A ‘new India team’ is how captain Mithali Raj described her side after it coped admirably with the high-pressure environment of a winner-takes-all clash against New Zealand to reach the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 semi-finals.
Not only did India beat its opponent, it completely outplayed New Zealand – making the most of being put in to bat to post an imposing total of 265 for seven before ripping through a shell-shocked White Ferns line-up for a 186-run triumph.
In match where the loser knew it would be going home, India got important contributions across the board.
Of course skipper Raj led from the front – as she has done for the past 15 years – with 109 for her sixth ODI century, but just as vital was Harmanpreet Kaur’s gritty 60 and Veda Krishnamurthy’s destructive 70 from 45 balls.
Left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad, playing her first game of the competition replacing Ekta Bisht, then took five for 15 to skittle New Zealand for 79, leaving the captain ecstatic at the way it bounced back from the eight-wicket loss to Australia in the previous round of matches.
“The girls realised it was a must-win game for us to qualify for the semis,” said Raj, whose team plays Australia on Thursday.
“We came back to the ground where we’ve played four games, so we know how the wicket and the outfield plays.
“The girls wanted to do well today, give their best and they knew it was one game that could get us into the semis.
“I’m extremely happy that the girls made a comeback. I think this is a new India team.
“In the earlier editions, we’ve seen one bad day and then we’ve never made a comeback into the tournament.
“This is a very good win for the girls and it will give them a real boost and a lot of confidence.”
Thursday’s semi-final between India and Australia looks set to be a fascinating encounter after the Southern Stars ended its group stage with an impressive 59-run win over South Africa on Saturday, despite resting captain Meg Lanning.
Beth Mooney (53) and Nicole Bolton (79) put on 114 for the first-wicket in a total of 269, before three Australian bowlers took two wickets apiece to dismiss South Africa for 210 – and Bolton believes she and Mooney form a devastating opening partnership.
“I think we really set the tone with our batting innings, I know we left a couple of balls out there but I think our intent to go pretty big was evident,” she explained.
“We really enjoy batting together, the roles tend to change but I think we complement each other very well.
“Although we're both left-handers I feel like we hit to different areas of the ground. It can be quite hard for a bowler to find the right line and length to bowl and it's great to see hard work is paying off at the top.”
South Africa’s defeat means it will play table-topping England in the first semi-final in Bristol on Tuesday.
Leg-spinner Sune Luus took five for 67 with the ball as Laura Wolvaardt top-scored with the bat by accumulating 71, and although captain Dane van Niekerk was pleased with those two, she is expecting improvements in the field for the last-four clash.
“Our fielding was really disappointing, probably one of the worst performances I've seen from us – it just went straight through our legs,” said van Niekerk.
“The fact that Sune got a five-wicket haul is a positive for me and Laura getting 50 is obviously positive but you really have to go back to the drawing board because small things like that (fielding) can cost you a semi-final.”
Meanwhile, England warmed up for the semi-final by recording a sixth consecutive win at the ICC WWC – with the opening game defeat to India still its only loss – beating West Indies by 92 runs at The County Ground in Bristol.
And staying in Bristol for the last-four clash with South Africa on Tuesday is a real positive for skipper Heather Knight.
“We’re really happy – with that first defeat against India we made it hard for ourselves, but since then we’ve been outstanding,” she said.
“The girls have done everything we’ve asked of them, the carrot was there against the West Indies to win the group, and we get to stay at Bristol which will be nice.
“We’ve had brilliant support there – we’re pleased with how we’ve gone, we’ve always said winning is a habit and we’ve got some really nice momentum heading to the semi-final and we’ll look forward to that.”