CHENNAI: The weight of expectations was enormous on the Indian women on Sunday. They were playing the T20 World Cup final for the first time in front of a record crowd of 86,174 at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground. Against defending champions Australia, who have dominated the format like no other team in women's cricket, the battle was not just between bat and ball. It was also about handling the occasion. And despite possessing talent, the Women in Blue cracked under pressure. Outplayed in every department, they suffered their biggest defeat in this format.
Lack of big-match temperament and inability to perform in front of a big crowd once again let Harmanpreet Kaur's team down. The same factors had played a part in the 2017 ODI World Cup final against England, which India lost by nine runs. There was ample evidence of nerves getting the better of them. Three full tosses in the first over from Deepti Sharma, a catch dropped in the same over and the top-order going for shots before playing themselves in. While Meg Lanning's team thrived under pressure, India got intimidated. It's not that India find Australia unbeatable. In the last three months, Harmanpreet's side had beaten them twice, including a game where they chased 174.
But the four-time winners know a thing or two about raising their game when it matters. Defending the title at home involves expectations. That 11 of them had played a T20 World Cup final before helped their cause. With an average age of 22.8, the Indians were directionless. "Psychologically, mental toughness has to be drilled into them," felt former India captain Diana Edulji. "Only then they can come off strong knowing when to lift their game. A mental strengthening person has to be with the team. It's easy to give a motivational talk. But the person listening has to understand what is being told." Harmanpreet acknowledged this after the match. "We are improving. We just need to play with focus in the main games."
Chasing 185 was always going to be tough. But the worrying aspect was the way the batters approached the target. Thirty-four balls into the innings and the top four were back including Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet. Youngsters Shafali Verma and Jemimah Rodrigues had no experience of playing under pressure, but the seasoned pair had. Their failure hurt more.
Australia's Alyssa Healy is an example of peaking at the right time. She was also the Player of the Final in 2018. After a quiet tri-series, she upped her game. Her 75 off 39 balls set the tone for a huge total and fellow opener Beth Mooney stayed till the end for an unbeaten 78 off 54. Moving forward, in exactly a year, India will be featuring in the 50-over World Cup in New Zealand. The same year will also witness the inaugural Women's U-19 World Cup (one-dayers). The Commonwealth Games will be held in 2022. With the team management ready to give a long rope to the youngsters, priority should not only be honing skills but also mental strengthening."We have to get back to the drawing board. Primary focus has to be on the U-19 World Cup because that is going to be our supply chain for the senior team. That's how the men's team has survived by having emerging and India A tours. We must have a good U-19 team."
Australia: Healy c Veda b Radha 75, Mooney 78 n.o, Lanning c Shikha b Deepti 16, Gardner st Taniya b Deepti 2, Haynes b Poonam 4, Carey 5 n.o. Extras (b1, w2, nb1) 4. Total (4 wkts, 20 ovs) 184.
FoW: 1/115, 2/154, 3/156, 4/176.
Bowling: Deepti 4-0-38-2, Shikha 4-0-52-0, Gayakwad 4-0-29-0, Poonam 4-0-30-1, Radha 4-0-34-1.
India: Shafali c Healy b Schutt 2, Smriti c Carey b Molineux 11, Taniya retd hurt 2, Jemimah c Carey b Jonassen 0, Harmanpreet c Gardner b Jonassen 4, Deepti c Mooney b Carey 33, Veda c Jonassen b Kimmince 19, Richa c Carey b Schutt 18, Shikha c Mooney b Schutt 1, Radha c Mooney b Jonassen 1, Poonam c Gardner b Schutt 1, Gayakwad 1 n.o. Extras (lb1, w5) 6. Total (19.1 ovs) 99.
FoW: 1/2, 2/8, 3/18, 4/30, 5/58, 6/88, 7/92, 8/96, 9/97.
Bowling: Schutt 3.1-0-18-4, Jonassen 4-0-20-3, Molineux 4-0-21-1, Kimmince 4-0-17-1, Carey 4-0-22-1.
A record 86,174 fans were present at Melbourne Cricket Ground, the highest for a women's sporting event in the country, and for a women's cricket match world over. In the six previous editions, the highest final crowd came in 2009 when 12,717 people watched England beat New Zealand in Sydney. Since the 2018 edition, there has been a 1,600 per cent increase in viewing minutes in Australia.
Taniya suffers concussion
India wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia suffered a concussion following a hit on her neck. She came in to bat after the dismissal of Shafali Verma in the first over, and had to retire hurt in the second after getting hit on her helmet by left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen. Taniya looked rattled, forcing the team’s doctor and physio to rush out and subsequently take her off.
Journey to final was harrowing: lanning
Meg Lanning hailed her team after captaining Australia to their title. But it was far from an easy journey to the top for her, with a group-stage victory over New Zealand and the semifinal success
against South Africa among her most stressful cricket moments. "The New Zealand game and the semifinal, that's the most nervous and sick I've felt playing cricket. To get through that, coming into the final, everyone was a little on edge but it just happened."