Mithali Raj's unbeaten 74 off 124 balls provided the framework for India’s successful chase of 202 that sealed the series 2-1. © BCCI

Mithali Raj’s unbeaten 74 off 124 balls provided the framework for India’s successful chase of 202 that sealed the series 2-1. © BCCI

It has been a tough home season for Mithali Raj. With expectations riding high, she failed to get going, scoring just one half-century in eight innings across two formats before the series-deciding third One-Day International against England at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Jamtha, Nagpur on Thursday (April 12). But you would expect a legend like her to rise to the occasion, and she did that in style in her 117th ODI game as skipper, equaling with Charlotte Edwards as the most-capped captain.

Her unbeaten 74 off 124 balls from No.4 provided the framework for India’s successful chase of 202 that sealed the series 2-1. She became the first batter to score 50 ODI fifties, and built two crucial partnerships with Smriti Mandhana, who retired hurt in the 24th over after making 53, and Deepti Sharma, who remained unbeaten on 54. India reached the target in 45.2 overs, recording only their tenth successful chase of 200 or more.

England had reached 201 for 9 on the back of a gutsy 94 from Amy Jones, who was dropped twice by Jhulan Goswami before reaching 30.

As long as Raj was there in the middle, England had little chance to get access to India’s fragile middle-order. No one knew the value of her wicket more than Raj, and she paced her innings accordingly.

When Raj came out to bat in the seventh over, India had just lost their second wicket in the form of Veda Krishnamurthy, who was promoted to No.3 to make a case for herself. Heather Knight immediately brought Danielle Hazell, the offspinner who had dismissed Raj in the first two ODIs. It led to a keen tussle between the two, as Raj could not score off the first 12 balls she faced from Hazell. She broke the shackle off the 13th ball when she stepped out to place her between the fielders and collected her first four in the extra cover region.

Raj always likes to take her time before opening up, and usually the lack of runs from the other end amplifies this weakness in her game. On this occasion though, she had Mandhana for company, who was timing the ball as eloquently as she has been doing through the home season.

With the pitch slowing up, Knight went with a double-spin attack of Hazell and Sophie Ecclestone for six overs before bringing in the medium-pace of Georgia Elwiss in the 16th over. It was the release Mandhana and Raj were waiting for, as they hit her for 12 runs to give a push to the chase.

Jhulan Goswami celebrates after dismissing Danielle Wyatt. © BCCI

Jhulan Goswami celebrates after dismissing Danielle Wyatt. © BCCI

After that, regular boundaries between strike rotation became the theme of their partnership of 76 runs. Just when it looked like the duo would put on a masterclass, Mandhana was affected by the heat and retired hurt.

It doubled the responsibility on Raj, who now had Deepti for company. Not always a fast starter, Deepti took on the attack to hit three boundaries in her first 11 balls to establish her intent.

Raj then kept speaking to Deepti throughout the partnership as they went about chasing the target in small blocks. Raj’s strike-rate till she reached her half-century with a four off Hazell was 57.60. She eventually took her strike-rate up to 79.10 before Deepti ended the game with a six in the 46th over. England failed to pick up a wicket for 179 runs, all made under the watch of Raj.

It is a pity that the livestream on BCCI website got stuck just before Raj reached her fifty, hence denying viewers around the world a chance to witness another world record created by the game’s highest run-getter.

India should have chased a lot less than they eventually did had they not missed three catches and a stumping

No drop was more contextual than Goswami failing to take two fair chances at first slip and then at midwicket even before Jones had her eye in.

Jones, who had never scored a half-century in her career till now, made the most of those opportunities before a hamstring injury contributed to her being run out off the last ball of the innings.

Jones’s knock allowed England to recover after Goswami sent back both the openers within the seventh over. India, however, stayed ahead of the game through their spinners, and no one was more effective than Rajeshwari Gayakwad, who replaced fellow left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht for this game.

Much slower through the air than Bisht and with a good flight, Gayakwad kept the English batters guessing and in the process picked up two wickets. Deepti and Poonam Yadav too chipped in two scalps as England’s innings had just one major partnership of 63 in 16 overs for the third wicket between Jones and Knight.

Knight was middling the ball well, but her attempt to step down the track and work the ball into the gap led to her playing the ball in the air off Deepti for Harmanpreet Kaur to take an easy catch at long-on. India controlled things well after that to set up the platform for their skipper to make a record-breaking game memorable.