CHENNAI: When the Indian women’s skipper Harmanpreet Kaur said that the team was backing their strength and going into the T20 World Cup with a spin-heavy side, there were a few ifs and buts. Considering that the tournament was being played Down Under, where the pacers generally get more assistance, it was a gamble that the Women in Blue were willing to take. On Friday, that risk proved successful as India scripted a 17-run win over Australia in the opener in Sydney, courtesy Poonam Poonam’s 4/19.
It was a slow death induced by Poonam, whose loopy and deceptive leg-spin helped India start on a victory at the showpiece event in front of 13,432 crowd at Showground Stadium in Sydney — a record number for a standalone women’s match.
Defending 132 — thanks to Deepti Sharma’s unbeaten 49 after early jitters — it was the 10th over of the second innings that changed the momentum towards India. Kaur had held back Poonam as she is effective in the middle and the 28-year-old didn’t disappoint. She dismissed opener Alyssa Healy for 51 and that triggered the slide for Meg Lanning & Co. On a slow pitch that was also two-paced, Poonam took the pace off the ball and spun it as slow as 50-60 kmph. The move worked wonders as the Australians found it hard to score. Eventually, the hosts were bundled out for 115.
On a comeback trail — she had injured her left-hand in December — Poonam made the win look easy. But beating the defending champions on their own backyard is no joke. Since making her T20I debut in 2013, the Arjuna awardee has been a vital cog in the side. With 89 scalps, she is the highest wicket-taker for India and the sixth-most overall. Hailing from Agra, spin was not her first choice. She wanted to become a medium-pacer. It was her childhood coach Manoj Singh, who asked her to make the shift to spin since she couldn’t get enough bounce with her short frame.
“Over the years, she has improved on her variations,” said Singh. “Mainly the googly and top-spin. She has also worked on the flight. This is her fourth T20 World Cup. So you don’t have to tell her the dos and donts.”Since 2019, Poonam has returned wicketless only twice in 15 T20Is. Though she can extract spin on any pitch, it is her flight that makes it tougher for the batter. This is one of the reasons her economy is less than six. “The way she releases googly is quite different. She bowls from close to the arm, above the head and that’s her strength,” said Singh.
Brief scores: India 132/4 in 20 ovs (Deepti 49 n.o) bt Australia 115 (Alyssa 51, Poonam 4/19, Shikha 3/14).