Mithali Raj's attractive unbeaten 73 helped India beat Bangladesh in a Super Six game of the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 at the Nondescripts Cricket Club on humid Friday (February 17). In the process, India booked a berth in the ICC Women's World Cup in England in June.
After Bangladesh was restricted to 155 for 8, Raj had an unbroken second-wicket partnership of 136 runs with Mona Meshram (78 not out) that took India to 158 for 1 in 33.3 overs.
The conditions were suited for batting, and the world’s second-highest run-getter was not going to miss out on a chance to add another asterisk to her statistics. Raj’s strengths – placement, timing and footwork – were in ample evidence as she toyed with the Bangladesh bowlers. She didn't look like getting out, and the confidence rubbed off on Meshram, who made her second consecutive half-century.
When Raj took guard, India were 22 for 1 from 8.3 overs, with Deepti Sharma falling after a 22-ball 1. India’s inability to rotate the strike in the first part of its innings has been its biggest area of concern, but as had been the case in previous matches, batting suddenly looked easy when Raj started executing her drives and cuts properly. Between collecting easy singles, the duo hit 22 fours between them to leave Bangladesh with no option but to beat Sri Lanka Women, and surpass its net run-rate, in its last game to keep its World Cup aspirations alive. Fittingly, Raj ended the game with a well-timed six over long-off.
As much as the second half of the game was about Raj’s nimble footwork, it was also an equally important outing for Meshram, who strengthened her claim over the second opener's slot. A predominantly bottom-hand player, Meshram, who had failed to find the gaps during her knock against South Africa, showed much improvement.
India, the only unbeaten side in the tournament so far, was expected to beat Bangladesh. But it would be the first to admit that it did not put its best foot forward on the field - missing at least two easy run-outs and one catch, allowing Bangladesh to bat out its full quota of overs after Mansi Joshi, who impressed once again with her raw pace, had reduced it to 14 for 2 in 9.3 overs.
The second-wicket pair of Sharmin Akther and Fargana Hoque, though, easily negated the spinners. Rajeshwari Gayakwad, leading the spin department in the absence of Ekta Bisht, who was rested, leaked easy runs as Akther and Hoque used variants of the sweep shot to good effect.
Akther should have been run out off the first ball of the 19th over, but Sushma Verma, instead of breaking the wicket with the ball in her hand, attempted a throw that missed the stumps by a distance. Akther got another life off the fifth ball of the 22nd over when Raj dived to make a great stop at cover, but could not produce an accurate throw to the striker's end even as the batters were stranded mid-pitch.
Akther, however, could not use her chances. She stepped out to play Devika Vaidya, the legspinner, against the turn but missed the ball and was stumped. India pulled things back clinically after that.
It was really up to Hoque to put a big total on the board, having reached her fifty with a four over midwicket against Joshi. But she played the very next ball across the line to give Gayakwad a catch at midwicket.
India’s fielding woes continued. Soni Yadav, substituting for Raj, dropped a sitter at mid-off in the 45th over to give Salma Khatun a life. Lack of experience meant Bangladesh never capitalised on India’s weakness, as Vaidya picked up her second wicket off the last ball of the innings.
Bangladesh knew it had to get Raj early to make a contest of it. Its failure to do so meant India romped home easily.
India takes on Pakistan in their final Super Six game on February 19 at the P Sara Oval.