On a breezy Sunday morning by the Arabian Sea, cricket fans in Mumbai trickled in to watch India take on England with flags, banners, trumpets,... the works. A crowd of around 400-5000 was already in the Brabourne Stadium before the match started and the stands kept filling, with almost 800 people eventually coming in according to the security guards at the entrance.
And this cheering crowd was treated to a superlative batting display for the India – 198/4 in 20 overs, studded with the classic Smritui Mandhana (76 off 40) down-the-ground shots, Mithali Raj (53 off 43) piercing the gaps, powerful Harmanpreet Kaur (30 off 22) strokes and a cracking cameo by Pooja Vastrakar (22 off 10).
But in the end, it was the ballistic century from Danielle Wyatt (124 off 64) that trumped India, giving England a walk-in-the-park, seven-wicket win.
At the end of the first innings, India would have thought they were in with a chance to finally break the rut of home losses. And with a good reason too. They had just posted their highest total in Twenty20 Internationals, and the second highest in the women’s game.
The only problem was that at the other end was England, the team that had the record for the highest chase in T20Is. They had chased down 178 with six balls to spare just two matches back, in November 2017 against Australia in Canberra.
As in that match, Wyatt smashed a scintillating hundred, off only 52 balls, to ensure England scripted a new record chase and got the seven-wicket win with eight balls to spare.
Scoring 199 in 18.4 overs seems like an extraordinary feat. But watching Wyatt hit the Indian bowlers all over the park, it looked like she could chase any target. (To all those wondering, she was using her own bat and not one gifted by the Indian men’s cricket team captain.)
It was a good batting wickets and the outfield was extremely quick, but Wyatt was in an extraordinary form scoring consistently at a strike rate of 200. Imagine a run rate of over 10 in a chase of almost 200!
She shared a 61-run opening stand (in 5.2 overs) with Bryony Smith and then put up 96 runs for the second wicket with Tammy Beaumont, who slammed a 23-ball 35. But in both cases, it was Wyatt who kept up the relentless attack.
The team fifty came in 4.4 overs, 67 runs were plundered in the Powerplay and the hundred mark was brought up in 9.2 overs. Her fifty came in 24 balls and there were 15 boundaries and five sixes in her 64-ball 124. A couple of her sixes met the sight screen even, as she said the boundaries were perfect for women’s cricket.
As captain Heather Knight said, it was a spectacle.
Improved Indian batting
Earlier in the day, Indian opener Mandhana was in a similarly superb hitting zone. Carrying on her impressive form, she scored her second straight fifty in the series, in only 24 balls, even accelerating after reaching the figure, as she had said after the last match. Raj scored a fifty as well, at a strike rate of 123.
It was clear that India’s batting had put in a lot of hard yards to ensure they don’t repeat the same mistakes they did in the first match against Australia. The batting order was reshuffled quite a bit to keep the runs flowing with top-order bat Jemimah Rodrigues didn’t get a chance to bat as big-hitters Veda Krishnamurthy and Vastrakar were promoted. The running between the wickets was swifter and the dot balls fewer. All this despite India not starting well with only eight runs off the first two overs.
In a a bleak-looking result, the batting was the biggest positive for India.
Harmanpreet credited the improved show as well. “In the last game, when we got a good start, after that our lower order did not perform… Today we worked on that, when we lost Smriti and Mithali di’s wicket, we did not slow on the game, we kept hitting the ball and when we need boundaries we were getting that, and that is the reason we scored 198,” she said after the match.
Pressure on bowlers
But in the end it came down to the bowling. With Wyatt hitting in the zone, it would have been difficult for even the best bowling lineup in the worked to stop her, so the struggling Indian one was always going to find it difficult.
There was considerable reshuffle in that department as well, with Rumeli Dhar and Shikha Pandey missing out. But in tough conditions, against a rampaging batter, the bowlers struggled with no one standing out. Four of them – Anuja Patil, Pooja Vastrakar, Poonam Yadav and Harmanpreet Kaur – went for over 10 an over. While Jhulan Goswami was on target for most balls, the runs continuing to leak.
The captain was frank in her assessment that India will have to work a lot harder with the ball. “I know in the bowling department we are not improving, we need to improve and we will definitely improve,” she said.
With two losses in two games and a third match scheduled the very next day, it won’t get any easier for India. The onus will be on the Jhulan Goswami and the bowlers to shrug off the loss and prepare for Australia on Monday. It will be interesting to see what combination the think-tank fields, but given the wicket, pace might still be the key for Indian bowlers.