Let’s keep batting and bowling aside for a minute. The facet of the game where India Women have outplayed England has been fielding. Harleen Deol’s extraordinary effort at the boundary in the first T20I lured more fans to the Women’s game than any other singular effort in recent times. But, a front-runner for the best catch ever in Women's cricket could not help India much. Nat Sciver’s scintillating counterattack helped the hosts to build an unsurmountable total – even without the rain – for India in the first T20I.
However, in the second, as many as four run-outs in addition to the chokehold by the Indian spinners did not allow England to chase down a paltry 149 even when they were comfortably ahead needing 44 off 42 balls with eight wickets in hand when the 14th over began.
The dominance of Indian spinners is not a surprise. Since 2019 in WT20Is, Indian spinners are the only ones with collective wickets above 100 (135). This is 44 wickets more than the next-best side, Pakistan Women. These wickets have come at a balls per wicket record of 18.2, second-best after England (16.1) for whom Sophie Ecclestone and Sarah Glenn have stood head and shoulders above the rest.
In the second T20I, England Women scored only 35 runs in the last seven overs while losing six wickets. In addition to the run-outs, the spells of 2/17 and 1/18 in their quota of overs from Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma turned the tide in India’s favour. Not to mention the miserly 0/21 from Sneh Rana from her four overs. This was in complete contrast to 2/117 from 13 overs by the Indian spinners in the first T20I. Come the third T20I, it will be interesting to see if the surface at the County Ground at Chelmsford offers the assistance needed for India’s tweakers or will they have to rely on their own guile and assistance from the fielders to help India avenge the loss in the ODI series.
But for that to happen, India’s weakest suit for far in the white-ball leg will have to stand up. A run rate of 6.23 in the first T20I and 7.4 in the second, is below par from the modern-day standard. Despite being off to a flier with 66/0 after the first eight overs, India added only 82 runs in the last 12 overs in the second encounter. While Deepti Sharma won the player of the match with her efforts with the ball, her innings of a 27-ball 24 while batting as high as number four was the primary reason for India ending with a below-par score despite an outstanding start. It begs a question whether she is the right fit to bat as high as she did in the second T20I or will India be better off promoting a more aggressive batter in Sneh Rana when the openers have provided a solid start.
While the question marks on the batting front linger, there were three positives from the second game as well. After an indifferent tour, Smriti Mandhana seems to be finally getting in touch. Shafali Verma blunted England’s ace pacer, Katherine Brunt, in the second T20I as she continues to rise in stature. More importantly, after innings of 4, 8, 1, 19, 16, and 1 on the tour, India’s skipper Harmanpreet Kaur was among the runs as well ahead of the series decider.
The focus post the series is going to be on the ODI World Cup early next year. But, the firepower acquired playing the WT20Is might well decide the dominance of India Women in the longer format. "We have to start putting up good scores. If I talk about the ODI format, we have to start posting 250-260-plus scores consistently while batting first, that's something we have to work on," asserted Mandhana ahead of the third T20I.
The hosts have not lost a bilateral T20I series at home consisting of more than one game to any other side apart from Australia. India currently have six points in the multi-format series as compared to England’s eight. The final T20I is worth two points. England will have to bring out their A-game to keep India away from ending the multi-format series even.