In a group of five teams consisting of Australia and New Zealand — the top-two ranked sides in the world in the shortest format for women — Harmanpreet Kaur and Co were not the favourites, on paper, to progress to the semifinals.
But that’s the beauty of the format where the playing field is more level than it is in one-day internationals. One win for India against New Zealand, and they would now be kicking themselves if they don’t make it to the final four.
And after that near perfect beginning, the Indian women’s team will be overwhelming favourites against arch-rivals Pakistan in its second group league encounter of the ICC World T20 in Guyana on Sunday.
Ranked fifth in the world, India produced a power-packed performance in the opener against a formidable New Zealand side to win by 34 runs after skipper Harmanpreet Kaur’s stunning 51-ball 103.
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With momentum firmly on India’s side, Kaur’s side would like to set the record straight after losing to their arch-rivals in the 2016 edition at home.
However, since that loss in Delhi, India have played Pakistan thrice across two editions of Asia Cup, winning all the matches. In the 10 matches played between the two sides in the shortest format India have won 8 and lost twice. But the second of those losses would have hurt the most, coming in front of home fans at the Feroz Shah Kotla during a World T20.
That match can also serve as a reminder of how far the game has progressed.
India’s batting cut a sorry figure on the day in a slow and low pitch, barely able to string together partnerships. No one emphasised that struggle more than Mithali Raj, who made a 35-ball 16 after opening the batting. Having managed to score 96/7 in 20 overs thanks to Veda Krishnamurthy’s late cameo, India then went about putting Pakistan’s batting under pressure. The visitors obliged too, going from 48/1 to 77/6 before rain halted play.
And Pakistan won by two runs (Duckworth / Lewis) because the ground couldn’t be readied in time before the cut-off time — because there was a men’s match scheduled later on the same day.
Here we are, more than two years later, the women’s game is having a standalone event. And one where India are a young, energetic side, confident enough in their skills to play Mithali Raj in the middle order.
That Pakistan lost by a comprehensive 52-run margin to Australia in their tournament opener in Guyana will also give India an upper hand during Sunday’s encounter.
Pakistan employed a strategy similar to that of India’s by utilising just one front-line seamer and the rest of the bowling attack comprising of spinners. Not a single batter could cross the individual score of 30 with Bismah’s 26 being the top scorer. The bowlers were also off the mark during the first eight overs when Beth Mooney and Alyssa Healey took them to the cleaners with a 72-run stand.
Their batting let them down eventually, but they showed good character to restrict the mighty Australian batting lineup to just 165 after a blistering start. India, given their shaky batting effort before Kaur’s century, would do well to guard against Pakistan’s bowling prowess.
The other noteworthy aspect about India’s performance against ‘White Ferns’, on the other hand, was the mature effort of young Jemimah Rodrigues with the bat. With her skipper going for the jugular, 18-year-old Rodrigues showed a keen eye for the singles, giving the senior player the bulk of the strike. Yet, she managed to hit seven boundaries at a strike rate of 130 plus.
The Providence Stadium track proved to be helpful for the slow bowlers with India using as many as four of them in off-spinners Deepti Sharma and Dayalan Hemlatha, leg-spinner Poonam Yadav and left-arm orthodox Radha Yadav.
The spinners accounted for eight of the nine New Zealand wickets with lone seamer Arundhati Reddy picking the other
Against Pakistan, however, India might be tempted to use a second seamer in either Mansi Joshi or Pooja Vastrakar.
India might have begun in fine style in the Caribbean, but as Kaur was quick to point out after the match, this was just the beginning. Against Pakistan, nothing less than their A game would and should satisfy this hungry Indian outfit.
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (captain), Jemimah Rodrigues, Smriti Mandhana, Taniya Bhatia, Ekta Bisht, Dayalan Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, Veda Krishnamurthy, Anuja Patil, Poonam Yadav, Mithali Raj, Arundhati Reddy, Deepti Sharma, Pooja Vastrakar, Radha Yadav.
Pakistan: Javeria Khan (captain), Aiman Anwer, Aliya Riaz, Anam Amin, Ayesha Zafar, Bismah Maroof, Diana Baig, Muneeba Ali, Nahida Khan, Nashra Sandhu, Natalia Pervaiz, Nida Dar, Sana Mir, Sidra Nawaz, Umaima Sohail.
Match starts 8.30 PM IST.
(Clarification: The double-header in the 2016 edition on March 19 wasn’t at the same venue.)