By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
Mithali Raj the saving grace amid a top-order collapse; loss threatens to end team's chances of making it to the semifinal of the Women's World T20
A near full house at Sylhet Divisional Stadium witnessed one of the most timid batting performances of the tournament as India suffered a typical top-order collapse to finish with 95 for 9 in 20 overs. England lost a clutch of wickets towards the end, but the strong start meant it wasn't threatened at any stage. Victory took its time coming, but England got there with five wickets in hand and 11 balls to spare in a Group B fixture on Wednesday night (March 26).
With the exception of India captain Mithali Raj, the rest of the batters failed to turn up – the scores of five of the top six reading 1,2,2,0 and 0. India were in tatters at 31 for 5 in the ninth over. The innings was devoid of any direction and the dot balls were piling up.
Amidst the carnage was Raj, who looked on helplessly but batted calmly as if she was at a net session – lacing the ball through cover, playing the delicate dabs behind point and one delightful cut shot that sped away with the point field not more than ten yards away from the ball. It made one wonder if she was on a parallel plane. She battled for 16 of the 20 overs and made 57 quality runs to shore up the Indian innings, which was in real danger of not lasting the distance at one stage.
While Raj was timing the ball sweetly at one end, Sravanthi Naidu struggled to rotate the strike. She ate up valuable deliveries and ultimately threw her wicket away for 11 off 27 balls as the innings quickly lost whatever little fizz it had while Raj was at the crease.
"We’ve seen that teams chasing 120 plus have found it difficult, and considering the quality attack they have, we were aiming for 130, sadly it didn’t work,” rued Raj. “Ninety-six runs was too little to defend but I was happy with the way the bowlers took the game into the penultimate over.”
What was hard to understand though was the decision to keep Harmanpreet Kaur down to No. 6. Kaur, one of the most promising Indian batters, failed, but no one would know what could have transpired if she was given an opportunity to bat at the top without the scorecard pressure.
“The idea was to have Harman come in past the ten-over mark, so that she could steer the middle order,” explained Raj. “But the loss of wickets in a hurry didn’t give her a chance to do that. But again, on the whole, this is a young team, many are playing their first World Cup. We shouldn’t be harsh on them as long as they learn”
The chase was a regulation one for England, but the prospect of trying to boost the net run rate would've been hard to resist. Captain Charlotte Edwards and Tammy Beaumont fell in identical fashion – caught at mid-on trying to clear the infield, but the innings was in no real danger.
Sarah Taylor then mellowed down and milked the bowling in the company of Lydia Greenway to take England to the doorstep of victory before she was caught and bowled by Poonam Yadav for 28 in the 12th over. England lost two more wickets after that in a quest to play cheeky strokes, but the chase was under no real threat. The last 30 runs were knocked off over the course of the next six and a bit overs with Jenny Gunn bringing up the winning runs with a slog sweep.
Obviously there was a chance for us to up the net-run-rate, so we were going for it and lost a few, but overall no real concerns, pleased with the way we played and more importantly the win was satistfying,” said Edwards afterwards.
India lacked depth and the beating would've given it scars it'll do well to overcome. The loss also meant India’s semifinal aspirations were reduced to a mathematical miracle. “We have little choice now, but obviously we’ll play to win. We can’t think of run-rates, the first goal is to win,” said Raj. “We’ll take it from there and see where we stand at the end.”