Amid the excitement of recommencement of IPL 2021, most observers and followers of the game in India missed out one of the most exciting matches, involving India, played in recent times. The second One-Day International (ODI) between the Indian women and their Australian counterparts played at Mackay went all the way down to the wire. The final result of the match, which everyone believed was won by India, was changed when umpires after repeated reviews decided that the last delivery was a no-ball, and Aussies romped home off the extra ball to clinch the three-match series.
India had lost the first match by a margin of nine wickets. Australia, on the other hand, were on a winning spree and had a world record 25 successive victories in ODIs to their credit when Meg Lanning and Mithali Raj, the rival captains, went out for the toss. Lanning won the toss and elected to field, but Indian batters gave a superb performance to score 274/7 in their allotted 50 overs. Though Indian batting was led by a brilliant 86 from opener Smrithi Mandhana, it was the contributions of Richa Ghosh, Pooja Vastrakar, Deepti Sharma and Jhulan Goswami in the lower order which ensured that India reached a competitive total.
The Aussie batters started on a poor note as Goswami bowled a beauty of a delivery to remove Alyssa Healy in the first over for a duck. However, Beth Mooney held the Australian innings together with an unbeaten knock of 125 that kept the hosts in the race right till the end. She was helped by Tahlia McGrath, who struck a polished 74 and was involved in a 126-run stand with Mooney, which rescued their side from a position where they are tottering at 52/4. After McGrath departed, Nicola Carey (39 not out) ave Cooney company and the duo carried Australia to the final charge.
Australia needed 13 runs when the Goswami started the last over of the match. Mooney swung a low full toss to midwicket where an overthrow helped the batters to complete three runs. The next ball, which was placed by Carey to fine leg, brought two runs, thus bringing the equation down to eight runs off four balls. The next ball was a beamer, which struck Carey on the helmet, requiring a concussion check. More importantly, it was a no-ball as a full pitch that passed above the waist height of the batter. The next two balls yielded a bye and a leg bye each as Goswami bowled the ball in the right areas, denying the batters the width to play a big hit. With two balls to go, Goswami bowled an over pitched delivery outside the off stump which was edged by Carey to fine leg for two runs.
Now one ball remained and three runs were required. Goswami was bowling superbly in conditions made difficult by dew, which denied the bowler a firm grip on the ball. She ran in and bowled a full pitch, and Carey swung at it with all her might. The ball went off the bat straight to Yastika Bhatia at mid wicket, who held the catch without any show of nerves. Indians started celebrating thinking that they had won the game by two runs, while the commentators announced an end to the winning streak of the Aussies.
But the umpires had not removed the bails signalling the end of the match. They were seen conferring with each other in the middle of the pitch, followed by a reference to the third umpire. Numerous replays of the last ball followed on the monitors.Then came the verdict in the form of a raised outstretched hand from field umpire Claire Polasek signalling that the last delivery was a no-ball. This meant that Aussies gained one run and also got to face an extra delivery, which was a free hit, wherein the batter could not be dismissed other than through run out.
Goswami ran in again and bowled a good length delivery on the leg stump, which was clipped by Carey to midwicket. Running fasr, the duo completed two runs, just beating the throw-in from Jemimah Rodriguez, in time to register an unbelievable win. Thus, the Aussies managed to win a game which they believed that had lost, solely on account of the intervention by the umpires.
The rules governing the conduct of ODIs stipulate that the umpire at the bowler’s end should call and signal a no-ball if a ball delivered by a bowler, other than a spinner, passes or would have passed above the waist height of the batsman standing in his batting stance at the crease. Among the multifarious duties that the umpire at the bowler’s end is required to perform, this forms one of the most difficult one and he invariably consults his colleague at the other end before taking a final call on this. In most cases, the umpire at the square leg is in a better position to see whether the ball ‘dips’ in the air after being delivered, which plays a big role in determining the height at which it would have passed the striker. With the advent of technology, it is possible to analyse the course and trajectory of the ball better using electronic means and hence it makes sense to seek the assistance of the third umpire also before deciding whether to call a no-ball or not.
The replays of the controversial last ball delivered by Goswami indicated that the delivery would have passed above the waist level of the Carey, which would justify the decision of the umpire. But what impressed one more was the poise with which skipper Mithali Raj took the decision and went about with her job. She handed over the ball to Goswami, rearranged the fielders, some of whom were visibly upset, and set an example of how to take an adversity in a tense situation in one’s stride. One could not but think how a Virat Kohli or a Ricky Ponting would have reacted in a similar situation and the histrionics that would have followed the decision of the umpire.
This game would remain in the mind not merely as one that offered an exciting finish but as one where Indians, despite ending second best in the proceedings on the field, emerged out of it with their honour and dignity magnified by their exemplary conduct.
Hats off to Mithali and the girls.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)