Niranjana Nagarajan bowled a series of near perfect yorkers in an incredible wicket-maiden under pressure, to deliver Railways a three-run win and the title.  © Niranjana Nagarajan

Niranjana Nagarajan bowled a series of near perfect yorkers in an incredible wicket-maiden under pressure, to deliver Railways a three-run win and the title. © Niranjana Nagarajan

Goa came close to derailing Railways’ quest for their sixth consecutive title, but the defending champions, led by their spinners, wrested control of the game and some plucky death bowling confirmed their Women’s Senior T20 Elite Group victory on the last day of the Super League matches on Thursday (January 14).

Maharashtra, meanwhile, repeated their performance from last season by claiming second place. A hat-trick from Devika Vaidya, BCCI junior cricketer of the year, was the highlight of what was a one-sided victory over Odisha in Indore.

Goa v Railways
Having won the toss, Goa defied expectations when they dominated the first innings against the star-studded Railways line-up, restricting them to 76 for 9. However, Harmanpreet Kaur, standing in for Mithali Raj who missed the game due to a finger injury, used her spinners early and well. Then, with four required off the last over, Niranjana Nagarajan, the seamer, bowled a series of near perfect yorkers in an incredible wicket-maiden under pressure, to deliver Railways a three-run win and the title.

Early on, the Goa swing bowlers extracted prodigious movement in the air to leave Railways reeling at 25 for 3 in six overs. First, Santoshi Rane knocked MD Thirushkamini’s middle stump out of the ground, after the batter had hit her for six the previous ball. Shikha Pandey then trapped Niranjana lbw, while Rane claimed Anagha Deshpande at point. Both frontline bowlers bowled out their four overs up front, using the swing to induce a number of edges.

Their replacements didn’t disappoint either. Sunanda Yetrekar’s legspin almost claimed Harmanpreet, but the wicketkeeper could not hold on. Sonali’s medium pace outswingers did the job though, with Harmanpreet stumped as she stepped out but missed the ball.

Sonali (3 for 20) proceeded to pick up two more big wickets, those of Veda Krishnamurthy and Sneh Rana, both caught behind to leave Railways at 68 for 7 in the 18th. They finally limped to 76 for 9, with Harmanpreet top-scoring with 16.

Harmanpreet began with left-arm spin at both ends. Ekta Bisht and Rajeshwari Gayakwad responded well, both picking up wickets in their first overs. Rana then came on to get the big wicket, that of Pandey, the Goa skipper, with a ball that spun sharply to have her playing onto the stumps. Two more wickets, including a brilliant running diving catch at long-on by Krishnamurthy, and Railways seemed to have regained control.

Then, an enterprising 21-run partnership between Vinavi Gurav and the well-set Yetrekar brought Goa within striking distance. They needed just 17 runs in the last four overs, but Rana struck a double-blow when she claimed both batters in the 17th over, to leave the equation at 12 needed off the last three. The eighth-wicket pair of Sugandha Ghadi and Sonali milked the spinners well to take it to four required off the last over. But Niranjana held her nerve, even claiming the wicket of Ghadi, who hit a full toss straight to mid on.

The Goa team finished a respectable third – impressive for a team on their debut in the Elite Group.

Brief scores:

Railways 76/9 in 20 overs (Sonali Gaunder 3-20, Santoshi Rane 2-13) beat Goa 73/8 in 20 overs (Yetrekar Sunanda 24; Sneh Rana 3-17) by three runs.

Maharashtra v Odisha
A hat-trick from Vaidya in the last over restricted Odisha to 80 for 8 before the Maharashtra batters completed a five-wicket win. Odisha, who were without the services of the injured Swagatika Rath and Kadambini Mohakud this tournament, lacked depth in batting and bowling departments to put up a resistance, and it showed. Despite Sushree Dibyadarshini’s three wickets, a quick 31 by Smriti Mandhana took Maharashtra get over the line.

After Odisha chose to bat, Anuja Patil had Madhuri Meheta caught behind on zero in the first over. Madhusmita Behera, the skipper, and Sarita Meher then made use of the fielding restrictions to help the ball over the infield, before Vaidya put an end to the 34-run partnership.

The very next over, Pragyan Mohanty was brilliantly run out by Patil with a direct hit from mid-off. And when Meher hit a full toss straight to midwicket, the score was 43 for 4 in the 12th over.

Dibyadarshini and the lower order tried to add momentum to the Odisha innings, but the final nail in the coffin came in the last over from Vaidya. She first deceived Dibyadarshini in the air to have her stumped, and then removed Bandana Hanuman, who miscued a slog to cover. The hat-trick was completed when Ritu Singh top-edged another slog, and Vaidya gleefully accepted the catch.

Meher top-scored with 23, but 80 was too little to defend. Losing three wickets for the last 21 runs of the chase was the only hiccup for Maharashtra.

Brief scores:

Odisha 80/8 in 20 overs (Sarita Meher 23; Devika Vaidya 4-14) lost to Maharashtra 81/5 in 16 overs (Smriti Mandhana 31; Sushree Dibyadarshini 3-20) by five wickets.