Shweta Haranhalli
16 Sep 2022 | 07:29 AM

Plenty to ponder as India crumble under pressure yet again

A below-par batting display by the top-order in the decider resulted in the Women in Blue going down in the third T20I

It was a sombre evening at the County Ground in Bristol as the United Kingdom is mourning the sad demise of Queen Elizabeth II. While the atmosphere was gloomy, to say the least, there was a steady flow of people flocking the stadium to witness the decider between two heavyweights of women's cricket. 

The last time these two sides locked horns in a knockout game, India edged past England in the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games in front of a capacity crowd at Edgbaston in Birmingham. 

The home team were bruised, and hurt would surely be an understatement, especially after their performances in the Women's World Cup in New Zealand earlier this season. 

With the plethora of questions on the combinations and lack of experience because of the unavailability of Heather Knight and Natalie Sciver, England commenced their journey to rebuild the team under Amy Jones, albeit only for a brief period. 

While the first clash was a fairly one-sided affair with England thumping India by nine wickets, the Women in Blue bounced back in the second outing courtesy of a masterclass from Smriti Mandhana. 

With tempers flaring after the opening encounter as Harmanpreet Kaur deemed the conditions poor and stated that they were forced to play, there was plenty on the line to play for in the deciding clash at Bristol. 

Indian women's cricket team and summit clashes are probably one of the most heartbreaking love stories in recent times as they have agonisingly come close to three finals and lost their way. 

Despite this game not being a final of a mega event, this would have been the first time the Women in Blue would record a T20I series win against England. 

A chance to create history for the visiting side and an opportunity for England to make amends for their Commonwealth Games performance, the stakes were rocketing sky high. 

However, what followed later in the next three hours was the repeat of India succumbing under the pressure of a knockout game and faltering in their batting department. 

While the home team cantered through in a modest run chase, the Indian side will have plenty to ponder for them heading into the last six months before the T20 World Cup in the land of the Proteas. 

Will the real Shafali Verma stand up, please?

One of the areas of concern for the Indian side heading into the coveted trophy is the lack of runs from Shafali Verma. The teenager took the cricketing world by storm with her exploits at the top of the order. 

However, things seemed to have hit rock bottom for the right-handed batter as she has struggled to score runs since the conclusion of the T20 World Cup in Australia. 

There ain't any doubt that, along with Mandhana, she forms one of the most destructive opening pairs in the shortest format. However, the same has not been translated into performances as she scored 438 runs in 21 innings since the last mega event at an average of 20.85, which is the second-lowest among openers from the top eight nations with a minimum of 15 innings. 

With the opposition bowlers targetting her body with pace and bounce, Shafali ought to figure out a way to deal with the barrage of short deliveries that will come her way in the coming series and the World Cup.

While scores of 14, 20 and 5 in the three outings do not do justice to her talent, she and the team management will be well aware of her crucial role in maximising the powerplay as the road to the World Cup beckons. 

The curious case of Deepti Sharma's batting number

The Women in Blue were rocked even before they sojourned to the England shores as Jemimah Rodrigues missed out on the series due to a wrist injury she picked up during the Commonwealth Games. 

In the absence of Rodrigues, India opted to use Hemalatha at number three for the series. However, the move seemed to have backfired as the right-handed batter struggled to find form and score runs in the middle overs. 

On the other hand, Deepti Sharma has been the crisis batter of the Indian side since her debut and has bailed the team out of challenging situations on numerous occasions. The southpaw has batted in all the positions from number three to number nine in her 69 games, but the team management has failed to zero down her role in the batting unit. 

With only Mandhana as the other left-handed batter in the side, Harmanpreet can use the skills of Deepti in the middle overs or even send her in early if India lose their vice-captain cheaply. 

Welcome back, Richa Ghosh

While Deepti was solid in the third game with a valuable 24, there was a youngster at the other end making all the noises for the right reasons. After missing out on a place in the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games, Richa Ghosh made her comeback in the three-match series. 

Despite not setting the stage on fire in the first game, the right-handed batter was in her full flow after walking in at 52 for the loss of six wickets in the 13th over. 

She accumulated the ones and the twos before launching an attack on the pace bowlers of England. The 18-year-old was brutal to Issy Wong in her final over and smashed her for three consecutive boundaries to shift the momentum in favour of the Indian side. 

In a batting unit with the likes of Mandhana, Harmanpreet and Shafali, it was a young girl making her comeback into the side shining bright on the biggest stage of the series with a 33-run cameo. 

India will hope she continues her rich form as they sorely missed a finisher down the order, and she would be the perfect partner to Pooja Vastrakar in the back end of the innings. 

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