ICC Womens T20 World Cup 2023: Cape of bad hope for India

Maybe, it’s all written in the stars.

Otherwise, Jemimah Rodrigues, playing one of the most sublime innings one could hope to watch in the 20-over format, wouldn’t feather behind a short ball — high enough to be a wide — attempting a ramp shot just one delivery after playing a gorgeous cover drive.

Otherwise, skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, fresh from spending time at hospital due to illness but leading from the front with a typical half-century, wouldn’t have been run out going for a routine second run as her bat got stuck in the pitch.

Otherwise, with the game on the line, the umpire would have called a wide in the penultimate over of the match when Jess Jonassen bowled well down the legside as Sneh Rana made room to hit it behind the square. India needed 18 off 10 balls at that stage.

On the other hand, as Harmanpreet (hiding her tears behind sunglasses) and her teammates try to come to terms with the 5-run defeat in the ICC T20 World Cup semifinal against two-time defending champions Australia, in a match that seemed to be in their grasp for long periods during the chase, they could look at the more routine and mundane details of the contest, boringly termed ‘one-percenters’.

Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur reacts after India’s lose to Australia in the semifinal of the T20 World Cup 2023. (T20 World Cup/Twitter)

As another major ICC tournament passes by with India failing to make the transition from contenders to champions, they could start with analysing the shoddy fielding and defensive approach after Meg Lanning’s side opted to bat first. In contrast, when push came to shove, the Aussies dived around near the boundary, saving every run they could, and held on to every chance that came their way. India seemed to spill even sitters and let the ball through on numerous occasions.

And they could do well to find the reason behind only a couple of players (Harmanpreet and Jemimah) coming to the party with the bat. Once these two were back in the dugout, the Australians had a stranglehold on proceedings which they didn’t let go of, despite an odd boundary here or there.

This all-round strength, fed by high-quality competition in the Women’s Big Bash League back home, experience of playing together for a long time and knowing each other’s role, is the reason behind the Aussie juggernaut. They have batting firepower right through their line-up and Lanning could call upon seven bowlers at her disposal to turn the tide in her team’s favour. India would hope the upcoming Women’s Premier League would lead to such strength in depth and improves their mental toughness in the not-so-distant future.

Not used to losing

It’s not for nothing that this Australian team has been the touchstone of excellence in the women’s game for a long time. They may not have the best day in all facets of the game – Thursday’s game at Cape Town is an example – but their ability to scrap and fight, and refusal to concede defeat is what makes them special.

Australia celebrates the fall of wicket of India’s Yastika Bhatia during the Women’s T20 World Cup semi final. (AP Photo)

Chasing 173 for victory, India at one stage needed 76 off 59 balls with seven wickets in hand and Jemimah and Harmanpreet leaving the Australians short on answers. But the champion outfit that the team from the Antipodes is, one felt they only needed one crack in the door to barge in.

And so it turned out. Richa Ghosh has been a revelation in the tournament and performed the role of the finisher to perfection in the group games, but the big match against the best opposition was a step too high for the youngster. Once she was dismissed, it was an uphill task for the likes of Deepti Sharma, Rana and the rest as India finished at 167/8.

But while it lasted, the 69-run partnership between Jemimah and Harmanpreet, off just 40 balls after India were reduced to 28/3, was intoxicating. Jemimah’s inside-out lofted drives and pulls, and the skipper’s sweeps and smooth bat-swing for a six over long-on were a joy to behold. The Mumbai youngster was earlier one of the few saving graces in the field and the permanent smile on her face, vivacious personality and undeniable talent make her one of the players around which a team of the future can be built.

Earlier, the difference in demeanour and approach at the start of the contest told its own tale. The Aussies seemed comfortable in the knockout atmosphere, almost enjoying having the number on their backs, while the Indians seemed struck by anxiety about what the holders could do to them. Or else, the normally reliable Deepti, called up to bowl the second over itself, wouldn’t repeatedly bowl short and wide, as if the ball got stuck in her hand.

Taking down the leader

Maybe, the Indian fears were not unfounded. Renuka Thakur had been the leader of the Indian attack in the tournament – highlighted by the five-wicket haul against England, no less – but the manner in which Alyssa Healy charged down the pitch to her on the first ball of the third over to hit her over mid-off, showed that India were up against a totally different beast in the semifinal.

Fifties by Lanning and Beth Mooney, and an enterprising cameo by Player of the Match Ashleigh Gardner (31 off 18 balls and 2/37 off four overs, including the vital wicket of Smriti Mandhana) ensured a total that proved just about beyond India’s reach.

Renuka may have some bad memories after the game as the two sixes off full tosses she conceded on the first and last balls of the 20th over to Lanning. The 18 runs she conceded in those six balls may, in the final reckoning, have been the vital difference. After all, India were ahead – as far as runs were concerned – going into the final over of the game.

Brief scores: Australia 172/4 in 20 overs (Mooney 54, Lanning 49 n.o, Pandey 2/32) bt India 167/8 in 20 overs (Harmanpreet 52, Rodrigues 43, Brown 2/18) by five runs

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