Velocity, in a contradiction of their team name, were anything but quick for most part of their chase in the first match of the 2020 Women’s T20 Challenge on Wednesday.
Chasing 127 after a solid death bowling show restricted Supernovas, the Mithali Raj-led team were 65/4 at the end of the 13th over; Harmanpreet Kaur and Co looked set for their third win over Velocity in the exhibition tournament.
But in what was a remarkable fightback, Sushma Verma (34 off 33) and Sune Luus (37 off 21) put together a game-changing partnership of 51 off 35 balls for the fifth wicket to seal a five-wicket win to mark the return of Indian women’s cricket.
Given that this was the first match in over seven months for most players (even longer for some), certain lapses were to be inevitable… the odd misfield, the error in timing the ball, perhaps even a one-sided game. But, despite all that, the players from both sided served up a nail-biter that went to the last over.
It was an unlikely win earned by unlikely heroes in the end.
Mithali chose to bowl first given the dew factor in Sharjah. First, the big-hitting Chamari Athapaththu and Harmanpreet built on their steady start and looked set to post an even bigger score. Ekta Bisht and Co took back control of the game in the back-end, the spinner finishing with a superb 3/22 as Supernovas scored just 24 runs and lost five wickets in the final five overs.
But 127 was still going to be a tough target for Velocity.
The Suman Sharma-coached squad is heavily stacked at the top with two of the most devastating openers in world cricket – Danni Wyatt and Shafali Verma – followed by the veteran Mithali and Indian team’s middle-order mainstay Veda Krishnamurthy. But the Supernova bowlers – featuring half of India’s T20 spin quartet in Radha Yadav and Poonam Yadav – derailed the chase early on.
Ayobonga Khaka bowled a wicket-maiden to start proceedings and then dismissed Verma, who was doing what she does best and smashed her for three straight boundaries before hitting straight to the fielder. After the openers got out, veterans Mithali and Veda failed to build momentum and fell in a bid to accelerate. It came down to wicketkeeper-bat Verma and bowling allrounder Luus to salvage the batting and they did that with aplomb.
Luus, at 24, is already a veteran in the format with 74 international matches to her name. But in her first Women’s T20 Challenge game, she seemed to be batting on a whole different pitch and her aggressive approach paid off. With a measured Verma for company, the lower order saved the day.
Match No 1 of Women’s T20 Challenge:
Sune Luus strike rate: 176.19
Shafali Verma strike rate: 154.54
No one else 120+.
The pivotal moment came in the 16th over, right after the timeout. The equation had mounted to 50 runs off the last five overs – 10 runs per over. It was now or never. At the other end was Poonam Yadav, one of the best T20 bowlers in the world, getting purchase with her loop and flight in Sharjah.
But it was her over that changed the match. On the first ball, Verma stepped out of the crease and used the slow delivery to take her time and smack a six. A single later, Luus hit a six using the sweep shot to good effect. Later, she revealed her strategy against fellow legspinner Yadav was simple: sweep, sweep, sweep.
Suddenly, the equation was down to 37 off 27 and despite the two dot balls to finish the 14-run over, Velocity were right back. Shashikala Siriwardene was smashed for six by Verma – who had got her eye in – in the next over and Khaka’s over went into double figures as well.
But just when it looked like she was going to take the team home, Verma was caught out in the deep in the 19th over. With nine needed off the final over, it was on Luus to not let the fight go in vain and that’s exactly what she did with two boundaries.
But the 24-year-old shot down speculation of a two-paced pitch: “I didn’t find the surface that difficult, and it was coming on quite nicely. You saw the sixes that we managed to hit. I think it played nicely throughout the innings, so I think it depends on your style of batting whether the conditions suit you or not.”
As satisfying as it was, Velocity can’t celebrate the win for too long with a second straight game against Trailblzers on Thursday afternoon. But they will have a lot of confidence and some lessons from the opening win.