Even before the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 began, one expected spin to be India’s core strength. Like it was at the 2018 World T20 in the West Indies before. More so with the batting order in a shaky phase.
But what not many would have anticipated is the kind of impact the Indian spin attack would have on the whole tournament. From Poonam Yadav’s magical, match-turning spell against Australia in the opener to Radha Yadav career-best 4/23 after being initially left out, the spinners have powered India to their first-ever T20 World Cup final.
In typical pace-friendly conditions in Australia, the Indian team management banked on their reliable spinners and they repaid the faith by being the most prolific unit of the tournament.
They have rescued the team after mediocre batting efforts and are the main reason India finished the group stages unbeaten. In the first three matches, India batted first and were unable to set huge totals. But the bowlers helped them successfully defend each time, even against the batting might of Australia and New Zealand.
India’s four mainline spinners – leg-spinner Poonam Yadav, left-arm spinning combo of Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Radha Yadav and off-spinner Deepti Sharma – have been the stars of the show with a total of 21 wickets between them. Their dominance has meant there has been no need to use back-up bowling options such as Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues.
Wickets break-up for all teams
Not even Australia’s potent pace bowling attack comes close to the number of wickets India’s spin quartet has taken, despite the Aussies playing an extra match in the semi-final.
The only team that comes close to India’s prowess with spin is England, who have a spin triumvirate in world No 1 Sophie Ecclestone, Sarah Glenn and Mady Villiers. A semi-final contest between the two teams was unfortunately denied, but it also means that India goes into the final with an unmatched advantage in the spin-bowling department.
Variation is the key
That spin bowling was identified as a key strength irrespective of conditions was evident when National Cricket Academy spin coach Narendra Hirwani, himself known for the flight he gave the ball, was roped in as spin consultant last July. And he has made a difference, with Poonam Yadav and Radha Yadav both crediting him for their more consistent displays.
But interestingly, India seemed hesitant initially to go with the four-spinner option. In the tournament preview, we had mentioned how numbers backed the four-spinner attack as India’s best bet.
They had played four spinners at the 2018 World T20 in West Indies as well, with good returns against the top teams. But in the initial few games in Australia, they stuck to the three-spinners-two-pacers combination. In the tri-series, this was partly out of necessity since Poonam Yadav had fractured her finger. But pacer Arundhati Reddy was persisted with in the first few games, with indifferent results.
However, once Radha Yadav, who had an ordinary outing in the tri-series, was brought in to replace Reddy in the third game, the attack became even more dynamic. The combination was used in two matches, and it is likely that India will bank on their biggest strength in the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as well.
A massive advantage that the Indian attack has is the variety. Between the slow leg-break and googly mix of Poonam Yadav, the subtle variations of left-arm spinner Gayakwad, the flatter trajectory of Radha Yadav and the traditional off-spin of Deepti Sharma, the spinners brew a potent mix.
The bowlers are varying their length, the turn and speed to not let most opposition batters settle. This also means that the batters don’t have any pace to work with, they have to generate all the power on their own. It has helped that in many matches, the wickets have favoured the slower bowlers and the size of the grounds in Australia means batters struggled to get right distance without pace.
The economy rate of the Indians has been excellent as well, with only Reddy exceeding six, maintaining constant pressure on the batters in both the powerplay and death overs. A word on veteran Shikha Pandey, who has been solid as the solitary pacer with a mix of steady line and length.
Top wicket-takers in the tournament
Of course, this advantage has not gone unnoticed by oppositions. With the biggest game of the tournament against the world’s best team next, it is expected that plans will be made to tackle the spinners.
In the match against New Zealand, for example, we saw fellow leg-spinner Amelia Kerr read and punish Poonam Yadav at the death with 18 runs off one over. The idea was to stand deep in her crease and wait for the slow, loopy delivery to come. It had worked then, with scoops over the short fine-leg fielder fetching runs aplenty.
But for a team like Australia to do that, it might be going against the grain a little. A major chunk of the batting unit prefers to attack the spinners by coming down the track and Taniya Bhatia was especially busy behind the stumps in the opening match.
According to stats analysis by ESPNCricinfo, the Australian batting line-up, barring opener Beth Mooney and big-hitter Ashleigh Gardner, averages just 13 runs per dismissal against India’s spin quartet in the last 10 T20Is the two teams have played. Yes, that includes Meg Lanning, who is normally a solid player of spin.
That is a stark number, but it doesn’t factor in that this will be a World Cup final at the biggest ground at home in front of the largest crowd for a women’s game.
The turn on offer at the MCG may or may not match the previous grounds but given how clinical and complete the Indian spin attack has been so far, especially against Australia, the morale and momentum will be on their side. It will not be too far-fetched to hope the spin quartet that took India to the semi-finals, carries the team all the way to the title.