Act 1- Shafali Verma's ferocious cameo at the top.
Act 2- Familiar middle-order collapse.
Act 3- Shikha Pandey and spinners making up for the middle-order's wrongdoing.
The Harmanpreet Kaur-led side followed a similar script against New Zealand before a glitch came in the form of ingenious Amelia Kerr and almost ruined the climax for India. Shikha Pandey, however, used all her experience and ensured her team had a happy ending.
India beat the White Ferns by three runs at the Junction Oval in Melbourne on Thursday (February 27) and became the first team to confirm their place in the semi-finals of the 2020 ICC Women's T20 World Cup.
Asked to bat, Shafali was once again at her blistering best, but a now-familiar middle-order collapse meant India were restricted to 133/8 in 20 overs. Shafali smoked 46 off 34 before India lost six wickets in the space of 43 runs. In reply, the Indian bowlers choked the New Zealand batters before Kerr took over. The 19-year-old blasted a 19-ball 34* and almost got her team over the line despite India dominating the first 18 overs of the second innings. The White Ferns eventually finished on 129/6 in their 20 overs.
Smriti Mandhana (11) looked in fine touch and announced her comeback into the side with a couple of lofted drives through extra cover and long-on respectively. The stylish left-handed opener, who didn't feature in the match against Bangladesh due to a viral fever, couldn't carry on as she dragged Lea Tahuhu's full-length delivery back onto the stumps. However, Shafali looked unfazed despite her senior partner's departure and was as ruthless as she was against Australia and Bangladesh.
Tahuhu and Rosemary Mair hardly bowled anything in her arc and kept her quiet in the first three overs. The 16-year-old dasher finally got a half-tracker from Sophie Devine and slapped it towards deep mid-wicket to get some momentum back into her innings. Offspinner Anna Peterson's ploy of bowling without a long-on backfired as Shafali tonked her for back-to-back sixes down the ground and India raced to 49 for 1 at the end of six overs.
Meanwhile, Taniya Bhatia was promoted to No. 3 ahead of Jemimah Rodrigues and the wicketkeeper-batter played her role to perfection. Bhatia ensured Shafali had most of the strike in the 51-run stand for the second wicket and laid a perfect platform for India's middle-order. The 22-year-old played a couple of good-looking shots through the on-side before falling to Mair for 25-ball 23 in the 10th over. Rodrigues (10) and out-of-form Indian captain Harmanpreet (1) couldn't contribute much but despite wickets falling from the other end, Shafali kept the attack going.
Having smoked four fours and three maximums, Shafali finally ran out of luck and was caught at long-off off Kerr. The legspinner then pinned Veda Krishnamurthy (6) right in front of the stumps and the Indian middle-order once again failed to capitalise on the good start provided by their top-order. Things could have been worse for India if not for Radha Yadav's 9-ball 14 and Shikha's 10*.
For the White Ferns, Kerr and Mair picked up two wickets each, while Tahuhu, Devine and Leigh Kasperek got a wicket apiece.
Rachel Priest then came out all guns blazing and hammered Deepti Sharma for two boundaries in the first over to get the ball rolling. The wicketkeeper-batter, however, fell in the very next over to Shikha for 12. Coming in at No. 3, Suzie Bates (13-ball 6) could never get going and was knocked over by Deepti while trying to play a cheeky shot.
Despite two early wickets, India were still wary of Devine's presence. With scores of 75, 105, 77, 61, 54*, 72, 19 and 62, Devine has been in unbelievable form in T20Is since 2019. The right-handed opener, however, couldn't play her natural game against Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Radha and Poonam Yadav. The pressure soon got to Devine and the 30-year-old tried to take on the tournament's leading wicket-taker Poonam but ended up offering a simple catch to Radha at point. With Devine departing for 14, the pressure started to build on New Zealand and the required run-rate soon went above 8.
Maddy Green (24) and Katey Martin (25) added 43 runs for the fourth wicket but never looked threatening. The Indian spinners bowled with great control and never allowed New Zealand batters to get on top, until the final two overs.
After impressing with her leg-spin, Kerr also contributed with the bat. With 34 needed in the last two overs, Kerr used the crease to perfection and smashed Poonam for 18 runs in the penultimate over. With Poonam bowling slow-and-short leg-spinners, Kerr went deep in the crease and heaved two of the first three deliveries over short fine leg for boundaries. She forced Poonam to bowl fuller and then sliced the last two deliveries through the off-side for consecutive fours.
Needing 16 in the final over, Hayley Jensen and Kerr managed a boundary each in the first five balls and boiled it down to five off the last delivery. Kerr once again went for the scoop but Shikha held her nerves and nailed the yorker outside off to perfection.