CHENNAI: Spin it to win it has been the mantra of the Indian team in the ongoing T20 Women’s World Cup. On Thursday, they took a step closer in their quest for an elusive maiden world title. With a narrow three-run win over heavyweights New Zealand in Melbourne, Harmanpreet Kaur & Co became the first team to qualify for the semifinals of this edition.
With three victories from as many matches, India sit at the top of the Group A table, with one more match to be played against winless Sri Lanka on Saturday. Six months ago, it would have been hard to believe if someone had said India would go on to win matches in Australia without key batters Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur firing. But they have done exactly that, defending two sub-140 scores.
Though 16-year-old Shafali Verma has been at the forefront — she hit 46 off 34 balls on Thursday — it’s the bowling unit that has done more damage. India has taken a total of 24 wickets in three matches, including bundling out defending champions Australia for 115. Of those, 16 have come from spinners. This success can be attributed to playing the tri-series in Australia prior to the T20 World Cup. Six matches, including a warm-up, meant the Women in Blue had got used to conditions. Though India lost the final of the series, spinners thrived on Australian wickets — Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Deepti Sharma accounted for 17 wickets in five matches.
“We have been strong in the spin department and Harman has used the bowlers well,” said former India captain and leg-spinner Shubhangi Kulkarni. “They had a bit of practice when they played the tri-series. The Women’s Big Bash League experience of Harman and Smriti has also helped them. But the tri-series is where the bowlers would have got the experience of playing on those wickets.”Having played with three spinners in the last two matches, Harmanpreet & Co decided to go in with four tweakers — Radha Yadav replaced pacer Arundhati Reddy — and a pacer in Shikha Pandey against New Zealand. That paid dividends as they defended 133.
At Junction Oval, New Zealand’s two best batters Suzie Bates and skipper Sophie Devine perished, unable to cope up with the pace or the lack of it. Three down for 34 in the ninth over, India had the upper hand. The young leg-spinner Amelia Kerr did give them a scare by hitting an unbeaten 34 off 19 balls. But Shikha’s near-perfect yorkers helped India defend 15 runs in the final over.
Alongside Poonam — the leading wicket-taker with eight wickets — Shikha’s contribution has also been significant. The 30-year-old has dismissed at least one opener inside the powerplay in all matches and has six wickets to her name. “I know we have good spinners. But we were lacking good pacers,” added Shubhangi.
“Shikha has stepped up and become someone who the captain can depend on to bowl even the last over.”
Bringing in Narendra Hirwani, former India leg-spinner, onboard also seems to have worked. It was in July last year that the team management decided to rope him in as a spin consultant.
Brief scores: India 133/8 in 20 ovs (Shafali Verma 46; Amelia Kerr 2/21) bt New Zealand 130/6 in 20 ovs (Amelia Kerr 34 n.o) by three runs. Australia 189/1 in 20 ovs (Healy 83, Mooney 81 n.o) bt Bangladesh 103/9 in 20 ovs (Fargana 36, Schutt 3/21) by 86 runs.