Shafali Verma in action. © Getty Images

India C held their nerve to seal a ten-run win over India A in the third match of the Senior T20 Challenger Trophy at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on Monday (December 6). The inexperienced side, expertly led by Veda Krishnamurthy, came together brilliantly in the field to hold back a star-studded India A line-up in their defense of 124.

Having won the toss, India C reaped rewards following a change at the top of the order. Shafali Verma was partnered by left-hander Yastika Bhatia, and the pair strung together a fantastic 58-run stand for the opening wicket that set the tone for the game. It was an association that was dominated, expectedly, by the young Shafali, who, on a much truer surface, was able to simply plonk her front foot down the pitch and swing through the line of the ball.

She found her groove early, dispatching Deepti Sharma for a boundary with an elegant cover drive that perfectly bisected the gap in the very first over. It was a shot that in many ways underlined the rapid progress the right-hander has made since her rise to top level cricket.

Shafali bludgeoned her way through the power play, blasting four consecutive boundaries off Komal Zanzad in the third over as India C raced toward the fifty-run mark. At the end of the first six overs, the team in green were well in control of proceedings at 50 for no loss.

Denied the new ball, Mansi Joshi then made her presence felt for India A. Having watched the rest of the bowlers get tonked down the ground, Joshi chose to pull out her secret weapon— one only a fast bowler could use— the short ball! The burly right-arm seamer banged one in against Bhatia, rushing her into a pull shot that she top edged straight up. Joshi took and easy catch in her follow through, thus seizing control of the innings.

 

 

In the following over, an incredibly intelligent bit of bowling from Sneh Rana marked the end of Shafali’s innings for 38 off 24 balls. The wily off-spinner who came into the attack in the fifth over, pushed the youngster on to the back-foot, firing the ball in quicker and flatter than usual, refusing to allow her to use her feet. After five dot balls against the off-spinner, the 15-year-old was frustrated into charging down the wicket to a ball that was nowhere in her reach, only to be beaten in the flight and dismissed stumped.

After that, India A kept a tight leash on the scoring, with Harmanpreet Kaur setting intelligent fields, the fielders holding on to all their chances, and the bowlers hitting the right areas.

Although Krishnamurthy played two of the most delectable lofted cover drives in the match, her innings of 17— that was cut short by a splendid catch by Kaur at mid-on— did little to help India C’s cause. Hemalatha Dayalan (24 not out) and Arundhati Reddy (9) shared a useful 24-run stand off just 18 balls for the sixth wicket, which helped India C to a competitive total of 123 for 7 in their 20 overs.

For India A, Deepti was the most successful bowler, with figures of 2 for 20, but it was Rana (1-24) whose spell changed the course of the innings.

India A’s chase got off to a strange start, first with Monica Patel and then Manali Dakshini both unable to find their radar. The duo bowled as many as six wides (three each) in their first overs, giving the pair of Priya Punia and Jasia Akhter enough time to settle in. Although neither batter was really able to find the boundary or effectively rotate strike , the extras gave them enough of a cushion to start slowly.

With the first over out of the way, Dakshini seemed a tad more confident, giving India C their first breakthrough when she got a length ball to shatter Akhter’s stumps. That the right-hander failed to make much of an impression, meant India A’s returns in the power play were rather poor: 30 for 1 at the end of six overs.

The relatively slow start meant India A were always chasing the ball through the innings, but with chase-master Kaur in the sheds, they still held all the aces. Punia and Minnu Mani stitched together a steady 22-run stand, the slow pace of which— Minnu playing out 19 balls for only nine runs— meant the pressure continued to mount.

A double strike from India C at the halfway mark— the spin duo of Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Hemalatha seeing the back of Punia and Minnu— brought India A’s most experienced pair of Kaur and Deepti to the middle. The hopes of their team rested solely on their shoulders— this partnership was make or break.

Arundhati Reddy in action. ©SLC

Arundhati Reddy in action. ©SLC

69 needed off 48 balls. The game was in the balance. It was a matter of which team would blink first.

On Sunday (December 5), India C’s inexperience got the better of them, but today, Krishnamurthy seemed to have a grip on things. She was in control of her unit, and she needed to keep it that way.

12 runs off the next two overs and one could sense the tension rising. Was this the calm before the storm?

Defending 57 runs in the final six overs, Reddy was handed the ball. She conceded a single to Deepti off her first ball and got ready to deliver the next to Kaur.

A very full delivery, honing in on middle stump. Most batters would have knocked it down the ground for a single. But Kaur is not most batters. Standing deep in her crease, the India A skipper, shoveled the ball over mid-wicket and sent it racing to the boundary. Was this the moment where she took control?

A wide delivery from Reddy came next… Was India C unravelling again?

A couple of singles later and Kaur was on strike for the final ball of the over. The moment was bleeding tension. It was all or nothing. Kaur was searching for a boundary. Krishnamurthy (and Reddy) praying they could hold things together.

A short of a length delivery, wide outside off-stump. Kaur’s eyes lit up. Boundary, she thought! She threw her hands at it, power and all. It was cleanly struck, right off the middle. But there was just one thing wrong— it was in the air and headed straight to Gayakwad at backward point! As Gayakwad gleefully accepted the catch, Reddy threw her arms in the air in exaltation, Krishnamurthy pumped her fists and the entire team came rushing together— they were in control of the game, and they knew it!

Following Kaur’s dismissal, with India A needing 48 from 30 balls— that later became 29 from 12 balls— the lower-middle order was left with too much to do. Although Deepti (34 not out) tried her best at one end, her knock did little to hep her team’s cause as they fell short of their target.

India C’s victory means they climb to second on the table with four points, behind India B who have six.

Brief Scores: India C 123/7 in 20 overs (Shafali Verma 38, Hemalatha Dayalan 24*; Deepti Sharma 2-20) beat India A 113/6 in 20 overs (D Sharma 34*, Priya Punia 25) by ten runs.