Smriti Mandhana in action. ©ICC

Allround India B blew past India A by 35 runs in a one-sided encounter in the fourth match of the Senior T20 Challenger Trophy at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on Tuesday (January 7). The team in blue thereby sealed their place in the final of the tournament that will take place on Friday (January 10).

The foundation of India B’s victory was laid at the start of the day by the opening pair of Smriti Mandhana and Vanitha VR who got their team off to a rollicking start, putting on a wonderful display of strokeplay for the sparse yet loud crowd in Cuttack.

Mandhana, in particular, was in her element, jumping on the short ball, clobbering anything full, and basically toying with the field and the bowlers. She crunched her trademark pull shot for six off Mansi Joshi in the first over before playing array of shots off both front and back foot. The left-hander was at her regal best, treating the bowlers with absolute disdain.

With the skipper coasting at one end, Vanitha could have easily taken a back seat and simply milked her way to a score. But when has that ever been her style?! Known as one of the most explosive players going around in the domestic arena, Vanitha matched Mandhana shot for shot. Her front foot drives were immaculate, her sweeps unbelievably powerful and her lofted shots as authoritative as ever.

Within the power play, the pair had crunched seven fours and two sixes— both off the blade of Mandhana— allowing India B to race to 57 for no loss without breaking a sweat. It was batting of the highest quality— two attacking players, on a flat surface, toying with the bowling.

However, the introduction of left-arm spin in the seventh over slowed things down at one end. Radha Yadav, who had been given the treatment by Shafali Verma after taking the new ball on Monday (January 6), came back splendidly on Tuesday with an intelligent spell of bowling.

The 19-year-old hung the ball in the air, enticing the batters to come at her— a tactic that resulted in the wicket of Mandhana. The left-hander charged down the track in an attempt to muscle the ball down the ground, only to get into the shot too early, lose her shape, and pop a simple catch to Sneh Rana at point.

 

Vanitha Vellaswamy‘s belligerent 69 helped Karnataka decimate Andhra Pradesh. © Vanitha VR

Vanitha Vellaswamy. © Vanitha VR

 

For India A, once again, it was a wicket that allowed them to halt the progress of the opposition.

Vanitha continued to play some terrific shots down the ground, lofting Meghana Singh over mid-on for a boundary, before crunching a ball off the back foot through the off-side against Rana. Her innings, however, came to an end courtesy Joshi. The right-arm seamer got a back of a length delivery to just jag away off the surface, and Vanitha threw her hands at the ball— as if looking to glide it down to third man— only to present an easy catch to Taniya Bhatia behind the stumps.

At 73 for 2 in the 11th over, India A had successfully managed to stall India B’s progress. With Jemimah Rodrigues (20) unable to find the fence, it was up to teenager Richa Ghosh (22) to up the ante. The right-hander found the boundary twice in her 17-ball cameo, but India B’s middle order was unable to break the shackles.

A couple of lusty blows from Shikha Pandey (14 not out) and Pooja Vastrakar (15 not out) at the back-end of the innings gave India B a bit of momentum, allowing them to post a total of 139 for 4.

In pursuit of 140, India A, criticised for their approach against India C, sent Bhatia to open the innings alongside Priya Punia. Bhatia made her intentions clear straight away swiping a full, wide delivery from Pandey over point for four. She carved another boundary behind square on the off-side, before her spirited innings was brought to an end by the wily Anuja Patil.

India A’s new no.3, Devika Vaidya, too, didn’t last too long as she was brilliantly caught by Mandhana at extra cover. Vaidya ferociously drove a full length delivery from Patil in the air, in the direction of Mandhana. The India B skipper took a couple of steps before her propelling herself full length to her right to pull off a stunning catch.

 

 

At 29 for 2 at the end of the power play, once again, India A were swimming against the tide, and, once again, all eyes were on Harmanpreet Kaur. However, for the second game in a row, the skipper failed to get her team over the line, falling to an innocuous delivery from Pooja Vastrakar— tickled to the ‘keeper down the leg-side.

At the halfway mark India A were struggling at 50 for 3, needing 90 runs in 60 balls. It was India B’s game to lose.

Over the last few months, if one thing has stood out about Mandhana, it is the development of her captaincy. With an incredibly calm head, a wonderful game-awareness, tactical acumen and as a superb leader (of people, in general) she looked to have control over proceedings at every stage of the game. Constantly in the bowlers’ ear, giving them clear instructions, setting smart fields and making very smart changes, she never once let India A into the game.

Following the dismissal of Kaur, India B squeezed, and squeezed, and squeezed, until India A’s middle-order choked. Sushree Dibyadarshini broke the back of the middle order, taking two wickets in two balls to completely knock India A off course.

Deepti Sharma played a lone hand in the middle-order, but the slow pace of her innings meant India A never challenged their opponents in the second half. Eventually, the team in red stuttered to a total of 104 for 7, 35 runs short of their target.

For India B, the off-spin duo of Dubyadarshini and Patil picked up two wickets each.

Brief Scores: India B 139/4 in 20 overs (Smriti Mandhana 34, Vanitha VR 30; Sneh Rana 2-26) beat India A 104/7 in 20 overs (Priya Punia 34, Deepti Sharma 33*; Sushree Dibyadarshini 2-18, Anuja Patil 2-19) by 35 runs.