T20 cricket has not really been India’s jam. They’ve been a better ODI side, bolstered by two titans of consistency, Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. They’ve been in two ODI World Cup finals, but you’d probably not bet on them being in a T20 final. Always chasing the Australias. The Englands. India didn’t have the power. Didn’t score fast enough. Didn’t bowl fast enough. India didn’t have T20 leagues (still don’t). Before Saturday, India had never won a knock-out match in a global T20I tournament.
This Commonwealth Games campaign has been different. Ahead of the CWG, all the talk was of flags being raised, anthems being sung. Not of medals assured, but a medal won, one medal in particular. There was a refusal to talk up any one opposition. Because if you want to win things, you have to beat everybody.
On the tour to Sri Lanka in June, things were coalescing off the field. A ‘Players Only’ meeting talked about what they want to stand for. Shall they keep moping and moaning that Australia have T20 Leagues, but India have no Women’s IPL? Or shall they control the controllables, and control the narrative. Take it by the throat and shape it.
Smriti Mandhana said the players talked about how they want the next generation to see them. On Saturday, in the semifinal, they saw her living her words. Her highest score in T20Is is 86, but her most significant score is this 61, scripted off 32 balls. She lofted, she drove, she carved, she played textbook shots. All this we knew she could do. But she also stood tall and swung sixes across the line, bent low and scooped, playing textbook T20 cricket. Shots she’s never played before in her career. She evolved.
Sneh Rana was not at that meeting in Sri Lanka as she worked on a niggling knee at the NCA. ‘Killing attitude’ is the phrase she heard when she linked up with the team, the phrase they came up with there. ‘Killing attitude’ is what she showed when she defended 13 off the final over, with only three fielders allowed on the boundary.
But attitude doesn’t win you games without preparation. Individual brilliance doesn’t win tournaments. India have added a missing element to their T20 game: A data analyst, Saikrishnan Chandrasekaran, affiliated to SportsMechanics. The players have been vocal about his contributions. You could see it in the yorkers Rana went for in that last over (“I’ve never bowled so many yorkers”). You could see it in skipper Harmanpreet Kaur’s decision to bowl Shafali Verma in the 16th over (“We didn’t want to give them back to back overs of off spin, Shafali bowls a mixture”). You could see it in the decision to send in left-handed Deepti Sharma ahead of Pooja Vastrakar, keeping Sophie Ecclestone out of the death overs. You could see it in the straightish deep cover India had for Natalie Sciver throughout her innings, which kept her under a run-a-ball.
Not all of these decisions came off: Deepti batted at just a run a ball, Shafali conceded 15, but the T20 thinking underlining them was practically shouting itself out.
India weren’t a T20 team, but suddenly they look more like one. They have a batting group who have been effective before, but are now being aggressive. They don’t have the perfect fast bowlers, but they have two who swing it either way, and a middle overs enforcer who bowls hard lengths and short balls. They’re not the best fielding side, but they have the awareness to have their best fielders in the right places, which is how Mandhana ran out Sciver and Radha Yadav ran out Amy Jones. India weren’t a T20 team, but India are evolving.
India handed a red-hot England their first loss of the summer. And got into the final that everyone wants to get into, the first ever gold medal match in Commonwealth women’s cricket history. After the win, there’s that talk again, about the job not being done, about it being too early to celebrate. Getting to the semis is expected for this Indian team. Getting into finals is what they want the next generation to expect. Winning the thing is what they want to do.
India women 164/5 (S Mandhana 61, J Rodrigues 44*, Freya Kemp 2/22) beat England women 160/6 (Danni Wyatt 35, Nat Scriver 41, Sneh Rana 2/28). India won by 4 runs
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