About nine months ago, I had posted this little blog post: Something I Consider Important
Back then, the Indian women’s team was something no one spoke of much. Women’s cricket was not too high on people’s lists. Most people did not know a single player from any of the women’s teams, perhaps barring, in India at least, Indian captain Mithali Raj. (And that mostly from a Moov advert she had done on TV a few years ago.)
The only thing some people could understand about the very concept of women’s cricket, was that the boundaries were shorter than in the men’s game. (On being told, of course.)
But one month has changed the face of women’s cricket forever.
All of a sudden, the game’s level has been raised.
The matches have been getting closer, more nail-biting, individuals have been stepping up, teams have been clicking together like clockwork, and boy, have the people been noticing.
Has too much changed apart from the fact that for the first time, the general public has been provided multiple platforms and opportunities to watch the game, rather than notice a tiny Brief Scores card in a tiny corner of a newspaper dominated by what ONE person may think of his coach?
The ICC’s decision to necessarily stream all matches of the World Cup, including warm ups, and to televise respective relevant matches has definitely had a hand to play.
The other hand, however, was the one that swung the bat and spun the ball.
The tournament was perhaps not one that could have been predicted at the start.
Will Australia win their 7th title? With how much ease? was no longer the question.
And that may be proven by the fact that Australia did not make it past the semifinals, courtesy a blistering knock by India’s T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur, who scored 171* runs off just 115 balls, smashing 20 boundaries and 7 sixes, clearing the ropes and the field, landing a few of them into the stands. Her knock came at a strike rate of 148, and took India up to a total of 281-4 from their 42 overs in a rain reduced clash, and was helped with support at the other end from the captain Raj (36) and with blitzkrieg knocks from Deepti Sharma (25) and Veda Krishnamurthy (16).
For Australia, Alex Blackwell (90 off 56, 10 x 4, 3 x 6, SR: 160) and Elyse Villani (75 off 56, 13 fours) almost had Australia home, but Rajeshwari Gayekwad (1-62) broke the 100 run stand the two batters shared, followed by good spells from Deepti Sharma (3 wickets), Jhulan Goswami (2) and Shikha Pandey (2).
Australia ultimately fell short by 36 runs, managing only 245 by the 40th over, losing all their wickets.
The finals, now were charged as ever.
England had been on a roll.
After their opener-loss to India by 35 runs, England was a changed side.
With scores of 377, 373, 284, 259, 246, and a lowest team total of 206, England had become the team to watch out for with the bat.
Heather Knight, Natalie Sciver, Sarah Taylor, Tammy Beaumont, Fran Wilson, all had posted hundred or near-hundred runs an individual score.
The match was slated to be a big one, and an unpredictable one.
Would England be able to win their third World Cup, here on home soil? (Something that they had done in 1993 as well, defeating New Zealand in the finals after having lost badly to them in the robin round stage: a situation England found themselves facing again)
Or would it be the once underdogs, strong and resilient India, having barged into the semis and finals after their storm through their final game (vs NZ), following two back to back losses to Australia and South Africa, who would rise to the occasion and claim their first ever World Cup title, breaking into the exclusive winners list comprising of but three of the many nations who played the sport around the world: Australia (6 times), England (3) and New Zealand (1)?
Would this be the breakthrough moment for Women’s cricket, in another way?
Neither team made it easy on the other.
There was no clear winner, even five overs from the end of the second innings. It was a hard fought match.
Luck was with English skipper Knight, who called right and chose to post a total, something England had done very well this tournament.
Having the English down to 63-3 by the 17th over, the Indian bowlers were playing with conviction.
But then walked in Nat Sciver (51) and put on an 83 run partnership with opener Sarah Taylor (45), who was back into the English team following months of injury, and small smashing cameos by Katherine Brunt and Jenny Gunn took England up to a decent score of 228.
At the halfway stage, it looked like the game was slipping away from England.
Experienced in big match situations, senior bowler Jhulan Goswami rose to the occasion, picking 3 wickets in a fiery spell, finishing with 23-3 from her 10.
In reply, India found themselves in trouble early on, losing opener Mandhana (0) cheaply yet again, leaving India 6-1.
Captain Mithali Raj tried to consolidate an innings, but was run out for 17 in an unusual manner.
At 43-2, this brought the star of the previous match, Harmanpreet Kaur to the crease.
Together with opener Punam Raut, she stitched together a 95-run partnership.
Harmanpreet Kaur’s wicket fell in the 33rd over, she scored 51, and the immense importance of her wicket was large writ on bowler Alex Hartley’s face, and in what seemed a big release of pressure for England. But in came a confident, carefree Veda Krishnamurthy.
At the 40 over stage, India looked comfortably in for the win, being 173-3.
Tossing the ball up in the air and smacking 5 fours in the process, the flamboyant Veda Krishnamurthy, with the rock solid Punam Raut batting at the other end looked like the perfect combination to produce India’s much anticipated Cup victory.
But then Anya Shrubsole struck.
England’s much talked about batting could take a backseat. It would have to be the bowlers who’d have to pull the game back, and boy, did Shrubsole did.
Singlehanded lay picking Raut’s wicket and ending the partnership, she cleaned up the Indian tail.
The match-winning likes of Deepti Sharma, Raut and Krishnamurthy could do nothing as the batting order crumbled like a pack of cards, losing by just 9 runs.
For one team, the dream was over, the tears were flowing.
For the other, though, it was only the beginning of a lot of good things.
Hopefully, the English team is looking at a lot of benefits, love, following, and a spring in their step.
(PS: Google scores has finally recognised the England women’s team as well.)
In interviews later, the Indian team expressed the pain of losing such a close match.
The captain admitted that the pressure of the situation got to them, and that the players were in tears in the dressing room, post the awards ceremony.
Harmanpreet Kaur has said that she wishes she had batted longer.
But with the cup slipping away from them by single digit numbers, not all is lost.
For the first time in the longest of times, the Indian women’s cricket team is a team with recognisable faces in their country.
People have seen the power the women cricketers of all participating countries, and are getting behind them in big numbers.
The final was viewed by a record million viewers, the Lords’ tickets were sold out.
Indian captain Mithali Raj says one of her biggest personal achievements this tournament is the fact that “the team is being referred to as Mithali’s girls. I am very proud of that fact.”
Raj became the highest ever scorer in women’s ODIs this tournament, taking over the record held by ex-England captain, Charlotte Edwards.
Whether it’s a first of firsts, or one of many fads, only time will tell.
But for now, all we can say is that it’s a most interesting time.
We stand on the threshold of a whole new outlook on the women’s game.
With DRS being introduced for the first time, televisation, streaming and excessive coverage, the high interest being garnered, hopefully, women’s cricket is looking to be expanding beyond a schedule of five to ten matches a year, and cricket becoming a full time job for women cricketers.
The acceptance of our women’s cricketers too, as the national team.
(About the ongoing pay issue that Cricket Australia is having with their men’s team, a dejected Australian fan and a friend of mine complains, We don’t have a cricket team anymore!
All I have been doing is telling him to shut up and look carefully, there is an Australian team, the women’s team, and the Ashes are so on.)
So congratulations to England on proving to be the best there was at hanging on this tournament and winning the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017.
And hard luck to India, Australia, South Africa, and all the teams that fought so hard, but narrowly missed out.
You may have lost the cup, but you won many hearts and supporters.
This was truly a tournament where at the end of the day, it was the game of Cricket that ultimately won the match.