Pooja, Sneh pull India from trouble to victory over Pakistan
The pair hit robust fifties to revive the innings and hand the 2017 World Cup runners-up an easy win in the opening game of this edition in New Zealand.
More than how the Indian team goes from here, the perfect start they achieved on Sunday is what they would were so keen to ensure. The result was important and India beat Pakistan yet again, but the way Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana rescued India from serious trouble and took them to blooming health was the biggest gain.
India won by 107 runs in the end at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui. The joy could be seen on the faces of the Indian players and Pakistan knew how they let go of a golden window when they had the 2017 runners-up India, who had elected to bat, reeling at 114/6 in the 34th over. The script changed dramatically and Pakistan were never in the race after that.
The players from both sides provided a picture of goodwill, Indian cricketers seen playing with Pakistan captain Bismah Mahroof’s six-month-old daughter Fatima in her mother’s arms, and posing for a selfie with mother and daughter after the match. But India-Pakistan matches are always tense affairs.
Going into the World Cup, only Deepti Sharma was primed as an Indian all-rounder with match-winning credentials. Skipper Mithali Raj would be delighted with Rana (53*- 48b, 4x4) and Vastrakar (67 – 59b, 8x4) coming to the party, stitching together a 122-run seventh-wicket partnership that proved match-winning. The two all-rounders rescued India after a batting collapse where they lost five wickets for 18 runs, resurrecting the innings to 244/7 in 50 overs.
Having conceded the initiative, Pakistan surrendered to the Indian bowlers, dismissed for 137 in 43 overs. India extended their clean slate against Pakistan and have now beaten them in all 11 ODIs they have played.
Raj would also be relieved with how left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad hogged the spotlight with figures of 4/36, not to forget the 92-run second-wicket stand between Smriti Mandhana (52 - 75b, 3x4, 1x6) and Deepti Sharma (40), which came after Shafali Verma was caught and bowled by left-arm spinner Aman Amin for nought.
Once both the set batters were out, the onus was on Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur to rebuild the innings. The Pakistan bowlers though maintained a tight line and length to push them on to the back foot. Experienced off-spinner Nida Dar trapped Kaur leg before for five. Young Richa Ghosh joined the skipper but Dar removed her. Raj meanwhile started very slow, adding to the pressure.
Finally, left-arm spinner Nashra Sandhu removed Raj for nine, and India were staring at an upset when Rana and Vastrakar showed their worth. Rana, who had shown glimpse of her talent when she made 80 against England in the one-off Test in June 2021 stuck to the job and combined well with Vastrakar. The tall batter from the small town of Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, known for her all-round abilities, hammered the Pakistan bowlers all over the ground. Nicknamed “chotta Hardik”, Vastrakar played confidently. Showing maturity, Rana remained unbeaten. At one stage, a score of 150 plus had looked tough and India managed to score close to 250.
Vastrakar, who bowls medium-pace, seemed to suffer an injury while batting and did not bowl. She was named the Player-of-the-Match.
“I’m very happy. It’s my first Player-of-the-Match award, in my first World Cup game. The plan was to somehow try and get to 200. I like to bat in pressure situations, even in domestic games, and I told Sneh that and to keep the partnership going. The batters told us the wicket was slow, so the target was 200, but we didn’t bat differently and just took chances. The physio said the injury will heal quickly and I will be back soon,” said Vastrakar, 22, after her second ODI half-century.
For the first time since India landed in New Zealand, their bowlers looked to dominate the opposition. Pakistan slipped to 98/7 while wicketkeeper Richa Ghosh took a record five dismissals on World Cup debut.
Opening batter Sidra Ameen top-scored with 30 for Pakistan before giving away her wicket to Jhulan Goswami. Off-spinner Sharma removed skipper Mahroof for 15, caught by Ghosh. Backed by her stupendous batting show, Rana took 2/27 in nine overs bowling off-breaks.
Diana Baig was looking dangerous before Kaur took the final catch off Meghna Singh. Baig fell for an entertaining 24 from 35 balls.
“Relieved to win the first game, but there are a lot of things we have to work on. When you lose wickets like that, it puts pressure. An important partnership happened between Pooja and Sneh which got us back. It is Important that the top order scores runs; we would want to address that. When you have all-rounders like Sneh, Pooja and Deepti, it strengthens both departments. We have a couple of days ahead of the next game, Pooja will definitely recover and be fit for the next game,” said Raj.
India face New Zealand at Hamilton on March 10 next.
India 244/7 in 50 overs (Smriti Mandhana 52, Sneh Rana 53*, Pooja Vastrakar 67; Nashra Sandhu 2/36, Nida Dar 2/45); Pakistan 137 in 43 overs (Sidra Ameen 30, Diana Baig 24; Jhulan Goswami 2/26, Rajeshwari Gayakwad 4/31). India won by 107 runs
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