and the partnership, in particular, was any indication, it showed that India has enough talent to carry forward Raj’s legacy in the coming years.
If India needed the century partnership, New Zealand needed it even more. After an ultra-aggressive start from Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates, the hosts were 55 for three in the 9th over, with the trio of Bates, Devine and Satterthwaite back in the pavilion. These players are New Zealand’s top three run-getters since the 2017 ODI World Cup, so it is safe to say that the Indian spinners were able to make a remarkable comeback to take control of the match.
The New Zealand innings was heading towards uncharted waters. Even though their middle order had shown some promise in the past, they had crumbled against the likes of Australia and England. Green and Kerr needed monumental efforts; firstly to avoid the collapse and then to build a partnership. Losing another wicket at that time would have meant exposing the inexperienced and out-of-form lower-middle order to the pumped-up Indian attack.
The task was far from easy as Deepti Sharma’s probing spell continued and Green faced a maiden over. Kerr provided a release in the tense situation by hitting a cut shot through the point region. The partnership was up and away.
In the absence of veteran Jhulan Goswami, India’s pace attack looked a little vulnerable and the pair pounced on the opportunity. Pooja Vastrakar went for nine runs in her fifth over, forcing Mithali Raj to hand the ball to Simran Dil Bahadur in the 15th over. Kerr and Green looked unthreatened against the debutant. Poonam Yadav was introduced from the other end but the pair was not in the mood to take any risks.
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At the stage, former Australian international Joanne Broadbent predicted that going forward, Green will look to use her feet, while Kerr will opt for the sweep shot. And that is exactly what the Wellington Blaze pair was able to do. Even when the boundaries were not easily available, they were able to play their shots and keep the required run rate in check. And because their required run rate was always under control, the pair was able to play the ball on its merit.
New Zealand took their running between the wickets one step ahead of what India managed to do in their batting innings. Kerr was the first to bring up her half-century in the 26th over. At that stage, New Zealand were ahead of India in terms of the scoring rate.
Soon after, the pair brought up the 100-run mark in 123 balls, with 21-year-old Kerr scoring 56 of those runs. The Kiwis were marching towards the target with relative ease. Green, then, freed her arms to reach her first-ever half-century on home soil. It looked like the pair had decided to go on a full-blown attack from both ends when Kerr hit Yadav straight down the ground in the 34th over, but Green didn’t get any elevation and she was caught at extra cover by Yastika Bhatia.
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Their partnership of 128 runs was New Zealand’s highest-ever against India for any wicket. New Zealand still needed 88 runs off 99 balls when Green departed, but the partnership had given them enough fuel to win the match. Wellington Blaze’s homegrown talent and their newest recruit combined to bail the national side out when they needed it the most. The two right-handers were challenged by the Indian fielding unit more than the Indian bowling attack but nevertheless, they persisted and prevailed.
Kerr went on to score her second international century in the ODI format. She sealed the famous victory by hitting 16 runs off Harmanpreet Kaur’s penultimate over with her sister at the non-striker's end. New Zealand had survived the storm, courtesy a record partnership of 128 runs.