When you get on a bus in India, it is wise to have the exact fare ready in hand when the conductor comes around with tickets. Otherwise, you may be subject to a bit of a lecture, at best, and be handed your ticket, or you might be rudely told to step down, and find some change, and another bus, at worst. In Australia, it’s a touch different. Apart from paying in all sorts of electronic means, try passing the driver a 50-dollar bill and asking for a ticket. More often than not you get looked at like you’re attempting the impossible, and then told quite politely to put the money back in your pocket: just have a seat, mate.
India were left feeling a bit like that after their third match of the Women’s T20 World Cup, when, with a 3-run win over New Zealand, they became the first to seal a spot in the semi-finals. Make no mistake, this was no fluke, India judged the conditions right, bowled with sense and fielded with purpose. India’s batting, however, was not exactly faultless. Once again — for the third time in as many matches — it was Shafali Verma at the top of the order who did most of the damage. With 46 off 34 balls, Verma became the joint second top-scorer in the tournament, with the most sixes and the highest strike rate. She was Player of the Match for the second time, and, on the day made double the runs of the next best Indian bat.
But, as Shafali took her inimitable brand of fearlessness out to the middle, taking on the bowlers from the word go, it was not without risk. And when she presented the chance, the White Ferns just refused to take it. Maddy Green was the first to fluff her lines when a cleanly struck shot to long on went to hand but was dropped, off the bowling of Hayley Jensen. Lea Tahuhu was the second offender, this chance a dolly at midwicket when a mishit pull off Rosemary Mair floated to the fielder. Another one bit the dust, and when you give a player of Shafali’s impact two lives, it’s going to come back to hurt you.
Shafali, who is already being described in some quarters as having shades of Virender Sehwag, is similar to the man in that sentence in that she seems largely immune to such loose talk. While both are attacking openers, there is a world of difference between the two. While Sehwag’s game was built on the cornerstone of a tight defence that he could trust, even while swinging for the fences, Shafali, at 16, is still figuring out her best options at the crease. Her batting is far from the finished product, in that she wants to improve all the time, and in a hurry too, but the range in which she operates is currently a limited one.
If you make the mistake of bowling in her arc, Shafali will make you pay. In the leadup to this tournament, much talk was on how Shafali was picked early as a force to reckon with and fast-tracked by talent scouts and selectors. WV Raman, the coach, even cautioned against looking too far ahead, requesting the media to just leave the girl and alone and let her play.
Well, she wasn’t left alone, in that sense, but she certainly is playing the cricket of her life. On the back of Shafali’s innings, India posted 133 for 8, and would have felt they were slightly undercooked at the halfway stage.
When it came to defending, however, India were up for the challenge. The bowling unit combined as one, applying pressure from both ends, giving little away. And before New Zealand could mount a serious pursuit they were 34 for 3, their key batters back in the dugout. A stop-start recovery helped hold fort, but at 90 for 5 in the middle of the 17th over, India had the game in the bag.
New Zealand needed 42 from only 21 balls, and Poonam Yadav, the hitherto unhittable leggie, had one over left to bowl. It was here and now that Amelia Kerr, the 19-year-old leggie, gave India an almighty scare, and the rest of the tournament a template on how to take on Poonam. Going right back in her crease, Kerr shovelled Poonam behind square, waiting long and playing late, taking 18 off her final over. Only a brilliant comeback from Shikha Pandey, in the final over, got India across the line, Kerr left unbeaten and heartbroken on a 19-ball 34.
“I want to thank my father, and all the boys who bowled to me back home in my academy for all the practice they gave me,” Verma said, soon after India were through. While she was at it, she may have added a tip of the hat to New Zealand too, for their fielding largesse.
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