And then there was the same old story with its legacy. It seems like India’s knock-out matches in every ICC or Global event will meet the same fate. After their defeats in the 2020 ICC World Cup Final and in The Birmingham Commonwealth Games, against Australia, India suffered another nail-biting loss against Australia in the ICC T20 World Cup 2023. India has never won directly in the T20 World Cup Semifinal, and this defeat by 5 runs made the prolonged wait for the Trophy, longer.
Though this defeat was neither something like those infamous collapses of the 2017 World Cup Final and the 2022 Commonwealth Games Final nor the humiliating defeat at the 2020 World Cup Final, this heartbreak, reaffirms the age-old saying that India succumbs under pressure and you can hit Australia out of the park but you can not defeat them, unless the last ball is bowled.
Jemimah Rodrigues And Harmanpreet solidified the Indian innings after they were reduced to 28/3, chains a mammoth total of 173. Jemimah started off with two back-to-back boundaries against office Gardner, while Harmanpreet too joined the party, sending Aussie sensation Darcie Brown through covers. Both of them took the attack to the Australian bowling unit and held them by their neck. Perry went for 14 in one over, courtesy of the two boundaries, and didn’t find herself in the bowling attack in the match.
Indian skipper who found herself in the hospital and was doubtful to start the match charged down the pitch and slaughtered a full ball off middle stump with a full swing of the arms over wide long-on i against Jess Jonassen. Lanning threw her last dice as Wareham and Jemimah who was on her full swing, lofted her over covers twice in the same over. Prior to the Semi Final, Indian skipper Harmanpreet stated their intention to improve their batting in the middle overs so that they consume fewer dot balls. The running between the wickets was top-notch till then. India was 93/3 after 10 overs.
Speaking to ESPN, Player of the Match, Ash Gardner told that at one point in time, they thought that they had no right to win that match. But then, India lost both the set batters who had added 69 runs in 41 balls, in space of 4 overs. Jemimah fell to Darcie Brown while trying to guide a bouncer to the third man, after a glorious drive, bisecting the cover for four. After her departure, Richa who was dismissed only once in her four innings in this tournament joined her skipper. Both of them closed down the target to 40.
Harmanpreet completed her half-century with two back-to-back boundaries to Wareham, who was preferred than Alana King as the number one leggie to the Australian side. While it looked like that with Harmanpreet in the middle, India could easily sail through the margin, her bat go stuck while running for a couple. As Healy whipped off the bell, she was a few inches short of her ground. As soon as the situation was referred to the third umpire, Harman could feel what has happened. That was visible from her reaction.
— Women's CricInsight | #T20WorldCup #WPL #WPL23 (@WCI_Official) February 23, 2023
India needed 38 runs from 30. And 16 from 12. Lanning turned to her trusted general Jess Jonassen, who saved them the game against South Africa in the 2020 edition too. Perry’s acrobatic skills saved a certain boundary in the fine leg region. Perry covered a long distance and threw herself to not only beat the ball but her demons too. It was the same region where she hurt herself and missed the Semi-final in 2020. Harmanpreet agreed, that its the fielding that made the difference between the two teams. India needed 16 as Ash Gardner came to bowl, but only managed to score 10.
In August last year, India was on a verge of a memorable victory. 44 runs were required in 34 legitimate balls while they had 8 wickets in hand. Spectators in the stand, were on their feet, cheering on as India was on the cusp of setting a new history, the first team in Women’s Cricket history to win the Commonwealth Gold Medal. Both Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues were well set. After losing their two openers, quickly, both of them had added 96 runs in 73 balls by then. The smiles in the Indian camp were noticeable.
Megan Schutt, who went for 6 in her first two balls, cleaned up Jemimah, in the third ball of the over. 33 from 33 was not reflective of how Jemimah bats, but it was sensible while Harmanpreet rode on beast mode. Then came the surprise move by Indian management. While Deepti Sharma came at no 5 on the previous two occasions, they decided to send Pooja Vastrakar, who has a reputation to clear the field with ease. She played with three dots.
Lanning brought in Ash Gardner, who went for just two in her first over, as India needed 44 in the last 5 overs. After a couple of singles in the first two balls, Vastrakar went for a hoick and found one of the safest pairs in the form of Beth Mooney. But as the last hope, skipper Harmanpreet was still there. She had sailed through these situations many times. One can remember her famous six in the penultimate ball against South Africa in the Quadrangular Trophy in 2017.
8 was required from the last two balls and Harman’s heroics sealed the match with one wicket to spare. Though that was 5 years ago, what assured India is that after her exclusion from the XI in NZ, earlier this year, she has found her form.
Gardner fires it on a length around off, and Harmanpreet gets down to play the scoop pretty early. She had played that very often and that has earned her boundaries too. But as luck was not favoured that day, the ball hits her helmet and ballooned up to the off side. Healy ran to her right and took it safely. In the space of 9 balls, India lost 3 wickets for 3 runs. Australia, known for its never-say-die attitude, could sense its chances. Australia has found a new meaning of ‘win ugly’ as for them it is the win that matters.
A key to this Australian team’s success – they are looking to add the inaugural women’s Commonwealth Games cricket title to their T20I and ODI world crowns – is their justifiable confidence that if one player or area of their game falls, someone is there to step up. Harmanpreet Kaur, Indian skipper, after their victory against England in the semi-final, said that her side was boosted with confidence until the last moment. Despite good partnerships, they believed that they could win the match.
She also pointed out that they were working on how they can calm their nerves in the crunch moments when they shook the pressure. The way India defended 33 in the last 4 overs, against England, showed the side was trying to embrace pressure and not be intimidated by the big stage. Indian skippers knew that despite continuous improvements, a Gold Medal in the Commonwealth Games can change many things for them.
Once Harmanpreet fell, India did what they are infamous for. They did the thing in the 2017 World Cup Final at Lords, and the 2018 World T-20 Semi-final at West Indies and they did that once again. They pressed the panic button and India’s lower order collapsed. 13 runs came from Alana King’s over. Despite two boundaries in Garnder’s 3rd over, India lost Rana. Radha and Deepti felt to Megan Schutt.
Jess Jonassen has recently made her name by delivering the last overs while defending. She had 10 to defend and India had two wickets. When Yastika Bhatia, who came in as a concussion sub, fell as the last Indian bastion to this cunning left-arm spinner, India was still 9 runs behind the target.
THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME INDIA HAS CHOKED SINCE 2017 FINAL
This is not the first time India had succumbed under pressure and choked in the final of a crucial juncture. In the 2017 World Cup Final at Lords, against England India was in a comfortable position. From 191 for 3 in the 43rd over, India lost 7 wickets for just 28 runs. Anya Shrubsole cleaned up Poonam Raut in the 43rd over and that opened up the floodgate which resulted in a defeat by 9 runs.
Again in the 2018 semi-final against the same opponent in the World T-20, India was poised well on a slow pitch at Antiga. Skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues had put up a stand of 36 runs in 31 balls. Once Rodrigues was run out, the last 7 wickets fell on just 23 runs. India was all out on mere 112 runs.
India’s misery continued in the later series as well. They failed to score 7 runs in the last 4 balls in the last T-20I against New Zealand in 2019. They missed another opportunity against England. Chasing 120 to win in the 3rd T-20I, India needed 3 runs from the last over. All-rounder Bharati Fulmali failed to score in the first three balls, Kate Cross ended her miserable stay 5 (13) in the 4th ball. Anuja Patil fell in the next ball, while Mithali Raj remained in the non-striker end. Despite Sikha Pandey’s best effort in the last ball, India lost the match by 1 run.
India not only failed to chase but at the same time lost the match from a comfortable situation while defending. In the 2021 series against South Africa, in a do-or-die match, South Africa required 9 from the last over. Harmanpreet trusted Arundhati Reddy to bowl the final over despite her 0/26 in her three overs. Reddy did well in her first four balls, conceding only three runs. But her full toss, around off-stump, was called no ball and Wolvaardt took a couple from that.
Wolvaardt comfortably sealed the victory in the final ball. This ‘no-ball saga’ was followed by another couple of those in the next year. Jhulan’s Goswami was at the receiving end against Australia while Deepti Sharma’s last over no ball resulted in India’s elimination from the One Day World Cup against South Africa in 2022.
How WBBL/WPL (can) Make The Difference
Now, if we look at the WBBL, within its course turns out to be a high success for Australian Women’s Cricket. It helped them to nurture the younger players who came out direct from WNSL. Younger players like Phoebe Litchfield, and Stella Campbell got the chance to rub shoulders with the players not only from Australia but also from players like Sophie Devine or Heather Knight. Apart from that players from Associate nations like Kim Garth who went on to play for Australia or Sornnarin Tippoch too joined. So Women’s Big Bash transcend their barrier to being a domestic league and evolved into a global league.
Former Australia player Lisa Sthalekar in the commentary box has pointed out multiple times how WBBL has changed the momentum in Australian Women’s Cricket. She said that younger players got exposed to that competition which worked as the pathway to the Australian team. Players like Ashleigh Gardner then became the player in the final of the 2018 World Cup and once against became POM in their recent victory in the Semi-Final. At the WPL Auction, she was the highest-paid overseas cricketer.
She was the Young Gun of WBBL|02 (2016/2017), having scored 414 runs with the bat and claiming ten wickets with the ball throughout the season for Sidney Sixers. Therefore, the success Australia lives and breathe is largely a product of the level of development pumped into their careers and to the rest of the domestic players in the women’s game; constantly pushing the Australian representatives to be better and never content.
Cricket Historian Gideon Haigh explained too why many “traditional” cricket viewers are switching over to the WBBL despite the decrease in numbers in BBL. He said, “Traditional cricket fans that I know who won’t watch the BBL, will watch the Women’s BBL because they feel the players are playing for the right reasons.”
Mithali Raj, Indian captain, after their 36 runs victory against Australia in 2017 said in the post-match presentation that she thinks that Harmanpreet’s batting has transformed after her stint in WBBL. To quote her, “That exposure she and Smriti (Mandhana) got by interacting with other players has been massive.” She also added that if more players became a part of these leagues where they can exchange ideas and follow the routine of other players, it will only help improve the standard of women’s cricket, as well as it will be very beneficial for youngsters and players from the Indian team.
Harmanpreet Kaur, the Indian skipper, has praised the Big Bash League for its role to improve the standards in fitness and training efficiency. After being asked how BBL helped her batting, she pointed out that her fondness for aggressive batting improved after playing in WBBL. The things she learned from the cricketers in WBBL helped her later in her career.
Harmanpreet and Veda Krishnamurthy also once echoed her ODI skipper, “Like I and Smriti [Mandhana] got to play in BBL, I would want more cricketers to get a chance to play in WBBL as they will get to learn a lot from the experience, which in turn will help the team grow.” WBBL changed her mindset by taking herself out of her comfort zone she said in an interview with Cricbuzz. Several cricketers like Meg Lanning and Heally said that they think the Indian Women’s cricket team lack an elite tournament like IPL.
BCCI the richest board have time and again, given several reasons for not organising an IPL-like tournament for Women Cricketers in India. Their argument has ranged from lacking depth in the domestic structure to it will not being profitable enough. While the clamour for a women’s IPL gets louder, former women’s cricket head at BCCI, Saba Karim, in 2021 felt it is more important to have a more robust domestic structure including the resumption of multi-day red ball cricket.
🗓️ Mark Your Calendars
Get Ready to support your favourite teams 👏 👏
— Women's Premier League (WPL) (@wplt20) February 14, 2023
The former India wicketkeeper, who looked after women’s cricket as BCCI General Manager – Cricket Operations, said the board will eventually organise the IPL but a stronger domestic structure is needed to unearth more talent like Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia and Richa Ghosh.
The same Saba Karim in 2022, after India’s silver medal in the Commonwealth games, preached for the Women IPL. BCCI Sourav Ganguly, last year, talking to Hindu said that his board in future will organize Women’s IPL once the number of players goes up ( read players who can match the level). The very next day, the BCCI president tracked back saying the most coveted tournament in already in BCCI’s planning.
There is more to it. In his two tenures, Ramesh Power has been in charge for 4 years. India, under his time, qualified for the Semi Final in the 2018 World T-20, the Final in the 2020 World T-20 and clinched silver in the 2022 Commonwealth Games. However, they failed to qualify for the KOs in the 2022 ODI World Cup. He had said that the side has been evolving and the playing XI will be fluid.
However, there have been areas con concern regarding team selections as well. There is almost no press briefing on why some layers are dropped or picked. Once asked about that Coach said that the selectors are the best person to answer that. After India’s defeat against South Africa, the selection saga came to the forefront.
When asked whether the players who have been dropped are in communication with the team on their road to the comeback, Power asserted that players themselves know what to do. Power stated that they included Taniya Bhatia for er better keeping in the crunch situation. But that does not define why she was not part of the plan for two years. In the meantime, Richa Ghosh who is known for her power hitting lost touch in the One Day, but she was dropped from the T-20 side.
Yastika and Taniya who had the least strike rate compared to Richa were given preferences. There were no explanations why KP Navgire who earned praise in the domestic and Women T-20 Challange was not included in the side or Meghna in the World Cup squad. Indian top-heavy batting lineup needed all-rounders and finishers in the crunch situation. Not picking up players who are in touch, not backing players and costing India time and again.