England have been a little bit of a bogey team for India in the last two World Cups. In 2017, the fifty-over format, India beat them in the group stages, only to be denied on the biggest stage of all. In 2018, the last T20 World Cup, India beat England in the warm ups, only to be knocked out by them in the semifinals. Those results form the backdrop of the first semifinal of the T20 World Cup 2020, as does a thick curtain of grey that has been hanging over the SCG.
Rain is on most people’s minds, as is the lack of the reserve day which was bemoaned by both captains. They want to play cricket, and get to the finals the right way. England captain Heather Knight said, “It would be useful to have the reserve day. If both semi-finals are lost, it would be a real sad time for the tournament.”
The challenge for Harmanpreet Kaur was to make sure her players don’t make the mental mistake of wanting the rain to fall, with India in a stronger position. “We got that advantage because we played really well in the league games.”
“We keep talking to the players, saying we have to be ready for the game. We are thinking maybe we will get a 10 overs game, or maybe more. Whatever the situation is we have to be ready.”
The game might also be billed as a showdown between the two best spinners in the world at the moment. Sophie Ecclestone has emerged as a bowler off whose four overs, you’d be happy to concede a few runs and emerge unscathed. And England must prepare for Poonam Yadav, the tournament’s highest wicket-taker, without the services of Alistair Maiden, the batting coach who has recently left the England team. Maiden was proficient in bowling leg spin off one knee, to replicate Poonam’s low release point.
Mood from the Indian camp:
India trained indoors in a small, cramped facility outside the main stadium, a temporary space with only three nets. Neither this, nor the weather dampened the mood of the group, who Veda Krishnamurthy described before the tournament, as the happiest team in the World Cup. (“Probably Thailand is giving us competition!” she added then).
A changed Indian dressing room is palpable. Much of the atmosphere can be attributed to the introduction of younger players. “See the average age and think of the vibe!” said Smriti Mandhana. “I think our average age is around 21 to 23 , we have four teenagers. With that age group there has to be fun, if there's no fun then there's something wrong with the girls.”
And yet it feels like something more than that. Younger players only affect the dressing room environment when they feel comfortable enough expressing themselves, and do not live in fear or awe of their older team-mates. Songs at the dinner table, synchronised dance in the dressing room - are these signs of confidence gained from victories, or have the victories come from this confidence?
Shafali Verma’s statistics since her debut attest to an environment that has allowed her talent to blossom, unhindered by the burdens of international sport. She has now catapulted from outside the top 20 to the No. 1 spot in the ICC Rankings.
“The dressing room is very light from the last one-two years,” said Mandhana. “I would not say it was not previously, but yeah from the time this 17 and 19 year-olds have come in they have got a different energy. I was also not a big thinker but looking at them I thought I should not even think 5% of what I used to think.”
One word floating around the dressing room is belief. “Belief is important, and everybody is believing,” reaffirmed Harmanpreet. She may not have fired with the bat yet this tournament, but she has succeeded in leading a side where age has become irrelevant.
“She's made them feel comfortable - the most important thing as a captain is to make each member of the side realise that they are an integral part of that side. Nobody is lesser than the other. In that regard, it was a challenge for her but she has coped with it brilliantly,” said WV raman, coach of the Indian team.
England though will be keen to spoil this party and notch up their third consecutive win against India in ICC events. Under new coach Lisa Keightley, they identified an ambition to play the finals of this tournament. Weather permitting, they will have their opportunity on Thursday (March 5).
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Veda Krishnamurthy, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Arundhati Reddy, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Richa Ghosh.
England: Heather Knight (c), Tammy Beaumont, Amy Jones, Danielle Wyatt, Natalie Sciver, Katherine Brunt, Georgia Elwiss, Sophie Ecclestone, Freya Davies, Anya Shrubsole, Lauren Winfield, Sarah Glenn, Kate Cross, Mady Villiers, Fran Wilson.