Hangzhou: Rookie pacer Titas Sadhu singlehandedly earned a gold medal for the Indian women's cricket team in its maiden appearance as it defeated Sri Lanka by 19 runs in a low-scoring final of the Asian Games here on Monday.
On a pitch difficult for batting, the Indian women's team struggled to 116 for seven but it was just about par score.
However Titas, who is just four days shy of her 19th birthday, bowled a devastating first spell and finished with superb figures of 4-1-6-3 to play a big role in restricting Sri Lanka to 97 for eight in 20 overs.
She had an able ally in leg-spinner Devika Vaidya (4-0-15-1), who kept a tight leash on the islanders.
Left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad (3-0-20-2) and off-spinner Deepti Sharma (4-0-25-1) started off badly but were on target during the back-end as Indian women always looked in complete control.
This was one gold medal that India were expected to win, but the standard of cricket was pretty poor, and the nature of wicket didn't help matters.
The lanky Titas bowled quick and kept her deliveries on fuller length to get three wickets in her first two overs, including opposition skipper and their best batter Chamari Athapaththu (12).
The Indian women's team is missing a genuine quick bowler in its ranks since the retirement of Jhulan Goswami and Titas looks to be a worthy successor. However, her wares would be proved once she is pitted against players of SENA countries.
Sensing the slow nature of the track, Indian skipper Harmanpreet Kaur started with off-spinner Sharma but the left-handed Athapaththu quickly went on the offensive with a slog swept six and a boundary off the very first over.
The skipper brought her frontline pacers back from the second over and Titas, playing only her second T20I, got Anushka Sanjeewani (1) to play a lofted drive without reaching to the pitch of the delivery. The simple catch at mid-off was taken by Harmanpreet.
The teenager then angled one in and castled Vishmi Gunaratne (0) and in her next over, just shortened the length for Athapaththu. The ball stopped on the batter and her slash was taken by Sharma at the edge of the circle at extra cover.
Sri Lanka were tottering at 14 for 3, but Hasini Perera (25 off 22 balls) then got some quick runs to take her team past the 50-run mark before Rajeshwari forced her to sweep uppishly, as Sri Lanka were reduced to 50 for four.
Nilakshi de Silva (23 off 34 balls) and Oshadi Ranasinghe (19 off 26 balls) added 38 runs for the fifth wicket before Vastrakar removed the former and Sharma got the better of the latter with both going for adventurous shots.
Earlier, Harmanpreet's decision to bat first was a correct one as the pitch, which wasn't conducive for stroke-play, only got slower as the match progressed.
On a track like this, it becomes a challenge to force the pace against slow bowlers and the Sri Lankan team comprised way too many such operators in its ranks.
Smriti Mandhana (46 off 45 balls), who hit four boundaries and a six, along with Jemimah Rodrigues (42 off 40 balls), added 73 runs for the second wicket.
In order to counter the slowness, both Mandhana and Rodrigues used the sweep shot with some degree of success.
Mandhana was looking in fine touch till she hurt herself while completing a quick single and post that, her footwork against the spinners wasn't as good as it was at the start of her innings.
It was one slog sweep too many that brought about her downfall. Richa Ghosh started with a six, but didn't last long.
Harmanpreet's lack of match time was evident as she struggled during her short stay. But in the end, the total was enough to ensure a second gold medal of the Games.