“Happy to qualify into the semis, but a lot of areas to improve. To win the World T20, we need to be aggressive in the field. And today, we didn’t bat according to our plans. Same with the bowlers, so need to improve in those areas. Against Australia, we need to be aggressive if we want to win,” said India captain Harmanpreet Kaur after the 52-run win over Ireland which sealed India’s semi-final spot.
The captain’s words were forthright and right – India have not played their best game so far, but have stormed into the semi-finals with good wins against Pakistan and Ireland, after a stunning display in the opening match against New Zealand.
Focusing on the positives, this is their first semi-final since 2010 – and after the poor finishes in the last three World T20s, this is a step forward. In fact, after the shock Asia Cup loss earlier this year, not many expected India to reach the semis in a group that had world No 1 and 3 Australia and New Zealand.
India are on a three-match winning streak in the World T20 – and a seven-match one in T20Is overall, for the first time – but as Captain Harmanpreet said, there is work still to be done. She may just be guarding against complacency, but it is also a sign of the potential this team possesses that leads people to believe that India is capable of far more convincing wins.
Unlike the White Ferns whose chances were all but done after playing their first two matches against India and Australia, India had the advantage of playing Pakistan and Ireland early, after trouncing New Zealand thanks to a Harmanpreet special.
But as the most challenging phase of the World T20 begins – the last group clash against three-times champions Australia and the semi-finals – India will look to up the ante and iron out all the chinks in their armour.
The keyword in the captain’s post-match was aggression. Aggression is Harmnpreet’s style with the bat, but it also something that India need more of on the field. To borrow the words from her male counterpart – India need more “intent” to overcome a team like Australia.
Intensity on field comes in many ways – the close in fielder saving a single and throwing the ball back right away, the bowler sending down all six deliveries to the stumps, the batter scampering to convert two runs into three, or the keeper whipping the bails off at every small chance. (Side note: Taniya Bhatia had an excellent outing with the gloves once again, playing a part in three of eight Ireland wickets.)
This is an intangible concept, but one that India will definitely have to show against Australia.
Another aspect is the bowling, spin bowling specifically given India’s preference of the 4-spinners-1-seamer combination. On Thursday, India brought in part-timers Harmanpreet and Jemimah Rodrigues when the regular spinners were not producing the desired result.
Harman bowled a gem of a spell – 4-0-10-1 – with a razor-sharp line and no wiggle room. This is what she wanted from her spinners and showed it by example.
Asked about the change, she said: “It’s a short format, so sometimes when your main bowler doesn’t bowl according to plan, so you need other bowlers to bowl. That’s why Jemmy and I bowled today.”
With someone like Poonam Yadav – the highest T20I wicket-taker in a calendar year – and Deepti Sharma in the mix with Radha Yadav and Dayalan Hemalatha, India has a pack of spinners who can get the wickets. But there is scope for more – variations, speed, flight, choking runs, and this was the captain referring to.
Another area of improvement would be the batting Powerplay, where runs need to be plundered. As a user on Twitter pointed out, Australia scored 73 in the Powerplay against Ireland. India made 42 with 26 runs in the last two overs.
In the first match, India had sent Bhatia to open and Hemalatha and No 4 to exploit the field restrictions. Given the Pakistan spinners and damp outfield because of the rain against Ireland, the combination was more traditional in the next two games with Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj, who scored two consecutive half-centuries.
But the game-changing factor here for India is the form of Smriti Mandhana, who is easily among the top T20I batters in the world. In her three innings so far, she has scored 2, 26 and 33 and has been dismissed without a significant contribution. In the first two innings, she fell in similar manner – a miscued pull that found the boundary runner. Against Ireland, she tried to accelerate and came down the track to heave but missed the ball completely, which clattered into the stumps.
The winner of the India-Australia clash will determine the Group B topper. But India will look at it from a must-win perspective nonetheless, to carry the winning momentum into the semis and beyond,
There is no reason why India can’t go all the way. Remember the 2017 50-over World Cup where India had their backs to the wall and had to beat New Zealand to reach the semis and Australia to reach the final?
This team is capable of big things and they clearly have the belief now.
A lot of things are going well for India and if not firm favourites, they have earned the right to be called genuine contenders for the title. And with a little more work, this T20 team could go where the ODI team couldn’t 15 months ago.