For the second straight T20 World Cup, India stormed into the semi-finals beating powerhouse teams Australia and New Zealand in the group stages. Harmanpreet Kaur and Co beat the White Ferns by four runs to become this edition’s first semi-finalists, extending their unbeaten streak to three on Thursday.

But this time, the team’s run to the last fours feels slightly different.

In 2018, India’s win in the opener against New Zealand was headlined by a sensational Harmanpreet Kaur century. The win over eventual champions Australia was underpinned by Smriti Mandhana’s 86 and against a batting unit without a concussed Alyssa Healy.

Essentially, it took a special effort from the top two Indian players to get those big wins in the bag.

But in 2020, India’s run to the semi-finals has been on the back of a collective team effort, studded with few steady individual performances. And it is a compliment to how much India has improved that they managed to beat Australia and New Zealand without playing their best cricket.

Since their semi-final exit in 2018, India have established themselves as a much more dynamic team in the shortest format and it is a mark of a unit that is clicking together collectively when close wins are a complete team effort.

In the three matches at the World Cup so far, India have batted first and put up a target that can only be considered average from this batting unit – 132/4 against Australia, 142/6 against Bangladesh and 133/8 against New Zealand.

Yet, the Indian bowling has come out and defended the total with the workmanship of a well-oiled unit. A batting line-up like Australia was bowled out for 115 after a Poonam Yadav masterclass, Bangladesh was restricted to 124/8 and New Zealand held back to 130/6.

Not big wins, but mighty effective ones.

Stifling New Zealand

Against New Zealand, India were put in to bat first once again and for the second straight match, Harmanpreet Kaur said she would have preferred to bowl second anyway.

Yet, at the innings break, New Zealand seemed to have the upper hand restricting India to a below-par score after the teen star Shafali Verma’s 34-ball 46 and partnership with Taniya Bhatia (23 off 25) – a surprise pick at No 3 – had given India a solid foundation.

But a familiar collapse saw India lose seven wickets for 43 runs, including the big wickets of Jemimah Rodrigues, Harmanpreet Kaur and Verma.

It was an innings divided in two contrasting halves as India went from 75/2 after the first 10 overs to managing only 58 runs for the loss of six wickets in the last 10. It was a demoralising finish… but for the 9-ball 14 from Radha Yadav.

Also read: Women’s T20 World Cup points table after India’s win against New Zealand

To defend 132 on a pitch that wasn’t bad for batting required the Indian bowlers to be disciplined right from the start. The team management had done what many had hoped for and go on the attack with Radha Yadav coming in for seamer Arundhati Reddy and the move worked as each bowler got a wicket apiece.

A 12-run first over from Deepti Sharma notwithstanding, New Zealand was restricted to 30/2 in the powerplay with the top two T20I batters in the world – Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates – stifled for pace and time.

The variations that the spinners came up with didn’t let any partnership threaten, and despite a stunning late-attack from Amelia Kerr, who scored 18 in the penultimate over from Poonam Yadav, the White Ferns had too big a mountain to climb.

Making it count

It was a cluster of small contributions that built a big win.

A very heartening facet was how India won the small moments – Radha Yadav’s six in the final over to breach the psychological barrier of 130, Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s stops in the point region; Deepti Sharma split-second adjustment to castle Suzie Bates, who was shuffling across; an accurate yorker from Shikha Pandey in the nervy final over.

To win big matches and tournaments, teams often need such small moments which add up in the end. A scrappy, short innings from a Bhatia or a Veda Krishnamurthy can mean as much as a memorable big knock to the results column. A string of dot balls can cause almost as much damage as wickets.

And this is a lesson India are learning quickly and improving upon in the matches played so far. There have been plenty of moments which could have gone either way, but were captured by a dogged Indian team. That will give them a renewed sense of confidence heading into the final league match against Sri Lanka. Hopefully, as will knowing that they can only get better from here once the marquee names turn up, namely Harmanpreet and Mandhana at the top of the order. And their next match gives them a chance to do just that.

With three composed wins, India have already established themselves as favourites in the T20 World Cup. If they keep up this perseverance in the field and the batting order starts to fire in unison, India will become a truly complete – and fearsome – unit, the team to beat. Any semi-final opponent will be wary of them at this stage, a fear that can only give this ever-improving unit an added advantage.