Vanitha VR. ©Getty Images

India B maintained their unbeaten streak through the league stage, romping to a five-wicket win over India C in the sixth and final league match of the Senior T20 Challenger Trophy in Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on Thursday (January 9). They thus became the first team to successfully chase down a target in this edition of the tournament.

It was a dress rehearsal for the final— a game with little consequence, if anything. For many of the players, it was about finding some rhythm in their game, making the most of an opportunity or carrying on the good form.

For the second time in the day, Veda Krishnamurthy won the toss and elected to bat, and this time Shafali Verma and Madhuri Meheta paired well together. When Meheta stroked the first ball of the game for four, it seemed to set the tone for the innings. As Shafali applauded her partner’s shot, there may only have been one thing running in her mind— ‘Smash! Bang! Wallop!’

What unfolded was a display of power and belligerence not seen in the tournament so far. The 15-year-old, who was being tested at one end with the short ball by Pooja Vastrakar unveiled her full repertoire of tricks— backing away to create room, stepping across the stumps to try and muscle the ball through the leg side and charging down the track to hit cleanly down the ground. Although she was lucky to get through Vastrakar’s first couple of overs unscathed, as always, Shafali showed great willingness to power through the period.

Despite the fall of Meheta in the fourth over— bowled by Tanuja Kanwer’s arm ball for seven— the pace of Shafali’s innings only seemed to gather speed. While Jincy George was struggling to get off strike at one end, the teenager calmly collected boundaries, taking the pressure off her partner. There were mid-pitch conferences where George was constantly reassured to simply hang in there and turn over the strike— Shafali was clearly in charge of proceedings and there were no two ways about it.

The right-hander’s innings was brought to an end by a brilliant piece of work by Anjali Sarvani in the deep. Kept off strike for the large part of the previous three overs and clearly anxious to bring up her half-century, Shafali looked to force the pace against Sushree Dibyadarshini. Looking to slog, she only managed a bottom edge that skied in the direction of long on where Sarvani came charging in and dived forward to pull off a spectacular catch to dismiss Shafali for a 31-ball 46.

 

 

Following Shafali’s dismissal— 72 for 2 in 9.2 overs— India C’s innings never took off like it had initially threatened to. George (24) found the boundary a few times to lift her scoring rate, but India B kept chipping away at the wickets in the middle overs.

Renuka Singh picked up two wickets, while left-arm seamer Sarvani took one wicket to pull things slightly back, leaving India C at 108 for 5 in 16 overs.

Despite letting the momentum slip slightly, a few boundaries at the back-end of the innings, and a useful 11-ball 19 from Arundhati Reddy helped India C to a total of 148 for 8— the highest total of the tournament.

For India B, Kanwer, Renuka And Dibyadarshini all picked up two wickets each.

Starting where they left off in the previous game, Vanitha VR and Smriti Mandhana kicked off proceedings in typically free-flowing style. Where the former lifted Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s fifth delivery over mid-wicket for six, Mandhana raced to 19 off just six balls, crashing Kshama Singh and Hemalatha for two boundaries each.

The left-hander looked to be in one of her moods, playing a shot a ball. Her over eagerness to find the boundary, however, led to her downfall as she skied an attempted lofted shot straight up, and was well caught by a back peddling Hemlatha at mid-on for 24. Jemimah Rodrigues’ departure— nicking off to Reddy— only an over later meant India C had lost their two big fish within the power play.

With her side under pressure at 38 for 2, young Richa Ghosh joined Vanitha in the centre and went on to play one of the best counter-attacking innings of the tournament. The 16-year-old got her knock underway with a terrific square drive off Reddy before crashing Kshama over mid-off for six.

Having bought herself some time, Ghosh slowed down in the middle, looking for ones and twos rather than taking a risk in search of a boundary. She shared a fantastic 43-run stand with Vanitha for the third wicket, before the latter was superbly caught and bowled by Hemalatha for 26.

A couple of wonderfully placed cover drives off Tanusree Sarkar and it was clear Ghosh was ready to up the ante again. However, much like her teenage counterpart, Shafali, over-eagerness led to her downfall. Almost as a last roll of the dice, Krishnamurthy introduced Vrushali Bhagat into the attack. The part-time off-spinner expectedly floated up her first delivery to Ghosh, and the youngster’s eyes lit up— there was, no doubt, a boundary to be had!

 

 

Cue the high back lift, the grip tightening on the bat, and the overbearing desire to club the floating delivery out of the ground… What that meant was, expectedly, Ghosh was far too early in to the shot, lost her shape and only skewed it to Gayakwad at extra cover. She had to walk back for a 26-ball 36.

In came Vastrakar and R Kalpana— the former known for her brute power, the latter for her innovation and ability to scamper between the wickets. The pair built their association on hurriedly run singles and twos, before Vastrakar exploded.

For the first time in the tournament, Krishnamurthy made an error in judgement, handing Bhagat a second over with Vastrakar on strike. Where the part-timer’s first over may have wrestled some control back in India C’s favour, her second proved to be one too many. Vastrakar clubbed four boundaries— taking a total of 18 runs— off the over to reduce the equation to 25 runs required off the final six overs. India B still had six wickets in hand, they were clearly front runners.

With the game in their control, India B’s fifth wicket pair batted sensibly, choosing to rotate the strike, push the field for the odd two and steal a boundary whenever the opportunity arose. They brought up their 50-run stand in just 37 deliveries, Vastrakar the more dominant of the two. The right-hander tonked six fours on her way to a 21-ball 37, before, in a bid to finish in style, she holed out to Krishnamurthy at long on with two runs to win.

Her dismissal, however, only delayed the inevitable, as Kalpana struck the winning runs in the following over, crunching a boundary over point to seal a convincing five wicket win, with eight balls to spare.

Brief Scores: India C 148/8 in 20 overs (Shafali Verma 46, Jincy George 24; Renuka Singh 2-21, Tanuja Kanwer 2-29) lost to India B 152/5 in 18.4 overs (Pooja Vastrakar 37, Richa Ghosh 36) by five wickets.