CHENNAI: England have been a bogey team for the Indian women’s cricket team for some time now. Harmanpreet Kaur & Co head into Thursday’s semifinal of the T20 World Cup with an unbeaten run in the group stage for a second consecutive edition. But whether they can put their anxiety to bed against England is the question.
To put things in perspective, the Women in Blue have never beaten Heather Knight & Co in five World Cup games — in both 50-overs and T20Is. They came close to clinching an elusive world title at Lord’s in 2017 only to be denied by the hosts. They were once again denied by England at the last T20 World Cup in West Indies in 2018. What’s more, even the overall head-to-head favours England, who have won 16 of the 20 games. Known to fall behind when intensity increases, India’s biggest battle on Thursday in Sydney will be within themselves, weather permitting.
“Time has changed now,” feels former India women’s coach Tushar Arothe. “Quite a few girls are new to the side. And their mindset has changed. Back of the mind, they will have those thoughts, but I’m sure they will come out of it.”
Then there is also the threat of rain. With ICC doing away with reserve day for the semifinals, a minimum of 10 overs per side is necessary to complete a game. But, on Wednesday, vast swathes of the Sydney Cricket Ground were covered because of rains till the afternoon. If the match gets washed out, India will march into their maiden final as the highest-ranked team from the group automatically qualifies. With a poor weather forecast for Thursday — 98 per cent chance of rain in the afternoon — it could be a similar story during the match too.
But if the match gets truncated, whether Harmanpreet’s spin-heavy bowling unit will opt for an extra pacer or back its strength has to be seen. India’s spin quartet — Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Deepti Sharma and Radha Yadav — have dominated, accounting for 21 wickets. For England, after a slip-up in the opener, their batswomen, led by Natalie Sciver, has upped their game. “All the teams have shown a sign of weakness while facing India spinners,” Arothe observed. “All four spinners have made valuable contributions. To grip the ball when the outfield is wet is going to be difficult. But if you want to bring an extra pacer in, who would be the one to sit out? I feel they have only Veda Krishnamurthy. It will boil down to number of overs.”
On the batting front, prodigy Shafali Verma — who has shouldered most of the responsibilities — will be the one to watch out. But both Harmanpreet and Smriti Mandhana — both match-winners — are yet to cross 30 even once this meet. India will be hoping that a big innings is around the corner. “Shafali will be key especially if the match is shortened She hits the ball from the word go and by the time the opponents realise (where to bowl), she would have made 20 or 30. The opponents’ morale goes down. Apart from her, there is still more to come from Smriti and Harmanpreet. They will have to step up.” Reaching the semifinal was considered a big step in the previous edition for India, but it is not the case this time with Harmanpreet having carried the growing expectations. Although history favours England, rain and form are on India’s side.
Blue or red?
Harmanpreet Kaur & Co will be up for a big challenge when they go face England, their bogey team, in the Women’s T20 World Cup semifinal. Here’s a look at what to expect from the tantalising clash Down Under…
Shafali Verma’s prolific run — she’s topping the T20I batting charts now — has papered over a big crack: an under-performing middle-order. Deepti Sharma did dig her heels in against Australia, but the likes of Harmanpreet and Veda Krishnamurthy need to pull their socks up, considering the stakes of this clash.
Their batting has been on point, but England’s bowlers are also making their presence felt. The spin-pace duo of Sophie Ecclestone and Anya Shrubsole has 16 wickets. Ecclestone’s eight have come at an eye-watering average of 6.12. With India’s batting being jittery so far, the two will be fancying their chances.
India’s spinners have been on a roll. Twenty one wickets, with none of their four tweakers — Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Radha Yadav and Deepti Sharma — conceding more than a run a ball. Poonam has been a constant threat. With pacer Shikha Pandey providing able support, England’s vaunted batting line-up will have its hands full.
Pitch & conditions
Going by Sydney Cricket Ground’s recent history, spinners could have a say in proceedings. Heavy rains have been forecast, so the toss will play a crucial role.
1 If India win, they will advance to the final of the event for the first time.
5 Wickets taken by Poonam in T20Is against England. Her average (29.6) and strike rate (30) are the leg-spinner’s worst against any opposition in this format.
1 Left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone is first in T20I bowler rankings. Among this edition’s top-15 wicket-takers, she is one among three with a single-digit average.