Women's Cricket

Women’s Asia Cup: Bangladesh arrive on the big stage in style as India’s experiments backfire

Harmanpreet Kaur’s side’s brittle lower middle-order was once again left exposed as the skipper waged a lone battle.

Thirty-four wins and a rain-affected match that went in their favour, spanning 14 years and six tournaments: India’s dominance at the Women’s Asia Cup was almost unparalleled. The women in blue flannels had made winning a mockery, almost functional and bordering on merely turning up to the ground as they swept the first five tournaments.

That was before Bangladesh decided to end their hegemony on Wednesday. The odds, of course, was stacked against them. Salma Khatun’s side were chasing a daunting 142 to win – a target they strolled towards in the final over of the match. It was Bangladesh’s first win over India in any format. This win overshadowed an equally impressive but important win against another continental giant, Pakistan.

Lightening surely can’t strike twice, can it? Bangladesh did the unthinkable on Sunday. The well-drilled bowling unit restricted the Indian batters, carefully trundled towards the target before scurrying past the finish line in the last delivery of the game.

Hordes of Bangladeshi supporters that had turned up in Kuala Lumpur made a 1970s-style dash onto the field after the victory. Elsewhere, men’s team opener Tamim Iqbal’s social media account was buzzing with his teammates celebrating the thrilling last-ball finish in wild fashion. Bangladeshi women had arrived on the big stage and they did it with a trophy – something that their male counterparts – a Test side, are yet to achieve.

This win was nothing short of monumental. A rag-tag fearless young group butted heads with the top brass, and emerged victorious. This was not England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or India – the unofficial top five. After the World Cup qualifiers early last year, Bangladesh barely played any international cricket of note, something that may have impeded their growth. To pull an upset win twice against an all-conquering team? You must be joking.

“We are No 9 on the ICC rankings, so unlike our men’s side, our playing opportunities are limited and that has stunted our growth to a great extent,” Rumana Ahmed, one of the mainstays of the side, told ESPNCricinfo after being selected to train in the Women’s Big Bash League.

Even Dhaka, the capital city, has very few academies that train women. Their win even had an Indian touch with former player Anju Jain masterminding it from the sidelines. Jain, to her credit, had taken over as coach only weeks ago. Her first task? Instilling self-belief and telling her wards that they belong at the big stage.

“We had a chat with the girls prior to the India game, specifically cautioning them against being fazed by the big names in the opposition,” Jain had told The Field after their shock win in the group stages.

In the final, Jain’s team showed more application, hunger, and nerves than their seasoned opponents. It was only sweeter that the game had a nail-biting finish. A new order is certainly in place, after they were given little hope, especially after crashing to a heavy defeat against Sri Lanka in their group stage opener.

India’s weak lower core exposed

Bangladesh certainly got their hard-earned win but the two incoherent performances by India in this tournament will certainly come under the scanner. Unlike the women in green, the Indians have been playing regular cricket over the last few months, facing opponents as formidable as South Africa, England and Australia.

Worryingly, veteran Jhulan Goswami hardly posed a threat to the Bangladeshi batters. Nigar Sultana had the most telling say in the chase when she smashed three boundaries off Women’s One-Day International cricket’s highest wicket-taker.

Some of the experiments at the top of the batting order were puzzling to say the least, especially with the World T20 around the corner. A promising youngster such as Jemimah Rodrigues was largely used as a substitute fielder despite being hailed as a future star. The Mumbai girl has put up impressive displays against some of the top dogs.

The often-discussed lower-order woes also popped up in the final. The spinners – with Poonam Yadav being the standout – once again performed with distinction, but it was Bangladesh’s collective effort that emerged as a bigger talking point.

Nahida Akter for instance, despite her tender age and being asked to face stalwarts such as Mithali Raj and Smriti Mandhana, gave almost nothing away. India on the other hand, threw the game away in the space of 10 balls.

Just after the Powerplay, Mithali, Deepti Sharma and Anuja Patil exited. Bangladesh had exposed India’s brittle lower core. Harmanpreet and Co still have a lot to ponder ahead of the big event in the Caribbean. Maintaining stability would be a start.

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