Fabulous Start, Setback & a Big Comeback: India’s Road to Finals

The long wait of 12 years is finally over as the Indian eves are into the finals of the ICC Women’s World Cup once again. Come 23 July, India will battle it out with the hosts, England, at the ‘Mecca of Cricket’ to have their hands on their first ever Silverware.

The last time India played a World Cup final at Lord’s was in 1983. Kapil Dev and his men beat all odds to emerge victorious against the defending champions West Indies and hand India their first ever World Cup title.

The Indian eves will have the chance of repeating history once again as they will aim for their first ever title at the same venue after a gap of 34 years. And it couldn’t come against better opponents as defeating the hosts, at their own den, is always a special feeling.

At the beginning of the tournament, the fans and pundits had expressed their doubts about India’s chances of making it to the finals. The reason was the inexperience of most of the young players and their thin pace bowling resources. However, India defied all criticisms and overcame all odds to make it to the finals.

They made a superb start to the tournament with four victories on the trot. But, then came South Africa and Australia and they stumbled on their path. However, India made a strong comeback once again beating New Zealand in a do-or-die encounter and avenging Australia in the semi-finals afterwards.

The journey has been quite a memorable one. Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, the veterans in the side, are getting ready for their swansongs.

The Fabulous Start

The Indian eves kickstarted the tournament with a fabulous victory over the hosts, England, at Derby. Batting first, India produced a stellar show as their top three batswomen made superb half-centuries. While the match was lit up by Smriti Mandhana’s fiery innings of 90 runs off 72 deliveries, Punam Raut’s knock of 86 provided the calming effect.

And skipper Mithali Raj gave the finishing touch with a superb knock of 71 runs off 73 deliveries. At the completion of their fifty overs, India had posted 281/3 on the board. India later backed it up with a superb bowling and fielding display to bundle out the hosts for 246 runs.

When they locked horns with the present World T20 champions, the Windies, in the next match, India produced another scintillating performance. This time they restricted their opponents to paltry total of 183/8 and later chased it down riding on Smriti Mandhana’s magnificent knock of 106* (108).

The Indian fans were disappointed in the first half of their next match up against arch rivals Pakistan. India could only manage 169/9 in their fifty overs as Pakistan choked them on a pretty difficult pitch to bat. However, the neighbours hardly had any idea about what was yet to come.

A scintillating spell of 5/18 from Ekta Bisht saw Pakistan getting bowled out for a mere 74 runs. India thus continued their unbeaten run over Pakistan in ODIs making it ten victories in ten matches.

Their next match against Sri Lanka turned out to be a low scoring affair. Batting first, India rode on fifties from Deepti Sharma (78) and Mithali raj (53) to post 232/8 on the board. The Indian bowlers then did a commendable job to restrict the Sri Lankans to a score of 216/7 and thus help India to their fourth consecutive win in a row.

The Setback

India’s golden run in the tournament was soon stalled by a determined South Africa and a strong Australian side. South Africa simply outplayed India with a strong batting and bowling performance at Leicester. The juggernaut had been finally stopped as they suffered a huge 115-run defeat.

Their next match-up was against the World Champions, Australia. This time India took a cautious approach. Although Punam Raut’s century and Mithali Raj’s fifty helped India to a fighting total of 226/7, it didn’t turn out to be enough. Australia overhauled the target with 8 wickets in hand riding on fifties from skipper Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry.

A couple of matches ago, their semi-final berth was almost confirmed as they required only one victory in three matches. However, the successive defeats pushed them into a do-or-die situation against New Zealand in their final group stage match.

The Comeback

Coming into the game, India had a clear task cut out in front of them – either win the match or get knocked out from the tournament. The match started on an ominous note with India losing both of their openers cheaply. They were 21/2 when Harmanpreet Kaur joined hands with Mithali Raj in the middle.

They resurrected the innings with a 132-run stand. Just when they were looking to cut loose, Kaur was out caught and bowled for a well-made 60. Deepti Sharma followed soon and India found themselves trembling at 154/4 in the 37th over.

However, Veda Krishnamurth walked out to bat and changed the course of the match with her blitzkrieg of 70 off 45 deliveries. Meanwhile, Mithali Raj also completed her second World Cup century as India posted a competitive total of 265/7.

New Zealand were expected to give a tough fight to the Indians. However, they fell victim to the leg spin of Rajeshwari Gayakwad who was playing her first match of the tournament. She turned out to be India’s trump card as she demolished the kiwis with a spell of 5/15. New Zealand were eventually bowled out for a paltry 79 runs and India booked their semi-final berth with a huge 186 run victory.

The victory took India to third in the league table and thus set up the semifinal against the Australians, who had already defeated them once in the tournament. Consistent rainfall on the day had reduced the match to 42-overs a side.

The match started on a similar note as the previous one with Australia drying up the runs. This time, though, India were trying to be a bit more aggressive. However, they had lost the wickets of Smriti Mandhana, Punam Raut and Mithali Raj and were in a tricky position of 101/3 in the 25th over.

 

However, Harmanpreet Kaur produced one of the best knocks ever in World Cup history to give India a chance of making it to the finals. She made a scintillating 171* off just 115 deliveries and helped India to a massive score of 281/4 in 42 overs. The Indian bowlers shocked the Aussies with a superb opening spell as they reduced them to 21/3.

However, superb knocks off 75 (58) from Elyse Villani and 90 (56) from Alex Blackwell brought the match tantalisingly close. Blackwell was trying her best to get Australia over the line. With 37 runs still required from two overs Blackwell finally lost her wicket to Deepti Sharma. Australia ended up with 245 runs. India thus made their entry to a World Cup final after 12 long years.

The journey has been one to savour for both the fans and the players. This edition of the women’s World Cup has revolutionised women’s cricket once and for all. It will only grow bigger in the coming years. The Indian eves have already won a lot of hearts and will be looking to bring a fitting end to the journey with victory at the iconic Lord’s in London.

(This article first appeared on The Quint on July 23, 2017)

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