Mithali Raj delighted at the way her side stormed back into the series; Knight hails 'outstanding' Amy Jones.
It has been a tough summer for India Women at home. They first lost the three-match one-day international series to Australia Women 3-0, and then failed to make it to the final of the tri-nation Women's Twenty20 International series involving Australia and England.
However, brushing aside the losses, the Mithali Raj-led unit staged an impressive comeback in the three-match ODI series against England, the current World Champions, to clinch the series 2-1 at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on Thursday 12 April.
Batting first, England, led by Amy Jones's gutsy 94 reached 201/9 in their 50 overs. With the demons of the ICC Women's World Cup 2018 final still alive, where India lost to England by nine runs, the chase might have been tricky. But, half-centuries by Smriti Mandhana, Raj and Deepti Sharma ensured there was no repeat of a batting collapse as the hosts romped home to a comfortable eight-wicket win.
Raj lauded the performance of her bowlers, who picked up wickets at regular intervals to keep the visitors to a slightly below par total. Jhulan Goswami, Poonam Yadav, Deepti and Rajeshwari Gayakwad all chipped in with two wickets each.
"The girls really bowled well," said Raj. "I emphasised on getting the two wickets early on to put the pressure on England.
"They did have a partnership in the middle, but consistent wickets after that restricted them. I thought they would probably put up a score of around 250, but they could manage only 201, and on this wicket that was a chaseable target."
Raj was also effusive in praise of youngsters Mandhana and Deepti.
"Smriti has been consistent for us since the South Africa tour and good to see Deepti as well being consistent with the runs in the middle order," said Raj. "Hopefully Harman (Harmanpreet Kaur) and Veda (Krishnamurthy) will come good too. It looks like out of five batters we have at least two-three batters who are contributing."
Raj's form too has been patchy. She had scores of 4 and 0 in the first two ODIs, but when it mattered, the skipper came up with the goods scoring an unbeaten 74. She also got past Danielle Hazell, her nemesis in the series, and could afford a smile at the end of it all.
"Well, I do understand that she (Hazell) got my wicket twice in the one-day series," said Raj. "But it is not Sunday everyday, the gate is not opened everyday. It might be the one-odd day, but not all the time."
One of the big positives for India in their home season has been the consistency of Mandhana. The opener has been in the form of her life. Despite losing two quick wickets at the start, she was positive in her scoring as she slammed a 61-ball 53 before being forced to retire hurt.
"I think the dive I made to get inside the crease had its impact, which is why I was not able to carry on," said Mandhana, explaining why she had to leave the field.
"After the World Cup, I had spoken to our team coach, Tushar (Arothe) Sir and he has helped me a lot with my stance and opening up. All those technical things have helped me a lot in being consistent over the past four-five months,” she added.
“I always like batting with Mithali di, because more often than not the opposition is trying to get her out, which helps me score runs easily. The way she finished the innings, chasing the total down, staying not out in the end, that is something I will take away."
In the last four ODIs, Mandhana has gone past the 50-run mark on four occasions and with 181 runs in the three matches this series she was named Player of the Series. She, however, insisted it was important to convert half-centuries to the three-figure mark.
"Lots to learn yet," said Mandhana. "I have been getting out a lot in the 50s and 60s, sometimes in the 80s, so that is something that I have to look back and try to convert those into 100s."
While Heather Knight, the England skipper, was disappointed that her side had not managed their first series win in India, she was proud of how her team handled themselves in the searing heat of Nagpur.
"Can't fault the girls’ efforts at all today," said Knight. "I thought they were outstanding. We just couldn't get the breakthrough, couldn't apply pressure for long periods of time, probably 20 runs short, it was a better track than we thought."
Jones was the one bright spot in England's batting. Having scored a duck in each of the previous two ODIs, it was impressive how she applied herself during her 119-ball 94.
"Amy Jones was outstanding," reiterated Knight. "For her to come back and play such a knock on the back of two ducks shows real character and is a real positive sign. She really deserved a hundred.
"It was a pitch where once you get in, it was quite a good one to bat on, but it was a little difficult to start. So, big partnerships were the key, which is why I was pretty frustrated when I got out. Amy did brilliantly to bat all the way through and get us up to that total, but unfortunately, we could not defend it."
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