Having produced their highest successful run-chase in the shortest format against the world No 1 side, a rejuvenated India will fancy their chances of claiming the T20 tri-series when they face Australia in the summit clash on Wednesday in Melbourne.
Make no mistake, Meg Lanning’s side will start the final as firm favourites because their pedigree in T20 internationals is unmatched around the world currently, but India have managed to push them close in both the matches the two teams have played so far. That should give Harmanpreet Kaur’s team the confidence to give the hosts a run for their money.
Going into their final league match, India had one clear area of weakness to work on: their batting. After failing to fire in unison in their first three league matches, India produced a good batting show to record a seven-wicket win over Australia on Saturday, which was enough for Kaur’s side to make their way into the final. England failed to overhaul the points tally or India’s run-rate as they slumped to a defeat against Australia in the final group match on Sunday.
Ahead of the final, India and Australia are on equal footing having won a match against each other in the double-legged league stages.
Batting fires for India
Opener Smriti Mandhana continued to be the batting bulwark along with Kaur, but the most heartening sight was that of 16-year-old Shafali Verma coming into her own in the last game against Australia.
The home side posted 173/5, courtesy of a 57-ball 93 from Ashleigh Gardner and Meg Lanning’s 22-ball 37, but India overhauled the target in 19.4 overs, largely due to opener Verma’s 49 off 28 balls and Mandhana’s 55 off 48 balls.
After two low scores, Verma gave India a flying start and her innings contained eight fours and a six: a superb six down the ground off world No 1 T20I bowler Megan Schutt. Her senior opening partner Mandhana, on the other hand, anchored the chase with a solid knock that comprised seven boundaries.
Jemimah Rodrigues also contributed with a quickfire 19-ball 30, which was studded with five hits to the fence, while Kaur chipped in with a run-a-ball 20 to help India chase down the target.
Bowlers in good form
The Indian bowlers have been doing well in this tournament with the likes Deepti Sharma and Rajeshwari Gayakwad producing consistent performances. In the penultimate league match against England, the Indian bowlers did well to not allow the opponents an easy win while defending a small total.
Australia got a boost after an easy win over England a day after losing to India. They have a strong batting line-up with opener Beth Mooney among runs and one-down Gardner in tremendous form.
Key players Lanning and Ellyse Perry have also been in good touch. The only struggling batter has been opener Alyssa Healy, but on her day she can win a match single-handedly. India, who have used spin early in the innings, will hope to keep Healy quiet again.
Gardner had top-scored against India in the second league match between the two sides, while Mooney played a big part in the win against England, which took the home side to the final.
There is no question that Australia start favourites in their own backyard but if India’s batting lineup fires as a unit once again, the bowling lineup has the quality to test Australia’s batting prowess.
The tournament is a preparatory event for the T20 World Cup beginning in Australia on February 21. On that day, these two sides will go at each other again with the stakes much higher. A win here can do both of them a world of good ahead of the tournament-opener.
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (capt), Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Veda Krishnamurthy, Taniya Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Radha Yadav, Richa Ghosh, Arundhati Reddy, Harleen Deol, Nuzhat Parween, Poonam Yadav
Australia: Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Ashleigh Gardner, Meg Lanning (capt), Ellyse Perry, Rachael Haynes, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham, Megan Schutt, Nicola Carey, Sophie Molineux, Erin Burns, Tayla Vlaeminck
Match starts at 8.10 am IST on Wednesday and will be telecast in India on the Sony network.
(With PTI inputs)