Big games are often decided on match-changing moments. So when India’s Deepti Sharma edged behind and New Zealand’s Rachel Priest took a stunning one-handed catch on Saturday in Derby, the moment seemed to have arrived…for New Zealand at least. Mithali Raj, batting at the other end after hitting another half-century, must have turned around and grimaced to herself, “Not again”.
It was all painfully familiar. Just a few days ago, she had scored a 114-ball 69 against Australia. On being questioned if she had batted too slowly, she had attributed it to the pressure on her since others did not stand up to be counted.
That seemed to be the general theme of India’s campaign in the tournament, apart from that first match against England. India constantly seemed to be playing within themselves. The intent was preservation, not attack. And despite good partnerships, they were getting substandard scores.
A special knock, a daring partnership
And here they were again. A steady 132-run partnership between Harmanpreet Kaur and the captain was being squandered away. Kaur and Sharma had been dismissed. The Kaur-Mithali stand had taken 162 balls. Mithali was playing a relatively faster compared to her knock against Australia – she was striking at a rate of around 61 – but at 154/4 with only 81 balls left in the innings, yet another middling score in the 200-225 range seemed to be looming for India.
We all know what happened. A typhoon named Veda Krishnamurthy hit the quaint Derby ground and left the Kiwis stunned and staggered. Counter-attack is often considered the best form of defence, but rarely, has the Indian women’s cricket team been so bold, so audacious and so incredibly daring.
Their partnership was 108 off 78 balls. Read that again, only 78 balls. A run rate of 8.3. A stunning run-rate, especially for a team which has, at times, struggled to score at more than four an over. Add to that, the fact that it came at a crucial time in the innings, a must-win match, a situation where India have struggled and the sheer bravado of that assault stands out.
Of course, Veda Krishnamurthy was the star. In women’s cricket, 70 runs off 45 balls is the kind of knock that doesn’t happen every day, and especially not from an Indian batter. And here’s an interesting statistic to put that into perspective: the 24-year-old’s strike rate of 155.55 is the second-highest by an Indian player in an innings of 50 or more runs in a women’s ODIs. That’s how rare this magical assault was.
Not just pure power
But this was a great partnership too and not only because of Krishnamurthy, though she undoubtedly played a big part. If she scored 67 out of the total 108 of that partnership, her partner at the other end, captain Mithali Raj, added 41 to the stand…off a very healthy 35 balls.
That is an important stat and it also, in a way, proved Raj right: when someone else took the onus, she took the opportunity to be more expressive and batted at over run-a-ball. When Krishnamurthy came in to bat, the captain was on 71 off 86 balls. Her much younger partner at the other end didn’t start off as breezily as she ended – Krishnamurthy hit only boundary in the first five overs she faced. But Raj let her settle in, scoring a boundary herself and rotating the strike.
And when the assault started from the 42nd over, she just sat back and enjoyed the show. Mindful of the special innings that Krishnamurthy was playing, Raj responded to every call for a second run to put her partner back on strike, while taking as many singles as she could. More importantly, she was ensuring that the momentum and the intensity never flagged – the Kiwi bowlers had no measure of relief and were running ragged.
It wasn’t just delightful cricket from the two – it was smart, innovative calculative batting at a time when India’s tournament was on the line and they were smarting from two heavy losses. While Krishnamurthy provided the fireworks, Mithali Raj kept providing the fuse. And when it exploded, New Zealand were so shocked that they slumped to a lowly 79 all out.
India now have a tough semi-final against Australia ahead. But the one thing they will take away from their thrashing of New Zealand is the importance of intent. And as Veda Krishnamurthy and Mithali Raj showed in Derby on Saturday, a little bit of intent can make you go from struggling to soaring in a matter of a few overs.