It was Deepti Sharma in the first match, and Poonam Yadav in the third as India marked the return of cricket to Surat after two washouts with another spin-to-win performance.
Unlike the first match, though, India’s batting also came to the party with Shafali Verma scoring an entertaining 46, followed by useful cameos from the middle order. The result, of that and some uncharacteristically poor fielding by South Africa, was an above-par score for India (140/4) in a match which was reduced to 17 overs due to some work needed on the outfield.
And then the spinners came to the fore. Poonam Yadav claimed three wickets as India registered a convincing 51-run win over South Africa in the third women’s T20I to take a 2-0 lead in the five-match series in Surat on Tuesday.
The 15-year-old Verma, who was dismissed for a four-ball duck on her debut in the opening match, laid the foundation for a good total with a chance-filled 33-ball 46, while Jemimah Rodrigues (33) provided the finishing touches, scoring a 22-ball 33.
Skipper Harmanpreet Kaur (16) and Deepti Sharma (20 not out) also came up with useful contributions as India posted what would turn out to be more than a competitive total.
In reply, South Africa could only stumble their way to 89/7. Chasing 141 to win, South Africa lost opener Lizelle Lee (9) early with Pooja Vastrakar producing a direct hit from an overthrow: that moment was significant in the context of the match. When South Africa kept fluffing chances that came their way, letting India off on at least eight occasions, the hosts pounced on the first chance that came their way with a sharp piece of fielding.
And the fact that it was Lee’s wicket was all the more crucial because if South Africa had any chance of overcoming India’s total, Lee had to play a crucial role.
Laura Wolvaardt (23) then added 39 runs with Tazmin Brits (20) before the former was dismissed by left-arm spinner Radha Yadav (2/16) in the 8th over.
Poonam (3/13) then weaved her magic, striking twice in two balls to leave South Africa struggling at 65 for four in 10.5 overs.
The 28-year-old leg-spinner first dismissed Nadine de Klerk (9), who tried to go aerial only to find Shafali Verma at covers, and then removed the dangerous Mignon du Preez (0), who was caught at long-on by Veda Krishnamurthy. Skipper Sune Luus then became Poonam’s third victim. She was stumped by Taniya Bhatia and the game was as good as over by then.
Opener Brits hung around for a while but Deepti Sharma cleaned her up to reduce the visitors to 74/6. Lara Goodall (8) and Ayabonga Khaka (1) then tried their hands in vain.
“We had planned well for the South African batters - I knew where to bowl to each one,” Poonam said after the match. “I always make sure to bowl according do the needs of the team.”
Even on a pitch that was not as spinner-friendly as the one in the first T20I, Poonam’s flight and guile proved too big a hurdle for the inexperienced South African batting line-up.
A bizarre first innings
But on another day, India would have suffered a top-order collapse and barely made it to a good total.
Shafali, playing only the second T20I of her career, blasted a 33-ball 46 studded with five hits to the fence and two sixes to give India a flying start after the hosts were asked to take first strike. Shafali and Smriti Mandhana (13) added 52 runs off 42 balls for the opening wicket before seamer Nadine de Klerk (2/24) produced the first breakthrough in the 7th over.
On paper, it was a first fifty-run opening stand in 10 T20Is for India. But what that does not tell you is that there were four dropped catches and a couple of half-chances missed during that partnership.
De Klerk had Mandhana caught at point by Du Preez. Shafali was then cleaned up by Tumi Sekhukhune (1/22) when she went for a big shot over cover only to see the ball get a thick inside edge and disturb the stumps.
Harmanpreet and Rodrigues then added 24 runs before the former holed out to long-on in the 11th over off de Klerk as India slipped to 89/3.
Rodrigues and Deepti then took India across the 100-mark. The duo shared a 40-run partnership before the former was bowled by Khaka (1/33) in the 16th over.
It is not often that a T20I is decided by arguably the least discussed aspects of the game: fielding. But if you listened to the captains after the match, that was the topic that dominated the interviews.
“Bowlers created the opportunities, but the fielders did not back them up today,” South Africa captain Sune Luus rued. “We have set high standards and that was not up to the mark, we’ll go back and train more under floodlights.”
On her part, the luck factor was not lost on Harmanpreet Kaur too, as she said the batting had to improve a lot.
“We were lucky definitely in the first innings. Because of those chances dropped we didn’t lose a wicket in the powerplay and we made the most out of our luck. We were able to set a decent total. Shafali played her natural game, she should continue to do so,” the Indian captain said after the match.
The two teams will now face off in the fifth T20I on Friday.
(Note: This article had initially stated that India has won the series. But that has been corrected since an extra match has been added to the series.)
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