India’s fourth consecutive loss to Australia at home started a lot like the second ODI last week – playing out a maiden to Megan Schutt. But in the next two overs, Smriti Mandhana smashed 26 runs to give India a superb start in the first T20I of the women’s Tri-series in Mumbai.
Amidst the chants of “Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega” and “Ganpati Bappa Morya” from the crowd of 100-150-odd at the Brabourne Stadium, the runs came swift and stylish in the Powerplay, assisted by a good outfield. A Mandhana six came straight down near the press box, Raj played a delightful shot off her legs and it looked India were set get a good score after racing to 47/0 after six overs.
But a tale painfully familiar to those watching Australia’s tour of India unfolded – the openers fell right after settling in and the middle-order could not sustain the momentum. India finished with 152/5, a score that Australia would not find too hard to chase, even with India’s gamble of playing three seamers.
The world No 1 team equaled their highest successful T20I run chase comfortably with six wickets and 11 balls to spare as India were left to rue missed chances, albeit in a shorter game. Here are the big talking points:
Mandhana’s missing gear
Left-handed opener Mandhana is a treat to watch in full flow and carried on her impressive form from the ODI series, with her third straight half-century. But as was the case with her last two in the ODIs, she was not able to consolidate it and convert it to a much higher score.
She brought up the figure as with a four and six in the ninth over off Ellyse Perry, and looked in scintillating touch while doing so. The way she was batting, there was already chatter of the three-figure mark.
But two balls after her milestone, the opening partnership was broken on 72 as Raj was stumped on 18 off 27. Now, the onus was on her to build on with captain Harmanpreet Kaur. But only four overs later, she fell to the off-spin of Ashleigh Gardner and a superb catch by debutant Sophie Molineux playing a shot that can only be called regrettable. Coming down the track, she tried to clear the circle but spooned it straight to mid-in.
The 21-year-old was first to admit her error. “I have been timing the ball well, but I have been getting out after getting set, so that is the take away from this match,” she said at the post-match conference.
“If I am set and hitting the ball well, I should continue, like Mithali di does, we have to learn from our seniors,” she added.
This ability to accelerate and consolidate after a good fifty is a gear missing from her otherwise impressive machinery. Both she and India would hope she can fix it soon, and keep motoring on after speedy starts.
The partnership problem
But she summed up India’s overall performance when she said, “We are not learning from our mistakes in the one-dayers.”
ODI captain Raj has singled out India’s lack of partnerships in the middle order as one of the biggest factors that contributed to the 0-3 ODI defeat at a media interaction on Tuesday. Two days later, it was the same problem all over again as India went from 99/1 to 100/4 in the space of seven balls.
Mandhana’s wicket triggered a mini-collapse as Perry brought Australia right back into the game picking two quick wickets of Jemimah Rodrigues (1), and Harmanpreet Kaur (13) with her clever use of the short ball and bouncer twice.
As captain Meg Lanning said after the match, it was that Perry over that perhaps changed the game.
Harmanpreet was angry with herself after her rather poor dismissal but the fact is that her not-so-good run with the bat is a worrying sign – her four last scores read 9, 17, 25 and 13. Not good enough for the “Harmonster” who is capable of big things.
Here, a lesson perhaps it to be learnt from the way Australia build their partnerships after wickets fall. Twice they were down to two new batters on crease, twice they built on. Right at the start of the chase the Southern Stars were in trouble at 29/2 but opener Beth Mooney (45 off 32 balls) and Villani (39 off 33 balls) settled down and added 79 runs for the third wicket.
They had two new batters on crease once again at 112/4, but Meg Lanning showed a brief glimpse of her sheer class and with Rachel Haynes, took Australia over the line.
Goswami among the wickets on return
One of the biggest positives for India, despite the loss, was the return of Jhulan Goswami, to the field and to the wickets column.
Getting right into the groove, the veteran finished with figures of 3/30 cleaning up the stumps of Alyssa Healy (4) in the first over and Ashleigh Gardner (15) in the third. In her second spell, she finally got rid of Mooney (45 off 32).
With no big screens, it was hard to see the replay of the ball that toppled Healy, but the crash of the bails was a sight to behold. Even Mandhana had a smile talking about the two clean bowled dismissals.
But like Mandhana, Goswami had to shoulder the bulk of the load herself, with no other bowler stepping up to build the pressure. The other two seamers, Shikha Pandey (0/25 in 2 overs) and Rumeli Dhar (0/28 in 2.1 overs), paled in comparison.
Given India’s call to play only Poonam Yadav as a frontline spinner and Anuja Patil as the other, perhaps to not give Australia’s more opportunities to attack, part-timers Harmanpreet and Rodrigues were called in, but to no avail.
On a good batting pitch and fast outfield, the match was won by the Australian bowlers, with Perry’s double-wicket over making a huge difference.
Indian bowlers bowled too many boundary-balls with as many 21 fours and six were taken off them.
Special mention: Anuja Patil’s cameo
After the middle-order collapse had put a brake on the scoring, it was Anuja Patil’s entertaining cameo (35 off 21 balls) that took India to a decent score of 152/5, incidentally their highest score against the Aussies.
The pint-sized all-rounder played some cheeky shots to get her runs, but showed her range with boundaries all over the ground at any chance she got. She attacked Perry as well, reading her balls and taking calculated risks
She perished in the same way she scored, getting caught after three back-to-back boundaries and a double but not before she gave India a fighting chance and the gathered crowd some entertainment.
Against the same unit in the 50-over warm-up matches she had scored 47 off 62 and a run-a-ball 16. And with her 35 runs along with her decent spell giving away only 25, she ensured India were not completely outplayed.