Sometimes applauding a fighting performance in a losing cause is dangerous, for it masks the many flaws in it. The fight on display is the very nature of a must-win game. And Harmanpreet Kaur exhibited that fight, that hunger and that one last push. As the Indian women’s cricket team fought dew, an in-form South African lineup and injury concerns, they lost the sight of what was in front of them, a place in the World Cup semi finals.
When the Protea fire burned brightly at the Hagley Oval with Mignon du Preez and Sune Luus stitching a partnership, the required run-rate hovered around the seven runs mark and all they needed was a run of each ball. With three off-spinners turning the ball into the two right handers, Mithali Raj had assigned everyone deep on the leg side.
From the start of the 40th over, India gave away singles and doubles on the on side with the same energy as educational institutes give away sweets on Independence Day celebrations. More than 30 runs were scored in ones and twos in that period in that region as South African batters hardly ever felt the scoreboard pressure.
Captaincy isn’t straightforward. It never is. There is always a fear of not doing enough. But in a situation where Mithali was in, she had to make a decision whether she needs protection behind square on the leg side or in front of it. She could have either had the backward-square leg or the short mid-wicket inside the circle. She wanted both those fielders on the rope and that unfortunately played into the hands of the chasing side.
But India’s campaign cannot be boiled down to this last phase. It has been a tournament where they have had phases of a championship fabric, but at other times they have looked mediocre as a unit.
Shefali Verma got two ducks to start with but Smriti Mandhana got off the blocks with her lazy elegance. Even after winning their first couple of games, that wobble at the top was magnified against the hosts in the third game as India lost to New Zealand. Mandhana and Kaur took care of the West Indies with tons that lifted India to a massive first innings total. The top order toppled once again in play, this time against England to err in their second loss in the tournament.
The loss to Australia will perhaps haunt them the most. As both the openers flopped, it was to Yastika Bhatia and Raj to rebuild, which they did, but with a laboring strike rate. Kaur’s blitzkrieg in the end posted a competitive total but it was never enough against an Australian side that always saves its best for World Cups.
The only game where three out of India’s top five batters scored more than a strike rate for hundred was against the West Indies. It was also the only occasion that they posted more than 300. In all the other encounters, largely Raj and everyone else except Verma and Kaur batted slowly. After dropping Jemimah Rodriguez from the side there was a serious vacuum in terms of fast scoring batters in the team. Unfortunately, that empty space remained in this entire expedition.
Captain Raj dropped a sitter against the White ferns. Then they misfiled time and again in that game. It was clear that fielding was India’s weakest link in this World Cup. That came back to haunt them against South Africa in a game where they couldn’t have afforded to be sloppy. Fumbles and dropped catches floored their chances as the Proteas won the game in the last over.
For someone like Verma whose skill levels are world class, she hails from a structure where fielding has taken a back seat since ages. Not just Verma, there are hundreds of girls who are playing cricket in India in the most remote of districts where they are only taught how to bat and bowl. Modern day cricket prioritizes fielding more than any other skill set and it is time that coaches and mentors who work at the grassroots level pay severe attention to the same.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
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