It was the 17th over, Australia were six wickets down and needed an improbable 65 runs to win from 18 balls. Alyssa Healy – the tournament’s highest run-getter – was not going to bat because of a mild concussion suffered earlier during the match.
Yet, when Delissa Kimmince got a top-edge that sent the ball high up in the air, bowler Radha Yadav ran almost till mid-off and dived full length to complete a superb catch – not your ordinary caught-and-bowled. The teenager let out a roar after taking it; clearly, she was pumped.
After the last match, with India already in the semi-finals, captain Harmanpreet Kaur had called for aggression to beat Australia in a clash that would decide the table toppers. Radha’s stunner embodied this aggression and intent as a young and fired-up Indian team rose to the occasion.
Smiriti Mandhana scored a fluent half-century and spinners showed their teeth as India beat the three-time champions and one of the most dangerous T20 teams by a massive 48 runs to remain unbeaten at the ICC Women’s World T20.
This was only the second time Southern Stars have lost a T20I match in 2018, having played 15. India finished unbeaten and topped a group that had world No 1 Australia and world No 3 New Zealand.
While Australia were without the services of the tournament’s biggest star and the Player of the Match in all their three games prior to Saturday, they are still among the strongest teams in the competition. They held a head-to-head lead of 11-3 against India and had never lost in the ICC World T20.
So, ending Australia’s 12-match unbeaten streak in 2018 will not only give India a massive boost heading into the semi-finals, but it will also go down as one of their best matches in this format.
Ticked all boxes
Big knock at the top – check
Short but swift batting support – check
Spin choking from both ends – check
Fielders saving runs – check
Taking all the catches – check
Successful DRS review – check
Captain Harmanpreet smiling at the post-match chat – check
Against the toughest of opponents, India played their best, most cohesive, match in the Caribbean so far, ticking all the boxes that they needed to after three wins.
Even before it began, India were dealt a blow when Pooja Vastrakar, the team’s lead pacer and handy all-rounder, was ruled out of the tournament. India brought in Arundhati Reddy in place of Mansi Joshi and rested Mithali Raj, who was said to be unwell.
After winning the toss, Mandhana and Taniya Bhatia came out to open against the fiery pace of Tayla Vlaeminck, who was making her debut. Bhatia then fell to spin of Ash Gardner in the second over after a risky shot. India were 5/1 after two overs.
But that’s when the version of Smriti Mandhana that everyone wanted to see came out to the bat. She scored 83 – her first T20I half-century in 14 innings and India’s highest score against the Aussies in a World T20, men’s or women’s. Her array of dazzling boundaries – picture-perfect fours and clean sixes – and partnership of 68 with Harmanpreet (43 off 27) laid the foundation for India’s highest women’s T20I total vs Australia. It was textbook T20I batting and a template India will look to follow in the knockouts.
Off Vlaeminck, she cracked a gorgeous boundary through the off-side. Megan Schutt, the world’s No 1 T20I bowler, was similarly thwacked in the next over. And just like that, the shackles were off. Following three early dismissals after getting a start, Mandhana found her groove in her stylish southpaw manner. The next two overs went for 13 runs each as India finished the Powerplay on 46/1.
By comparison, Australia’s 39/2 was their lowest Powerplay total of the tournament, and the first time in five innings where they lost more than one wicket in the first six overs. This had to do both with the absence of Healy and the presence of Indian spinners, who tied down the scoring rate and made regular inroads against an already depleted side.
Everyone came to the party with all four Indian frontline spinners getting multiple wickets. Deepti Sharma started the slide in the fifth over when she got both openers off consecutive balls. Even Meg Lanning, the best player of spin in the team, fell to a poor sweep and scoreboard pressure. By the time Gardner fell in the 10th over, the asking rate was already too high even for Ellyse Perry, who became the first Australian to play 100 T20Is.
A word on the fielding, though. After ordinary efforts through the group stage and downright sloppiness against Pakistan, India were a different unit on Saturday. Veda Krishnamurthy took four catches in the deep, running all over (She also added about 20 runs when she urged Mandhana to review her LBW dismissal). Bhatia was, as always, electric with the gloves. This was a personification of aggression, what the captain said she wanted more of. This was hunger to win, and against the best team in the world.
Sure enough, Harmanpreet cracked a smile at the presentation, talking about how proud she was of her team. She should be, as India passed their most challenging test so far with flying colours. Now for the semi-finals, where the team will be high on momentum and confidence, backing themselves to reach their first World T20 final.