Women in Blue implode to go from 191|3 to 219 all out to gift World Cup final to England
Team India may have fallen short of creating history at the Women’s World Cup final in Lord’s Stadium, London but they have won all our hearts with their performance. This loss was supposed to happen. The naysayers had been predicting it ever since India lost their first warm-up match to England. After India beat England in the tournament opener, it was still supposed to happen, they said. They pointed it out when India ‘bottled it’ against South Africa. They pointed it out when India were pulverised by Australia. When the pressure is on, they said, India will invariably lose. They pointed out India’s skewed domestic system. They pointed out India’s sacking of a successful coach two months before a tournament. They pointed out India’s over-reliance on Mithali Raj.
England won the World Cup in dramatic style, ending a spirited Indian attempt of the highest ever World Cup final chase. After looking in control for most of the match, their bowlers ripped India’s middle-order, winning their third title on home soil.
England batted first after winning the toss, despite the threat of rain. If runs on the board in a final are worth more, then England had the upper hand just by flipping the coin. After the first 10 overs, they looked to be cruising. Jhulan Goswami was bottling up the runs, but Shikha Pandey was leaking them at the other end, and neither could get much from the pitch, nor make the first incision. India’s nervous fielding didn’t help. There were a couple of lapses and a dropped catch before Rajeshwari Gayakwad got the breakthrough in the 12th over. The introduction of spin brought two more wickets: tournament’s top-scorer Tammy Beaumont, and captain Heather Knight. England were 63 for 3 in the 17th.
Then Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver combined for a fluent 83-run partnership. They held back the cross batted shots that the three previous wickets fell to, and used their feet to the spinners instead. With England’s long batting order, they looked like they were setting the home side for a 250-plus total, until Goswami had Taylor caught behind for 45.
Goswami had bowled an opening spell of 5-29-0 with the new ball. In her second spell, she was fortunate to get Taylor out, nicking a ball that slid down leg. But her next two wickets -both LBW-were the fruits of good old stump-to-stump bowling. She removed Sciver for 51 in the Powerplay, followed by Fran Wilson on the next ball. In her last World Cup game, she helped India keep England to 229.
India’s chase began as the last six games have; with the early dismissal of Smriti Mandhana. While Mandhana has been the talk of the tournament, it was her opening partner who has shown more consistency. Punam Raut hit over the infield when she could not find the boundary, favouring mid-on in the first 10 overs. She did call Mithali Raj for a dodgy single though, which resulted in India’s best hope falling short of her crease.
Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur then rebuilt, with a 95-run partnership, with Harmanpreet hitting two sixes in her 51. She got out just before the batting Powerplay came into effect though, top edging a sweep off Alex Hartley to deep square-leg. Some gutsy batting from Veda Krishnamurthy helped India take 28 runs of the Powerplay though and India needed 56 runs in the last 60 balls.
The pair seemed to have things under control but a World Cup final chase is rarely so straight forward. Raut, who had reached her half-century before Harmanpreet, was the first victim in a devastating spell by Anya Shrubsole. The England vice captain got late inswing to trap Raut in front for 86 in the 43rd over, and at the other end Hartley bowled the new batter Sushma Verma. In her next over, Shrubsole took two wickets in three balls, sending back Veda (35) and Goswami (0). 28 remained off the last 30 balls.
Deepti Sharma (14 off 12) batted nerveless though, taking the odd boundary and clever singles, and she and Pandey brought it close. But the nearness would only cause more agony, as Pandey needlessly ran herself out with 11 to win, the throw coming from, you guessed it, Shrubsole. The same player then ended the Indian challenge by having Deepti caught at mid-wicket, before cleaning up Gayakwad’s stumps to finish with 6 for 46. India fell 10 runs short of their first World Cup, and England lifted their fourth.
For India, Raj and Goswami were left hanging so close to perfect swansong, and looked heartbroken. If this were the Olympics, we would be celebrating this team like we celebrated PV Sindhu’s silver medal. Instead Raj looked on helplessly as her team lost yet another World Cup final. But this loss needs to be celebrated, just as India should celebrate Raj and Goswami, two veterans who fell inches short of what could have been the perfect swansong. India made the highest total in a World Cup final batting second, and they did it without Raj. It was the third highest total overall.
The loss that was coming finally caught up with India. Not playing high-pressure domestic games cost them. Not having stability and vision in the management cost them. But they cheated death till the end, missing their date with it in the quarters, then the semis. Even when it did come, they raged against it. And a nation watched them do that. That is something to be celebrated.