The three-wicket loss to South Africa on Sunday signalled the end of India’s campaign in the ICC Women’s World Cup. The sight of a dejected Indian team walking off the Hagley Oval in Christchurch was heartbreaking.
But when you keep emotions away, you realise India not just missed a trick or two, they fell short in many departments even before the start of the tournament.
In the coming days, the Indian think-tank, the selectors and coaches in particular, have a lot of soul-searching to do. Although India came within touching distance of making it to the semifinals, they never looked like a champion side which could pose a threat to the best teams. A case in point is the fact that barring West Indies, they failed to defeat the other three semifinalists – Australia, England and South Africa in the league phase.
So where did India go wrong?
Unlike the dominant Australia side which has an embarrassment of riches, the Indian resources were always limited, so picking the right players for specific roles was crucial. In hindsight, dropping top-order bat Jemimah Rodrigues and the experienced Shikha Pandey proved detrimental. Shikha’s absence was glaring especially when India needed someone to lead the pace attack in the absence of Jhulan Goswami against South Africa. On pitches which played true with good pace and bounce, Shikha’s inswingers would have been a lethal weapon as not many women cricketers are comfortable playing in swing. Although the 21-year-old Jemimah had endured a poor run with the bat in India colors, she could have added bite at the top, especially since she would have brought with her the experience of having played most of the opposition over two years while representing the country and during a Big Bash stint with Melbourne Renegades.
Indian team after their loss against South Africa. (AFP Photo)
While consistency among players was the bane of India’s campaign, the fact that they lacked uniformity in team selection and combinations was glaring. The batting order was rejigged one too many times. Against Australia, Mithali Raj, who plays at No. 3, decided to drop down the order while opener Shafali was made to sit out of three matches after she failed to click against Pakistan in the opener. Likewise, Poonam Yadav, the lone leg-spinner in the line-up played just one match – against Bangladesh. Ideally, India should have firmed up the combinations before the tour of Australia, which could have ensured they didn’t have to adopt the trial and error method in the New Zealand series before the World Cup.
Among the four semifinalists, a telling common factor is leadership. Meg Lanning (Australia), Heather Knight (England), Sune Luus (South Africa) and Stafanie Taylor (West Indies) have not just led from the from in terms of their individual performances, but have also been inspirational figures in with the tactical acumen and ability to inspire the team when the chips were down. On this count, there were glaring chinks in Mithali’s leadership, starting with her own performance.
A decisive factor missing in India’s batting apart from consistency was foresight. Deepti Sharma nearly delivered a winner against South Africa, but her performance with the willow was below average. She managed a mere 62 runs including a 40 against Pakistan in the opener in five innings. Mithali’s 182 runs in seven matches included a 68 against South Africa, but the duo’s inability to anchor the top-order created situations where the pressure on the young middle-order was immense. If not for the performances of Smriti Mandhana (328) and Harmanpreet Kaur (318), India’s scorecards would have painted a different picture.
Full marks to the spin duo of Rajeshwari Gayakwad (11 wickets) and Sneh Rana (10 wickets), who bowled with intent and purpose. India were also the only side which did not utilise a leg-spinner well, with Poonam Yadav making a one-match appearance. But the pace unit looked off-colour. Jhulan, with a record 201 caps at the end of the World Cup, wasn’t the trump card any more. Also, at 39, it was vital to preserve Jhulan for crunch matches. For example, instead of resting Meghna Singh against Bangladesh, Jhulan should have sat out of that match and played the do-or-die contest against South Africa. Pooja Vastrakar (10 wkts) turned out to be pace saviour for India.