As Anuja Patil stroked the ball through cover and it trickled over the boundary, the camera panned to the Indian dugout. There was unbridled joy and excitement. More than 5000 miles away, there was the same excitement in my living room as I danced around, a la Niranjana Nagarajan.
The Indian women had just pulled off an unlikely victory over Australia Women at the Adelaide Oval. It was their highest successful chase in a Twenty20 International, and to do it in the first game of the series was rather special.
It was a victory no one expected. After all, Australia are the reigning world champions, and had beaten India eight times in their nine previous T20I encounters. But Mithali Raj’s team never gave up, and pulled off an upset of huge proportions.
The win, in many ways, was like that of India’s win over England in the Test match in Wormsley two years ago. The women had only just arrived on English soil, and were playing a Test match after eight years. With eight debutants in the Indian side, no one expected what transpired — Raj, the old warhorse, led from the front in a tight fourth-innings chase to pull her team through.
This time too, India arrived on Australian shores, barely five days before the first T20I. They were scheduled to play a warm-up game against a Governor General’s XI in Sydney, but that was washed out, robbing the team of any chance to get used to the foreign conditions.
India, though, did not let that hamper them. On Tuesday (January 26) at the Adelaide Oval, the women pulled off an astonishing victory, but this time Raj made no significant contribution.
I have watched the Indian team evolve over the past six-seven years. There used to be a lot of chopping and changing, but over the last couple of years, the team has settled a little bit— it is no longer a one-woman batting line-up. The likes of MD Thirushkamini, Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy have really stepped up to the plate and scored important runs.
This match was no different. Although Raj was dismissed early, the young brigade lifted its game and took India home to what was to be a historic victory.
Mandhana has shown that she has the skill and temperament to thrive at the international level, while Harmanpreet has become one of India’s pillars in the batting line-up.
Krishnamurthy, who started off as a wonder kid when she made her international debut in 2011, returned last year rejuvenated, more mature and hungrier for success. Her contributions since have been valuable.
There was much to celebrate about India’s win in Adelaide. There was intensity in the field, and the bowling was intelligent and disciplined for the most part.
It was heartening to see that Jhulan Goswami wasn’t the only one troubling the batters, as many thought would be the case. Goswami, of course, led the pack with three tight overs in the Power Play, but it was Shikha Pandey, the right-arm seamer from Goa, who managed to extract some movement in the air and off the pitch with the new ball. Her in-swinging yorker to dismiss Meg Lanning, who was looking dangerous, was high-quality fast bowling. The spin trio of Ekta Bisht, Anuja Patil and Poonam Yadav also did their bit to keep the Australian batters in check. Yadav, in particular, was at her tantalising best—tossing the ball up, getting it to dip, and forcing the batters to make mistakes. She used the crease nicely, inducing Ellyse Perry into miscuing a lofted stroke straight to extra-cover.
Alyssa Healy’s 15-ball 41 changed the whole complexion of the game when it seemed as though India were cruising, but they never gave up.
After Raj’s dismissal, Mandhana picked up the mantle, not by force, but by choice, and steered the team into a very good position. Her innings was a treat to watch. Her batting is full of elegance and poise —qualities that one associates with most left-hand batters. She is particularly strong off the back foot, but that didn’t hurt her front-foot play at all. Mandhana was severe on anything loose, and also made sure she rotated the strike well.
Krishnamurthy, it seemed, wanted to pummel the ball at every opportunity. She mistimed a few, but never let up. There was a sense of purpose to her innings — she wanted to win.
It was Kaur, though, that was the star of the day. It may have been her first time playing at the Adelaide Oval, but like she said in the post-match interview, she certainly does love playing in Australia.
In the 2009 Women’s World Cup, Harmanpreet, barely 19, announced herself on the international stage in a group match against Australia at the North Sydney Oval. Batting at No.7, she smashed 19 runs off 8 balls, including a massive six that sailed into the stands. She was raw but talented, and could hit the ball as far as her idol, Virender Sehwag, could.
Fast forward to January 26, 2016. When she took guard with India needing 79 runs in 65 deliveries, there was no trace of that brash teenager. As a self-confessed lover of six-hitting, her instincts may have told her to impose herself on the opposition early, but she chose to play herself in before unleashing some powerful strokes. Her innings, apart from being match-winning, showed just how far Harmanpreet has come since her big-hitting days at No. 7. She has now grown into India’s most trusted No. 4, and is the leader of the young Indian brigade.
This victory in Adelaide was important for India, not only in terms of the series, but also in instilling a sense of belief in the team. Most members of the squad are barely 10 or 15 matches into their international careers, and may not have tasted much success at this level. Their win over the world champions has proved to them, and more so to the viewing Indian public, that these girls are serious competitors.
It is important, though, that the Indian team, and the public, do not get carried away by the win in Adelaide. As Perry mentioned after the match, the Australian team has not had much time together. After a very successful Women’s Big Bash League, in which players were mostly in different teams, the Australian women have only spent a day practising together.
Also, India were an unknown entity. This is the first time the teams have met in a bilateral series since 2012, and the Indian team has undergone a huge change in personnel in the interim.
The Indians will cherish the victory, but they will also be wary of the Australians. Come Melbourne, the hosts will have their plans in place and will take nothing less than a win. The series is well set up and there is no doubt that the two remaining matches will be hard fought if India keep playing this way.
For now, though, let us celebrate the arrival of the young Indian brigade.