CHENNAI: Wednesday was a reality check for India women ahead of the World T20. Chasing 156 in the T20 tri-series final against Australia in Melbourne, the visitors were in the game, with the equation coming down to 41 off 35 balls after Smriti Mandhana’s 37-ball 66.
However, they lost seven wickets for 29 runs to lose by 11 runs. Australia won a match they could have lost, clawing back with the ball after being out of the game for 15 overs. Left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen was the star, finishing with a career-best five for 12.
It was not the first time India crumbled at the death to hand their opponents an unlikely win. The 2017 World Cup final and World T20 semifinal against England in 2018 are examples. Not being able to perform under pressure is something that captain Harmanpreet Kaur had acknowledged in the past. To address this, she had said last September that a mental conditioning coach will do a world of good.
Three months later, with the team experiencing the same problem, the question of hiring a mental conditioning coach becomes more relevant. Former India women’s skipper Diana Edulji also thinks it is the way forward. “It’s high time we have a mental strengthening coach,” said Edulji.
“I have been saying this for the past two years but unfortunately, nothing has happened. I can’t understand the reason for these collapses. Suddenly, they are winning games from unbelievable situations. In the last match we won against Australia chasing 174. Then in two games (in tri-series), we collapsed from a winning position.”
That they are dependent on the top four is well-known. India’s average total in the tournament was 139.4 thanks largely to Smriti’s tally of 216 in five matches. Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues and Harmanpreet have a combined tally of 302 runs, with the rest contributing just 179 in the series. Thrice in the five matches, the middle-order comprising of Deepti Sharma, Veda Krishnamurthy and Taniya Bhatia was exposed.
All-rounder Harleen Deol and Richa Ghosh — who made her debut on Wednesday — were given just a game each. That wicketkeeper Taniya was sent in as low as at No 10 in the final is a another story.
“Is there something wrong in the middle and lower middle-order that nobody is able to question?” asked Edulji. “We are top-heavy. We were in a position to win in the 15th over and shouldn’t lose from there. There’s something wrong. With so many experienced heads in the support staff, what’s the message going to the batter that they are so scared and can’t hold on to their wickets. Some senior has to play the full 20 overs.”
Whether the problem is mental or technical, if India do not find a solution, their quest for a world title will remain a dream. With the World T20 beginning on February 21, time is running out. “Living on past laurels is not going to be enough to lift a Cup. And that’s the difference between India coming to the semifinals, finals and lifting the trophy. We need to get over this fear of losing. We need mental strength and belief in ourselves,” Edulji added.
Australia 155/6 in 20 ovs (Beth 71 n.o, Deepti 2/30, Rajeshwari 2/32) bt India 144 in 20 ovs (Smriti 66; Jess 5/12).