Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton. Three different venues, three types of surfaces, but much the same story for India all three times – they got themselves into winning positions and then found a way to lose from there. In the final T20I against New Zealand at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Sunday (February 10), India faltered yet again, falling two runs short of their 162-run target and conceding the T20I series 3-0.
1st T20I: Chasing 160 to win, India were sitting pretty on 102 for 1 in the 12th over when Smriti Mandhana was dismissed for a 34-ball 58. India was hurtling along at a run-rate of 9.03, comfortably above the original required rate of 8.00. They needed 58 runs in 51 balls at 7.94 runs per over.
Result: India lost their remaining eight wickets and scored 34 runs in 46 balls at 4.59 runs per over. They fell 23 runs short.
2nd T20I: Having been sent in to bat, India were placed comfortably on 71 for 1 in the tenth over. Although the innings run-rate read 7.55, Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues accelerated the scoring rate – their partnership worth 63 came at 8.75 runs per over – before the former was dismissed for 36 off 27 balls.
Result: India finished with 135 for 6 in 20 overs. They managed 64 runs in 10.2 overs at a run rate of 6.27 after the dismissal of Mandhana. Rodrigues, who scored 72, collected 41 of those runs. The remaining batters scored 23 runs in 30 balls (4.60 runs per over). India lost by four wickets.
3rd T20I: In pursuit of 162, once again, India got off to a rollocking start. Despite the dismissal of Priya Punia for one, they collected 56 runs in the power play at 9.33 runs per over. Rodrigues was dismissed for 21 after an enterprising 47-run stand with Mandhana. The left-hander notched up her eighth T20I half-century before being dismissed for a 62-ball 86. India were 123 for 4 in 15.3 overs going at a run-rate of 8.04. They needed 39 runs from 27 balls with six wickets in hand.
Result: India scored 36 runs in the remaining deliveries through the combination of Mithali Raj and Deepti Sharma; 14 of these came off the last over, but India lost by two runs.
Coming into the T20I series, it was well known that both India and New Zealand were ‘top-heavy’ batting teams, with a bit of a middle-order muddle. As much as the series was meant to be a battle between New Zealand’s ‘Smash Sisters’, Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates, and the might of Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur, it was also going to be a test for two very unsettled (and vulnerable) middle-orders – India without Mithali, and New Zealand with Katey Martin, gave the hosts a bit of an edge.
Through the course of the series, it was New Zealand who won the middle-order battle, while India’s over-dependence on their vice-captain cost them dear. Their inability to find runs outside Mandhana and Rodrigues, coupled by the insistence to continually shuffle the order, and keep Mithali out, meant India’s batting was often found wanting.
Mandhana and Rodrigues have a combined tally of 312 runs off 226 balls in six innings at a strike-rate of 138.05 this series. The rest of the Indian line-up managed 109 runs at a strike-rate of 84.50 in 20 innings. Of their 312 runs, 208 came when the duo batted together – at 8.60 runs per over. Their partnerships read 98, 63 and 47. The next highest tally is 36 runs between Mithali and Deepti (all of which came in the final T20I).
There is no hiding behind the fact that India have been heavily dependent on their Nos. 2 and 3. They have shown wonderful technique, superb temperament and a great hunger for runs throughout the series.The left-hander in particular has been timing the ball superbly, finding the boundary with ease, and racking up fifties for fun.
New Zealand’s top versus middle order numbers are just as glaring. Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine and Amy Satterthwaite (three of their top four) scored 333 runs in 12 innings, as compared to 109 in 13 innings from the rest of the line-up. That New Zealand only lost 17 of a possible 30 wickets this series is probably a reflection of the form of the top order. They made sure to bat deep and give their middle order as little work to do as possible.
Over the course of three matches, New Zealand’s middle order (read, from No.5 onwards) only needed to bat for 13.1 overs. The top four effectively batted out 77.5% of New Zealand’s batting time, meaning the instructions to the middle order were clear – go swing for the fences. Compare that to India’s middle order that had to bat out 25 of the 59.1 overs – a little over 42% of the team’s batting time.
Although India managed to separate the ‘Smash Sisters’ within the power play in all three matches, the pair still scored 90 runs in three innings at a run-rate of 7.89. While they hogged much of the limelight (before, and during the series), it was Satterthwaite who turned out to be the glue that held the top order together and allowed the others to bat expansively. The New Zealand skipper was involved in three half-centuries partnerships through the series – two with Devine and one with Bates. These (partnership runs) add up to 201 runs in three innings at 8.31 runs per over and were the foundation for New Zealand’s wins.
While Mandhana and Rodrigues also tried to hold the batting unit together, they received little or no support from the rest of the line-up. With Mithali on the sidelines until the last game, and New Zealand managing to keep Kaur quiet, the middle-order floundered when they got a chance to bat.
Of the 430 runs India scored this series (136 all out, 135 for 6 and 159 for 4), 296 came while Mandhana was at the crease. That is close to 70% of the runs. After her dismissals, India only managed a total of 134 runs in 23.2 overs at a run rate of 5.77 across three matches.
If ever one wicket decided a match (or even a series) it was that of Mandhana all through the T20I series against New Zealand. Effectively, fall of Mandhana = fall of India.
As Kaur admitted, her team is still searching for their ideal batting order (and combination) in T20Is. It is important that this young team learns (quickly) and understands how to adapt to the demands of international cricket. They have shown that they need more time to learn their craft, and could possibly do with a couple more experienced heads to lean on.
One feels that the questions India came into this T20I series with are yet to be answered… In fact, it may have thrown up a few more – middle order muddles and much more need to be solved before they take on England at home.