India and England have played each other five times before in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, including the semi-final of the last edition, and it is England who have won all the matches.
The record clearly is in the favour of Heather Knight’s team heading into the first semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday. But this time, they will be up against an Indian side who have been the best team of the tournament so far with an unbeaten run in the group stages.
If Harmanpreet Kaur and Co are to reverse their slide against bogey team England and reach their first-ever final at the T20 World Cup, there is no better time than now.
However, seven members of this Indian team will find this situation too familiar. In 2018, India were in a very similar position having finished unbeaten in a group with Australia and New Zealand ahead of the semi-final against England.
That match turned out to be one of the worst in recent Indian history, both in terms of result and consequences.
The last time, the two teams met in a T20 World Cup, England won by eight wickets after India were bowled out for 112 in West Indies. Mithali Raj was not included in the Playing XI, which started a bitter war of words and ultimately led to her retirement from the format.
“After losing the last semi-final, as a team we realised we have to work as a unit, and right now you will see that our team is working as a unit and we are not reliant on just one or two players,” India captain Harmanpreet Kaur said.
And this is a new-look, new-approach India and in a way, Raj’s retirement paved the way for it as the then 15-year-old Shafali Verma was picked. The India opener now leads the batting charge and run charts for India and has been one of the main reasons for the team’s red-hot form. A day before the semis, she also became the world No 1 in the format.
With a batting average of 40.25, the 16-year-old is on the third spot among leading run-getters in the tournament. But ahead of her are England’s Natalie Sciver (202) and Heather Knight (193), an indication of how consistent the ODI world champions have been since the shock opening loss to South Africa.
On the other hand, India are on a four-match winning streak, starting with a win over defending champions Australia and beating Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka to top group A with eight points from four matches. They have looked the most consistent side in the tournament and will look for a fifth straight win – their most ever at the tournament.
But England have won 13 of their last 15 women’s T20Is overall against India and have defeated them a total of 15 times from 19 attempts in the format. After their first loss, they have picked up steam with Sciver and Knight supporting the batting while Anya Shrubsole and the spin triumvirate of Sophie Ecclestone – the world No 1 bowler – Sarah Glenn and Mady Villiers leading a lethal bowling unit.
The bowling might of the former champions might actually be the biggest threat for India, given their misfiring batting order. Ecclestone (8 wickets) and pacer Shrubsole (7 wickets) are at second and third spot respectively in the tournament charts.
On one hand, it is a sign of the team’s overall improvement that India are winning without the big guns firing. But on the other, it is a big weakness that England would have taken note of.
Apart from Verma at the top of the order, No 3 bat Jemimah Rodrigues has made some useful contributions though she has not scored big so far while a few others such as Veda Krishnamurthy, Shikha Pandey and Radha Yadav have chipped in.
The two most experienced players in skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and opener Smriti Mandhana have not been living up to the expectations and there will be no better match that the semis to turn that around.
In the bowling department, there is very little cause to complain. Leg-spinner Poonam Yadav is on top of the tournament chart with nine wickets from four matches and has been backed by a four-pronged spin attack with veteran pacer Shikha Pandey second on the charts.
England have batting problems of their own with the opening combination failing to launch. But No 3 bat Sciver, who has plundered 202 runs with an average of 67.33 including three fifties in four matches, will be the key along with captain Knight.
If India can get these two batters early, Harmanpreet and Co will be in with a real chance to reach their first T20 World Cup final. India have lost to England in 2009, 2012, 2014, 2016 (all in group stages) and the 2018 semi-final. But given how the team has performed as a unit in tough moments, there is a very good chance that 2020 will be different.