Harmanpreet Kaur-led Indian unit became the first team to book a semifinal berth in the ongoing World T20 in Australia. They kicked off their campaign with an impressive 17-run win against defending champions Australia and followed it up with another 18-run victory over Bangladesh. And on Thursday, India, after a lot of hard work, were successful in maintaining their winning streak as they eclipsed New Zealand by a narrow margin of three runs.
But considering the poor execution by the middle-order, a dip in Harmanpreet’s form, the cracks in the Indian setup have become quiet evident and it needs an immediate solution before it leads to their collapse.
Shafali Verma, 16, has garnered immense praise on social media for her powerful strokeplay, drawing comparisons with one of India’s most destructive openers Virender Sehwag. The Rohtak teenager has amassed 114 runs in three matches, making her the leading run-getter among the Indians and second overall in the competition. The numbers also reflect her ability to smash the ball over the boundary ropes, and she leads the chart with eight sixes, something that is likely to rise as the tournament progresses.
However, something that Shafali has failed drastically at is converting these starts into significant scores, which was also noted by Diana Edulji, former Indian women’s Test cricketer. Making things worse is the manner in which she has been dismissed in all three matches. It was primarily because of some poor shot selection and not exceptional deliveries, which helped the opposition to get rid of India’s in-form batswoman.
In the opening encounter against Australia, she was caught at mid-wicket while going for the aerial route and the story was similar in the following clash against Bangladesh.
In the match against New Zealand, regular breakthroughs kept haunting India and the team needed someone to step up in order to impose a challenging total on the board. After facing a substantial number of deliveries, it felt like Shafali was the ideal candidate for the job. However, the teenager once again fell prey to a loose shot, leaving the team hanging at 95/4 after 13.4 overs.
Harmanpreet was India’s standout performer with the bat in the previous edition held two years ago in the Caribbean. The 30-year-old had then finished the tournament with 183 runs in five matches, including a 51-ball 103 against New Zealand.
Fast-forward to 2020, the Indian skipper is struggling for form and has been unable to reach double digits (2 vs Australia, 8 vs Bangladesh, and 1 vs New Zealand) in the tournament so far. Her miserable outing in Australia has put India’s raw middle-order under pressure and they’ve perished under the added burden.
Meanwhile, her deputy Smriti Mandhana has also failed to prove her mettle, managing just 11 and 10 in the two matches she has played.
The batting woes are not just limited to Harmanpreet or Mandhana and as a result, Shafali’s blistering knocks have often gone in vain. Apart from the one-off 49-run innings by Deepti Sharma in the tournament opener and Jemimah Rodrigues’ unnoticed contributions, India’s fragile middle-order has failed to capitalise on the firm starts provided to them.
The concern has been the rate of scoring while keeping the wickets intact. In the match against Australia, the middle-order could only add 91 runs in 16 overs. It was the same case against Bangladesh and on Thursday the slump almost led to India’s first defeat, which Harmanpreet addressed during the post-match presentation ceremony.
Despite adding 68 on the board after the first nine overs, India failed to maintain the tempo and could only post a meager 133/8 at the end of 20 overs, which calculates to 65 runs in the remaining 11 overs.
“We made the same mistakes after a good first ten overs, we got a good start but couldn’t carry the momentum,” Harmanpreet said after the match. “We can’t make silly mistakes with harder games coming up…” she added.