In the elimination of India from the business end of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022 is a stark lesson that those who are vested with the responsibility of guiding women’s cricket must look for fresh talent and encourage them right from the grassroots level. The team in New Zealand indeed lacked a person with fresh ideas to inspire them.
India, led by Mithali Raj began the eight team competition as a genuine contender, but discovered that the other team’s had improved by leaps and bounds, including Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The pulsating finish in the last league match against South Africa — after India had posted a formidable total of 274 - resulted in ecstasy to the African team and agony to the Indian team. There were clear indications of the team’s intent to score well over five runs an over, but twice at the world cup - Australia and South Africa chased down totals that in normal times would have been seen as unassailable.
Already fingers are being pointed at offspinner Deepti Sharma for overstepping the line in the penultimate ball of the nerve tingling last league match at Christchurch. The arithmetic had gone wrong as a result of which a call was made to ask Deepti to perform a miracle in the last over.
Deepti bowled her full quota of ten over and finished at 0/41, but was she the correct choice? She had taken 12 wickets in the 2017 World Cup at 30.83, but only two before the crucial game against South Africa sending down 24 overs in four matches. She was dropped in the previous two matches against Australia and Bangladesh, but she was asked to bowl a most difficult over on Sunday (March 27).
Unfortunately none of India’s bowlers had a decent run in order to protect a good total. With Jhulan Goswami (seven wickets at 30.57) ruled out because of a side strain, India had no option but to play the experienced all-rounder in Deepti, and it was the first match in five, she was asked to bowl ten overs.
There would be a few more reasons trotted out for the early exit from the World Cup, but a question that will remain unanswered is why was Harmanpreet Kaur (9 World Cup innings at No. 4, a total of 488 runs at 81.33 and with a strike rate of 99.18) was not given her due by fixing her position at No.3?
She averages 41 at No.5! In all the seven matches she batted below Deepti (barring the SA game) and the promising Yastika Bhatia.
India made the biggest blunder of not giving Harmanpreet a higher position in the batting order where she has been spectacular. In 22 World Cup innings from the 2009 edition she has made 876 at 51.53, but still doesn’t have the big prize under her belt.
India’s top batters in the World Cup were Smriti Mandhana (327 at 46.71 and with a strike rate of 78.04) and Harmanpreet (318 at 53 with a strike rate of 91.64). There were a few more like Yastika who had a strike rate of 69.26 in the top/ middle order. Mithali’s was the lowest at 62.97. In the lower order Pooja Vastrakar hit out for a strike rate of 98.73 and Sneh Rana, 90.17.
India’s fourth-wicket overall aggregate was when Smriti and Harmanpreet were together and making 217 runs in two innings of seven matches which was a high 48 percent contribution to the team total. The futility of not giving a consistent batting number at 3 or 4 to Harmanpreet may have prevented India from posting better totals in the league. Her contribution to the team total was 49.40 per cent in the first innings and 71 in the second.
The absence of a credible alternative to Jhulan among the Indian ranks gave the Bengal medium pacer another chance to have a go for the World Cup. At 39 she did remarkably well sending down 49 overs in six league matches and taking seven wickets at 30.57. It was her fifth World Cup. She had taken 13 wickets in her first World Cup in 2005 at 13.54; she averaged 15.89 for her 9 wickets in 2013. Age is catching up with her, and it’s time for her to bid goodbye after an illustrious career.
Leg spinner Poonam Yadav took 11 wickets in the 2017 World Cup, but she was played only in one match against Bangladesh. She did well with figures of 1/25 in seven overs. She has taken 80 wickets in 58 matches and had the experience of playing in New Zealand conditions which were generally good for batting.
Australia which has topped the league with a clean slate winning all seven matches averaged a scoring rate of 5.16 and South Africa averaged 4.56. England’s average is 4.55 and the West Indies’ is 3.64. South Africa, England and the West Indies’ batting average is lower than India’s 4.71.
India’s bowling took 50 wickets at 27.06, but against Australia and South Africa it was ineffective, taking four wickets at 69.75, and four at 68.00, respectively. It was 8 wickets at 31.75 against New Zealand.
Therein mirrors the sorry tale of India’s World Cup campaign. It lost to the mighty Australia and also to the emerging force in South Africa, and to its traditional rivals England and New Zealand. The exit begs the question if India’s batting had been better served if prejudiced attitude did not come in the way of recognising Harmanpreet’s potential at No.3 or 4 and also deployment of leg spinner Poonam?
The BCCI should go talent hunting by asking its affiliated member to be proactive at schools and colleges and even at club level and putting in place a structure and promoting white ball cricket.
The time has arrived to make Harmanpreet or Smriti, captain; the younger one the better. Harmanpreet should have been captain for ODI cricket after 2017, but it was blocked by vested interests for five years. And India has paid a heavy price for it in New Zealand.