The settings could not have gotten any better. The final of the women's T20 World Cup, which was played between the hosts Australia and financial superpower of world cricket India before a full house at Melbourne, on Women's Day. Can there be a bigger or bolder statement about the rise of women’s cricket to a position where it seeks parity with the men?
While the plan to hold the final on Women's Day might have been an act of inspired decision making on the part of the organisers, it was the unquestionable popularity of the game and the players that ensured that this iconic venue was packed to near-capacity on March 8.
The growth of T20 version and the resurgence in the popularity of women’s game have been the two surprise developments that astounded the followers of the game during the present century.
One could understand the success of T20 format as it was, in effect, the fulfilment of a requirement of the times, wherein new age fans wish to have shorter matches with plenty of action and fun.
However, not even the most prescient would have envisaged that women cricketers, who had overtaken their male counterparts in launching the first-ever World Cup for the game but had subsequently faded into the background, would get a sudden lease of life that would transport them to the centre stage of the game.
The 2020 edition of women’s T20 World Cup showcased the best that lady willow wielders have to offer. All the matches were well fought, the quality of cricket on display was always high and most of the matches produced the edge of the seat excitement. The top-10 sides in the world, which included Thailand, played competitive cricket and justified the billing of the championship as one almost at par with the men’s editio
Bad day for India
It was sad that the final that promised so much turned out to be a one-sided affair. Indian bowlers, particularly the spinners, who had served the side so well to take the team to final, suddenly lost their nerves during the crunch game.
The enormity of the occasion might have bogged them down as they played before an audience of nearly 90,000 on the stands and many more millions on the TV screens back home. Their woes were compounded by the butterfingered fielders, who dropped two straightforward catches in the first five overs.
This was all that Aussie openers Alissa Healy and Beth Mooney required and they bludgeoned their way to an opening stand of 115 runs off just 70 balls. It will take the Indian bowlers a long time to put behind the brutal assault by Healy, who struck five sixes and seven boundaries in a brilliant knock of 75 off only 39 balls.
The remaining Aussie batters built on this opening stand with Mooney staying at the crease till the very end with an unbeaten 78. Indian bowlers regained some of their lost confidence after separating the opening pair and conceded only 69 runs in the last eight overs.
But it was obvious that chasing a target of 185 runs, at an asking rate in excess of nine runs per over, would be too difficult for Indians, whose highest score in the tournament till then was 142 against Bangladesh.
The enormity of the target claimed the first casualty in the opening over itself, when the in-form Shefali Verma gloved a short pitched ball from Megan Schutt to Healy, behind the stumps. The 16-year-old Shefali was India's star during the league stage, scoring 161 runs, out of the 493 scored by her side, at a stupendous strike rate of 166.66! The wild Aussie celebrations after her dismissal proved that they considered Shefali to be the danger woman who could snatch the game away from them.
India's batting collapse
Indian batting collapsed in a heap after the early loss of Shefali. Tanya Bhatia, who came in next, retired after being struck on the grill of the helmet while playing the sweep shot off the bowling of Jee Jonassen, while both Jeremiah Rodriguez and Smriti Mandhana holed out to fielders within the circle, while trying to clear them.
Skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, who was going through a bad patch with the bat, scratched around for some time but could not reach double figures. Finally it was left to Deepti Sharma, who had scored an unbeaten 49 in the first match against Australia, struck around gamely and top scored with 33, with Veda Krishnamurthy and Richa Sharma lending her support.
However, when it appeared that their contributions would help to give some semblance of respect to the Indian total, another batting collapse took place and the side crumbled from 88 runs for five at the end of 16th over to get dismissed for a paltry 99, with five balls remaining in the allotted 20 overs.
The final scores do not indicate the differences between the two teams in a fair and just manner.
Seeing India play today, it was difficult to recognise this as the same team that defeated Australia by 17 runs in the first match in the league stage. It was just that India had a bad day in the field, something that can happen even to the best of sides.
In a T20 game even a few overs of bad cricket can tilt the balance significantly and India’s poor bowling and slipshod catching during the initial overs set them back considerably.
The task of chasing a daunting total played on their minds when their turn to bat came and most of them fell to shots that would not do them proud.
Memories of 2003 men's final
In many ways, this match bore an amazing resemblance to the ICC World Cup final of 2003, where Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting took the game away from India by their sterling performances with the bat. Then also Indian bowlers had yielded the initiative during the early overs and were not able to reassert themselves later on, leaving the batsmen with a huge target, that was beyond their capacity to chase successfully.
In the final analysis, Australia were deserving winners as they raised their game to outplay India in all departments in the most critical match.
India can take some solace from the fact that the team did well to reach the final and could also inflict a defeat on the winners at the league stage.
Further, the championship brought to the fore the talents of such brilliant young players as Shefali Verma, Radha Yadav and Poonam Yadav, who would serve the country for many more years, if groomed carefully.
Emerging as World Champions involves plenty of hard work and this experience should inspire the players to put in more effort during the coming years to ensure that India elevate their game sufficiently to lift the trophy next time.