“I was hoping the seamers would utilise the conditions, having won the toss and electing to bowl, but maybe it wasn’t [their] day. The spinners did exceptionally well to get us back into the game.”
Mithali Raj’s assessment of her bowlers after India’s seven-wicket win against Windies Women in their Women’s World Cup 2017 fixture in Taunton on Thursday (June 29) was based on the following figures: Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey, the new-ball bowlers on a cold, cloudy morning after rain the previous day, went for a combined 50 runs in nine overs. The three frontline spinners – spin was introduced as early as in the seventh over – sent down 30 overs for 69 runs and five wickets. Add the part-timers – Mona Meshram taking up bowling duties until an injured Harmanpreet Kaur returned – and spin accounted for 41 of India’s overs bowled and seven Windies wickets in their 183 for 8.
Was it the surface? Anisa Mohammed, the Windies offspinner, didn’t think the pitch held much for her. But Smriti Mandhana felt it worked for India’s slower bowlers. “The wicket was suiting them. Yes, the ball was holding back. An Indian spinner, if the ball holds back, they won’t let the batters settle.”
Ekta Bisht, the left-arm spinner, Poonam Yadav, the legspinner, and Deepti Sharma, the offspinner, made good use of angles and opted to bowl around the wicket to tie down the batters. The latter two even got considerable turn. They denied the Women’s World Twenty20 champions any boundaries for a stretch of 20 overs in the middle.
Interestingly, Australia too had used the tactic of slowing it down against Windies in their opener at the same ground a couple of days previously. Jess Jonassen, the left-arm spinner, even opened the bowling then.
Jonassen was the leading wicket-taker of the ICC Women’s Championship with 31 scalps from 21 matches. South Africa’s Sune Luus, the legspinner, had the most victims in 2016, way ahead of the pack with 37 from 22 games. India’s spin success is well chronicled – and the tussle for the best and most varied attack could come down to them and Australia. The numbers show that spin has had more success than pace this World Cup. All this, along with other teams working to strengthen their spin stocks, point to a definite trend in the women’s game.
“That’s another thing that has changed in women’s cricket – spin has really become a big part of it. Even from a batting perspective, it has led to adjustments. I generally tend to like the pace to be more, but I have worked pretty hard on my sweep shots and options against spinners,” New Zealand’s Rachel Priest told Wisden India in an interview recently.
“It’s no secret that slow bowling is the way forward for women’s cricket. We can’t generate as much pace as the men and we like the pace coming onto the ball as well,” agreed Beth Mooney, the Australian opener.
“Wickets are getting a lot truer. The faster the ball is coming, the easier it is to hit. Taking the pace off means the batter actually has to create the pace themselves,” explained Jonassen. “As the ball gets older and the wickets get older, that can be quite difficult. As a bowler, if you’ve got that option (slower delivery) up your sleeve, you might as well use it. There’s only so much you can do when the ball’s coming slower. It’s much easier to defend.”
Which isn’t to say that teams aren’t adapting. England, for example, negated the threat in going on to post the second-highest score in World Cup history against Pakistan. The Windies tail too showed it wasn’t as herculean a task as the top order made it look.
“I always looked at spin as a great way to get from 20 to 50 really, because it had meant you’d seen off the new ball,” said Caroline Foster, the former England opener, who held until recently the record for the top opening stand in women’s ODIs. “Watching this game, it was like going back in time, watching West Indies block back 10-15 overs of spin for very few runs.
“You’ve got to be proactive. You’ve got to know your single options and boundary options. Obviously at the end we’ve seen people move across the stumps and fetch the ball for boundaries and it would have been great to see that earlier on.”
Mooney declared her side were among the best in facing the turning delivery, even when it was the new ball. “We’ve got a lot better in the past 18 months as a batting unit playing spin, and I actually think we’re the best batting line up against spin. We won’t really do anything different, we won’t change our plans, we’ll just be nice and positive, and make sure they don’t get into a rhythm with their bowling.”
Nicole Bolton, her opening partner, added: “Back home, we use our feet a lot more to spin. Here we don’t like to let the spinners settle too much in their lengths. We have a couple of options, we can move our feet or push really hard back. We just have to assess the wickets as we go. Some are a bit slower, and will turn. Some will skid on, which will make it easier to move your feet. The biggest thing for us is that the more positive you are, the more we can move our feet and put the pressure back on the spinners.”
Foster, who holds coaching roles with Somerset and the Super League team Western Storm, stressed on the need to equip young batters with the skills required early. “Girls need a game plan against spin,” she said. At the age group level, she said, “We talk about playing spin a lot – actually not just spin, there are seamers who don’t rush you for pace. They are the ones you can treat as spinners as well – use your feet, get across your stumps, sweep, paddle, get close to the ball and get far away from the ball. It’s a batting mentality that’s got to be ingrained in the game.”
After what West Indies went through, a few teams should be taking notes.