Smriti Mandhana became India’s fifth captain in Twenty20 Internationals on Monday (March 4), but she would like to forget her debut after England prevailed by 41 runs in an one-sided contest in Guwahati. India’s batting and bowling were both poor, leading to many questions.

Firstly, I should say well done to BCCI for deciding to host these T20Is in Guwahati. The crowd turned up in large numbers, and it must have encouraged the players to put in that extra yard. Though the crowd would have hoped a more evenly matched game before India recorded their fifth consecutive defeat in T20Is, having lost the World T20 semifinal and three games in New Zealand prior to this.

These days 161 is a chaseable target, but for that a lot is dependent on how the top-order goes about their business. India started briskly, but the loss of Harleen Deol, Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues to be reduced to 23 for 3 broke the backbone. Once again the middle-order’s fragalities stood exposed against a superior England bowling line-up.

India started well on the field after winning the toss, as they conceded just 14 runs in the first three overs. But after that England had a brilliant day with the bat. Heather Knight’s team played the kind of aggressive cricket they are known for.

The way Tammy Beaumont and Danielle Wyatt struck the ball made for sensational viewing. They found the gaps easily, which left Mandhana with very little option in plugging the holes. Beaumont, in particular, was in blistering form, making 62 before getting out in the final over. She held the batting together.

Despite a strong start, India pulled things back to keep England to 124 for 2 in 17 overs. The team management would have at that point thought of chasing a total below 150, but Knight chose the 18th over to change the tempo of the game by hitting Arundhati Reddy for five consecutive fours. It titled the game massively in England’s favour.

It was poor bowling from Reddy as she failed to stick to the plans as per the field set and keep to one side of the wicket, but irrespective of that Knight was superb.

“She is particularly smart early on, picking the right bowlers to go after, to open up the offside and wind up,” Beaumont said of her captain’s knock. “It was slow wicket and she was exceptional. That’s really why we got 160 at the end. She got 30 odd and not many balls at all (40 off 20 balls).”

What I liked the most about England batters was that they applied themselves very well, waited for the bad balls but rotated the strike in between, and played a lot of sweeps and reverse sweeps to disturb the rhythm of the Indian bowlers. By succeeding to do that, they won another major battle.

Shikha Pandey was the only takeaway for India. She was returning to the T20I side after the loss to Bangladesh in the final of Asia Cup in June last year. She had earned her way back because of a splendid performance in the One-Day International series.

Like Shikha, Poonam also finished with an economy of 4.50 and brought some control in the middle overs. Only these two troubled the batters.

The pace bowling department lacks depth since the retirement of Jhulan Goswami before the World T20 last year. Therefore I believe Komal Zanzad needs to be tried in the next game as she is a left-arm seamer and that automatically adds variety to the attack. She has already troubled the English batters with her left arm swing that fetched her a three-wicket haul for Board President’s XI in the warm-up game.

England’s bowling was impressive, and Linsey Smith left a strong mark with the two big wickets of Mandhana and Rodrigues in consecutive deliveries.

I thought she was exceptional at the World Cup last year. Now she has come back in, first game of the tour and first ball pretty much gets a wicket and not just any wicket but that of Smriti Mandhana. She was going to be the key batter in that chase,” Beaumont said about Smith at the press conference. “She bowled to her plan, and she is really good. She is a really great character to have around. She has got a big future. She has not played many games, but she has got a really good temperament. She is always up for the fight and that’s what  you want in T20 cricket. If she gets hits a six then she wants to respond even more. It will be hard to sort of step into the ODI side when Sophie Ecclestone is fit, but I don’t think that’s not impossible.”

It was an opportunity for Veda Krishnamurthy to work her way back into the team after being dropped for the tour of New Zealand and the ODI series against England. She started well, but with the required run-rate climbing up she fell against the run of play.

After that it boiled down to India reducing the margin of defeat, and Deepti, Reddy and Shikha made 63 runs between them to ensure that the game went till the final over.

The defeat once again showed India’s lack of preparedness of T20Is, and that’s because there are so less matches played at the domestic level. On the other hand, England’s grassroots is much stronger. This gap needs to close as soon as possible.

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