Former captain Mithali Raj has called for quality in all three facets after India stumbled to a 11-run defeat to England at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023, complicating their pursuit of a spot in the knockouts.
Despite enjoying a share of the spoils at St. George’s Park in Gqeberha on Saturday, India’s chase ran out of steam in the final overs, when they needed a daunting 31 runs from the final six deliveries.
A final over of 19 papered over the cracks in India’s effort, as England improved their tournament record against India to 6-0, also storming to the top of the Group 2 table.
Raj, speaking on the 100% Cricket Podcast, pinpointed the middle-over periods across both innings as where India faulted.
“The over that India lost Smriti Mandhana, that point was so crucial because she was building a partnership with Richa Ghosh," said Raj.
“Until she was there, there were hopes that India could end up winning this game, but it was a tall ask from the lower-middle order of India to chase down the total.
“(England) were expensive in the Powerplay, but when it came to the middle overs and the death overs, they were disciplined. They dried up the runs of the opposition, and got those wickets in the last few overs.
“(Sophie) Ecclestone – the No.1 T20 bowler – she showed why she’s the best in this format, getting Harmanpreet Kaur in her very first over.”
The defeat means England, barring a disastrous performance against Pakistan on Tuesday in Cape Town, will finish top of the group. As a result, India’s path to the tournament final takes an unwanted turn with a likely meeting with world No.1 and defending champions Australia at the semi-final stage.
Raj, in the commentary box for the tournament, says her former teammates have to sharpen up in every department if they are to turn over the favourites should they meet them.
“They have to put up the best performance in the semis. Because it's a knockout and you're up against the world's best, you have to be very good in all three departments.
“So far, India has been very scratchy in the batting, and equally scratchy in the bowling. Fielding, in patches, they've done well.”
While put in some tricky situations, Australia’s collective quality across the 15-player squad has meant they have cantered to four victories on the other side of the draw.
Tripping up at 40/3 from seven overs against South Africa hours after India’s defeat on the same ground, Australia’s middle order not only steadied the ship with Ash Gardner (28 from 29 balls) but countered through Tahlia McGrath’s 57 (33), winning in the 17th over.
For Raj, given the batting quality across the Australian group, a target requiring eight runs an over or more is the only way to keep the pressure on the entire team.
“If you have to beat a side like Australia, you clearly have to put up a target, and nothing less than 160 on the board.
“The Indian team depend highly on the spinners, and so far it's only the Deepti Sharma that’s delivering the goods.
“When you have players like Renuka Thakur, Shikha Pandey, Deepti, you need support from the other bowlers even to defend a target that you put up.”
“So India really have to put up an improved performance from what they have been doing in the league phase when they are up against Australia.”
Apart from calling the action, Raj has other motives at the tournament, given her role on board with the Gujarat Giants as a mentor for the inaugural Women’s Premier League, beginning on 4 March.
While lamenting the timing of the ground-breaking tournament being a little late for her as a player, Raj is happy to watch history unfold from the other side of the boundary.
“I'm very happy to be watching the game from the sidelines, watching and commentating, so a very different perspective.”
“I’m sure with the WPL and the other leagues around the world, every other player from different countries gets to participate and gain more exposure with regards to this format, it’s only going to help (the game).”