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Youngsters have brought in infectious energy, says India’s Mithali Raj

Dane van Niekerk promises a hard chat in the South African dressing room after losing the first T20I by seven wickets.
Mithali Raj

After winning the three-match one-day international series against South Africa Women 2-1, India Women started the Twenty20 international leg of the tour strongly by winning the first of five games by seven wickets in Potchefstroom on Tuesday (13 February).

Anuja Patil, the off-spinner, was the best of the Indian bowlers as she returned 2/23 in South Africa’s 164/4. Mithali Raj, the Indian captain, then shepherded India home with an unbeaten 48-ball 54, stringing together key partnerships with Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Veda Krishnamurthy.

“It was very important since it’s a preparation for the World T20 (in the West Indies in November 2018),” said Raj after the win. “It’s more than imperative that the girls, the team as a unit, we start preparing in this format. It’s good to start on a winning note because it gives us a lot of confidence getting into the next game.”

We need to speak open and honestly with each other and see where we can change stuff, said Dane van Niekerk
We need to speak open and honestly with each other and see where we can change stuff, said Dane van Niekerk

India handed international debuts to Rodrigues, who played a fine hand with 37 from 27 balls in a 69-run third-wicket stand with Raj after Harmanpreet Kaur had been run out for a first-ball duck, as well as Taniya Bhatia, the wicket-keeper, while Pooja Vastrakar, the right-arm medium pacer, played her maiden T20I after turning out in the final ODI earlier on tour.

“It’s good to have the youngsters in the squad. Usually when you have a few new members, they get a lot of positive energy into the team and they are quite active on the ground too,” said Raj with a laugh. “So you can get to see that energy being very infectious, it spreads around, and it’s also good to bat with them because then you know that you have partners, like we had with Smriti (Mandhana). Of course she is a seasoned player now, but we have Jemimah, who has just come in, debutant, and she has played a very useful knock for the country.”

For South Africa, the T20Is started the same way as the ODIs, with defeat, and Dane van Niekerk, South Africa’s captain, felt losing the momentum in the middle overs of the batting innings cost her team. From 76/2 after nine overs, South Africa got to 104/3 by the end of the 15th, and it was only Chloe Tryon’s ballistic 32 not out from seven balls – with two fours and four sixes – right at the end that lifted the home side to 164/4.

Chloe Tryon scored a ballistic 32 not out from seven balls to lift the South Africa total
Chloe Tryon scored a ballistic 32 not out from seven balls to lift the South Africa total

“I still feel we can push it a bit more in the middle overs. We stopped a bit there and that hurt us a bit,” said van Niekerk. “We could have gone (for runs) a bit earlier. We had that platform. Unnecessary dots here and there. If Chloe had an extra few balls, I reckon she could have done a bit more. Unfortunately that’s the way the game panned out. Still happy, especially with the bowling unit we have. I’ll always back us to defend that.”

What Tryon’s blitz, as well as the fact that India got to the target with seven balls in hand, showed was that the Senwes Park pitch was an excellent one for batting.

“Initially we thought it was going to be slow, but it was actually a belter of a wicket,” agreed van Niekerk. “I was there for a while so I could see what was hard to hit and what not. I thought 160 was okay, but I said to the girls at the halfway ‘that’s half the job done, it’s a belter of a wicket and we have to bowl well’. And we didn’t.”

Veda Krishnamurthy was one of the major contributors in India's win, scoring an unbeaten 22-ball 37
Veda Krishnamurthy was one of the major contributors in India's win, scoring an unbeaten 22-ball 37

Raj echoed van Niekerk’s thoughts when she said, “There is bounce on the wicket, unlike the last time when we toured for the quadrangular (in May 2017), there was not much bounce then. Maybe because it was the end of the season and we were getting into the winter. But now, there is good enough bounce and there is a lot of help for the batters, because when there is bounce you don’t get much movement with the new ball. You just have to play for the bounce. That gives us the leverage where we can go for the aerial shots in the first six overs, which we got to see in the South African batting. Anything pitched up or a little short of length, they were easily able to clear the infield. That is something I picked while fielding.”

Van Niekerk, who conceded that South Africa were ‘beaten by a better side’ on the day, promised another ‘hard chat’ in the dressing room to get the team up and firing again.

Asked how she planned to get the performance levels up, she said, “Hopefully the same way we did in the ODIs, and that was with a hard chat. We need to regroup, we need to speak open and honestly with each other and see where we can change stuff. Our fielding wasn’t at its best and we pride ourselves on our fielding. We did that brilliantly well in the last ODI. In two days you can’t change it, I don’t know if it’s a mindset thing. T20 is so short and the margins are so much smaller, so hopefully we can bounce back in the next few. I’d like to win the next four and go away from this tour smiling.”

The next match in the series will be played at Buffalo Park in East London on Friday (16 February).

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