In the past couple of seasons, the Indian women's cricket team has been one of the most improved sides in the shortest format of the game. With a plethora of youngsters in the squad, the team has incorporated a fearless brand of cricket courtesy of skipper Harmanpreet Kaur. The right-handed batter is currently at the helm of affairs for the side in the T20 format and has played a crucial role in allowing the youngsters in the team the opportunity to go out and express themselves.
While the attacking style of play has reaped massive dividends for the young contingent, there have been instances of the team struggling to adapt to the conditions on offer and failed to get over the line. However, through all the crests and troughs, one of the heartening aspects incorporated by this young side is the art of never giving up.
With the series on the line in the multi-format tournament, India set foot at the Gold Coast, riding high on confidence after their exploits in the one-off Test match and the first match of the T20 series. After being asked to bat first, the Indian team got off to a horrendous start as they lost their in-form opening pair of Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma, with the score reading 12 for the loss of two wickets.
On a sluggish wicket on offer, the visiting side lost a flurry of wickets in the middle overs and were tottering at 81 for nine with Pooja Vastrakar and Rajeshwari Gayakwad holding the fort for the team. With three overs to spare, not many people gave the Indian team a chance to bat for 20 overs or even cross the 100-run mark. However, Vastrakar had other ideas as she single-handedly scored 37 off the last three overs to propel the Indian team to a fighting total of 118. Displaying an array of strokes, the 22-year-old smashed 16 off the final over to give the Indian team much-needed impetus in the back end of the innings.
In reply, after making a comeback into the playing XI of the side, Shikha Pandey produced a magical delivery to get rid of Alyssa Healey on the second ball of the innings. With the ball moving around, Pandey bowled a peach of a delivery to swing the ball into the right-hander from a sixth stump line to castle the middle stump. However, despite a spirited spell from the pacer and three crucial wickets by Rajeshwari Gayakwad in the middle overs, Australia managed to chase down the target with five balls to spare courtesy of a masterclass from Tahlia McGrath.
While the series is done and dusted as Australia have an unassailable 9-5 lead with a game to play, the Indian team will need to rectify few glaring issues in the shortest format of the game for the forthcoming matches.
Did Team India miss a trick in the final overs?
Over the years, the Indian team has been heavily reliant on the spinners in this form of the game to control the flow of runs and pick up crucial wickets in the middle overs. While the left-arm spin of Gayakwad and the off-spin of Deepti Sharma and Harmanpreet wreaked havoc in the middle overs, it was surprising to see the skipper not opting to go to her slower bowlers in the final stages of the game.
With the ball coming onto the bat and the inexperience in the pace bowling unit, it would have been interesting to witness the tactics of the Australian side against a slow bowler.
Over dependency on the opening combination
Shafali has been one of the standout performers for the Indian team since making her debut against South Africa in September 2019. Along with Mandhana, the 17-year old has formed a formidable opening partnership for the Indian team at the top of the order. The duo has shared the bulk of the responsibility of the Indian side in the past couple of years have scored 827 runs, which is the highest among openers since 2019.
While they have been phenomenal for the Women in Blue, the middle order has struggled to score runs on a consistent basis, which has often led to their downfall. They have the ability to utilise the field restrictions and help the team get off to a flying start. However, when the opening combination of the side has failed to lay down a solid platform, the Indian team has struggled to put substantial runs on the board.
Lack of runs from Harmanpreet Kaur hurting India
In this nail-biting encounter, the visiting side were reeling at 25 for the loss of three wickets in the powerplay. The onus to guide the team to a fighting first innings total relied heavily on skipper Harmanpreet. However, the 32-year old, making a comeback into the side after an injury, was caught inches out of the ground as she tried to take the attack to Georgia Wareham and was dismissed for a quick-fire 28.
One of the primary causes of concern for the team management would be the inconsistency of the right-handed batter over the past couple of years. While the likes of Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues have scored runs for the side in this format, the experience of Harmanpreet and her aggressive style of play in the middle overs is the missing link in this Indian batting unit.
In the Women's T20 matches since 2019, Harmanpreet has amassed 408 runs in 25 innings at an average of 19.4 and a strike rate of 103.8. While the strike rate will grab plenty of eyeballs considering her past records and her prowess with the bat, another staggering revelation is that she has not scored a half-century for the side since 2019.
With an inexperienced middle-order, she will be the key to the fortunes of the Indian side along with vice-captain, Mandhana. The duo have plenty of exposure playing in this format courtesy of the leagues all over the world and will need the batting unit to revolve around them in the upcoming matches.
Ingredients of an epic finale
Despite the series not going in favour of the Indian side, the team can be mighty proud of their efforts in this hard-fought contest. Barring the first ODI, the Women in Blue has showcased tremendous grit to overcome the Aussie juggernaut in the 50-over format and register a win in the final game post a cliffhanger.
In the historic pink-ball Test, the visiting side dominated proceedings for the majority of the game. However, with relentless showers resulting in the loss of overs, Team India failed to press for a result. The team started the first game in the T20 series in a commanding fashion and were well on course to register a mammoth first innings total before rain played spoilsport resulting in the match being abandoned.
With the second game going down to the wire, the final match promises to be a mouth-watering clash as the visiting side will look to end the series on a high.
While the young Indian side showcased glimpses of the talent with the emergence of Vastrakar and the performance of the left-arm spinner Gayakwad in the middle overs, the team will be keen to put forth an all-around show as they step onto the field for one last time this series.