“You can’t bowl there to Smriti Mandhana!”
Let’s face it – you can’t bowl anywhere to Smriti Mandhana – not when she’s in the form she was in tonight, hitting 79 off 53 balls – carving England to shreds in the 2nd T20 at Derby.
India overall looked a different team tonight. After their complaints about the conditions up in Durham on Saturday, the weather was much more clement – 4-5℃ warmer in Derby than it had been in Durham – and starting an hour and a half earlier at 6pm makes a big difference too at this time of year – walking out in sunlight rather than darkness.
England chose to bat first – as they’ve done so successfully in T20s at this ground recently, averaging 162 (discounting the West Indies game reduced to 5 overs per side in 2020) and winning six from six.
But they were soon in trouble here – Dunkley again looked at sixes-and-sevens early on against Renuka – leaving one she should have played, and playing one she should have left. She then tried to make up for it by charging Deepti’s first delivery – totally missing it, and handing Richa Ghosh a straightforward stumping.
The following over, Renuka bowled a Jaffa to Wyatt who edged to slip; Capsey ran herself out getting overenthusiastic about a third, having already run two; and suddenly England were 3 down in the powerplay for not-very-many. (16, to be precise!)
Amy Jones and Bryony Smith were left trying to rebuild, and basically wrote-off the rest of the powerplay, getting to the six-over mark both on 7 at strike rates of under 100. They then did start to play a few shots, Smith hitting a couple of boundaries to get her strike rate (just) over 100 but both were dismissed by the half-way mark, with England 60-5 and Freya Kemp at the crease for only the second time in her brief England career – the first having ended 1 not out in the death throes of England’s ill-fated bronze medal match at the Commonwealth Games.
Those of us who have seen Kemp play in domestic cricket know she can hit a cricket ball a long way, so she has the ability, but the test here was one of temperament… and it was a test she passed with straight As. There was no point in her trying to do anything other than play her natural game – even if she’d been able to nurdle her way to 20 off 30 balls, that wouldn’t have helped anyway. England needed to put runs on the board, and Kemp did exactly that – finishing 51* off 37.
Interestingly, the role being played by Kemp was the one originally written for Sarah Glenn – who England almost opened with once in a T20 against the West Indies here at Derby, until plans changed when the weather reduced the game to a 5 over thrash. Glenn was earmarked by then-coach Mark Robinson as a “pinch hitter” who could come in and smack quick, hard runs, while also offering a few overs with the ball, but somehow she never got her opportunity with the bat, and now she plays as a pure bowler, coming in at 9 with no one expecting very much when she does.
But Kemp got the opportunity today that Glenn never really had; and with Maia Bouchier chipping in another 34 off 26 to add to Kemp’s heroics, England got to 142 – a bit below par, but it was something to bowl at.
Or… it would have been something to bowl at, if not for Smriti Mandhana.
We’ve seen some remarkable performances from some remarkable players over the years – Alyssa Healy’s swashbuckling masterpiece in the T20 World Cup Final at the MCG; Meg Lanning’s “Terminator” in the Women’s Ashes at Chelmsford; Harmanpreet’s “Harman Monster” at this ground in the 2017 World Cup semi-final. But none of those players – great as they are – make cricket look quite as easy as Smriti does when she’s in full flow, and the groove she found tonight was classic Smriti.
There was one shot – an effortlessly graceful cut for 4 off Kemp – that summed it all up: it wasn’t just that she didn’t bother running, it was that she didn’t even really bother looking – she knew it was gone from the moment it struck the bat. When she’s on that kind of a roll, there’s no delivery you can bowl to her; no field you can set – she’s the master chef, and you’re the fish… and you’re getting fried!
All of which sets things up nicely for a series decider at Bristol later this week. After South Africa’s capitulation to England earlier in the summer, it’s enjoyable to have a genuinely competitive bilateral series on our hands.
I’d expect England to be unchanged – this is the shape of the team they are planning to take to South Africa for the T20 World Cup, and they’ll want them to have every possible minute in the middle over the next few months.
The one player who looks like she needs a rest is Sophie Ecclestone; but I’m guessing neither she nor England would agree, or she wouldn’t have got an NOC to sign up for WBBL, which was announced earlier today. Nevertheless, she looks exhausted, having played literally everything this year – Ashes, World Cup, Regionals, Fairbreak, T20 Challenge, South Africa, Comm Games, Hundred, and now India, with WBBL and the West Indies tour to come. Something is going to have to give at some point, as it has with Nat Sciver – it’s just a question of whether you manage it, or try to ignore it until it all comes crashing down – either way, it’s a choice, which I hope England don’t make by default… but let’s face it, they probably will.