When Alyssa Healy slammed Deepti Sharma for 14 runs off the first over... or perhaps even before that, when the off-spinner bowled three full tosses to begin the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup final, there was a firm indication of which way the wind was blowing on Sunday.
Pressure has been a buzzword for hosts Australia throughout the tournament, and more so after the opening defeat and the struggle to reach the final. The home crowd expected big things from Meg Lanning and Co, bigger than the four titles they already had in the format.
But at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the pressure seemed to be all on first-time finalists India. And the visitors crumbled under the weight to lose by 85 runs – the biggest margin in Women’s World Cup finals in terms of runs.
The huge win was built on the record-breaking 115-run opening partnership between Healy and Beth Mooney – the Player of the match and the Player of the tournament respectively. No other T20 World Cup final, men’s or women’s, has seen a team or a player amass as many runs as Australia and the two openers did. In the biggest match, they showed their big-game mentality and that was the chief difference between the two teams from the start.
Dropped catches change matches
Having the right mentality is just one of the big learnings India should take home from their second runners-up trophy in just two and a half years. As harsh as it was, the comprehensive loss to Australia should serve as a learning experience for the young Indian team. A costly coaching clinic, yes, but one they might as well use to groom players for the future.
Australia had 11 players who had been part of previous T20 World Cup finals, even without the injured Ellyse Perry, who had played in all matches Australia has played at the tournament so far.
India’s young side, on the other hand, were playing their first. The nerves were understandable but to show them so obviously was a big mistake. From the erratic lines of the bowlers to the body language of the fielders, the anxiety was palpable. It left them rooted to the spot; it left them unsure; it left them looking lost.
And to make matters worse, Australia knew that India were crumbling.
“The way they reacted when I got out,” said Healy after the game. “The way they gave me a gobful on the way off just meant we were right under their skin, we were right at the front of this game, and if we just kept driving it home, that we’d be all right.”
It felt like it will be Australia’s day from the moment Lanning won the toss and chose to make India chase, something that the misfiring batting order hadn’t done enough of in the tournament.
But it could have all been different had India taken their chances. Lanning had later revealed that Australia were on the edge too.
Healy, who didn’t smack all the three full tosses offered to her, was probably wary of the occasion and opposition. As she should have been after miscuing a shot to cover in the first over, only to be dropped by Shafali Verma. Her opening partner Beth Mooney was then let off when Rajeshwari Gayakwad missed an admittedly tough caught and bowled chance.
Extra lives while still in the single digits was all the sign they needed. Healy latched on to the hesitance and inconsistency from the bowlers and began a sensational assault. The Powerplay brought 49 runs, the opening partnership was worth 115 and once the wicketkeeper departed, Mooney picked up where she left off, breaking Healy’s record for the highest individual score in T20 World Cup finals.
There are no guarantees that the two dropped catches would have changed the outcome of the game but it did highlight perhaps the most important lesson – fielding.
Australia took all the catches that came their way, with Mooney – a natural wicketkeeper – excelling in the outfield. The MCG is a big ground even with the boundaries pulled in, but Australia’s athleticism and Lanning’s shrewd captaincy meant that they covered all areas.
India need to focus more on this often underrated aspect. For all the individual talent, it is doing the basics right in crunch moments that wins trophies.
Learning from mistakes
Another crucial takeaway from Australia’s approach in the final was how they learned from the opening loss.
From that very first over, they put India’s biggest strength – spin bowling – under pressure. Normally solid players of spin, the Aussies had been foxed by the slow pace in the first game. But Lanning said they had spent plenty of time working out how to play the slower bowlers, especially Poonam Yadav, better and it showed.
The batters danced down the track often but were very careful with their footwork. On several deliveries, they pulled their back-foot in when they ball didn’t connect within a split-second. In the initial overs, they didn’t allow any bowler to settle down with a boundary every over.
It didn’t help that the spinners were missing their lengths. When Sharma got two wickets in the 17th over – Lanning caught and Ash Garnder stumped – it was because they decided to take the risks, and not because they were deceived.
The biggest schooling, though, should be reserved for India’s batting order that has made a habit of crumbling under pressure.
From the 2017 ODI World Cup final to the semi-final of the 2018 World T20. And more recently, the tri-series final against Australia. The story has remained the same – the middle order has collapsed once the top order fails.
While 16-year-old Verma could be forgiven for her first failure of the World Cup, both Mandhana (49 runs at an average of 12.25) and Harmanpreet (30 runs at an average of 6.00) continued their miserable run in the tournament. Their lack of form affected their confidence and that, in turn, became a malaise that spread to the rest of the team. For the big games, the big players need to show up. That didn’t happen for India.
In short, Australia succeeded where India failed. They learnt from their mistakes and did the basics right. But if the Indian team can learn from this drubbing and adopt the Australian way of clutch play, future finals will hopefully not be so one-sided.
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