Ravi Nair reports
In the intervening day between the second T20I and today, there was some talk about India’s running (or walking) between the wickets. India’s captain Smriti Mandhana in an interview said, among other things, that India needed to work on their running, that they hit either fours or dots, that they needed to rotate the strike more, and so on. CRICKETher’s very own Syd Egan then proved this, using numbers and tables, and probably slide rules and the differential calculus as well. But a lot of this sounds like captain’s waffle, or overanalysis to the spectator, until she sees it exemplified for herself in an actual match. And that, as if made to order, was what happened in the third and final (“dead rubber”) T20I between India and England in Guwahati.
Simply put, England won by one run, after a fantastic final over by Kate Cross in which she took two wickets and gave away only one run. But behind this lies a tale. In their last three overs India scored three boundaries, England none. Yet in their 18th, 19th and 20th overs India scored 19 runs, while England scored 26. It means that Shrubsole and Dunkley, one extra from a wide aside, ran the equivalent of nearly 500 metres each in 19 deliveries. The Indians managed 60. England allowed one dot ball in those three overs. Mithali Raj alone played out six, with Fulmali adding another three at the end of the Indian innings. Just one more would have given India a tie. Two more, the match.
Even without the final score and these reflections on it, the match was an exciting one. It was a dead rubber, the series had been decided. But it was a Saturday and the eventual crowd at Barsapara was the largest of any of the six matches in the tour. Mandhana wanted her first win as captain, and her team wanted to keep the overall score all square, at three matches each team. Heather Knight, however, may have been thinking slightly differently. Katherine Brunt, England’s most effective bowler this tour, was rested. And, on winning the toss, Knight decided to bat. Perhaps she was challenging her team to bat first and win even though they knew the Indians preferred chasing. Perhaps she was testing her entire squad, which has lost more resources before and during this tour than Spinal Tap lost drummers. Whatever the reason, it was set up for Mandhana to play the innings that all cricket fans wanted to see: a big one, in a chase, leading to a win.
Danni Wyatt set off just as one expects, like a greyhound out of the traps. Tammy Beaumont wasn’t far behind. Each hit a six. Each hit fours. India kept their discipline and refused to give away a single extra. So England reached 50 in exactly seven overs with Wyatt on 24 and Beaumont on 26. In the next over, with right arm finger spinner Anuja Patil bowling, Wyatt for whatever reason saw the ball going wide, very wide, of off, but couldn’t resist stretching for it. Result: top edge caught at third man.
After which it was another England mini-collapse. Sciver didn’t seem to know where the ball was going after it pitched when the leggie Poonam Yadav was bowling, played and missed a couple and then heard, rather than saw, the third take her off stump, spinning from middle and missing her outside edge. Beaumont, believing this was the right time for it, charged Patil, missed, and was stumped. Taniya Bhatia makes few if any mistakes in situations like this.
Amy Jones and Knight did some repair work, and Jones was beginning to look like the batter we had seen in the WWT20 in the Caribbean, making her most useful score of the tour to date, when Knight decided to stretch forward to Ekta Bisht. The ball evaded her outside edge, and Bhatia took the bails off while Knight was still stretched, her back leg behind her as though in a yoga pose, and her foot about 10 cm in front of the crease. But that wasn’t enough. Mandhana brought Deol on to bowl her right arm leg spin and Lauren Winfield was deceived and trapped in front. England had lost five wickets in the space of scoring 31 runs. After the powerplay England had looked on course for a score in excess of 140. Now it looked as though 100 might be ambitious.
Nine runs later even Jones was gone. With her score on 22, she was dropped by Mandhana at mid off. To celebrate, she lofted Deol over Mandhana for four. Full of the joys of the Indian Spring she decided to do it again, and this time holed out to Shikha Pandey who had moved slightly finer at the boundary for just this eventuality. Significantly, the English batters had crossed over by then so Dunkley, who hadn’t yet scored, but had at least faced, got to play out the last two deliveries of the over.
This left Shrubsole and Dunkley to make the best they could out of the three overs left to them. As related earlier, they did not score a single boundary between them, but ran about half a kilometre each to take the final score up to 119, and India’s target to 120: a score they had not yet reached thus far in the T20 series. But it was an achievable score, a disappointing one from England’s point of view, and on an easy paced pitch that offered nothing like the seam or turn of the Wankhede pitches, it was the perfect opportunity for Mandhana to show what she could do.
For 58 runs over 39 deliveries Mandhana gave us left-handed elegance and unstoppable strokeplay, the likes of which has not been seen since the retirement of Brian Charles Lara. Glides through third man, pulls off the hip, lofted drives to long off and long on, pulls and cuts led to eight fours and a six, along with 20 runs she actually ran, in the remaining 29 deliveries. Little wonder that her partners at the other end, Deol and Rodrigues, contributed 12 runs in total to India’s first 59.
It didn’t last, however, as Mandhana, looking to gently stroke Laura Marsh on the off side, under-edged the delivery and saw it bounce back onto her stumps. Until then the match was over and India were walking it. Eight runs later Deepti Sharma attempted a quick two, and Raj ran as hard as she has in the last few months, but it was Sharma, slow on the turn and accelerating slowly on her way back, who found herself about 20 cm short as Jones gathered and took the bails off as neatly as a stumping.
Even so, it should have been India’s game but, perhaps traumatised by the run out, Raj refused anything that looked like a sharp run. She was going to be there until the end, and she was not going to run out any of her partners, waving them away as they looked at her whenever it was her call. Time was still on India’s side, as was Fulmali, who had shown her talent in her debut in the previous match. The lack of singles, however, meant that the required rate was rising, going from 4.5 with six-and-a-half overs left to a full 6 per over for the last three.
Knight, inexplicably, ignored Wyatt, who had bowled two overs for just seven runs, and went back to her seamers, Sciver, Shrubsole and Cross, for the last three overs. Raj hit Sciver three times to mid on but refused to run. Even so, the over seemed the end of the fight for England as she did manage two fours, using the pace the spinners would not have given her, and taking a single off the last ball. India needed just 9 in the last two overs.
Shrubsole managed to keep her discipline, Raj managed to curb any mad impulse to take quick singles, even though the first two deliveries were walked through for one each. And then, on the last ball, Raj once again used Shrubsole’s pace to get herself a four.
Which left, as we know, Cross with the unenviable task of defending three runs in the last over, with India only four wickets down. Somehow she did it, bowling straight at Fulmali and giving her no room to swing her arms, changing her length slightly from ball to ball so that Fulmali could not set herself up for it beforehand. Jones missed a stumping too, on the third ball, as it beat Fulmali coming forward, but bounced off Jones’ gloves. Before Jones could pick it up and remove the bails, the batter was back in her crease. On the fourth delivery, trying to take the pressure off, Fulmali holed out to Shrubsole at mid off. Next ball Anuja Patil jumped about halfway down the track, swinging for dear life and, inevitably, missing. Jones made up for her earlier miss, Patil was out, and Pandey came in for the last ball of the innings needing a three or better to win. She skewed it out to Beaumont at point who flung herself on it and then carefully sent it back without running any danger of an overthrow and, though the Indians ran, they could only get one.
Game over, and huge release and relief for the England camp.
Mandhana will look at the next few months, when India have no matches coming up, and consider deleting Aerosmith’s “Walk this way” from the playlist of every one of her teammates. The England squad, if they are Kate Bush fans, will consider “Running up that hill” was definitely worth it. Heather Knight, however, looking grim rather than triumphant at the presentation, might be wondering exactly how much of her squad’s depth she is going to have to test on the next leg of the tour, and be singing to herself (albeit without Ariana Grande’s satirical tone), “Thank you. Next.”