At 191/3, India needed just 38 runs, with two well-set batters at the crease. The required run rate looked under control, and the dressing room was full of cheerful and excitable faces. Mithali Raj’s team was on the cusp of history. The summit clash at Lord’s looked like a foregone conclusion.
Or so, it seemed. Almost inexplicably, against the run of play, England’s medium pacer Anya Shrubsole trapped opener Punam Raut in front for 86. Raut had a long discussion with her partner Veda Krishnamurthy, after which she called for a review. The umpire politely turned down her request, as she had taken too long to decide. That proved to be the turning point as the Indians collapsed from a position of strength and fell 9 runs short of the England total, handing the home team their fourth World Cup trophy.
This is how the turnaround took place as England sensed an opening after Raut’s dismissal, and their captain Heather Knight went for the kill. They bowled tighter lines, the fielders became more alert, and with no easy runs in the offing, the pressure was right back on India. In 13 deliveries post Raut’s dismissal, England orchestrated a stunning turnaround, in which they accounted for Sushma Verma, the in-form Veda and Jhulan Goswami. Suddenly, from 3/191, India had slipped to 7/201 at the end of the 45th over.
Shrubsole’s solo effort
Despite the sudden flurry of wickets, India were still in with a chance with all-rounder Deepti Sharma and Shikha Pandey in the middle. When the duo added 17 runs from 15 deliveries, they looked like taking India across the finish line, even though it would have been a scamper. But Knight brought back her trump card — Shrubsole — in the 47th over and the pacer stormed through India’s clueless tail. On the sidelines, Mithali looked forlorn, even a tad helpless, as she watched a heart-wrenching meltdown in front of her. With it, she also saw the elusive World Cup crown slipping from her fingers in her last bid for glory.
This was as close as India has ever reached at the big stage. This edition of the Women’s World Cup, which has raised awareness throughout the world, got a fitting end — a nerve-wracking finale in front of a packed house at Lord’s.
A lot was written and talked about after England lost a close World T20 semi-final to arch-rivals Australia in India last year. However, their new coach Mark Robinson has injected a sense of belief and a never-say-die attitude in his squad. This has reaped rewards as at no point in this tournament did they ever look flustered. Not after they were comprehensively beaten by India in the opening game. Not even when India once again threatened to run amok with what looked like a match-winning stand between Punam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur. They held their composure, and did not panic. And when they sensed an opportunity, they swooped on it like hawks.
India, on the other hand, would see this loss as a colossal missed opportunity. The manner in which they capitulated in the last seven overs would need introspection. Having said that, at no point can one overlook the glorious contributions made by India’s top order. Raut, who scored a duck in the second game of this World Cup, followed it up with stellar contributions. Her century in the group stage against Australia came in a losing cause, but more often than not, her sprightly performances have not gone unnoticed. Even on Sunday, in the biggest game of her life, she looked like taking India home.
En route her 86, she was involved in two significant partnerships which had set the tone of this grand finale. First, a 95-run third-wicket stand with Harmanpreet, which was followed by a 53-run partnership with Veda. Both these stands were based on reading the game situation rather than unwanted flourish. On a slow pitch, they adopted a commonsensical approach, playing each ball on its merit and refusing to take undue risks. Even after Harmanpreet’s departure for 51, India were comfortably placed.
India could well have been chasing way more than 229 had it not been for Jhulan’s exploits on a pleasant morning in London. Coming into the knockouts, the medium pacer was fairly tepid, picking just five wickets from seven games. But she came into her own in the semi-final against Australia. She followed that up with a three-wicket burst in her second spell in the final.
The veteran’s efforts pegged back the hosts after they were off to a rousing start after taking first strike. When Mithali brought the 34-year-old back, England, with Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver at the crease, had already raced to 3/130 in 30 overs. At that point, they looked like getting to a total in excess of 275. But Goswami bowled impeccable lines and adopted a more fullish length in her 5-over burst to finish with figures of 10-3-23-3, which at the half-way mark looked like a match-winning effort.