India got off to a rollicking start in the Women’s World Cup, winning four games on the trot. But Mithali Raj’s team hit a hurdle. Back-to-back losses to Australia and South Africa numbed them. With their backs to the wall, India steamrolled New Zealand to clinch a berth in the semifinals. As they face a formidable Australia in a bid to make their second final, India will need their match-winners to fire in unison.
Bright start: Smriti Mandhana, the tall left-handed opener from Sangli, made an instant impact with her lucid and effective strokeplay. Her sparkling 72-ball 90 in the opening game against hosts England set the tone for India’s spectacular start in this showpiece event. She then followed it up with a stunning century against the West Indies in the subsequent game at Taunton. With back-to-back Player-of-the-Match performances, it looked like she would not put a foot wrong in the World Cup. Surprisingly enough, her form tapered off after these two games, after which she could manage only 30 runs from the next five matches. With 222 runs from seven games, Mandhana has fizzled out after a rousing start. Ahead of India’s semi-final clash against Australia, Mithali Raj would be hoping that her opener, who made a comeback after ligament surgery, rediscovers her silken touch.
Quick hands: Last month, the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) named a pavilion of their newly constructed stadium in Shimla after India women’s team wicket-keeper Sushma Verma. The Shimla native is the first woman cricketer from the state to represent India in international cricket. In many ways, Verma is the biggest success story of HPCA’s residential academy, which is located in the picturesque stadium in Dharamsala. Although she has been handy with the bat lower down the order, it’s her nimble work behind the stumps that has won her praise from several quarters. Sushma has effected as many as five stumpings in the ongoing World Cup, which drew comparisons with MS Dhoni.
The opening act: Punam Raut was clearly overshadowed by her opening partner Mandhana’s spectacular flourish in the opening two games, but her contributions were no less significant. Her 144-run opening stand with Mandhana against England proved to be the cornerstone of India’s emphatic 281 against the hosts. Stable and dour, she chipped with steady contributions, even as Mandhana went off the boil. She scored her maiden ODI century against Australia in the league game, which India lost. Raut would need to summon all her reserves, and the start that she provides upfront would be crucial to India’s chances.
Captain Courageous: Over the course of her 18-year career, Mithali Raj has been India’s batting lynchpin, piling runs consistently, while at the same time breaking one record after another. The Indian captain continued with her impressive form in this tournament, scoring 356 runs in seven innings and becoming the first woman to surpass 6,000 runs in ODIs. She scored 69 in the defeat to the Australians earlier in the competition but feels that counts for nothing when India meet the reigning world champions. “It’s all about how the teams respond to the situation and the conditions on the day,” she said ahead of India’s clash against Australia. Snehal Pradhan, a former India player, believes Mithali’s biggest strength lies in her sound, orthodox technique, knowing when to attack and defend. With a wealth of experience behind her, the Aussies would want to get her early.
Rough diamond: During the innings break of the India-Pakistan match in the ongoing ICC Women’s World Cup, the tournament’s official broadcaster showed a promo, highlighting the steady progress made by Pakistan. The capsule seemingly came at the right time, with Pakistan on top after bundling out their arch-rivals for 169. About a couple of hours later, the Indians were celebrating, thanks to Ekta Bisht’s 5/18 that tamed Pakistan. About five months ago, the 31-year-old left-arm spinner had her maiden five-for, against the same team during a World Cup qualifying game. Ekta so far has picked nine wickets in six matches in this tournament, which suggests her glaring inconsistency. She was dropped for the last game against the Kiwis.
X-factor: She played her first game in this World Cup against New Zealand, replacing Ekta Bisht. Rajeshwari Gayakwad bagged a career-best 5/15 in India’s rout of New Zealand and she now appears an automatic pick for the semifinal against Australia. The match against New Zealand was a must-win for the Indian women and the 26-year-old Karnataka spinner showed few nerves.
Big hitter: The ongoing Women’s World Cup has been a test of charachter for Veda Krishnamurthy. Runs have flowed in a trickle and in the three games she played, Veda had registered scores of 29, 3 and 0. She finally found her verve in India’s must-win game against New Zealand at Derby. Walking into bat at 4/154, she scored a rapid 45-ball 70, and her 108-run stand with captain Mithali Raj was instrumental in India registering 265 after batting first. Her ability to move up a gear in the big games makes her a certainty in the clash against Australia.