MATCH REPORT : India v West Indies

Smriti Mandhana stole the show once again, bagging her second consecutive Player of the Match award in her first two World Cup games. Her career best score – an unbeaten 106 in 108 balls – anchored India’s chase of a tricky total against Windies, and gave the team their second consecutive win.  Chasing 184, India reached the target in 42.3 overs. But while the 20-year old took all the plaudits, it was the spinners who set up the seven-wicket win.

When the Indian team for the World Cup in England was announced, the lack of a fourth fast bowler was the biggest talking point.  India packed the side with every manner of spinner, with as many as five options, six if you counted Mona Meshram’s darts. At the time of departure, Raj wholeheartedly defended the team composition.

The conditions in Taunton may have temped Raj to drop a spinner and give Mansi Joshi a game. The pitch was under covers the day before the game due to rain, and on match day, the weather was chilly and grey. Also, Joshi had worked up good pace in the pre-match net sessions. But she trusted her spinners and her faith was vindicated on Thursday. The spinners  undid the poor start the fast bowlers provided, after Raj won an important toss and put Windies in to bat at the County ground in Taunton.

The Taunton pitch was like an e-commerce flash sale: whatever it had, it had for only a short time, and the Indian seamers failed to cash in. Jhulan Goswami bowled the back of the length stuff she has done so successfully over the years, but the morning demanded a slightly fuller one, which she only found occasionally. Shikha Pandey erred on the other extreme, bowing too full. So when the two of them conceded four boundaries in the fifth and sixth over, Raj wasted no time in bringing her spinners on. Ekta Bisht was first to come in, and picked up a wicket with her first ball. It was an indictment of the pace bowlers that Raj had used four spinners – including Meshram’s aforementioned darts – by the 18th over.

“I was hoping that the seamers would utilise the conditions, having won the toss and elected to bowl”, said Raj after the game. “Maybe it wasn’t their day. But the spinners did exceptionally well to get us back into the game.”

Cold weather usually impedes spinners by making it difficult to grip the ball. If their fingers felt like sausages in the freezer, the spinners didn’t show it. They stifled the batters, who were enjoying pace on the bat till then. All three regular spinners had single-digit figures in the runs column until the 28th over. 

The attrition prised out the prize wickets of Matthews and Taylor; Matthews to a classic off-spinners dismissal from Deepti Sharma, and Taylor falling to a direct hit from Mandhana from short third-man. At one point, Windies were 91 for 6 in the 35th over. So dominant were the spinners, that pace reappeared for only one more over in the innings.

Windies never recovered from their wounded start, and it took some enterprising batting from the lower order to give them something to bowl at. The seventh, eighth, and ninth wickets added more than half their score, with No.9 Afy Fletcher scoring a career best 36 off 23 balls.

Amongst the spinners, Deepti Sharma and Poonam Yadav were stand outs, both claiming two wickets. Deepti caught the eye for her valiance in giving the ball loop even against the well set Matthews. The wicket responded to her revolutions, the temporary moisture giving her proportionate turn. She almost showed the fast bowlers how to bowl on a wicket with some moisture, drawing the batters forward and inciting the on-the-up drive. That was precisely how she removed Matthews, when she drew the aerial shot and then held on to it in her follow through.

Poonam was used by Raj primarily as an anti big-shot weapon. Her leg-spinners looped their way towards the batters like the Tone river next door, and just as slowly. The pace off the ball formula was the perfect antidote to Deandra Dottin, who after Matthews and Taylor was the Windies’ last hope. Dottin has the fastest T20 century in the women’s game to her credit, but has also a 48 % dismissal rate against spin. She faced 23 balls against Poonam, but scored only three runs. She was finally dismissed for a tortuous 7 off 44, deservedly by the legspinner.

While on paper it seemed like a dominant performance by India, there were concerns once again in the fielding department. At the back end of the Windies innings, India dropped three catches. Two of which were put down by Bisht, usually an excellent fielder. While the spinners shook off the effects of the cold, it seemed to affect the fielders. India have now dropped six catches across their two games. While they have executed five run outs – three of them from direct hits –  the catching must improve if India are to mount a serious challenge for the title.

“We definitely believe that we will be contenders if we click in all three departments,” Mandhana said. That is a big if, but for now  India can be happy with another step towards the semi finals.

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