Shafali Verma’s whirlwind half-century at the top of the order, and Manali Dakshini’s three-for guided India C to a convincing eight-wicket win over India B in the final of the Senior T20 Challenger Trophy at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on Friday (January 10). 15-year-old Verma’s fearless strokeplay allowed the team in green to chase down a challenging total of 132 with as many as 28 balls to spare.
Through the course of the league stage of the tournament, it was experience that helped get India B over the line. In their first match against India C, in a test of nerves, it was that experience that saw them come out on top. In the pressure of a final, one would have been betting against the odds if they were backing the inexperienced India C. After all, they were the youngest side in the tournament, the least experienced, and the most likely to fold under pressure, but come D-Day, all that was thrown out the window.
Having lost the toss for the first time in the tournament in slightly gloomy and overcast conditions, Veda Krishnamurthy’s India C were sent in to bowl. They were the unfancied team in the tournament, no one expected them to get past the league stage, but here they were in the final, the odds stacked against them, ready to take on a power-laden India B.
In the huddle, India C were positive. Krishnamurthy had a few words with the group, before the laughter began. They were upbeat, positive and clearly happy to be part of the pointy end of the tournament. Most importantly, they believed.
India’s C’s tactic of starting with spin at both ends worked wonders, as Smriti Mandhana was dismissed in the third over by Rajeshwari Gayakwad, smartly caught by Krishnamurthy at extra cover.
Vanitha VR, who had shown promising form throughout the course of the tournament, hit a flurry of boundaries following her opening partner’s dismissal. First, she crashed Gayakwad over mid-off, before belting consecutive boundaries off the bowling of Arundhati Reddy. However, as has been the case all tournament, Vanitha failed to capitalise on her start, charging down the track against Hemalatha Dayalan only for the bowler to throw it wide and have her stumped for a 17-ball 25.
Following that dismissal, there was a steady flow of wickets - Richa Ghosh (15), Jemimah Rodrigues (10) and R Kalpana (4) all dismissed by Manali Dakshini. Making a return to the XI after being dropped for the final league game, the right-arm seamer, bowled with great discipline, maintaining a consistent line outside off-stump, forcing the India B batters to try and pierce a strong off-side field or take a risk and swipe across the line. Her spell of 3 for 15 in the middle overs — which included a superb reaction catch in her follow through to dismiss Rodrigues — derailed the India B innings, giving the team in green full control of the match going in to the final five overs.
At 79 for 6— after the run out of Anuja Patil (20)— in 15.1 overs, India B needed someone to play a blinder if they were to get to a competitive total. Once again, it was Pooja Vastrakar who answered the team’s call. Having walked in to bat in the 13th over, the allrounder took her time to settle in, knocking the ball into the gaps to pick up singles. Alongside Shikha Pandey, who also took a similar approach, she took the innings deep, giving herself a solid foundations from which to launch.
Come the final three over of the innings, Vastrakar unleashed her power, blasting three fours and three sixes to finish with an incredible 43 off 22 balls. She stepped out to the spinners, getting to the pitch of the ball and muscled the ball beautifully over cover, mid-off, mid on and even straight over the bowler’s head. Her onslaught saw her take 20 runs off the final over of the innings bowled by Tanusree Sarkar as India B finished with a total of 131 for 6. Vastrakar and Pandey’s unbeaten 7th wicket partnership was worth 52 runs off just 29 balls.
In typical fashion Shafali raced out of the blocks, blasting a total of eight fours and a six in the power play, as India C cantered to 58 for no loss. The youngster — kept quiet in the first two overs by some intelligent bowling — broke free in the third over when she carted Shikha Pandey for four boundaries. Audaciously charging down the pitch to the senior fast bowler, the 15-year-old fed off length deliveries, peppering the straight boundary. She then smashed 18 runs off Tanuja Kanwer’s first over— three delightful boundaries and a massive six over mid-wicket— to put the pressure sorely back on India B.
As Mandhana and her bowlers desperately searched for ways to stop the bleeding, the Haryana hurricane continued to create chaos, bringing up her first half-century of the tournament off just 27 balls. It was an innings of authority, one that put her team well in front of the required rate.
While Shafali was dominating proceedings at one end, Madhru Mehta, her opening partner was searching for runs at the other. Having poked and prodded her way to 20 off 30 balls, Mehta ran herself out in the 10th over. It was Patil’s direct hit from mid-wicket that broke the 77-run opening stand.
Krishnamurthy walked in at no.3 and joined in on the fun, hitting three boundaries on her way to an 8-ball 15, before she was caught by Mandhana at mid-on trying to finish things off in a hurry.
At 112 for 2 in 13 overs, the result looked to be a mere formality. With Shafali still in the middle, India C could taste victory.
There were no further hiccups in the game after that. Shafali survived another short-ball test from Pooja Vastrakar to take India C home in the 16th over. Fittingly, she blasted a boundary off the right-arm seamer over mid-off to finish unbeaten on 89 off just 48 balls, including 15 fours and two sixes.
Brief Scores: India B 131/6 in 20 overs (Pooja Vastrakar 43*, Vanitha VR 25; Manali Dakshini 3-15) lost to India C 135/2 in 15.2 overs (Shafali Verma 89*, Madhuri Mehta 20) by eight wickets.