For a few moments, the streak was dead. Long live the streak.
No team in the history of One Day International cricket has achieved what this current Australian team led by the imperious Meg Lanning have. The last time they lost a match in 50-over format was in October 2017. For the majority of the night in Mackay on Friday, it felt like the end of it was imminent. All good things come to an end, right? And so Jhulan Goswami ran towards square leg, and so the Indians celebrated the dismissal Nicola Carey off the last ball... because they had huffed and puffed and managed to bring the fortress down.
Or so they thought.
After a long, hard look at the replay of the delivery that Carey lobbed to Yastika Bhatia, the umpires came to the decision that it was a no-ball. From India winning the match of what was supposed to be the last ball, Australia got a free hit and the equation reduced to 2 off 1. Beth Mooney found one last reserve of energy to push for two runs after having batted the whole innings.
Not today, they said, as the streak came back alive.
Big picture... Australia have now won 26 in a row. India have now posted one of their best totals while batting first in recent times (last time they crossed 270 was in Kimberley against South Africa in February 2018). Australia have somehow managed to find a way to win a match after being reduced to 52/4, while needing the third-highest successful run-chase of all time. Beth Mooney might just have played one of the all-time great ODI innings. India have reason to believe Smriti Mandhana is back to her best, as she timed the ball like she does when in the zone. In Richa Ghosh, India have another exciting teenage batting talent and the second ODI in Mackay might be the day she looks back as the breakthrough batting moment of her career. For the first time in their incredible winning run, Australia looked vulnerable against a team. Heck, they even lost it for a few seconds.
These are the things we will remember in the longer term. These are the takeaways that will register in the record books.
The drama of it all... now, that will take some getting over for the Indian team.
On the day after (or even in the immediate aftermath as we saw on social media on Friday evening), the no-ball call is the object of attention for many. For heartbroken Indian fans, for delighted Australian supporters, for those who cover the game... understandably so, perhaps. You don’t often see a match where both sides celebrate a win.
For the record, it is a debatable decision. And by that, we mean there is no way to ascertain who is wrong or who is right. It is not binary... waist-high full tosses tend to be that way. A group of 10 cricket fans around the world can argue for hours about this one moment and the only thing that is certain that there won’t be certainty about the final decision, so what the umpire’s had to do in those intense moments, is not an easy thing.
The important thing, however, is that India did not lose the match because of that no ball. India lost the match because of the events leading up to it. As Smriti Mandhana said afterwards, for the first innings and till perhaps the mid-way stage of the second, India had a great match. Against the greatest side of all time in the game, India held their own and even controlled proceedings. But the best in the business are the best in the business, because they find a way, they solve problems, they handle the biggest moments with more calm.
And while Mooney was out in the middle, first with her partnership with Tahlia McGrath and then with Carey, was putting on a masterclass. India let things drift. The dew made things hard, women’s international cricket is not played enough under lights for teams to be used to such conditions. But while the ball was slipping here and there, so was India’s intensity and focus. Throws went wayward, a stumping was missed, couple of half-chances for catches (at least) were not converted.
Meg Lanning gave a fascinating insight into Australia’s thinking during an interview from the sidelines. The plan was to take the match to the final 10 overs with a required rate of 9.00 and they were confident of chasing it down. It was a mind-boggling assertion for the rest of the women’s game but for Australia, it was par for the course.
And while the last over unfolded with errors aplenty, an overthrow of the first ball and a misfield off the second, a beamer that was a clear no-ball, that all combined to gift easy runs to Australia, one could not help but wonder how the experience of playing in a world-class white-ball tournament year after year helped Australia cope with such a situation. India, on the other hand, still have to learn at the international level. What would a feeding mechanism that comprised of a professionally run franchise league do to youngsters handling the nerves of the biggest stages?
So while we talk and dissect the no-ball to no avail, India would do well to not get caught up in that moment. For Mithali Raj and Co, time better spent would be studying the mistakes they committed to lose a match they could have wrapped up by doing basics right. For those running the game in India, time better spent would be on providing the women the same platform that Australians enjoy or at least, close to one.
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