After India had lost the first match of the women’s tri-series in Mumbai, Smriti Mandhana had admitted that the team was not learning from their mistakes in the ODI series against Australia, pointing out to her own inability to consolidate after a great start.
After India lost their second match to England after a strong batting performance, captain Harmanpreet Kaur had said that the team were not improving in the bowling department and that was something the team needed to work on.
After India’s third loss, to Australia again, the captain was brutally honest in her assessment that the team’s fitness standards were just not up to the mark.
In India’s fourth – and last after going out of final contention – the team finally clicked together in all the above mentioned areas and claimed their first win of the home season after six matches. Relentless onslaught from the spinners coupled with yet another quick-fire fifty from Smriti Mandhana gave India a comfortable eight-wicket win over England, after bowling them out for a measly 107.
So what changed?
In simple words, almost everything. India’s approach and execution on field was much more assertive and effective on Thursday.
The batting hasn’t been all that bad in the last week, and it was Mandhana making merry on the quick Brabourne outfield once again. But what gave her the liberty to swing fearlessly was the solid bowling performance from India. Of course, the two straightforward wickets (of Mithali Raj and Jemimah Rodrigues) and plethora of dot balls in an easy chase are concerning. But overall, it was the improvement in bowling and fielding that turned the tide.
England was playing their second straight match in as many days and had a point to from after being dismissed by Australia for 96 on Tuesday. Heather Knight won the toss and chose to bat first to ensure they are in much better frame before the final on Saturday.
For the first seven overs, the score looked much like the last match between them with Danielle Wyatt still going strong.
But once her wicket, the downslides began with India sensing the moment and going for the kill. The wicket also fell thanks to consistent line and sharp reflexes of Deepti Sharma who held on for a superb return catch.
Wyatt’s dismissal came at 59/2 after 6.5 overs, the last wicket fell at 107 in 18.5 overs. England lost nine wickets in 12 overs for just 48 runs.
Unlike the last few games where India failed to press advantage after getting a breakthrough, on Thursday they pushed forward and didn’t let the batters settle down.
For the first two matches, India went with a spinner less with three pacers in the first match against Australia. This was done in a bid to stop Aussies attacking them like in the ODIs, but in the end it was the four-pronged spin attack that derailed England – Player of the Match Anuja Patil, Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav and Radha Yadav shared nine wickets between.
All four of them maintained tight lines and kept mixing up things to fox the batters. Poonam’s googly to Alice Davidson-Richards or Sharma’s change in pace against Fran Wilson or the superb catching and close fleidng all pointed to a shift in the Indian camp.
Against the same attack four days back, England had chased down 199 with both Patil and Poonam being carted around. But the evident shift in both planning for batters and energy on field ensured that India were in the driver’s seat after being asked to field.
Wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia was central to three dismissals to, with two catches and a stumping. The combined effort of Bhatia and Patil to dismiss the dangerous Nat Sciver was among the highlights of India’s clinical performance – anticipating a reverse sweep, Patil kept it fuller and the keeper stayed low to pouch it safely. It is instances like these that showcase the intent of the team and the desire to win.
But the moment of match was undoubtedly Harmapreet’s stunning catch to dismiss Danielle Hazell. It was the 17th over and eight wickets to fall, ye the captain charged for it like it was the trophy. She ran a good distance and dived full-length to hold on to a one-handed catch by the tips of her fingers. After calling out India’s poor efforts in the field, this was the captain leading from the front, showing that despite being a dead rubber, this match was important.
And it indeed is, with the ODI series against England next week to cap India’s relatively packed home season. So far, the team has had a forgettable season losing the three ODIs and three T20Is before this win. But with the barrier finally being breached – in the win column and in their minds – there is a good chance that the team will turn a leaf and put up a strong performance in Nagpur.
The England series is not part of the ICC Women’s Championship, so it won’t be a matter of points for India. But the three-match series between the two World Cup finalists now promises to be an even contest, making it an exciting clash.