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Flying start, close finish: India topple New Zealand in last-ball thriller to book semis berth

India became the first team in this competition to qualify for the semi-final by virtue of their three consecutive wins in the league stage.

By: Express News Service | Published: February 28, 2020 1:30:40 am
India became the first team to qualify for the semi-final in World T20. (Source: Twitter/T20WorldCup) 

Following India women’s team three-run win against the White Ferns in Melbourne, Shafali Verma received a text message from Ashwani Kumar, her childhood coach. It read: “It’s great to see you hitting sixes and boundaries. But in the future, look to rotate the strike a bit more.”

It’s been a dream run for Shafali — the 16-year-old opener from Rohtak — at the ongoing Women’s World T20. Her consistency and big-hitting prowess shone through, which has given India blazing starts upfront. In the three games, she has stacked up scores of 15-ball 29, 17-ball 39 and a 34-ball 46.

On Thursday, she made a conscious effort to address this anomaly. Shafali ran as many as 12 singles in her knock that was laced with three sixes and four boundaries.

India may well be the first team in this competition to qualify for the semi-final by virtue of their three consecutive wins in the league stage. But there are some niggling issues that they would like to address before they enter the business end of the World Cup. Topping the list would be their under-fire top-order.

The team’s two biggest stars — opener Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur — have struggled so far. While Mandhana managed scores of 11 and 10 in the two matches, Kaur’s lack of form was a bigger concern, as she registered just 11 runs from three matches.

Against the White Ferns, India rode on the back of a rapid third-wicket alliance between Shafali and wicket-keeper Taniya Bhatia, who helped herself to a 25-ball 23. When they were in the middle, it looked like India would breach past the 160-run mark with ease. However, India struggled losing wickets in clumps.

First-up Bhatia’s exited in the 10th over, and two overs later when Jemima Rodrigues’ was also dimissed, pressure set it. In walked an out-of-sorts Kaur. Today, her vigil lasted just five deliveries. Her dismissal was quickly followed by Shafali’s. The young opener’s exit triggered a collapse. From being in a comfortable position of 68/1 after 9 overs, India finished up at a not-so-flattering 133/8 at the end of 20 overs — their last 11 overs yielding 65 runs for the loss of 9 wickets.

For a fleeting moment, India looked like they would sail through choppy waters, courtesy an unlikely 9th-wicket stand between Radha Yadav and Shikha Pandey, which accounted for 22 runs. Considering the slim margin of the win, this partnership very much turned out to be a match-winning effort.

Nevertheless, Kaur rued the inability of her batters to capitalise on good starts and cautioned them against making ‘silly mistakes’ as they gear up for bigger matches. “It’s a great feeling when your team performs day in day out. Still we made the same mistakes after a good first ten overs, we got a good start but couldn’t carry the momentum. We can’t make silly mistakes with harder games coming up. Shafali (Verma) is giving us good starts, her initial runs are crucial for us,” Kaur said after the win.

India survive Kerr scare 

After contributing with the bat during the fag end of India’s innings, pace spearhead Shikha Pandey, the only pacer in the line-up, accounted for New Zealand opener Rachel Priest. On a slow, sluggish Junction Oval track, India were packed with spinners, who quietly applied the choke. New Zealand innings, much like India was bereft of any momentum.

Consequently, the run-rate pressure build incrementally. The match boiled down to the final two overs, with New Zealand requiring 34 runs for a win. It looked like a herculean task, but New Zealand leg-spinner Amelia Kerr stepped up, smacking four boundaries in the penultimate over off Poonam Yadav.

Subsequently, they collected seven runs off the first four deliveries off the final over, to leave them needing two boundaries to take the match into a Super Over. Such a scenario looked imminently possible when Kerr played an smart scoop shot for a boundary in the penultimate delivery of the match off Pandey. The White Ferns contingent waited collectively for Kerr to repeat that act. Instead, Kerr failed to negotiate a sensational yorker from Pandey. A mix-up ensued that resulted in Kerr’s partner Hayley Jensen getting run out under the most thrilling circumstances.

Brief Scores: India: 133/8 (Verma 46, Kerr 2-21, Mair 2-27) beat New Zealand 129/6 by four runs. 

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