India have lost the last five Twenty20 Internationals they have played stretching from the World T20 semi-final in the Caribeean to New Zealand and, now, to the first of the home series against England.
This includes the off-field drama that started when T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur dropped ODI captain Mithali Raj in the WT20 semis that led to the controversial exchange of emails, followed by the sacking of Ramesh Powar as coach, appointment of WV Raman, the inclusion of Raj in the shortest format and now the absence of Harmanpreet due to the injury.
But on Monday, on the field in Guwahati, it was the same old story under new captain Smriti Mandhana as India went down by 41 runs. The batting collapsed once again, this time without a significant contribution from any particular player even as the bowling failed to come up with a Plan B.
Here are three things that we learned about the Indian performance from the match on Monday:
Familiar but different collapse
That India’s middle order is fragile is a fact as sure as England are ODI World champions – a trophy, incidentally, won after an infamous collpase from India. But the frailties that have often been hidden by the top-order, Mandhana in particular.
Beaumont’s half-century and a fiery 20-ball 40 from Heather Knight power England to 160/4 and India needed a big innings top of the order to start the chase, the kind that really only Mandhana could provide on current form.
She had a new opening partner today in the form of debutant Harleen Deol. But, as with the Priya Punia experiment in New Zealand, it didn’t work as India would have wanted, the Himachal Pradesh player was dismissed for 8.
The real blow came in the fourth over when the captain fell on 2 off 8 balls as Linsey Smith tempted her to go big and fall short of clearing the long on boundary. It was always going to be a challenge for India to chase a target as steep as 161 without the stability of Mandhana. But any hope of a resistance came to an end when Rodrigues was dismissed off the very next ball, caught behind, down the leg side.
Even with the relative experience of Mithali Raj and Veda Krishnamurthy, this was a tall ask. And when Raj and Veda fell in the ninth and tenth over, with a total of only 46, to scoreboard pressure as much as English bowling, it showed once again that with or without Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s middle order woes remain unchanged.
In India’s total of 119/6, the top-scorer and the only one to cross a strike rate of 100 was No 8 bat Shikha Pandey (23* off 21) while Deepti Sharma’s tally 22 matched by extras. That tells you all you need to know about the aspect Indian batting needs to work on despite having the ICC Player of the Year in their ranks.
No Bowling Plan B
Despite Jhulan Goswami having hung her T20I boot for almost a year, India are still struggling to fill her pace spearhead shoes. In that sense, Shikha Pandey’s return to form in the ODIs was a good sign, and she and Arundhati Reddy were to continue the two-pacer plan in Guwahati.
But, on Monday, neither pace nor India’s strength of spin worked as England began to pulverise the new ball. When the economical Pandey finally broke the dangerous opening stand between Danii Wyatt and Tammy Beaumont, it was the 12th over and already worth 89 runs.
Both Deepti Sharma and Radha Yadav were hit all over the park and while the senior Poonam Yadav stemmed the flow of runs, she could not get the wickets. As the boundaries came, the lines became erratic and the field placements desperate. While Pandey and Poonam gave away just 18 runs in their spells, the rest leaked runs and with no other bowling option or even a Plan B, it became the a run-fest.
The most telling moment of the match came in the 18th over when Reddy gave a single to Beaumont off the first ball which brought Knight on strike. And then came the storm as she smashed five consecutive boundaries.
After the match, Mandhana said she felt the team gave away 15 to 20 extra runs which proved to be decisive. All of those “extra” runs came in the Knight’s cameo which turned out to be the game changer. The England captain’s 20-ball 40 is precisely the kind of innings you see and wonder: can an Indian player other than Kaur or Mandhana produce such a contribution?
Without those 20 extra runs that the Indian captain spoke about, the target would have been a far less intimidating 140, would have meant the Indian didn’t have to attempt the risky shots and probably would have ended teh losing streak.