Jhulan Goswami’s terrific all-round show, Deepti Sharma’s calculated 85 and Shubhlakshmi Sharma’s 5 for 48 helped Bengal beat Railways by 21 runs in a thrilling semifinal.
It is for the first time since 2011-12 that Railways won’t be featuring in the final of the inter-state 50-over competition. Chasing 212 after Goswami’s unbeaten 34-ball 50 had propelled Bengal to 211 for 7, Railways suffered a middle-order collapse to lose their last eight wickets for 101 runs and be dismissed for 190 in 49 overs.
Opting to bat first, Bengal showed good intent at the start but Ekta Bisht running out of Prativa in the 12th over forced them to re-strategize. Tanusree Sarkar became Sneh Rana’s victim and Bengal became 55 for 3 in 17.5 overs.
With her mandate being to bat deep into the innings, Deepti focussed on guarding her end even as Mandira Mahapatra became the fourth wicket to fell for the score of 62. She found good support from Neha Maji as the duo added 81 runs in 21.4 overs.
There, however, needed to be a flourish for Bengal to put a challenging total against a strong Railways unit, and it came from Goswami, who hit five fours and two sixes to show how it is done. She added 48 with Deepti, who batted for 132 deliveries on her way to become the fifth batter with 400 or more runs in the competition.
Bengal scored 68 runs in the last 9.3 overs to provide the innings with impetus. Interestingly, Poonam Yadav, who has been the most successful Railways bowler, bowled only six overs.
As had been the script in the quarterfinal with respect to Bengal’s defence, Goswami and Shublakshmi focussed on creating more dot balls. Shubhlakshmi was rewarded with the big wickets of Punam Raut, who has two centuries in the competition, and Rana in her first over, reducing Railways to 2 for 1.
Nuzhat Parween and Mithali Raj showed good intent with a stand of 88. Mithali in particular was at her classy best, stroking the ball well in her 43-ball 37 that included four hits to the fence. But once Deepti dismissed her in the 23rd over, the game opened up again.
Parween, who was promoted to open, took responsibility by improving her scoring rate, but Mona Meshram’s slowness kept the pressure on despite an association of 53 for the fourth wicket. Jhulan Goswami returned for her second spell and provided immediate breakthrough with the wicket of Meshram, who made 28 off 52 balls.
Shubhlakshmi provided the big scalp of Parween, having her caught behind for 74 off 124 balls. She then again struck by removing the out of form Veda Krishnamurthy.
At 160 for 6 in 41.4 overs, Railways desperately needed a hero. Unfortunately, they could not find one, losing their last five wickets for 30 runs. Arundhati Reddy tried hard to keep the chase alive but when PB Pandey sent her back in the 47th over the game was almost done.
Goswami finished with incredible figures of 9-3-9-3, and Shublakshmi also got good support from the remaining five bowlers.
This was the first time Bengal were meeting Railways in a 50-over contest since 2014. Even on that occasion in Rajkot, Bengal had held their nerve to pull off a low-scoring thriller in their favour.
Bengal, who qualified for the elite group after finishing runners-up in plate group last season, are now one step away from completing a dream run.
Bengal 211/7 in 50 overs (Deepti Sharma 85, Neha Maji 30, Jhulan Goswami 50*; Ekta Bisht 2-34) beat Railways 190 in 49 overs (Nuzhat Parween 74, Mithali Raj 37, Mona Meshram 28; J Goswami 3-9, Shubhlakshmi Sharma 5-48) by 21 runs.
2nd semifinal: Himachal Pradesh vs Andhra Pradesh at Just Cricket Ground, Bangalore
G Chandra Lekha’s 49 and S Hima Bindu’s unbeaten 45 formed the foundation of Andhra’s successful chase of 195 against Himachal in the second semifinal.
Put into bat, Himachal lost Nikita Chauhan off the first ball of the match before Harleen Deol and Neena Chaudhary put on 74 runs in 28 overs. It was a slow partnership, but the duo’s focus was to not expose the middle-order against the new ball.
Deol, who has been at her attacking best through the tournament, was sedate, making 41 off 98 balls and hitting just four fours. CH Jhansi Lakshmi dismissed her off the first ball of the 29th over to give Andhra an opening.
Sushma Verma, the captain, came at No.4 and showed signs of returning to form with a knock of 59 off 73 balls, which included five fours and a six. Her innings was instrumental in Himachal adding 120 runs in the last 22 overs.
She had a partnership of 118 with Chaudhary before falling in the final over. Chaudhary remained unbeaten on 79 off 126 balls, but the slow start proved costly for Himachal in the final analysis.
Andhra started their chase cautiously through an opening stand of 25 between N Anusha, the captain, and Jhansi before Renuka Singh sent back Anusha in the ninth over.
Renuka struck again with the wicket of V Pushpa Latha, and soon Jhansi, who made 40 off 69 balls, fell as Andhra became 60 for 3 in 19.3 overs.
This allowed Himachal to squeeze the opposition, but E Padmaja and Chandra Lekha resurrected Andhra’s ship with a handy association of 63 runs at a brisk pace.
When Tanuja Kanwer sent back Padmaja, Andhra still needed 72 in 16.1 overs. Chandra Lekha, however, found good support in Hima Bindu. The duo had a partnership of 60 before Chandra Lekha was run out for 49. Hima Bindu remained unbeaten with five fours in her 47-ball knock to complete the six-wicket win with nine balls to spare.
Himachal had won all their nine matches in the competition so far before going down in the semifinal.
Andhra will take on Bengal in the final at the same venue on December 31.
Himachal 194/3 in 50 overs (Harleen Deol 41, Neena Chaudhary 79*, Sushma Verma 59) lost to Andhra 195/6 in 48.3 overs (CH Jhansi Lakshmi 40, E Padmaja 33, G Chandra Lekha 49, S Hima Bindu 45* ; Renuka Singh 2-29) by six wickets.