MATCH REPORT: India v Pakistan
Most cricketers grew up playing some avatar of gully cricket. There is underarm cricket, one side cricket, and most people’s favourite, one-tip-one-hand cricket. There is also tip-and-run; if the ball touches the bat, you have to run. It demands more than just good batting, it demands smart batting; the batter must maneuver the ball into gaps, play with soft hands, and not depend on boundaries.
Now, India’s cricketers have left gully cricket far behind. They are playing a World Cup on the lush outfields of faraway England. Against Pakistan, they notched up their third win on the trot. Their total of 169 was well below par, but it proved enough for India’s spinners, who have done much damage in the tournament. At the County ground at Derby, they took seven of the 10 wickets, handing India a 95 run win.
But the win was not without some anxious moments. At one stage, Pakistan’s tight bowling and brilliant fielding had restricted India to 111 for six in the 37th over. It was here that tip-and-run cricket would have served them well.
After Smriti Mandhana fell early -beaten for pace by the impressive Diana Baig- Punam Raut and Deepti Sharma plodded along. In the first 10 overs, the batters took 52 dot balls to get to 17 for 1. If you don’t want to do the hard math, that’s 52 dots out of 60 balls. The run rate improved slightly for the next 20 overs, with Punam Raut lifting her strike rate from below 30 to above 60. But her wicket preceded a mini collapse, with India four down at the 30th over for 99.
Harmanpreet and Mona Meshram tried to rebuild, but they seemed to have only to modes: strong attack or strong defence. Meshram in particular, could not pierce the infield, and did not play with soft hands. After Harmanpreet drilled a pull to midwicket, Meshram succumbed to the pressure she created, out for 6 off 35 balls. Overs 31 to 40 saw another 48 dots.
Sushma Verma and Jhulan Goswami made something of a fight-back, a 34 run partnership propped India up. Verma -who previously had only 14 ODI runs and a career high of 4* - showed that she can be trusted with the bat, and made a case for promotion up the order. She showed restraint coupled with intent, nudging the ball to the leg side at first, and later using the sweep to pick up singles. Her 33 off 35 balls, with one six over midwicket, was the second highest –but most important- score, after Raut’s 47. Goswami, batting for only the third time in her last 10 ODIs, showed the batters how to keep the scoreboard ticking. All of her 14 runs came in singles, dropped into the infield with soft hands or driven past the bowler. The final score of 169 was about a hundred runs less than what India would have wanted, but it gave the bowlers a target they could see.
The bowlers in turn, rose magnificently to the challenge. They did the simple things right, like targeting the off stump, and getting the batter forward. Given the new ball as she so often is, Ekta Bisht took three wickets in her first three overs, and all three seemed to come out of a photocopy machine: batter playing for turn, ball sliding on to hit the pad. It was a back-breaking spell, especially against a Pakistan team who have lost their best batter to injury. They never recovered, sliding to 74 all out in the 39th over , with Bisht picking up five wickets to become India’s fifth highest wicket taker in ODIs.
India emerged from the scrap with two points, their third consecutive win, and some questions. It could be that the pressure of occasion -with loud support for both teams coming from the 2600 strong crowd- held the batters back from expressing themselves. Whatever the reason, India have two days before their next game against Sri Lanka to sort it out.
Perhaps a few games of tip-and-run are in order.
This article was first published in the Economic Times