The Women in Blue were one step away from their first World Cup Glory at Lord’s, the mecca of cricket, but their dreams were shattered with England producing a phenomenal comeback to pack the Indian middle and lower order for less than 30 runs.
Chasing a competitive target of 229 posted by England, the Indian Eves did a little wrong for the majority of their innings. After losing southpaw Smriti Mandhana early in the innings, Punam Raut and skipper Mithali Raj had steadied the ship. They were playing beautifully with the captain guiding her warriors well. The score board kept ticking as India kept closing in on the target.
It was still a long way to go when Raut hit the ball on the leg side looked at Mithali and called for a single, a hesitant Raj thought not to go for it but eventually ran for the woman on the other end, strike and she knew she had failed to make it through. She departed for 17 in the 13th over, dejected but hopeful. Raut stepped forward and took the charge on England bowler she had a boost in Harmanpreet Kaur who joined in after Mithali’s run out.
They carried the innings forward reducing run by run cruising near to the coveted trophy that they have craved forever. The ball was in India’s court with both the right hander’s securing their half centuries, if one of them stays to complete another India will have their first World Cup.
51 runs scored but England had done their homework well they knew Harman’s shoulder is injured and she is favouring the on-side to get her runs. Time was ticking, number of balls reducing. Harman knew she has to step up and deliver. In that attempt to increase the tempo, she put the ball away to the leg side straight into the hands of Beaumont who stayed low to execute the grab. At that moment the English knew she has taken the catch which could win them the match. India now had 90 more runs left to achieve with 7 wickets in hand, but the match was far from over.
Raut was looking her sublime best playing sensibly with the new arrival Veda Krishnamurthy, they both took India into the 190s. The platform was set, the target was in sight the following batswomen just had to keep calm and play according to the situation. Raut was hit on pad, she thought she was safe but before she could ask for a second call the review time was over.
India were 191/4 with Veda still on crease, the chase was still on but it was England’s turn now, the hosts made the most from Raut’s departure and bundled India out for 219 claiming their 4th World Cup. Anya Shrubshole rattled past the Indian lower-middle order, at Lord’s, in a World Cup final, It couldn’t have been better for her.
For Mithali and Jhulan it was their last, their decorated career will not have a World Cup honour. Here are a few areas which made the difference in the final:
1) Lack of experience: India had a lot of young guns firing for them throughout the tournament. Mandhana, Harmanpreet, Raut had made a strong statement with their game play. Women’s cricket for the first time was not only about Mithali Raj. But on the big day England got better of India with their vast experience that they had absorbed from their last three World Cup triumphs. English Captain Heather Knight had sensed the panic after Raut’s return and she had little trouble with her bowlers in sending back the other few who didn’t know what to do in the situation. It wasn’t India’s mistake as most of them were playing their maiden final.
2) Run outs: The most disappointing way to get out in a final would be falling short of crease. India saw two run outs in the chase, the first one being more painful as it was Mithali Raj who was sent back to the pavilion. Raj is undoubtedly one of the best to have graced women’s cricket. She has a number of records in her name. Her wicket could have made the difference India needed in the later stages of the final. Harmanpreet Kaur could also have been at the receiving end as she had few nervy moments on the crease.
3) Middle order collapse: Losing 6 wickets for 19 runs in World Cup final sums up the suffering of the Indian middle and lower batting order. The lack of experience and the inefficiency of tackling pressure was largely felt in the latter half of the Indian innings. There wasn’t a single batsman who stood up and took the responsibility of finishing it.
4) Poor tactical strategy: Harmanpreet Kaur is a brilliant player on the leg side. England saw a glimpse of that when Kaur dispatched the Aussie bowlers out of the park in the semifinal for her 171. They did their homework well to bowl the perfect line. They had learned and revised the weaknesses of almost every Indian batsman and were on the money throughout. The Indians, however, didn’t do much about their playing style and stuck to what they had been doing.
5) Weak bench strength: Reports came in just before the final that Harmanpreet Kaur had injured her shoulder during a practise session and she could be in doubt for the clash, but the Punjab cricketer was brought in by Captain Mithali Raj who assured that Kaur will play. But what if Kaur had to be kept out? Barely a name pops in the head who could have possibly replaced the Indian hero. Weak bench strength has been one issue for the women’s team which needs to be addressed on priority.
India lost the match but lost with pride. They knew they had announced themselves on the biggest of stage. For the bashers back home, women’s cricket after this World Cup will not just be an affair of negligence and ignorance, hopefully.