India kick-started the first-ever standalone ICC Women’s World T20 in the best possible manner. India’s 34-run win over New Zealand was a glowing advertisement for women’s cricket, apart from being a dream start for the 2017 World Cup runners-up.
The match had it all, the highlight being the 134-run stand between Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues and arecord-breaking century from the captain. Her 51-ball 103 will go down one of the best knocks an Indian has played at an ICC event.
Such was the luminescence of the captain Kaur’s firecracker of a hundred, it cast a glow over every other aspect of the match. But Kaur, who underplayed the result in the post-match chat, was right to keep the captain’s hat on because there is always room for improvement as India bid to win their first ICC silverware.
Here are three key takeaways from India’s win in a virtual quarter-final over White Ferns.
In both limited overs formats, India has often been guilty of over reliance on the top order, with likes of Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, and Harmanpareet expected to do the heavy-lifting.
But on Friday, India went in with a plan to field pinch-hitters in the Powerplay. In the warm-up match against England and West Indies, Raj and Mandhana had opened. Against Australia A in Mumbai, Rodrigues got a chance. Harmanpreet, in the other hand, was more of a floater.
But in the first World T20 match, Mandhana opened with wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia to the surprise of many. At No 3, as expected, came in Jemimah Rodrigues, but the big surprise was debutant Dayalan Hemalatha coming in at No 4. This meant Harman was No 5 while Raj was pushed even lower down.
This was a conscious gamble, to give the aggressive Bhatia and Hemalatha the licence to hit and then, if needed, there is stability in the middle order. The plan goes in with the flexibility in batting order the captain had mentioned going to the West Indies – no one’s batting or bowling position should be considered fixed, everyone should be prepared to play anywhere.
Kaur also mentioned that Raj’s recent run of form had a bit of a role to play in keeping her lower down. “Mithali didn’t get lot of runs in the first six overs and she agreed to play down,” she said after the match.
What this means is that India are not only batting deep and have options in the middle order, there is a more coherent batting plan in play. Everyone knows that whether at No 3 or No 5, Kaur is capable of doing damage once she settles in. But on the flip side, it also means that Raj, who more often than not needs a few balls to settle in, might have to accelerate a lot quicker.
The jury is still out on whether the tactical tweak actually worked (given Kaur’s once-in-a-blue-moon knock) but it shows the team is walking the talk when it comes to being flexible.
Jemimah Rodrigues, the link
While Harmanpreet was undoubtedly the star of the show, 18-year-old Rodrigues was the perfect supporting cast and her contribution was crucial to India’s win.
Batting at No 3, she plays an important role for India – the link between the big hitting and stability. As a batter, she can do both pinch hit and drop anchor, as and when the team needs it. And coming in at one down, her job will be to flit between these two during the same match, depending on her partner and the situation.
Against New Zealand, after a nervy start, she started by playing smart, punishing only the bad balls. But once she and Kaur were well set, the teen started going for her shots as well. They may have been overshadowed in her captain’s brilliance, but the technically sound teenager shaped up to hit some classic, textbook boundaries.
Rotating strike is a key strength of Rodrigues and that was at the forefront of India’s recovery from 40/3. As the commentators observed, Rodrigues displayed maturity beyond her experience at the international level.
It is an established fact that spin is India’s weapon this World T20. In the first match, India went in with four spinners and just the one pacer, Arundathi Reddy. With an injury to Pooja Vastrakar and a reluctance to play Mansi Joshi, it was Reddy who got the nod. Her bowling wasn’t poor — in fact she got the biggest breakthrough, dismissing Suzie Bates — but she wasn’t threatening either.
It was India’s multi-pronged spin attack that left a little something to be desired. With 194 on the board, a few extra runs here and there won’t really matter as long as the wickets were coming, which they were.
But what happens when there is no scoreboard pressure?
Radha Yadav, Poonam Yadav, Hemalatha were all among the wickets, but except the 2-wicket 10th over from Poonam, the spinners were largely one-dimensional. And spin bowling is all about the dimensions and variations you can create.
The best instance was Poonam, the leading T20I bowler in 2018, tossing it up with an off-side heavy field allowing Bates to move across and sweep into vacant leg side region on more than one occasion.
India’s plan, as it mostly is, was to slow the pace and make the batter generate power, thereby making errors. But it did also give the batter a lot of time to play their shots and better players of spin will be able to exploit this chink.
Against more attacking teams, especially bowling first or defending a low total, India will need more astute handling of their spin artillery. The team, of course, has many options here with Ekta Bisht and Anuja Patil in the wings. New coach Ramesh Powar is also a spin expert and there is every reason to believe that they will have a Plan B when needed.
For now, a job well begun is half done, after all.