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Smriti, spinners and Renuka help India avoid a whitewash in Mumbai

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Last updated on 10 Dec 2023 | 07:37 PM
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Smriti, spinners and Renuka help India avoid a whitewash in Mumbai

The Indian women performed like a cohesive unit for the first time in the series, with the spinners, Smriti and Renuka being the top performers

It felt like a batter hitting sixes after 100 runs were required in the last two overs. However, the Indian women saved face by defeating England by five wickets in the third and final T20I, which went closer than anticipated, as India chased down 127 with an over remaining.

For the first time in the series, the Indian women performed like a cohesive unit that was fighting to win. The bowlers were bowling to a set plan, fielders in the outfield were adamant about not dropping chances and not letting anything pass through them, and the batters batted with a resolve to win. 

India replaced Pooja Vastrakar and brought Amanjot Kaur in the eleven for this game. Even that move worked out brilliantly, as Amanjot played with nerves of steel when 11 runs were needed from ten balls and hit two fours against the number one T20I bowler in the world – Sophie Ecclestone. She was also electric in the field and bowled with control. This makes things hard for Pooja Vastrakar as she has been out of form with both the bat and the ball, and Amanjot is a like-for-like alternative. 

Meanwhile, England had a rough outing. They weren’t playing Natalie Sciver-Brunt and Danni Wyatt today, and their batters couldn’t rise to the occasion. 

Batting first, they were first jolted awake by Renuka Singh, and then Saika Ishaque and Shreyanka Patil spun a web around them, which proved hard to come out of. They were eight down for 76 runs in the fifteenth over, and if Charlie Dean and Heather Knight (52 off 42) hadn’t had a 50-run partnership in just 32 balls, then the situation would have been more dire. 

India stumbled early in the chase again, with Freya Kemp cleaning up Shafali Verma, but today was Smriti Mandhana’s day, and she combined with Jemimah Rodrigues to build a 57-run partnership, which also happened to be the only fifty partnership for India in the series. That should have ideally seen India through, but England chipped in with wickets of Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Smriti Mandhana and Richa Ghosh before the chase could be polished off. If not for Amanjot’s 10 off 4 in a crunch situation, this match would have gone to the last over. 

Let’s get into some key performances from today’s game that deserve a deeper look.  

Renuka Singh Thakur is inevitable

Renuka has made a few things almost certain everytime she takes the field for India - powerplay wickets, beaten batters, obliterated stumps, and a big leap followed by a radiant smile. The batters knew what was coming – inswinging balls that would jag back in after pitching. But still, Maia Bouchier missed it as she failed to account for the movement, and the ball evaded her hapless bat and crashed into the stumps. 

In this series, Renuka got 3/27, 2/26, and 2/23 in this series, picking up seven wickets against a top side that dominated her team. She wasn’t just the light at the end of a dark tunnel. She was a burning flame that kept her team afloat in the darkness of mediocrity. 

Looking at her pitch map and beehive, you can clearly see how accurate she has been! 87.5% of her deliveries have fallen in good length or full region, making batters play at almost everything as she kept targeting the stumps. 26 out of the 80 balls she delivered in this series were hitting the stumps, showing how she denies room for the batters to manoeuvre their shots. 

She loves stumps. She loves picking wickets at the top, as she has picked ten in her first over in the 34 WT20I innings she has bowled in. She is just inevitable, and India would hope she continues to be that for as long as possible. 

Shreyanka and Saika prove their mettle

Remember the first game, where Shreyanka Patil and Saika Ishaque had the worst record for a debutant? Well, things have changed quite a lot in the last four days. Both got game time and finally performed in a way that got them a place in the side in the first place. 

Shreyanka, who’s quite a crafty off-spinner who regularly plays with angles and lengths, was wayward in the first two games. She was still pitching a lot of deliveries at the good length, but her line was awry, as evident in the pitch map. However, today, except for a few balls, she targeted the stumps and got a bowled and an LBW in her three wickets.

Moreover, she also bowled in the death overs with much control, adding another dimension to India’s bowling. 

Meanwhile, coming into this game, Saika Ishaque was in danger of being another actor in the rotating cast of left-arm spinners that Indian selectors have been trying in the past. Though she had two wickets in the first two games, her performances weren’t impactful enough to draw eyeballs. 

The main reason behind that, like Shreyanka, was how inconsistent the spinner from Bengal was in her lines. Today, where she got a bowled and an LBW in her 22 for 3, she bowled into the stumps and, as a result, was much more successful in picking wickets and being economical. 

India might have lost the series, but Shreyanka and Saika's comeback would be a big positive for Coach Amol Muzumdar and skipper Harmanpreet Kaur. 

Smriti reigns supreme against Ecclestone

Smriti Mandhana vs Sophie Ecclestone isn’t a battle between an immovable object and an unstoppable force. That’s what it feels like, anyway. But the reality is that Mandhana rules over the number one bowler in WT20I cricket like a tyrant. 

Counterintuitively, Sophie Ecclestone has been even better against the lefties than the righties (average of 10.8 and 14.8, respectively) since 2022. Even in this phase, where Ecclestone was busy eating lefties for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Mandhana strikes at 139 with an average of 39 against the left-arm spinner. No other batter in the world comes close to her while playing Ecclestone. The second best is Deepti Sharma. 

From that perspective, Smriti Mandhana’s long stay at the crease worked out brilliantly in India’s favour, scoring 13 runs off the 7 balls she faced from Ecclestone at a strike rate of 185. The English spinner ended with the figures of 40 for 2, one of her worst bowling figures in WT20Is ever!

This innings came late in the series but gives enough hope to India, who should ideally make Mandhana and Sharma bat against Ecclestone in the Test match, which starts on December 14. 

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