The tables have turned quickly. Less than a fortnight ago, England were staring at a 0-3 whitewash against India in the One-Day International series. They had lost the first two matches to concede the series, but stormed back in the third ODI and carried the momentum to win the first two Twenty20 Internationals. Now India have allowed England to inflict a whitewash on them by losing the third T20I from a position of strength. It must be really disappointing for the team management considering the target was 120 and the game was all but won till Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj were batting together.
Even after Mandhana got out, India had to score 33 runs off seven overs to finish the assignment with a win. It boiled down to three needed off the last over bowled by Kate Cross. Mithali was striking the ball well, but she was stranded at the other end as Bharti Fulmali, Anuja Patil and Shikha Pandey managed only one run in the over.
“The way we batted in last two-three overs,” Mandhana said when asked about where the game was lost. “The batters had Mithali at the other end. It would have been sensible to take a single and give her the strike. She has enough experience to take us over the line. So definitely we will have a word with all the youngsters what needs to be done.”
The day started with England opting to bat first, and the opening pair of Danielle Wyatt and Tammy Beaumont gave them a flying start with a stand of 51. But the way the Indian spin trio of Poonam Yadav, Anuja and Harleen Deol pulled things back was remarkable to watch. They completely shifted the momentum in India’s favour.
Making a comeback, Anuja weaved her guile and provided the first breakthrough when she bowled wide to Wyatt, who offered an easy catch to Poonam at short third-man. In the next over Poonam castled Natalie Sciver with a googly, and India were suddenly on top.
Anjua is considered to be a ‘T20 specialist’ for which it was hard to imagine her not playing the first two games. I am glad that the team management finally realised her worth and included her in playing XI.
She is a street smart cricketer and reads the game very well. To win matches against the best teams in the world it is ideal to have experienced players in the side who read the game better and have the knack of winning games. Anuja showed us what experience she brings in this struggling Indian T20 side and ended with the best figures of the match with 2 for 13 runs and that too two big wickets of the explosive openers. (Wyatt and Beaumont).
Finally, spinners being India’s strength delivered what they are best at. They maintained a great line and length, varied their pace and bowled according to their field. For the first time this series we saw England batters struggle against the deadly Indian spinners. Poonam continued to dominate and gets better with every game.
But it’s not the bowling that is the main problem. It’s the batting. There is no excuse to not be able to chase 120. Smriti had told after the second game that for the T20 format to grow in India work has to be done at the domestic level. “I think if you look at it, the batters we get in domestic [circuit], they face 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, that is the only way you are going to play the same way in international cricket.”
With her insatiable quest for excellence, Mandhana has raised her game to such a level that even good performances from her teammates at times do not seem to be special. Her fluent form with the bat did not seem to be affected with the new and an important role of captaincy.
Mandhana struck another magnificent 53 off 38 balls with the help of ever so dependable Mithali, who scored 30 off 32 balls but was stranded at one end in the final over as the middle order failed to give her strike and take them home with their first win. Mandhana was going strong, with a strike rate of 149 as India remained in the chase and were cruising at this point. She was eventually bowled by Laura Marsh in the 13th over.
Mithali who held the fort on the other end till the last over was unbeaten on 30. She gave India hope to witness the first win. A reason for the crowd who came in huge numbers today to witness the first win and something to take home with a smile but was denied as the pressure got onto the youngsters who couldn’t handle the pressure in the end. Exceptional display of batting by her and great temperament for the game, she accelerated when she had to and was on verge of the first victory of this series.
A series to forget for Jemimah Rodrigues and Harleen Deol with the former having meagre scores of 2,2 and 11. She has really struggled with form in T20 in comparison with her ODI form. Harleen being her maiden T20 also couldn’t contribute much as an opener, but I feel she needs to be given a longer run.
For England, it was a case of doing the right things more consistently. Just like their pacers, their top order was in fine touch.
Lastly, a word on Kate Cross. Returning to T20I side after four years after tackling anxiety issues, she was exceptional with the ball especially in the final over. By not allowing Fulmali to get off strike, she showed great ability to absorb the pressure. Her player of the match award is a testament of the English system. Deservingly, Wyatt won the player of the series award.
As said by Mandhana, a very disappointing loss for the home team and batting is still an area of concern. May be the management has to look at choosing a smart XI against a tough side and give a youngsters a chance more prudently. A lot of screws to tighten for the future series as there is ample time for them until the next series is announced.