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India fall agonizingly short of clinching their maiden Women’s World Cup title

Last updated on 23 Jul 2020 | 08:56 AM
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India fall agonizingly short of clinching their maiden Women’s World Cup title

On this day in 2017, England pipped India to win their fourth World Cup crown

Undoubtedly, two best teams of the 2017 Women’s World Cup – India and England – played the final in front of a full-house at Lord’s. India looked a settled unit right from the outset and were firm contenders to go all the way, but one could not discount hosts England or defending champions Australia to continue their monopoly over the biggest prize in Women’s cricket. 

India had last reached the final in 2005. The likes of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami were young then and had already cemented their place in the Indian team. Fast forward to 2017, they were on the cusp of playing their last-ever World Cup and were still two of the most prolific players India have ever produced. Their final swansong perhaps? 

England were not a team to be pushed over that easily. After all, they had won three of the 10 editions before this, finishing three more times as runners-up. A win in their own backyard would do them and their fans a world of good. For India, a new chapter in Women’s cricket arose after some scintillating performances in the tournament – be it Harmanpreet Kaur’s unbeaten 171 against Australia in the semi-final or an attacking 72-ball 90 against England from Harmanpreet and an unbeaten century against West Indies from Smriti Mandhana in the group stage. 

For England, it was just another case of been there, done that. They already had many World Cup winners in the team, but complacency perhaps cost them the tournament opener against India at Derby by 35 runs after they had let them pile on 285. That turned out to be just the wake-up call they needed as they went on a rampage and won their remaining six group stage matches and narrowly beat South Africa by two wickets in the semi-final. However, it was their experience in such big matches that eventually went on to make a vital difference in the end. 

The stage was set for the final. All the hard work, blood, sweat and tears over the course of nearly a month had now come to this. 

On a good surface in somewhat overcast conditions, the hosts won the toss and elected to bat.  Jhulan Goswami brought all her experience to bowl a brilliant first spell in which she conceded just nine runs from her five overs. The pressure paid off as Rajeshwari Gayakwad bowled Laura Winfield for 24 and then three overs later Poonam Yadav got the better of Tammy Beaumont – the top-scorer of the tournament. The leggie returned to get another big scalp of the skipper Heather Knight for just one. At 63 for 3 in the 17th over, India were in the driver’s seat but one could not discount England from bouncing back. 

Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver went about the rebuilding phase in which they initially weathered the storm of the spin duo Deepti Sharma and Poonam. They got the odd boundaries, but kept the scorecard ticking with ones and twos. They piled on 83 runs in a little over 16 overs and just when things seemed to have tilted in England’s favour, Mithali turned to the experience of Jhulan, who broke the partnership, dismissing Taylor for 45 and followed that up with the wicket of Fran Wilson off the very next delivery. Things were once again in the balance. 

Mithali cleverly used spinners from one end to get through the overs quickly and at the same time, they were not leaking runs. She hoped that England would succumb to the pressure and throw their wickets away. The ploy almost worked once again as Sciver and Katherine Brunt were involved in a terrible mix-up, but a throw to the wrong end from Punam Raut helped the batters survive. But India did not have to wait long. They finally got rid of Sciver for a 68-ball 51, once again it was Jhulan, who trapped her in front. 

After being reduced to 168 for 6, India would have hoped to restrict England to under 210-220. Luckily for England, the lower-order fired to a certain extent, scored at exactly run-a-ball in the final 10 and as a result, England reached 228 for 7. A stiff target, but certainly not something India could not chase down. 

Runs on the board is always key in a big final. England certainly had that, although not a huge one, but good enough to have something for their bowlers to bowl at.

Given the firepower in England’s bowling line-up – be it with pace or spin – it was important for the Indian openers to get their eye in and not lose early wickets. However, that was not the case as Anya Shrubsole picked up the first wicket in her first over, dismissing Mandhana for a duck. Mandhana made a promising start to the tournament, but slowly faded away. Mithali and Raut then ensured that there were no further damages right away. They were happy to get their eye in.

Like India, England too stuck to their guns and bowled a few quiet overs, which included two continuous maidens in the ninth and 10th over. India needed just under five an over at the end of the 10th over and with nine wickets in hand, they had the firepower to still achieve that. After two boundaries in the 11th over, Mithali was run-out in the 13th over, in the most bizarre fashions as it looked like she gave up halfway through, but she later revealed that her spike had gotten stuck in the surface. 

With each over passing by, the required run-rate kept creeping up. It was the perfect time for Harmanpreet to show her class once again. She had a set Raut at the other end and India needed a big partnership from them to set the game up. 

India took a leaf out of the England batters in the middle phase where they were content in knocking the ball in the gaps for ones and twos. However, Harmanpreet ripped into Alex Hartley on a couple of occasions, clearing the ropes with ease. 

Raut’s patience paid off as she reached her fifty off 75 deliveries and Harmanpreet followed suit a few overs later. In what should have been a period where India catch the game by the scruff of its neck, Harmanpreet launched Hartley in the air and was caught at deep square leg for 51 off 80. India needed 91 from 99 at that stage, but with a new batter coming in, it was never going to be easy.

Luckily for them, they still had Raut at the crease and she had to bat right till the end for India to have a chance. However, Veda Krishnamurthy came in with a positive mindset and relieved the pressure off Raut playing some swashbuckling shots. In the 43rd over, Veda smashed a couple of boundaries off Shrubsole, but it turned out to be bittersweet as Raut was out leg before in the same over for a well-made 86. Had she done enough to hand India their maiden title?

With Veda striking at run-a-ball, India needed 38 more from the final seven overs, with six wickets in hand. Certainly doable, but then Shrubsole showed her class and turned the game in England’s favour in the next two overs, dismissing Sushma Verma (0), Veda (35) and Jhulan (0). Game over for India, perhaps?

Ones and twos would still win the game for India, but dots/wickets would seal their fate from there on. Deepti Sharma started Hartley’s final over – the 46th of the innings – with a boundary off the first ball. Relief! 

That’s as good as things got for India as Shikha Pandey was run-out for nought in the next over and then Shrubsole knocked over the remaining two wickets in the over after that to hand England a narrow nine-run victory. India failed to chase down 11 from the final two overs and were left to ponder what went wrong. Perhaps a Raut century, had Veda batted through or Harman stuck on for a little longer after getting to a fifty, the result might have been different. 

The limelight was well and truly on Shrubsole, who finished with 6 for 46 and became the first woman cricketer to get her name on the Lord’s honours Board.

While the World Cup campaign for India may have ended, it began a phase wherein it was beginning to get more recognition than ever in the country. Calls for a Women IPL gained momentum as the days rolled on and in 2018, the BCCI organized a Women’s T20 Challenge, which was sort of a curtain raiser for the men’s IPL, which gave exposure to more Indian cricketers and also gave them an opportunity to rub shoulders with some overseas talents like Ellyse Perry, Beth Mooney, Alyssa Healy, Suzie Bates and others. It was played in 2019 as well. 

While it is believed that women’s cricket especially in India does not get the recognition it deserves, the 2017 World Cup certainly changed that in the country. The day might not be far away where women’s cricket in India emerges out of the shadows of men’s. The wheels for that process has been set in motion already.

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