When India met England in the semi-final of the World T20I, they were looking to make amends for Lord’s 2017 – where they were knocked out by the same team in the ODI World Cup final. The match was played at 5.30 AM as per Indian Standard Time, too early for a country that has always treated women’s cricketers as its adopted daughters.
Yet, this time around, there was no dearth of viewership. In most parts of the country, people had risen before the sun to support Harmanpreet Kaur and co. on their big day. The average viewership on Hotstar at 6am was 200k.
But what followed was heartbreak 2.0, this time too at the hands of England. It so turned out that India got out of the frying pan into the fire.
After limiting India to 112 all out off 19.3 overs, the English gunned down the target easily with an unbroken third-wicket partnership of 94 between Amy Jones and Natalie Sciver, who took them home with eight wickets and three overs to spare.
It will not be wrong to say that an unprofessional Indian T20I team lost to a professional England team. But neither will it be right to defend India’s loss on similar lines.
Harmanpreet Kaur went awfully wrong with her captaincy
Captaincy is all about prompt decisions and risk-taking. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. For Kaur, her instincts completely failed her on a day it mattered the most.
It came as a shock to most when Harmanpreet announced at the toss that Mithali Raj was not in the playing XI. Her reason for the same was to not tamper with the winning combination which beat Australia in the previous game.
To leave out the most experienced batter on a slow surface needed more groundwork. On a pitch where the ball was stopping and bouncing, Raj’s batting solidarity could have helped negotiate England’s exceptional bowling.
If Kaur didn’t want Raj to open the innings, she could have been played down the order. At any slot, the former skipper’s experience would have mattered a lot. But the decision to completely keep Raj away from the field was rather unconceivable.
The idea to not play Raj should have been a better option for her replacement. But that was not the case either. Taniya Bhatia, who opened in place of Raj, scored a 19-ball 11 and Anuja Patil, who retained her place in the XI despite Raj recovering from the knee injury fell for a first-ball duck and bowled three very expensive overs of off-spin.
Another question which Kaur needs to answer – Why was Arundhati Reddy picked ahead of Mithali, especially when the lone specialist seamer didn’t bowl a single ball?
Kaur’s poor field placement was another highlight of her bad day in office. It made little sense to have the field spread. Her all-spin attack content to bowl short and wide of the off stump, allowed the English batters to collect singles and doubles at ease through a non-existing mid-wicket.
Kaur followed the same field and bowling plan that worked on flat Guyana pitches where India scored cushion of runs. That didn’t at all help the case in Antigua, where they had to defend an invaluable total.
Lesson clearly not learnt from the ODI World Cup
India’s lack of experience was another major concern from their loss, which brought back memories of the 2017 World Cup final batting collapse. Apart from Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues, no other batters could adapt to the match situations. They took undue risks too early in the game by looking to hit aerially. Add to that, three panic-induced run-outs. India’s batting resources were thus emptied two overs before the scheduled innings break.
The power game in Indian women’s cricket is refreshing. The likes of Mandhana, Rodrigues and Kaur bat with carefree disdain, which is necessary in the shortest formats. However, without Raj’s experience and intelligent batting, an all aggressive approach can backfire, and that is what happened in Antigua.
It is time to make full use of India’s power game by adding some common sense to it. May sound harsh, but the girls, led by Kaur, often exhibit bizarre decisions in their gameplay. Once that is sorted, India are as good as any other T20 professionals in the world.
Until then, it is time for some serious retrospection.
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