The comparisons were inevitable. On that famous day at the Lord’s, chasing 229 to lift the ICC Women’s World Cup, India needed 38 runs from 43 balls with six wickets still in hand. And from there, they panicked, made mistakes and ended up losing the match by nine runs.
Loose shots were played, misjudged runs were taken and just like that, a fairy-tale end to the tournament that was on offing turned out to be a bitter pill to swallow.
Fast forward eight months to Friday at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur, the similarities in the run-chase proved to be eerie. A well-set opener getting out with the team on the verge of a win, 42 runs were needed off 84 balls with six wickets in hand at one point. And once again, the lower-middle order panicked, played loose shots, ran misjudged runs. Shikha Pandey added to the comparison by getting run out just like she did on that July day at Lord’s. And suddenly, India were staring at another damaging defeat. The result, though, was reversed.
Of course, there is no comparison to the magnitude of the occasion. A World Cup final comes nowhere close to an ODI that is not even part of the ICC Women’s Championship fixtures. But a similar defeat on Friday, especially in home conditions against a weakened England side, would have seriously dented India’s confidence. It would have hurt the psyche of the side already in the middle of a poor run of results.
For that, the unbeaten 19-run partnership between Poonam Yadav and Ekta Bisht was a much needed band-aid. They kept their nerves when, ironically enough, the hero of that final Anya Shrubsole couldn’t. With 14 needed from 12 balls, Shrubsole bowled a no-ball that was misfielded at the square leg boundary. And suddenly the equation was 9 from 12 balls - India could win this without going for a big hit. An elegant straight drive from the No 11 batter Yadav reduced the equation to 2 off the last over. Captain Shrubsole was left covering her face with her cap - one that she wore for the 50th time for England in ODIs.
But how did it get there?
When Smriti Mandhana was batting, the run-chase felt like a formality. But if you have been following this Indian team closely enough, you know that her wicket these days inevitably triggers a collapse. It doesn’t matter what the scoreboard reads, you know at the back of your mind if you are the opposition that gets Mandhana out and this Indian batting lineup falls under pressure.
And fall under pressure, they did. Perhaps reading too much into the cushion between runs to score and balls remaining, subsequent batters started playing with a defensive mindset. Good length balls were dead-batted during the powerplay, full balls just outside the offstump were left alone and suddenly the difference shrank. The balls that Sushma Verma and Veda Krishnamurthy got to be dismissed were, in fact, good delivers from left arm spinner Sophie Eccelestone. But the fact that they batted themselves into a corner, without trying to rotate the strike meant the wicket-taking balls were adding infinitely more pressure on the subsequent batters.
The comparisons to the World Cup final soon began in earnest on social media and it was almost as if those vibrations reached the players. And this was not just a case of two random occurrences either, India’s middle and lower-batting batting has been a problem for a while now as was seen in South Africa and against Australia in the three-match ODI series earlier in this season.
Raj admitted that the match reminded her of the World Cup final. “At one point we needed 35 runs and that’s when Smriti got out,” the captain said after the match. “But what the tail did not manage to do in the World cup final, they did it today. We all know that we have the top order in place, but it’s an eyeopener to know that we have the lower-order and tail to get us through in matches like today.”
While Yadav and Bisht’s plucky little unbeaten stand at the end should help easing the pain of that World Cup final, the real headache for India is their increasing over-reliance on Mandhana. This nail-biting win should be a psychological boost, but as evidenced by the relief - and not overzealous celebrations - in the team’s camp at the end of the match, India got away with one in Nagpur. And going forward, the sooner they fix these familiar troubles, the better it is for the growth of this team.