Almost four years back, questions were raised about Mithali Raj’s position as captain after India Women crashed out in the first round of the Women’s World Cup on home soil. Those who know her also know that she took a lot of time to recover from that loss. She worked doubly hard in taking her game up a few notches, even as the dream to have another crack at the World Cup burned deep within her. Her attractive unbeaten 73 helped India beat Bangladesh Women in a Super Six game of the Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 at the Nondescripts Cricket Club on humid Friday (February 17). In the process, India booked a berth in the tournament proper in England in June.
After Bangladesh were restricted to 155 for 8, Raj had an unbroken second-wicket partnership of 136 runs with Mona Meshram (78 not out) that took India to 158 for 1 in 33.3 overs.
The conditions were suited for batting, and the world’s second-highest run-getter was not going to miss out on a chance to add another asterisk to her statistics. Raj’s strengths – placement, timing and footwork – were in ample evidence as she toyed with the Bangladesh bowlers. She didn’t look like getting out, and the confidence rubbed off on Meshram, who made her second consecutive half-century.
When Raj took guard, India were 22 for 1 from 8.3 overs, with Deepti Sharma falling after a 22-ball 1. India’s inability to rotate the strike in the first part of their innings has been their biggest area of concern, but as had been the case in previous matches, batting suddenly looked easy when Raj started executing her drives and cuts properly. Between collecting easy singles, the duo hit 22 fours between them to leave Bangladesh with no option but to beat Sri Lanka Women, and surpass their net run-rate, in their last game to keep their World Cup aspirations alive. Fittingly, Raj ended the game with a well-timed six over long-off.
As much as the second half of the game was about Raj’s nimble footwork, it was also an equally important outing for Meshram, who strengthened her claim over the second opener’s slot. A predominantly bottom-hand player, Meshram, who had failed to find the gaps during her knock against South Africa, showed much improvement.
India, the only unbeaten side in the tournament so far, were expected to beat Bangladesh. But they would be the first to admit that they did not put their best foot forward on the field. They missed at least two easy run-outs and one catch, allowing Bangladesh to bat out their full quota of overs after Mansi Joshi, who impressed once again with her raw pace, had reduced them to 14 for 2 in 9.3 overs.
The second-wicket pair of Sharmin Akther and Fargana Hoque, though, easily negated the spinners. Rajeshwari Gayakwad, leading the spin department in the absence of Ekta Bisht, who was rested, leaked easy runs as Akther and Hoque used variants of the sweep shot to good effect.
Akther should have been run out off the first ball of the 19th over, but Sushma Verma, instead of breaking the wicket with the ball in her hand, attempted a throw that missed the stumps by a distance. Akther got another life off the fifth ball of the 22nd over when Raj dived to make a great stop at cover, but could not produce an accurate throw to the striker’s end even as the batters were stranded mid-pitch.
Akther, however, could not use her chances. She stepped out to play Devika Vaidya, the legspinner, against the turn but missed the ball and was stumped. India pulled things back clinically after that.
It was really up to Hoque to put a big total on the board, having reached his fifty with a four over midwicket against Joshi. But she played the very next ball across the line to give Gayakwad a catch at midwicket.
India’s fielding woes continued. Soni Yadav, substituting for Raj, dropped a sitter at mid-off in the 45th over to give Salma Khatun a life. Lack of experience meant Bangladesh never capitalised on India’s weakness, as Vaidya picked up her second wicket off the last ball of the innings.
Bangladesh knew they had to get Raj early to make a contest of it. Their failure to do so meant India romped home easily.
India take on Pakistan in their final Super Six game on February 19 at the P Sara Oval. The match will be live-streamed on the International Cricket Council’s website and on YouTube.