With Danielle Wyatt and Mithali Raj batting and two runs needed to win their opening match of the Women’s T20 Challenge, Velocity were set for an early finish in the 17th over.
But then something strange happened.
Five wickets fell in seven balls. From a position of ease at 111/2 to nerves at 111/7, it was an extraordinary scene. The batters who collapsed were all experienced internationals.
Deepti Sharma, who had infused some life in the Trailblazers’ innings with the bat, almost did it with the ball with three batters bowled in her one over. But then came uncapped Sushree Pradhan and steered the team to a three-wicket win.
The result may have been inevitable for most part of the second innings – despite the brief drama – but there would have been a collective sigh of regret in the Trailblazers camp after they saw Velocity fumble in the straightforward chase of 113.
The weighing-down feeling of “What if”.
What if they had scored a few runs more? What if they had held on to even one of the five to six dropped catches? What if they had saved some of the boundaries? What if Smriti Mandhana hadn’t fallen early?
But as it stands, Trailblazers could not cross the line as they had narrowly done in the last game with a two-run win over Supernovas.
Trailblazers let down by own errors
Both matches that Mandhana and Co have played so far should not have gone down to the wire in the first place.
In the last match, Harmanpreet Kaur almost pulled off a miracle with 19 needed to win in the last over. But had the Trailblazers held on to their chances in the field, she would not have been in the position.
This match should not have been a nail-biting game with a target of 112 and the hundred coming up in 14th over. But even as Velocity stuttered, Trailblazers own inadequacies came to the fore.
In the last match, there was chatter about how fielding under lights may have hampered the players. But played in broad daylight, the second match saw simple spills as well.
Sophie Ecclestone, who has been brilliant with the ball, had a horrid day in the field. Wicketkeeper R Kalapna missed chances, Smriti Mandhana fluffed a shot, even Suzie Bates faltered at the boundary while trying to stem runs. Admittedly, some of them were difficult chances but in the T20 format, the adage of catches win matches applies more than ever. And if Star had enough footage to run a segment called “dropped catches”, then there is some serious work needed.
Incidentally, India’s fielding coach Biju George is at the helm and will have to ensure that his side is more alert on the field if they reach the final.
Harleen Deol stands out
But even in the loss, there were positives to take for Trailblazers and Indian cricket in general. The biggest of them is called Harleen Deol, who can well be the poster child for why the Women’s IPL is needed.
The 20-year-old batting all-rounder made her India debut earlier this year and has not exactly set the stage on fire. But anyone who has watched her knows why she is part of the Indian scheme for the 2020 T20 World Cup.
On a Jaipur pitch that is on the slower side, she has shown her depth and smarts in both matches.
Against Supernovas, she made 36 off 44 and was dismissed in the 19th over after coming in the second over. But what stood out was her a partnership with a fluent Mandhana. As her captain scored 90 runs, she built a solid partnership of 119 runs from 101 balls. Then, her role was of the supporting foil and she played the part perfectly.
But with Mandhana out early against Velocity, her role changed.
Even with the experienced Suzie Bates and Stefanie Taylor at the other end, the youngster took initiative. While the New Zealand opener went for her shots, Deol tried to play smart and keep the scoreboard ticking. Her 43 off 40 was built on patient maneuvering of strike, piking the right balls and keeping her head. She finally fell in the 18th over as she attempted to go for a big one, but her team crossed the hundred run-mark thanks to her composed batting.
While bowling, her figures read 3-0-19-1 but even that is lopsided because her last over went for 12. In the first match, she bowled just the one over and conceded 10 runs, but took a lot more responsibility this time.
“We are 10 to 15 runs short but low-scoring matches are always fun,” she had said after the first innings. Her assessment was as on-point as her performance.
Shafali Verma, the teen sensation
The end of the Velocity’s innings was mired in disbelief after the mini-collapse. But the start of their chase was similarly stunning as Shafali Verma, all of 15, batted as if the pitch wasn’t slow and she wasn’t an uncapped teen on the big stage.
The kind of positive intent the 15-year-old showed paid off the faith of the team management who asked her to open with Hayley Matthews ahead of Danielle Wyatt and Mithali Raj.
Her 34 off 31 (5x4, 1x6) was a breath of fresh air as she showed no signs of being overawed by the stage. She smashed Shakera Selman and Rajeshwari Gayakwad for boundaries even as her opening partner was dismissed for 5 off 14 balls.
Some cricket fans will be familiar with her name; she had scored 128 off 56 for Haryana against Nagaland in February, which is the third highest score in women’s T20 cricket.
But if you hadn’t heard of her then, you are unlikely to forget her name after her brief but uplifting knock. This is the kind of talent Indian cricket has, waiting for a platform like this to make it count.