There wasn’t much in it – just 4 runs, after Sophie Ecclestone walloped the final ball of England’s chase for 6 – but it was India that came away with the win, and the chance to play for the gold medal tomorrow.
India’s total of 164 rested on two crucial performances at either end of the innings. Smriti Mandhana got them off to a flying start with 61 off 32 balls; but arguably Jemimah Rodrigues’ 44 off 31 at the back-end was even more significant.
Jemi had come in at the fall of the first wicket in the 8th over, and made her way to 18 off 19 balls through the middle overs, playing the anchor role; but then stepped up 2-or-3 gears at the death, hitting 26 off 12 balls at a Strike Rate of 217 in the last 4 overs of the innings, playing some lovely strokes over the top on the off side – not trying to hit the leather off it, but doing just enough – the perfect balance of risk and reward.
Without those extra 12-14 runs from Jemi’s bat, India would have finished on something more like 150, which would have handed England the game. As it was, 164 proved just too many for England.
Although England kept in touch with the rate for most of the game, a couple of weak overs towards the end of the middle-over phase pushed the required rate towards ten, and it was looking dicey. They looked to have been handed a lifeline when India gambled on giving Shafali a second over in the 16th, which went for 15; but the two overs that followed were the death knell.
Deepti Sharma bowled the 17th and restricted Amy Jones and Nat Sciver to just 3 singles. The pressure that put on then indirectly led to Jones running a panicked single off the second ball of the 18th, bowled by Sneh Rana, from which she was run out; and the result was a second consecutive over of just 3 singles, leaving England needing 27 off the last 2 overs, which they simply couldn’t manage.
(13.5 an over does sound do-able, and England did hit 13 off the 19th; but in practice it is virtually impossible to get even 10 off the final over – it just never happens – so really England needed 18-20 off the penultimate over – 13 was never going to be enough.)
There can be no doubt that the better team won on the day – India deserve to be the ones vying for gold tomorrow; while England came up short at the first real hurdle they’ve faced this summer, after South Africa’s failure to really challenge them in the series that preceded the Comm Games.
The “Glass Half Full” take is that England were close, and this exciting young team can leave Birmingham with their dignity intact. Alice Capsey did exactly what we always said she’d do – stepped up to international cricket with aplomb; while the Freya Kemp gamble worked out well enough, though she didn’t get any opportunity to prove herself with the bat, which could have been interesting because she is arguably an even more exciting prospect with bat than with ball.
The likelihood remains that, even if they’d come through today, they’d have been flattened by Australia tomorrow; but the “next” England team, which is starting to take shape now, looks a much better bet to really give Australia a run for their money over the next decade than they have recently.
This being the Commonwealth Games, there remains the small matter of a bronze medal match for England tomorrow. It’s the match no one really wants to play, and it will be a tough ask for the management team to get everyone up for it – the squad were so fixated on that gold medal, that anything less was always going to be a huge disappointment. But they need to be the professionals they are, and give their all nonetheless – England expects… even if it is “just” for a bronze medal.