“She was one of those quiet heroes… They’re not famous. Their names are not in the newspapers, but each and every day they work hard.”
India’s journey to the semis in the Women’s WT20 has been defined by the blitzkrieg of Harmanpreet Kaur, the aggressive approach of Smriti Mandhana, the patient batting of Mithali Raj and the assured presence of Jemimah Rodrigues so far. While the batters have led the charge, the slower bowlers have played a pivotal role in India’s unbeaten run over the tournament so far.
The troop - largely unnoticed - has come together to stem the flow of runs in the middle and the death overs, and on a slow surface at Guyana, where India played all their group games, their ability to cramp up the rivals for room has been crucial to India’s success.
It is often said that cricket is a batsman’s game and so it isn’t much of a surprise that the efforts of Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav or Radha Yadav - the silent pioneers in India’s semi-final charge – haven’t had the appreciation of their batting colleagues.
The four spinners lead the charge
After the retirement of Jhulan Goswami from the shortest format, Ramesh Powar wanted India to focus on their strengths and went ahead with the ploy of including four spinners on the team’s trip to Sri Lanka. In 5 games in the series, India’s slower bowlers managed to scalp 27 wickets, with Poonam Yadav leading the way, with 8 wickets at a stunning average of 11.62. It opened the gates for India to go in with a 4-spin attack in the WT20 as well, and assisted by the helpful track at Guyana, they were able to cause considerable damage.
In India’s first encounter against New Zealand, despite India scoring their highest T20I total of 194 runs, the opponents were on course, with Suzie Bates leading the way. The Kiwi team notched up 52 runs in just 39 deliveries, with the lone pacer being smashed for runs all over. It was left to debutant Dayalan Hemalatha to break the shackles and get the wickets tumbling.
The hint of turn on the ball forced Anna Peterson to dab it towards third man, but courtesy the bounce, it brushed her glove slightly before settling in Taniya Bhatia’s safe hands behind the wickets. One wicket leads to two, they say, but on this occasion, India were rewarded with a flurry of them - the next six wickets falling for just 58 runs. India’s spinners finished the match with 8 wickets of the 9 that fell.
The game against Pakistan was possibly India’s worst outing on the field. They dropped catches aplenty and were unable to control the runs after their initial success in the Powerplay overs. The fact that the Indian bowling unit was in the eye of the storm after allowing Pakistan managed to score 133 - a below-par target - signified the immense expectations that has been bestowed upon the tweakers. The spinners finished the match with 5 of the 6 wickets that fell, conceding 6.75 runs per over.
While Ireland was a relatively easier game, the toughest challenge yet for the Indian side was when they faced the mighty Australian unit. In both men’s and women’s cricket, facing Australia entails its own pressure - their achievements and the sheer talent they possess ensures they can never really be counted out. Not only is the Meg Lanning-led side better players of spin, but the dominance with which they go about their batting is enough to engulf any side with pressure - forcing them to err in their line and lengths, which in turn allows for the easy access to runs.
However, once again, the arrival of the Indians slower bowlers tied things down, as the Australians looked ill at ease against the shorter balls and the flighted deliveries. Deepti Sharma started the carnage, picking up two wickets in two deliveries and with even Anuja Patil, who was playing her first game in the tournament, picking up 3 wickets, the talent possessed within the Indian camp could in no way be questioned. This time, the Indians spinners took all 10 wickets, bowling with an economy rate of 5.96, which would have been even lower if not for Harmanpreet’s slightly expensive overs.
What does the semi-final offer?
The semifinal against England though will be an all new proposition. Moving away from Guyana, they will play a Day/Night game at Antigua, which has a history of assisting the quicker bowlers. While the day games at Guyana allowed the track to break down further due to the sweltering heat, the slight breeze in the evening could drastically change the momentum in favour of the quicker bowlers.
However, what could work in their favour is the fact that they are playing the second game on the track, with the first semi-final between Australia and West Indies scheduled to be held on the ground hours before India take the field. If the Indian tweakers can get into the game and exploit the rough, then even against a strong English team they will believe in their ability to cause an upset.
With Poonam Yadav and Radha Yadav in the top-ten wicket-takers in the tournament thus far, the skills contained within the unit are unquestionable. Now, it remains to be seen if they can turn the tide in completely different conditions.