A match where India scored the highest total of the T20 World Cup so far and remained unbeaten to enhance their semi-final chances was always going to go down as a good win. But what made it even better was that India scored 142 on a slow pitch in the absence of their top batter Smriti Mandhana with Shafali Verma standing out as the Player of the Match in the 18-run victory over Bangladesh.
Days after beating defending champions Australia, India faced qualifiers Bangladesh in a match not expected to veer from the script. While Bangladesh are the reigning Asian champions in the format – having sensationally beaten India twice at the 2018 Asia Cup T20 – the result, despite a few stutters, was rarely ever in doubt.
Verma starred with the bat while leg-spinner Poonam Yadav took her tournament wicket tally to seven as they defended 142 at the WACA in Perth.
The second match for Harmanpreet Kaur and Co highlighted the known strengths and shone a light on the familiar weaknesses, giving the team a chance to work on before the big-ticket clash against New Zealand.
India’s bowling continued to impress – with pacers Shikha Pandey and Arundhati Reddy also chipping in with two wickets each – but it was the batting that sparked discussion. Specifically, the batting of the two big-hitters in the Indian team. Shafali Verma and Veda Krishnamurthy’s blitzkrieg knocks at the bookended the Indian innings, showing the value of a superior strike rate in the format yet again.
Valiant Verma shines in Powerplay
While receiving her player of the match award on the podium, Verma had Veda Krishnamurthy as a translator. But when she was asked the first question, Verma started answering in hindi even before her teammate could translate the question for her. She smiled as the translation was cut short and went on to give a succinct answer about how she wanted to take more responsibility in the absence of Mandhana, who missed the match due to a viral illness.
The amusing little moment felt a lot like her batting at the top of the order: confident, decisive, effective, entertaining... and quick. As she did in the first match, the explosive 16-year-old laid a solid platform for India in the Powerplay. She hit a 17-ball 39, including four sixes, before she was dismissed in the sixth over while taking the aerial route again.
Her contribution helped India finish the Powerplay on a superb 54/2, and showed yet again why Verma is considered such a special talent. Her fearlessness is already talked about – taking on Megan Schutt constantly is just more proof – but her effortless big-hitting ability stands out even more.
The four sixes she hit were all clean strikes, freeing her arm to generate maximum power at the iconic WACA: a slap, a clip, a down-on-the-knee lofted shot, width punished. She had two cracking boundaries as well.
Even with her early dismissal, she made up for the loss of stand-in opener Taniya Bhatia early and didn’t let India miss Mandhana much.
After the match, Shikha Pandey explained how the teenager has been given free license to play her fearless brand of cricket. Even coach WV Raman, in an earlier, interview mentioned how she does not need to be told much: she sees the ball in her zone, she smashes it. All the support will only serve to further embolden the youngster.
After the match, Nasser Hussain said on air that the 30 from a player like that wins matches, a longer innings wins World Cups. Given how settled she is looking in her role, Verma’s good form will be an ominous sign for opponents.
Veda’s lower-order cameo
At the cost of sounding repetitive, the Indian middle and lower order has been the straw that breaks the team’s back far too often in the past. So when India lost the third wicket – an out-of-form Harmanpreet succumbing early again – in the tenth over, the team management would have looked at Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma repeating their gritty stand against Australia.
But both young batters were run out. Rodrigues, who contributed with a crucial 37-ball 34 herself, misjudged the position of the fielder and was caught short after rushing back to the striker’s end. Sharma, who had an ordinary outing with both bat and ball, was involved in a terrible mix-up with Veda as both batters ended up at the same end.
The WACA pitch has not been the easiest to bat on as we saw in the Australia versus Sri Lanka game earlier and the day and India seemed set for a low score after that blistering start. But Veda Krishnamurthy’s entry at No 7 in the 17th over changed that.
From 54/2 to 114/6 was a fallow period, and the onus was on the erratic hitter to turn up to give the Indian bowlers something to work with. And she did, playing the kind of knock all Indian fans have been waiting to see. The 18th over from Nahida Akter went for 15 runs with three fours, followed by 8 runs off Salma Khatun to ensure India breached the 140-run mark although only 4 scored in the last.
There were discussion on air that perhaps the decision to send rookie 16-year-old Richa Ghosh ahead of her spurred her or maybe it was the run-out gaffe or just that a knock like this was long overdue.
Either way, Veda finished with 20 runs off only 11 balls in a match won by 18 runs, fulfilling coach Raman’s prediction that 20 runs from the lower order will be the difference between a win and a loss.