CWG Cricket: A frustratingly familiar result for India
Harmanpreet and Co fell nine runs short, exactly the same margin by which they lost that ODI World Cup Final. The more things change, the more they stay the same
At the medal ceremony for T20 Cricket at the Commonwealth Games, the very end of a fantastic tournament, there was unfamiliarity. A bit of ‘ok, how are we supposed to do this?’ Bronze medallists New Zealand weren't sure whether they were supposed to step onto the podium when their names were called. After hesitating, they did so, and then in almost perfect choreography, raised their clasped hands as one. Looking at them, Australia started holding hands as well, only to realise that wasn't a good idea given that one of them was Covid positive. India seemed to have the same idea, but eventually they went with a planned namaste, as soon as they stepped onto the podium.
If only the end of India's innings was just as well planned. When India's captain Harmanpreet Kaur fell in the 16th over, there was too much of, ‘ok, how are we supposed to do this?’ from the rest of the batters. They came, they swung, they ran, they went. There were three run outs in the next five wickets that fell. Deepti Sharma and Sneh Rana both had strike rates of more than 100, but lasted less than 10 balls. At one point, India needed 13 off 10 balls, with four wickets in hand. But Australia kept their heads, kept their lines. Deepti Sharma, who had just hit a cracking straight drive for four, missed a straight ball. Even the injection of Yastika Bhatia, in for the concussed Taniyaa Bhatia, couldn’t save India. Yastika trains with men’s IPL players, and had an IPL situation to face, 11 off 6 balls, two wickets in hand. If only she had a women’s IPL to prepare for it.
From unfamiliar territory came a familiar result. India chasing in a final, set batters dismissed, harem-scarem running, an inswinger coming in and getting wickets targetting the stumps. It was flashback 2017. India fell nine runs short, exactly the same margin by which they lost that ODI World Cup Final. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
But things have changed. India showed smarts and courage and athleticism in the field, after Australia chose to bat first and were cruising at 83-1 in the 10th over. From that position, with wickets in hand and the depth in batting they have, Australia could have more than doubled their score. But Radha Yadav produced a brace of wickets without claiming either, running out Meg Lanning by flicking a ball between her legs on to the stumps, and then plucking an airborne screamer at point to dismiss Tahlia McGrath.
From there it was a game of boundaries and wickets, as both teams stuck to aggressive plans. Australia scored at 9.5 an over between overs 11 to 15, but then India restricted them to only 36 in the last 30 balls, taking five wickets with disciplined bowling, forcing Australia to hit sweepers or take risks.
Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues then put on a partnership of 96 that threatened to shock Australia, even after India lost the openers cheaply. Harmanpreet's innings, 65 off 43 with two sixes, was of the highest quality. Underlined by her trademark lofts down the ground, the knock rekindled the unreasonable expectation that she will repeat her 171*, in impact if not score. It is unreasonable because no one player wins a tournament, and Australia had more players tempered for these situations than India did. More depth. More exposure. The kind that you get by playing a top quality T20 tournament.
India get to savour second, get to celebrate with silver, more valuable than a runner's up medal, even though it's the same thing. They deserve that. They deserve to pose with pride because they can be proud of how they played. The fans who watched the final certainly were. An hour after the last ball, after the medals were hung and the ticker tape cleared, the Australian and Kiwi teams had dispersed, but India's players were still on the field, signing autographs, clicking selfies, mobbed by fans and volunteers alike. Throughout the game, the Indian team drew the loudest cheer. The biggest fan base. The most people vested.
It didn't matter. The gold medal went to the most invested.