They tried so hard, they got this far. In the end, just nine runs stood between Indian cricket team and World Cup glory.
In a game that had more twists and turns than an entire season of Game of Thrones, England emerged victorious. The ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 final will go down in history as the most-watched, most-discussed, and perhaps, the best game at the biggest stage in history but in the immediate aftermath, that will do little to comfort an Indian team that, for the majority of the run-chase at Lord’s, kept it simple and had things under their control.
Keeping things simple. Under control. Those two aspects, ultimately, eluded them right when it mattered.
One can sit here on the day after and wonder if maybe Shikha Pandey should not have bowled those couple of extra overs at the death, that took England to a fighting 229. Or maybe, Smriti Mandhana should have either been dropped or played lower down the order. Or maybe Mithali Raj should have put in that dive and ran a tad bit harder, that might have saved her wicket. Or maybe Harmanpreet Kaur should have played with a little more urgency at the start of her innings, instead of playing out maidens and taking 34 balls for her first 10 runs.
But ultimately, India are not World Champions today because they went from 191/3 in the 43rd over to 219 all out in the 49th. It is the harsh truth but one that the team must accept if it wants to move forward.
Playing on merit
Despite those initial hiccups in the run-chase, Kaur and Punam Raut, and even Veda Krishnamurthy later, were playing the situation by the merit for two-thirds of the innings. The run-rate, though constantly nudging in the upwards direction, never went beyond six runs per over. Every time it got close to that, there was a release shot that pulled it back.
Till the 38th over of the innings, India were shadowing England’s progress, always a few runs behind, in touching distance and then for the first time, went ahead of them with Veda playing the only way she does. A few boundaries from her, some calm from Raut – who was cramping up – and India were within touching distance. When Raut got out in the 43rd over – in hindsight, the turning point of the game – India needed 38 runs from 43 balls with six wickets still in hand.
The dismissals, one after the other, were a case of Indian players playing the occasion rather than the situation. Sushma Verma swept a good length ball on the off-stump with her glove on to her leg stump. Veda, who held the key for India, played one big shot too many despite the required rate not calling for said big shots. While Jhulan Goswami perhaps got the best ball of the match first up – a perfect yorker – the rest of the batting order just withered away, highlighted by Pandey getting needlessly run-out with Deepti Sharma looking good at the other end.
Without taking any credit away from Anya Shrubsole (a six-for in a World Cup final is just brilliant) and England, losing seven wickets for 28 runs in the end meant that India shot themselves in the foot. The perfect farewell for Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami was a few overs of sensible batting away, but pressure does funny things to players. Ultimately, India’s lower order was unable to replicate England’s, when Katherine Brunt (34) and Jenny Gunn (25 not out) took them to the eventual match-winning total of 228/8, with ones and twos in the final two overs.
That they lost from that position will be a bitter pill to swallow, despite all the applause coming their way – deservedly – for a wonderful tournament. Raj, after the match, was left to rue to the lack of experience of playing these big moments.
“The lower-middle order needs to contribute, that has been a concern for a long time, batting is important and something everyone needs to do. It’s about experience and about how composed we are in the situation. The girls weren’t experienced enough to do that, but the way they have fought through the tournament is heart-warming.”
This team’s tenacity and ability to fight back with their backs against the wall has been evident in this tournament, but the final of the World Cup at Lord’s proved to be one obstacle too high to surmount. The manner of the defeat, more than the defeat itself will hurt, but this team can hold their heads high for a campaign that captured the nation’s imagination.