Another day, another World Cup heartbreak for India. On Sunday (March 27), India were up against South Africa in their last league stage encounter in the Women’s World Cup, in New Zealand, to book the fourth semi-finals spot.
It was a good start to the must-win game for Mithali Raj’s troops. India won the toss and opted to bat first at the picturesque Hagley Oval, Christchurch. The coin toss’ decision turned out to be correct for the Indian eves as they rode on an impressive 91-run opening stand between Shafali Verma-Smriti Mandhana. Fifties from Mandhana, Shafali and Mithali propelled India to 274/7 in 50 overs. While Proteas had already qualified and were sure to end at the second spot, they also needed a win to return back to winning ways before the knockouts. Nonetheless, it was a herculean task. They had to face 30 overs of spin to complete the second-best run-chase in World Cup history.
India inflicted a run-out early in South Africa’s run-chase. Further, they overcame a 125-run second-wicket stand between in-form Laura Wolvaardt-Lara Goodall, pulled off a comeback with regular fall of wickets only to stutter in the concluding stage of the match. A last-ball defeat, with a no-ball twist on the penultimate delivery, sealed India’s fortunes in what was a bittersweet campaign.
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Was it always coming?
Prior to the World Cup, India toured England and Australia last year. In addition, they arrived in New Zealand much before and played a T20I and five ODIs versus the host nation in February. Having been accustomed to conditions for quite long, they slowly gained some mileage in the CWC’2022 edition. However, they never came to their very best against Australia, England, and New Zealand; paying a heavy price ultimately. The three losses to big teams made their progress tougher. No settled XI, lack of exposure as a batting unit, inability to play big shots at will, and the missing venom in the pace battery, with too much reliance on Jhulan Goswami, marked their inevitable downfall.
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It has still only been a day since India’s heartbreaking exit. Probably, criticism can wait for a bit longer. The manner of the defeat, which was of the barest of margins, will surely dent the young girls. Nonetheless, these young guns such as Sneh Rana, Shafali, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Richa Ghosh, Yastika Bhatia, etc. can keep their heads high. As former India women’s coach WV Raman rightly pointed out in his tweet, ‘the glory is not in falling, but rising every time you fall’.
Despite the loss, what are the positives? Well, to force the BCCI to ‘propose’ Women’s IPL is probably the biggest takeaway for the Indian eves. Moreover, the Mitahlis, Jhulans, Mandhanas, Harmanpreet, etc. have set the base for women’s cricket. As a result, India’s nucleus is still strong and, thus, they have impressed in all ICC events since the last ODI World Cup, even though they remain trophy-less. With back-to-back heartbreaks in close finishes, India need to work on their temperament. Nonetheless, nothing is lost. It might seem to be the case. But there should be no hesitance in falling as the rise is never too far away.
In the virtual post-match conference, Mithali looked at the brighter side and said, “There will be generations of players coming and going, the team definitely will have to get going after every World Cup, there is always a change in the team, in the dressing room. There’ll be fresh faces in, there will be some experienced players in – so I think every team has to go through this process of rebuilding a team after the World Cup, especially after the one day World Cup, so that they prepare for the coming World Cups in another four years. And I guess we are no different, probably the Indian team also will probably go through the same transformation.”
As clichéd as it may sound, these are tough times. But there will be light at the end of this tunnel. Very soon, we shall find the missing pieces of the puzzle. Just like the Dravids and Gangulys’ World Cup desire was fulfilled by a young brigade, the same will surely be the case for the senior women’s team in the coming years…