Veda Krishnamurthy in action. © Getty Images

The Senior T20 Challenger Trophy witnessed another closely contested game with India C overcoming India A by two runs in the fifth match of the tournament at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on Thursday (January 9). Veda Krishnamurthy’s blitz with the bat, and Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Arundhati Reddy’s three-wicket hauls allowed India C to squeeze to victory in a game that saw more than its fair share of momentum shifts.

With her team needing to register a win to qualify for the final, Krishnamurthy led by example with an exceptional 29-ball 47 — a knock that set the tone for her team’s day. She was at her regal best, finding the boundary with absolute ease and picking her areas, bowlers and moments to attack quite perfectly.

Having elected to bat in on a slightly chilly morning in Cuttack, India C got off to the worst possible start, losing their teenage superstar, Shafali Verma, in the first over of the day to Radha Yadav for a duck.

Madhuri Meheta and Nuzhat Parween then solidified the innings with a steady 57-run partnership for the second wicket. Playing her first game of the tournament, Meheta was proactively searching for the gaps, not afraid to go over the top, and also happy to drop and run sometimes.  Parween, on the other hand, was a little slow— chewing up a lot of balls against the spinners since she was unable to nail her sweep.

Their stand was eventually ended by Meghna Singh. The fast bowler got Parween (26) to try to drag a full delivery outside off stump through the leg-side. She wasn’t able to get enough height or power in the shot, only managing to lob it to Harmanpreet Kaur at mid-on.

As the cliche goes, one wicket brought two, when Radha dismissed Meheta for a promising 36. The opener, who looked to be trying to open her shoulders, was trapped in front of the stumps looking to work a full delivery to the leg-side.

At that point India C had been reduced to 67 for 3 in 12.2 overs are were in need of a quick-fire partnership to lift the run-rate. It was then that Krishnamurthy began to make her presence felt. Joined by Hemalatha Dayalan in the centre, the India C captain began to find the boundary with absolute ease.

After knocking around a few singles, Krishnamurthy took to Devika Vaidya, clobbering the leg-spinner for three consecutive boundaries. It was the over that saw the right-hander break free. She went on play a typically flamboyant innings collecting seven fours an a six on her way to an unbeaten 47 off just 29 balls. The India C skipper danced down the track to hit over cover and straight down the ground, walked across her stumps to expose the vacant square leg region and also played a more than handy slog over mid-wicket.

 

 

Her positive approach seemed to rub off on a struggling Hemalatha, who— after a string of dot balls— managed to hit a couple of towering sixes in the last couple of overs before being caught on the boundary by Deepti Sharma to become Radha’s third victim.

Aided by some shoddy catching on the boundary, India C managed to reach a total of 135 for 4 in their 20 overs. Radha was India A’s most successful bowler with figures of 3 for 23.

Promoted to the top of the order after she showed some promise in the previous match, Taniya Bhatia got India A off to a flier in their chase. She carted Manali Dakshini for three boundaries in the opening over, before tonking Kshama Singh for a couple more.

Known for a more steady approach, Priya Punia too joined in on the fun, stroking a couple of gorgeous cover drives off Kshama and then Rajeshwari Gayakwad. Before they knew it, India A’s opening pair had put on 49 in only five overs, and looked to be racing towards the target.

However, Bhatia’s flaying through the off-side and shoveling through the leg-side, was eventually brought to an end when she was dismissed for a 19-ball 31 by Kshama— caught at third man.

The opener’s dismissal brought Kaur to the crease and seemed to somewhat slow India A’s progress for a while. The off-spin duo of Hemalatha and Tanusree Sarkar did well to bring down the run-rate, bowling slightly shortened lengths, and forcing the batters to create the pace. It was a period where both Punia and Kaur accumulated a number of dots; one that saw the back of the latter.

For the second time in the tournament, Arundhati Reddy— brought in to the attack in search of a wicket— dismissed Kaur at a crucial juncture in the game. Sitting on 13 off 23 deliveries, Kaur was searching for a scoring opportunity. She walked down the pitch to the right-arm seamer, looking to hit her back over her head, only to see the ball cut back in off the surface and strike her on the back pad, plumb in front of the stumps.

Kaur’s wicket was soon followed by Deepti Sharma’s and suddenly India C seemed to be back in control. Punia was a tad shaky— she had been dropped by Parween off Hemalatha, and was building a string of dots—and Fulmali was new to the crease. Something had to give.

 

 

Having been there since the very start, Punia chose to take the reins of the chase, starting to find the boundary regularly. With the field in on the off-side, she made room to go over cover and mid-off, both against pace and spin. It was a tactic that opened up the leg-side, allowing her to then walk across the stumps and flick through her preferred square leg area. She struck three consecutive boundaries in Reddy’s third over, wrestling control back in India A’s favour. The right-hander thus raced to a half-century— the first of this tournament— significantly reducing the equation to 37 needed off 30 deliveries.

With seven wickets in the shed it should have been a stroll in the park for the team in red, but Gayakwad (3 for 28), and later Reddy (3 for 29), had something more to say about that. First, the left-arm spinner got a delivery to turn sharply past an advancing Punia to have her stumped for a superb 44-ball 60, and then Reddy redeemed herself with a fantastic fourth over in which she conceded only two runs and also picked up the wickets of Sneh Rana (1) and Devika Vaidya (0) off consecutive deliveries.

With the pressure mounting, Fulmali found a much needed boundary, lap sweeping Hemalatha through fine-leg. However, in the following over Gayakwad put India C in the driver’s seat. Both Shivali Shinde (3) and Fulmali (10) were caught at long-on while looking for the boundary. Game, set, match— almost!

In the final over, India A were left needing 12 runs for victory. Once again, for India C, Tanusree Sarkar was in the spotlight. Unable to pull off a win with the bat a few days ago, the off-spinner, held her nerve to deliver a well constructed final over to seal a two-run win for India C.

The team in green thus booked their place in the final, where they will face India B on Friday (January 10).

Brief Scores: India C 135/4 in 20 overs (Veda Krishnamurthy 47*, Madhuri Meheta 36; Radha Yadav 3-23) beat India A 133/9 in 20 overs (Priya Punia 60, Taniya Bhatia 31; Rajeshwari Gayakwad 3-28, Arundhati Reddy 3-29) by two runs.