Low-scoring thrillers, blitzkriegs and all the best moments from group stage

After three weeks of continuous action and entertainment, the league stages of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 finally came to a conclusion on Saturday. Before the tournament, most of the fans and pundits had predicted the likes of Australia, England, South Africa and India as the semi-finalists. Those predictions turned out to be right eventually. Maybe a fraction of the fans are upset as one of the favourite teams, New Zealand, missed out on the race. However, New Zealand themselves have no cause for complaint as India simply outplayed them in a do-or-die encounter. Here are some of the highlights of the group stage:

An eventful beginning

The overall outcome of the group stage has been fruitful. The tournament had grabbed the attention of the whole world from the very first day itself. India had surprised the hosts, England, by beating them comprehensively by 35 runs in their opening encounter at Derby. Most people hadn’t expected India to trump their English counterparts, especially with a weak bowling attack. However, a combination of superb batting, bowling and fielding helped India to a victory over the favourites.

Smriti Mandhana’s 90-run innings off just 77 deliveries was the highlight of the match. However, it was their fielding which stole the show on that day. The Indian fielders affected as many as four run-outs in that match to turn the course of the game in their favour.

On the same day, this time at Bristol, the New Zealand women thumped the Sri Lanka women in a low-scoring clash. Although one-sided, the match did give the tournament both its first century and its first five-wicket haul. Holly Huddleston’s five-wicket haul restricted the Lankans to a paltry total of 188/9. Suzie Bates then scored a superb 106* as New Zealand won by nine wickets.

Low-scoring thrillers

Although both matches on the first day turned out to be one-sided, it didn’t take long for the first low-scoring thriller of the tournament to come along. On the very next day, on 26 June, Pakistan and South Africa women gave the tournament the first of its only two low-scoring thrillers. Nahida Khan’s fighting knock of 79 helped Pakistan to a total of 206/8.

The chase seemed to be a cakewalk for South Africa when the openers, Laura Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee, posted an opening stand of 113 runs. However, South Africa started collapsing soon as Pakistan reduced them to 177/7 within the 44th over. Sune Luus and Shabnim Ismail’s eighth-wicket stand of 30 runs helped South Africa over the line with six deliveries remaining. Within just two days of the tournament, it felt like we had witnessed it all.

It wasn’t the only game that went down to the wire.  Two weeks later, at Bristol, Australia fell short of England’s 259/8 by just three runs. It was Katherine Brunt and Jenny Gunn’s all-round contributions that gave England the edge. Unfortunately, Ellyse Perry’s valiant knock of 70 went in vain. But, that’s how thrillers are. There will be heart breaks, there will be surprises. Most importantly, you will have no idea what will happen until you watch the end.

Runs flowing cameos and blitzkriegs

There is a notion that the women’s version of cricket can never match the fast-paced and high-scoring nature of the male version. However, some matches in this tournament have proved this notion absolutely wrong. The hosts themselves registered scores in excess of 350 twice in the tournament. At Leicester, Natalie Sciver’s blistering 137 and Heather Knight’s run-a-ball 106 helped them to post 377/7 against Pakistan. They won the match comfortably by 107 runs by the D/L Method.

In another match, Tammy Beaumont’s sublime 148 and Sarah Taylor’s blitzkrieg of 147 off 104 deliveries helped England post 373/5 at the same venue, this time against South Africa. England won this match also by 68 runs. However, South Africa didn’t go down without a fight as they tried their best to chase down the total. Their efforts were visible as they reached 305/9.

The transformation of women’s cricket was visible in the way most of the players had batted in the tournament. In addition to those innings played by the English players, Sri Lanka’s Chamari Atapattu’s innings of 178* (143) deserves a special mention. When wickets tumbled at one end, Atapattu kept blazing away at the other end against a mighty Aussie bowling line-up. Sri Lanka ultimately scored 257/9 in their 50 overs with Atapattu contributing 178 of those runs. Unfortunately, Meg Lanning’s 152* off 143 deliveries which came in a winning cause for Australia, overshadowed Atapattu’s majestic knock.

Moreover, Kiwi opener Rachel Priest had blasted her way to 90 off just 55 deliveries while chasing West Indies’ target of 151 runs on 6 July at Taunton. Her teammate Sophie Devine bettered her innings with a 41-ball 93 two days later, against Pakistan at the same venue. And then, there was Veda Krishnamurthy’s 45-ball 70 as well that concluded the tournament in style.

The bowling machines

There were some memorable bowling performances as well. Ekta Bisht’s 5/18 against Pakistan women helped India to successfully defend a meagre total of 169 runs. India eventually bowled Pakistan out for a mere 74 runs. It had also become the best bowling figures by an Indian in World Cup history. However, Rajeshwari Gayakwad replaced her in India’s virtual quarter-final against the Kiwis and bettered her record. She went on to claim magnificent bowling figures of 5/15 which restricted the Kiwis to a mere 79 runs.

Moreover, there is South African skipper Dane Van Niekerk’s spell of 4/0 which deserves special mention. She is the first very player in all forms and versions of cricket to have claimed four wickets without conceding a run. Her bowling efforts had helped South Africa in bowling out the West Indies for a mere 48 runs. South Africa later chased down the total with all 10 wickets remaining.

A fitting conclusion

The tournament got its three semi-finalists in Australia, England and South Africa well before the final day of the league stages. Three out of the four matches scheduled on the last day turned out to be mere formalities. The only thing still to be decided was the top three rankings which depended on these matches. However, the Indian fans were in for a treat on the last day as India trumped the Kiwis by 186 runs. Batting first, India had posted a total of 265/7 on the board riding on Mithali Raj’s 109, Harmanpreet Kaur’s 60 and Krishnamurthy’s blitzkrieg of 70. Then, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, playing her first match of the tournament, claimed figures of 5/15 and thus bowled the Kiwis out for a mere 79 runs. The League stages thus came to a fitting conclusion with India emerging victorious by 186 runs.

Key statistics from World Cup group stage

Total runs: 10298

Total wickets: 348

Number of 5-wicket hauls: 4

Number of fours: 1142

Number of sixes: 97

Total centuries: 13

Total half centuries: 48

Highest individual score: 178* by Chamari Atapattu vs AUS at Bristol on 29 June

Best bowling figures: Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s 5/15 on 15 July at Derby vs New Zealand

Highest team total: ENG 377/7 vs Pakistan at Leicester on 27 June

Lowest team total: West Indies 48 all-out vs South Africa at Leicester on 2 July

Highest aggregate score in a match: England v South Africa at Bristol on 5 July, 678 runs and 14 wickets

(This article first appeared on Firstpost on July 17, 2017)

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