“I think we should give credit to our bowlers, it wasn’t a good total but still they fought for us. We were 20 runs short. We just need to learn from our mistakes and play better.”
Captain Harmanpreet Kaur’s assessment of India’s loss was simple. The bowlers made a match out of it while the batters, for the teams’s third T20I in a row (going back to the World T20), made a mess of things.
While both departments learnt from their mistakes in the last match to an extent, it wasn’t enough as New Zealand scampered to a four-wicket, series-clinching win off the last ball.
But even in defeat, India can take one big positive from Auckland: Jemimah Rodrigues.
Bowlers put up a fight
The second T20I was a match bookended by two thrilling phases of cricket.
The first, when Rodrigues and Smriti Mandhana picked up where they left off in the last match putting together 63 runs in just over seven overs with their clean strokeplay.
The second, when Indian bowlers gave the team a fresh lease of life in the last four overs, when it looked like the White Ferns were cruising, with 18 off 17 needed and Suzie Bates still batting. Then three wickets fell in the space of 13 balls and suddenly they needed nine of the last over.
For a team that has struggled to defend much bigger targets, this performance spearheaded by two pacers was crucial. The last over was a spectacle in itself: boundary off the first ball, wicket off the second, scampering between wickets, overthrows and a missed direct hit before the White Ferns won.
The lessons for India need to be a consistent threat are all in those six balls – sharper fielding, more tactical bowling variations and having more runs on the board.
Rodrigues stands out
But amidst all the chaos of the match, one player stood out tall for India – 18-year-old Rordrigues. In her career-best knock, was a blueprint of how India needs to approach and build towards the next ICC event – 2020’s T20 World Cup.
Yes, India lost because of the batting unit again but her 72 off 53 (six fours and a six) – the highest score T20I score by a woman in New Zealand – showed why she is a key player. The Indian team management has made it clear that they are building a team for the next T20 World Cup. The overwhelming presence of youngsters in the team shows that they are backing the future, even if they take some time to transition from domestic to international level.
An important aspect of this has been the once controversial, now accepted exclusion of Mithali Raj from the playing XI. Her absence has been glaring in the last two matches as India crumbled after good starts. The batting order is understandably weak without her but as skipper Harmanpreet said after the last match, this is the time to give chances to as many players as possible.
In such a scenario, Rodrigues offers the most stable and dependable solution to Indian batting woes in the shortest format. Already a talented prodigy and among the more technically sound players in the team, she has the potential to be the missing link in this Indian batting order – the foundation that connects Mandhana’s top-order heroics to the middle-order that lacks depth.
Still in her first year of international cricket, the teenager has evolved into one of the best batters in the country. In the last year, she has scored 572 runs in the shortest format, the most by any woman before turning 19. She has batted in various positions and adapted accordingly, playing with both the fire of Harmanpreet Kaur, the ice of Mithali Raj, a combination of ice and fire from Mandhana and the sometimes lukewarm manner of the rest of the team.
But the most telling number about her impact is her five half-centuries in T20Is. Only Raj (17) and Mandhana and Harmanpreet (7 each) are ahead of her among Indians. But she has played only 21 matches compared to the 95 and 54 of her senior teammates. Just going by this, her scoring rate is terrific.
Her five fifty-pus scores have come against Australia (Mumbai), Sri Lanka (twice, Colombo), New Zealand (WT20 in West Indies). Of these, the first came 50 came in a losing chase where she was the only resistance in a total of 150/5, the next two came against admittedly less lethal opponents while the fourth was secondary to Harmanpreet’s smashing her T20I ton.
But Friday’s performance came in an innings where she dictated the pace and single-handedly took India to a respectable total with maturity.
At Wellington, she played a poor short soon after Mandhana’s dismissal ended their stunning 98-run stand triggering the collapse. In this match, Rodrigues was on 31 when Mandhana fell but went on to bat till the penultimate over, even as Harmanpreet and Deepti Sharma fell cheaply at the other end.
In her clever negotiating of the bowlers, she showed just how a quick learner and intelligent cricketer she is. Her knock finally came to an end as she attempted to accelerate, being stumped after smashing fellow teen star Amelia Kerr for three boundaries on the trot.
The 18-year-old seems to be more or less cemented at No 3, suggesting that the think tank has the faith in her ability in tricky spot. In a batting order that is over-reliant on Mandhana at the top and Harmanpreet later on, Rodrigues can provide the balance India desperately need.