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Women’s T20 World Cup: Mandhana returns as India look to seal final four spot with win over New Zealand

It will be Harmanpreet Kaur, coincidentally also not among the runs in the two matches India have played at the Women’s T20 World Cup, leading India, not Virat Kohli, and the battle will be rejoined over hours rather than days. India are one win away from sealing a spot in the final four, and if they can get past New Zealand they will reach the semis.

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Last Updated: Feb 26, 2020, 11.18 PM IST
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mandhana
While Mandhana has grown into her role, she conceded on Wednesday that the presence of Shafali Verma had helped immensely.
By Anand Vasu

The last week hasn’t been good for India’s cricketers coming up against New Zealand. The best bat is enduring a rare lean trot, the most incisive bowler has been blunted through careful play and a match that was scheduled over five days was done and dusted in three and a bit.

But, that’s across the Tasman Sea, and when the cameras pan west to the Australian coastal city of Melbourne, a whole different contest will unfurl at the Junction Oval.

It will be Harmanpreet Kaur, coincidentally also not among the runs in the two matches India have played at the Women’s T20 World Cup, leading India, not Virat Kohli, and the battle will be rejoined over hours rather than days. India are one win away from sealing a spot in the final four, and if they can get past New Zealand they will reach the sharp end of the tournament knowing that they have already beaten two of the better teams going around.

The White Ferns, as New Zealand’s women’s team are known, have a point to prove. Runners up in 2009 and 2010, semifinalists in 2012 and 2016, New Zealand have a particular score to settle with India.

In the last edition of the T20 World Cup, in West Indies, it was their loss to India that hurt the team the most, leaving them stranded in the group phase of the tournament. On that day, Harmanpreet became the first Indian woman to hit a T20I century, taking the New Zealand attack apart to reach three figures in only 51 balls, smashing eight sixes as India posted 194 and won easily.

Overall, the numbers are still with New Zealand, with eight wins in 11 T20Is against India, but historic data is proving to be less and less relevant to this Indian team. Much has changed, not so much in terms of personnel, but in terms of elevated levels of fitness and confidence, narrowing the gap between India and traditionally stronger women’s teams such as Australia, New Zealand and England.

India, who may have the sense that they are playing this tournament in reverse, squaring off against Australia first and then taking on New Zealand in a game that could seal their progress to the next stage, will be strengthened by the return of Smriti Mandhana, who missed the last match with a viral fever.

Mandhana has been India’s mainstay at the top of the order, and it was often felt that she could not reach her full potential because of the pressure she put on herself to do something special. It was not long ago that WV Raman, the coach, asked Mandhana, only half in jest, if she thought someone would give her an award if she scored at a strike rate of 200. What Raman meant was that Mandhana was too good a player to score slowly, and all that she needed to do was read the situation, watch the ball and react, rather than set herself artificial targets.

While Mandhana has grown into her role, she conceded on Wednesday that the presence of Shafali Verma had helped immensely. “Shafali has been a huge positive coming into the T20 side. The way she’s going about her batting, it’s so easy to bat alongside her,” said Mandhana.

“I used to score a lot of our runs in the last two or three years. I used to have a major role in Powerplays, but Shafali is getting the quick runs in those first overs now too. She’s made a huge impact and the team has become more balanced thanks to her.”

It is this balance that India will have to look at going into the New Zealand match, playing their third match in as many grounds. With Mandhana back, the most obvious move was to revert to the original formation, leaving out Richa Ghosh — another powerful striker, who batted in the middle order — and moving wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia back to the middle order. However, only a final look at the conditions in the lead up to the toss would determine whether India were tempted to deviate from this and strengthen their bowling.

New Zealand come in to the game on the back of a comfortable win against Sri Lanka, with Sophie Devine living up to her name with a pristine unbeaten 75 at the top of the order. The likes of Rachel Priest and Suzie Bates have plenty of experience, in years and matches played, and most of this New Zealand team boast familiarity of the conditions, having featured in the Women’s Big Bash League.

What they are not accustomed to, is an Indian team coming as hard at them as this one will. And while the nice guys in the Black Caps may be all over India like a rash, a billion supporters will be hoping for some payback in Melbourne.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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