India Women’s return to cricket: A forgetful series against South Africa Women
India Women returned to the cricket field after 364 days after their last international assignment in the World Cup last year. During the 2020 T20 World Cup, the Melbourne Cricket Ground witnessed the highest crowd figure for a women’s cricket match. Indians had a face-off with Australia Women as the latter eventually claiming the title. 86,174 fans turned up to watch Australia win their fifth title at the MCG, and it was the largest crowd for a women’s sporting event in Australia, and 2020 showed a promising future.
It was a gamechanger as many people expected it to be a huge turning point in the popularity of women’s cricket. But that was also the beginning of the global pandemic. Nobody knew that the world would go for a long break, and nothing would remain the same.
The huge crowd at the MCG on 8 March 2020 gave hope to the Indian women’s cricket fans. They hoped for a better tomorrow, for a women’s IPL 2020. But pandemic had other plans. That turned out to be the last match for the Eves in the year 2020. By the mid of September, the cricket world started to adjust to the measures and resume action.
The Indian make cricketers got involve in Indian Premier League 13 followed by the Australian tour at the end of the year. However, things were not the same for the female players. Some of them played the T20 challenge during IPL, but that was all. They had to wait for 364 days to get back to international cricket when South Africa Women came to play in India in March 2021.
A shaky start
Both teams were up for a 5-match ODI series. After the pandemic-forced break, South Africa Women returned to international cricket with wins against Pakistan Women – by 3-0 and 2-1 in ODIs and T20Is, respectively. In the first match at the Ekana International Stadium in Lucknow, the India Women cricket team suffered a mini-collapse at the top. They lost two openers quite early and struggling with 18/1 when the captain took the responsibility.
Mithali Raj built the innings and amassed 85-ball 50. She got an able ally in Harmanpreet Kaur, who scored 40 off 41 balls. Once Kaur was dismissed, Deepti Sharma walked in and added 27 runs off 46 balls. With a target of 178 runs, South Africa Women saw their openers doing the job comfortably. Lizelle Lee remained unbeaten with 83 runs as Laura Wolvaardt scored 80 runs.
Although they lost two wickets, it did not affect their mission at all. From the Indian cricket team, Jhulan Goswami scalped both the South African wickets conceding 38 runs in 10 overs, including a maiden. Earlier, the young Shabnim Ismail took three major Indian wickets while Nonkululeko Mlaba took two.
Coming back to the action
In the post-match conference after the first game, Mithali Raj spoke about the Indian players being out of the action for quite a long time. According to her, that definitely showed up in the performance. She expected her team to make a comeback in the second game, and the team abided by the skipper. This time it was South Africa’s turn to bat first. They had a tough time earning each run against an Indian bowling attack led by the veteran Goswami.
Only Sune Luus (36 off 57) and Lara Goodall (49 off 77) could show some resistance, but Goswami was furious on that day. She took four wickets for just 42 runs in her quota of 10 overs. At 38 years of age, she proved why class is the most important match-winning factor, always.
Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Mansi Joshi gave the required support to Goswami and picked up three and two wickets, respectively. The chase seemed like a cakewalk for the fabulous Smriti Mandhana. Mandhana scored 64-ball 80*, and Punam Raut scored 62 off 89 to take India home.
Visitors take lead
Once India levelled the series in the second game, it was important to continue with the momentum for the hosts, whereas for the visitors, it was important to come back more firmly. South Africa was without their regular captain in the third game.
Once again, Jemimah Rodrigues failed to contribute as India batted first. Mandhana could score only 25 runs this time, and the onus was on the middle-order. Raut scored a fine 77 to lead the build-up and got support from Kaur (36), Raj (36), and Deepti (36*). Ismail once again was on fire as she ended up with two more wickets to her name in the series.
The chase was a one-woman show. Lee smashed a huge century, scored an unbeaten 132 off 131 balls, and ensure no small hiccup could stop the visitors. Mignon du Preez was the next big scorer for South Africa with 37 off 46 balls. However, rain played its part in this game as well. The game had to be stopped in the 47th over, and South Africa was eventually declared as winners by the DLS method.
Comeback, one more time?
In-form Punam Raut finally stacked up a century in the fourth match of the series. It was do or die match for India Women as losing this match meant losing the series. The fourth match was hence, kind of a decider. Batting first, India set a target of 267 runs for the loss of four wickets. Rodrigues did not play the game as Priya Punia (32) opened the innings with Mandhana.
Both were sent back within the sixth over when Punam Raut held onto one side. She scored an unbeaten 104 off 123 deliveries, followed by 45 from Raj, 54* from Kaur. The chase, yet again, did not look tough for the visiting side. Everyone from the top-order performed. Lee (69) and Wolvaardt (53) stitched in 116 runs for the first wicket.
Then Goodall and du Preez did the rest of the job. Former batter remained unbeaten with 59 runs as du Preez amassed 55-ball 61. Later Marizanne Kapp played a fine cameo of 22* runs off 18 balls at the end. This was the biggest target they have chased in ODIs. South Africa won the match by seven wickets with eight balls remaining and claimed the series as well.
No positive takeaway
The final match of the series was a formality for both teams. However, for India, it was a matter of pride. They were playing an international ODI series after such a long time. They had the home advantage. They still managed to win only one match out of four and lost the series already. India had nothing to lose in the final game, but they definitely had a lot to gain back.
Unfortunately, this match once again saw a poor performance from the Indian batters. Apart from captain Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, no one could stoop up and resist. Raj scored 104-ball 79* and carried the innings singlehandedly. Kaur could add valuable 30 runs, but that was all. Indian innings was wrapped up for a mere 188 runs.
Nadine de Klerk took three wickets for 35 runs as Nondumiso Shangase, and Tumi Sekhukhune took two each. Sune Luus was back for the last game but was gone for 10 runs. The top-order failed, but the middle-order and lower middle-order chased it down. Mignon du Preez (57), Anneke Bosch (58), and Kapp (36*) helped South Africa win the match by five wickets and series 4-1.
Indian Women and South Africa Women will soon take on each other in the T20 series and play three matches starting 23 March.