It should have been Mithali Raj’s day. The India captain became the highest One-Day International run-scorer and the first woman past 6000 runs in the format. She also brought up her 49th half-century, her third of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. But the one column that mattered, the wins, didn’t go in her favour playing Australia on Wednesday.
Poonam Raut scored her second ODI hundred and put up a 157-run stand with her captain, but even the drums and the vocal support from the healthy local Indian community in Bristol couldn’t spur them on. India’s 226 for 7 was never a target to challenge Australia. The world champion’s batting was everything the Indians’ was not, positive and confident, and it completed the chase in 45.1 overs with eight wickets in hand.
Half-centuries from Meg Lanning (76 not out) and Ellyse Perry (60 not out), Lanning’s typically busy and Perry’s typically reliable, in a typically bruising unbroken partnership of 124 ensured Australia barely broke a sweat.
With the win, Australia sealed its place in the semi-finals, while India was left with a must-win clash against New Zealand on Saturday.
India’s second fifty came off 69 balls, the third off 51, and the fourth off 48. But the 18 overs it took – 110 balls to be precise – to get the first couldn’t be easily made up. Australia began the squeeze early, and never really let go.
Bowling first on a cloudy morning, Australia made the most of an awkward surface that provided uneven turn. The ball didn’t appear to be coming on to the bat as easily as in the last couple of games on this ground and the rain all of Tuesday meant a slower outfield, but that should not take anything away from a bowling unit that was hitting its lengths and the fielders who crowded the batters to amplify India’s characteristic diffidence in the Power Play overs.
Ashleigh Gardner, the off-spinner, took the new ball for the first time in her international career, rather than Jess Jonassen, the left-arm spinner, to the left-handed Smriti Mandhana, and struck in her second over. Mandhana, who survived a top edge that landed fortuitously out of range of the fielders, edged behind to the wicketkeeper for her fourth single-digit score in a row.
Raj, back up at No. 3, had to deal with eight fielders in the circle. She was given out on 11, trying to sweep Jonassen, but was reprieved by the review with the ball found to be missing leg stump.
The drinks break saw the Indians come out showing more intent. A four had brought up India’s fifty a little before drinks, and Raut continued the push with a pair of swept boundaries.
A rare six straight down the ground off Kristen Beams for Raj took her past a record 6000 ODI runs and took India to three figures in the 30th over of the game.
The duo made it a decent batting Power Play, adding 33, before Raj fell to the temptation and pressure to up the ante, handing Beams a return catch.
At 166 for 2 in the 41st over, India had a fair if not terribly exciting platform to build on. Raut brought up her century with a single to the leg side, celebrating with a leap halfway through her run, and Harmanpreet Kaur got down on one knee to smash a six over mid-wicket.
But with a clutch of wickets, including that of Veda Krishnamurthy run out without facing a ball, there would be no spectacular flurry at the death.
Raj took a page out of Lanning’s book to keep just one fielder in the deep for the spinner, Deepti Sharma, who took the new ball with two left-handers at the crease. Australia went 15 deliveries without scoring, and its first single came in the fifth over.
But where it won over the Indian top order was in its ability to release pressure with the boundaries. The first three scoring shots were fours, punishing anything short and taking the aerial route to clear the inner circle. Then, once comfortable, the openers dropped and ran, bringing up the twos and threes, which the Indians failed to do.
Beth Mooney and Nicole Bolton had 44 dots in the Power Play compared to India’s 47, but their confidence in keeping the scoreboard ticking set the platform for a push.
The experienced Ekta Bisht, the left-arm spinner, enjoys English conditions and has been a considerable threat this tournament. The openers aimed to take her out of the equation, striking her for three leg-side fours in her first over.
Poonam Yadav, the leg-spinner, got the breakthrough, eliciting an edge to the wicketkeeper from a swinging Bolton and Deepti caught Mooney short of her crease with a direct hit. But little fazed Lanning and Perry, who brought up their 12th 100-plus stand on the day.
Lanning has the most number of centuries for a female cricketer at just 25, and is perhaps best placed to challenge Raj’s record one day, should her shoulder hold up for long enough. Her biggest strength is her strike rate, which stayed in the high 80s throughout. The fourth delivery she faced, off Poonam, she used her feet to send it over the bowler’s head over the long-off delivery.
Perry, who played the last World Cup as a bowler and is perhaps more of a batting all-rounder this tournament, brought up her 22nd half-century, her fourth in a row and a brisk one at that.
The duo gave few chances, and helped on by India’s poor fielding, ran hard without every looking in a hurry. That Raj made 20 bowling changes on the day should indicate just how dominant a batting performance it was.
Record or not, it might be a day the India captain wouldn’t want to remember.