By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
Openers hit half-centuries to guide India Women to comfortable nine-wicket win in final Group B match
Mithali Raj and Poonam Raut are both attacking batters and complement each other perfectly when in sync. Both are natural timers of the ball but their inconsistency at the top of the order had forced India Women to juggle with a number of combinations. On Wednesday (April 1) night however, in its final Group B fixture of the ICC Women's World Twenty20 2014, it all came together as India beat West Indies Women by nine wickets at the Sylhet Divisional Stadium.
Raj stroked an unbeaten 55 while Raut chipped with 56, allowing India to make light work of a potentially tricky target. The duo had put on 117 for the opening wicket, drawing level with West Indies’ 117 for 7, when Raut perished, but Smriti Mandhana hit a boundary off her fourth delivery as India won with 15 balls to spare.
The confidence from Raj’s previous knock, where she made 57 in India’s 79-run win over Bangladesh Women, clearly showed as she timed the ball sweetly right from the outset. West Indies was under fire in the first four overs itself, as the Indian openers blasted 28. But even the start didn't prevent Tremayne Smartt, the medium pacer, and Shakera Selman from persisting with a short-of-length line on a surface with little bounce.
It was a tactic that played into India’s hands as it allowed the batters to simply hit through the line.
While Raj was at ease against pace, Raut went after Shanel Daley’s left-arm spin, chipping down the track and lofting her over mid-on in succession in her second over to force West Indies into a containment mode as Stafanie Taylor, standing in as captain for the rested Merissa Aguilleira, immediately pushed the fielders back.
The power boost at the top allowed the batters the luxury of settling in. But as well as the batters did, the bowlers deserved credit for pulling India back into the game from a position where 140 looked on the cards for West Indies.
The West Indies innings was a story of two halves. The phase with Deandra Dottin and the phase after she left. Shubhlakhsmi Sharma’s late swing resulted in a wicket off the first ball of the innings, with Kycia Knight trapped lbw, but Dottin seemed to be a woman on a mission.
Brutal and dismissive, she climbed into the Indian bowling. She first unsettled Gouher Sultana, the left-arm spinner, by collecting two boundaries courtesy full blooded pulls that fell just short of the boundary rope, while at the other end, Taylor played and missed five times in succession against Shubhlakshmi's neat outswing.
Taylor was far from her dominating best and struggled for timing, but with Dottin going hammer and tongs at the other end, she had an opportunity to dig in. But the frustration of being tied down got to her as she holed out to Shubhlakshmi at long-off to give Poonam Yadav, the offspinner, her first wicket.
To Raj’s credit, the bowlers were shuffled around in an efficient manner. While she employed her four frontline spinners at various stages when the batters were on an attack, she brought in Jhulan Goswami, her most experienced medium pacer, to arrest the scoring rate in the middle. But Goswami went a notch higher by having Dottin caught behind after a 51-ball 57 to trigger an uncharacteristic collapse from 87 for 2 in the 15th over.
West Indies missed the calming influence of Aguilleira in the middle order. Stacy-Ann King was promoted as pinch hitter, and while she muscled two boundaries, an outstanding direct hit by Harmanpreet Kaur from deep midwicket resulted in her downfall. West Indies suddenly lost three wickets in the space of four runs as India went into the break with the momentum.
In the midst of it, Harmanpreet picked up two wickets in addition to her superb run-out.
It was the perfect scenario for Raj to assert her dominance with a second successive half-century, an innings that showcased the Indian captain’s fine technique. She wasn’t brutal by any means, but her knock still packed a punch, and ensured West Indies was left facing a tough semi-final fixture on Thursday against Australia Women, the defending champion, at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur.