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What the India men's team can learn from India women

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Smriti_Mandhana_India_CricketThe journey of the Indian women’s cricket team in the ongoing ICC Women’s World Cup has been inspirational, to say the least. Some of the women are exhibiting what their male counterparts cannot. Deepti Sharma’s off-spin in ODIs can be a handy lesson for her male counterpart, Ravi Ashwin. Smriti Mandhana’s effortless backfoot punch over point and cover, or a loft over mid-wicket for six, is inspiring many budding cricketers watching her on the TV. An India vs West Indies encounter was overshadowed by a bunch of young girls who won against arch-rivals Pakistan. Bear in mind, these same women were undistinguished in India two weeks ago.

The girls, who currently top the points table with three consecutive wins, began the tournament against hosts England. Openers Poonam Raut (86 off 134) and Smriti Mandhana (90 off 72) stitched together a partnership of 176 runs until captain Mithali Raj walked in at no. 3 and contributed a 73-ball 71. Harmanpreet Kaur followed in the 46th over and contributed another 24 off 22. India posted 281 on the board, and England fell 35 runs short of the target in their chase.

In the second match against a relatively lacklustre West Indies, Raut scored a duck, Deepti Sharma was knocked over for 6 and Raj and Mandhana replicated their performances from the opening game, with individual scores of 106 and 46 respectively.

Then followed the marquee clash between India and Pakistan. Most eyes were on Mandhana, who had taken the tournament by storm with her astounding performances. However, there were little or no expectations from the middle order as they were largely untested in the first two games. Hence, when Mandhana and Raj fell on 2 and 8 respectively, India faltered but never threw in the towel. The untested middle order decided to show up and make everyone believe that they were not just making up the numbers.  

India’s batting collapse against Pakistan thus can be considered a blessing in disguise because the troop unearthed two batters who can play in crisis situations – bowling all rounder Jhulan Goswami and wicketkeeper Sushma Verma.  

The unexpected show

In wicket-keeper Sushma Verma, India found a new batter who displayed rock solid temperament and dragged the side to a competitive total. Her 35-ball 33 helped India recover from 111 for 6 to 169 for 9. As for Goswami, who already enjoys a reputation of hitting big sixes, she avoided lofted shots so as not to risk losing her wicket and answer the need of the hour – a stable partnership. She put her head down and scored a 36-ball 14 to ensure India amassed a decent total.

While a 34-run stand between Verma and Goswami for the seventh wicket would sound insignificant on paper, it was very significant in the context of the game.

In the face of crisis, characters are made and the Indian women showed their spirit. They have the substance and even if the icing is wiped off, they have the mettle to carry them through.

However, the Indian skipper has to be largely credited for the gamble she played. She sent Verma in at No. 7 ahead of the more accomplished Goswami, despite the fact that prior to Sunday, the 24-year-old had played 22 ODIs in which she had batted only eight times. In those 8 innings, Verma had faced 56 deliveries from which she had scored only 13 runs. Such a show of confidence in a relatively inexperienced batter was a testament to Raj’s sound judgement.

ICC CHAMPIONS TROPHY 2017: Did India collapse in the finals due to an unexposed middle order?

Had the Indian men’s team suffered the same fate in one of their group matches, i.e. had the middle and lower middle order got the chance to stand up and perform, perhaps they would not have fallen like a house of cards in the final against Pakistan.

In the 4 games that India played before the finals, they scored a total of 1098 runs, out which 874 came from the top 3 batsmen – Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. However, in the finals, which India lost by 180 runs, the top 3 scored only 26 runs. Until the semi-final stage, 79.5% of runs were scored by the top 3, which shows that the middle and lower middle order largely went untested. Subsequently, nobody except Hardik Pandya could exhibit daredevilry on the big day. For their female counterparts, though, the lesson was learned early on.

With Indian women scheduled to play mightier opponents like Australia and New Zealand in the next few games, India will need its middle order to step up. And as they have performed in a high voltage clash like the one against Pakistan, their legs won’t shake when they take guard against other teams. As for their immediate next assignment, Sri Lanka have been below-par in the tournament so far with three defeats from as many matches.

India now have all their bases covered. Like crafty spiders, the spinners continue to weave webs around their opponents. Mandhana and Mithali on their day can destroy the best of bowlers, and the middle and lower middle order can also spring a surprise when needed. It can be argued that their fielding was not up to the mark until the match against Pakistan. The women had dropped catches like hot potatoes and grassed at least six opportunities in their first two games. However, none of those blunders were noticeable against the arch-rivals.

But the underlying question is, even if the women bring the cup home, will Indians, who give more precedence to the men’s game, celebrate like the night of April 2, 2011?

 

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