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Smriti Mandhana special puts India in the hunt for gold medal

ENG v IND, semi-final, report

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Smriti Mandhana's stunning fifty proved to be the difference between England and India in the first semi-final of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

SEMI-FINAL 1: ENGLAND v INDIA

Toss: India opted to bat first

Result: India win by four runs

The Smriti Show

Smrithi Mandhana's gorgeous straight drive off Katherine Brunt in the first over was a sign of things to come. England's experiment to introduce the off-spin of Alice Capsey didn't work out either, as the southpaw picked her apart for two boundaries. She added two more fours in the next over off Brunt.

Mandhana had the answers for whatever England tried to throw at her. Issy Wong was welcomed into the attack with a six and a boundary and Nat Sciver in the next over was dished the same treatment. 

She brought up her fifty with the four, at which point she had scored 51 of the team's 55 runs. The fifty off 23 balls was the fastest by an Indian women's player in T20Is, bettering her own record off 24 balls.

Shafali Verma wasn't to be left behind as she too got in on the act and plundered two boundaries in the final over of the Powerplay as India finished with 64.

Freya Kemp finally got England the breakthrough in the 8th over with the dismissal of Shafali Verma. Four balls later, Mandhana followed her opening partner back to the pavilion having failed to clear the short fine fielder with the scoop shot.

England comeback strongly 

The few quiet overs after the Powerplay from England helped them stem the flow of runs. Just when the partnership between Jemimah Rodrigues and Harmanpreet Kaur was budding, a stunning catch in the deep from Maia Bouchier put a halt to the Indian innings.

Deepti Sharma and Rodrigues combined to stitch a 53-run stand for the fourth wicket. The latter smashed four boundaries in a space of eight balls to give India a late push in the death.

India lost two more wickets in the last over but Rodrigues finished with a boundary to set England a target of 165. 

England off to a fiery start

Danni Wyatt and Sophia Dunkley set the tone for the chase in the first over with three boundaries of the tournament's top wicket-taker Renuka Singh, thus putting India on the backfoot immediately. 

Dunkley smashed consecutive boundaries off Meghna Singh but the introduction of spin became her undoing as she was trapped in front of the stumps by Deepti Sharma. 

Despite the fall of the wicket, Wyatt kept England on track with five boundaries in the remaining overs of the Powerplay. India were lucky with their second wicket with the run-out of Capsey. The right-hand batter got her bat past the crease but failed to ground any part of it. Rana got the prized scalp of Wyatt two overs later but her 27-ball 35 put England ahead of the required run rate. 

Spin to win

India kept a lid on scoring thereafter, conceding only two boundaries in the next six overs a boundary in the next three overs.

Harmanpreet's decision to bowl Shafali in the 16th over backfired as she leaked 15 runs in the over but the spinners Deepti and Rana made amends in the next two overs by giving away just three runs each.

Nat Sciver gave England hope with a six and a four (leg byes) in the penultimate over but those hopes were dashed when the captain was run out trying to steal a second soon after.

Harmanpreet placed her trust in the off-spin of Rana to defend 14 runs in the last over. She gave away just nine runs and picked the wicket of Brunt in the process, keeping her nerve to guide India to the finals of the tournament.

 Harmanpreet sets sights on gold

With at least a silver medal now guaranteed, Harmanpreet has her sights set on claiming gold in what is expected to be a closely-fought final against Australia on Sunday.

The India captain believes winning a gold medal can change a lot of things for women's cricket in her country.

"It means a lot for us, we've been working hard for so long," Harmanpreet said. 

"This is a great platform for us. Participating for the first time (in the Commonwealth Games), if we can do well (against Australia), a lot of things can change for us.

"We never thought or wondered what we are playing for and what we aren't playing for. (Gold) medal coming or not coming isn't in our hands. We just want to play well. The way we've played so far, we've learnt a lot."

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