The first One-Day International between India and England at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Friday (February 22) was truly ‘Ekta’ day. Ekta Bisht, the left-arm spinner, first orchestrated a witty run out when England’s fourth-wicket pair of Heather Knight and Natalie Sciver were going good, and then picked up four wickets for almost nothing as the visitors lost their last seven batters for 25 runs to hand India a win by 66 runs.
She yet again proved why she is India’s spin queen. It’s getting to a point where it is almost difficult to keep a count of how many times she has done it now for India. A street smart cricketer from Almora, her sharp thinking came to the fore when Knight flicked a delivery back to her and she had enough presence of mind to flick the ball back to the bowling stumps, catching Sciver short of crease by one frame. Chasing 203, England became 111 for 4 at that point and could never recover from there. Bisht finished with impressive analysis of 4 for 25 in eight overs, of which three came in the final over as England failed to utilise 54 deliveries of their innings.
As much as it was Bisht’s brilliance, equally credit should go to Mithali Raj for her astute captaincy even when Knight and Sciver were going strong during an association of 73 runs. She did not try anything fancy, set fields to create as many dot balls as possible so that eventually the pressure fell on England. While Bisht struck from one end, Jhulan Goswami made it count from the other end with crucial blow in the 40th over when she beat Georgia Elwiss with pace and bounce to knock her stumps out.
Shikha Pandey and Deepti Sharma also bowled well, but the day was really about the gritty character displayed by the veteran trio of Mithali, Goswami and Bisht – the only players who are in their 30s in this team. They used all their experience to create a contest after India had been reduced to 95 for 5 after being put into bat.
England opted to field and Mithali was happy with it because she said her plan was to bat first. Watching from the commentary box, I was really impressed with the left-arm spin of Sophie Eccelstone. She was pick of the English bowlers, as she bowled some very intelligent deliveries and varied her pace to get Deepti and Jemimah Rodrigues dismissed in a space of two overs.
The wicket of Rodrigues was particularly crucial because she was set on 48 with eight fours and was looking dangerous. Her exquisite strokes were a delight to watch, but she played Eccelstone early to be caught and bowled and missed out on a deserving half-century.
There was a phase in India’s innings where they scored 13 runs in 23 balls for the loss of three wickets. Without an injured Harmanpreet Kaur in the line-up, it looked even trickier. Mithali had spoken about the need of experience in the middle-order in the absence of Kaur and she walked the talk, like she does more often than not.
Mithali guided Taniya Bhatia in their sixth-wicket stand. While she held one end up, which is one of her strengths, Bhatia was a bit more expansive in her stroke selection and the formula worked as they put on 54 runs in 15.3 overs.
The grit with which they steadied the ship was crucial in every sense as it not only arrested the collapse, but also gave India hope to get close to the 200-run mark. Bhatia was unfortunate to fall to a direct hit from Sciver, but Mithali looked in control.
She and Goswami have had many memorable partnerships while batting together over the years, and it looked like another one was on offer as Goswami showed good intent by playing with a straight bat and giving her captain as much strike as possible. They had added 16 when Mithali, playing across the line against Elwiss, was adjudged leg before wicket.
It, however, did not deter Goswami, who played sensibly in the company of Pandey and the tail to keep strike as well as hitting three fours and a six during her 37-ball 30. She was the last batter to be out, but the way she took responsibility offered lessons to the inexperienced middle-order.
Pandey had bowled well in the ODIs in New Zealand, and she seemed to continue that form. The wicket of Sarah Taylor would have particularly made her happy as she asked some difficult questions before trapping her in front of the wicket.
The visitors recovered, but a silly error on behalf of Sciver in the 30th over opened the floodgates and India never let go of the advantage. “They (England batters) did not expect the ball to turn a bit more than anticipated,” Knight said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
Later at the press conference, she said that “the total was perfectly chaseable. We bowled well, but were unlucky not to take more wickets up front. But we were more than happy with 200 to chase. It was sticky, it turned, but once you got to play 15-20 balls it became easier to play shots. The first 10-15 balls were the key. I don’t think we played it particularly well today. The pitch started to turn and deteriorated too. There was inconsistent spin as well which makes it harder.”
England know the areas they need to work on, and that should make for a fascinating second ODI on Monday at the same venue.