It took her three games but Smriti Mandhana finally joined the Caribbean party as her wondrous 55-ball 83 helped India thump Australia by 48 runs in their final Group B encounter at the Providence Stadium in Guyana on Saturday (November 17). Both teams had already cemented their place in the semi-finals, but it's India who remain undefeated and end as the Group B-topper with eight points.
Opting to bat, Mandhana hit nine fours and three maximums during her stay in the middle, and alongside Harmanpreet Kaur (27-ball 43) propelled India to 167 for 8 - the highest World T20 total by any side against Australia. In reply, Indian bowlers and fielders never allowed Australian batsmen to get going as they were bundled out for 119 in 19.4 overs.
Earlier, playing her first T20I, Tayla Vlaeminck showed no nerves and bowled a fantastic first over to get the ball rolling. Wicketkeeper-batter Taniya Bhatia (2), who opened the innings in the tournament-opener against New Zealand, once again had to take the front seat in the absence of Mithali Raj, who was ruled out due to a knee injury. Bhatia started swinging the bat from the word go, without much success, and ended up miscuing one of Ashleigh Gardner's deliveries straight into the hands of Meg Lanning at mid-wicket where she had to run back a bit to complete the catch.
Meanwhile, Mandhana took a couple of overs to settle in before making her intentions clear with a cracker of a shot through the off-side. The left-hander didn't allow left-arm spinner Sophie Molineux to settle in and smoked her down the ground for a maximum. It was pretty evident that Mandhana was starting to get into the groove, smashing top-ranked T20I bowler Megan Schutt (1 for 30) for a six and four to help India end the powerplay with 46 runs on the board.
While Mandhana was doing all the scoring, Jemimah Rodrigues' (6) focus was more on strike rotation. Just when everything was going smooth for India, Rodrigues went for the expansive drive but only managed a thick edge that was pouched low at the short third man by Elyse Villani.
Rodrigues' departure hardly bothered Mandhana who brought up her sixth T20I half-century with a well-timed sweep towards the fine leg region. The 22-year-old needed some support from the other end, and who better than Australia's 2017 World Cup-nemesis Harmanpreet. The right-handed dasher announced her arrival with a six over the cow corner before tonking Gardner over the deep extra cover fence. The 29-year-old didn't stop there and went after Molineux, who returned figures of 0 for 45 from her four overs.
The two added 68 runs for the third wicket before Delissa Kimmince finally provided Australia a breakthrough. Harmanpreet had already hit Kimmince for two boundaries but was caught at the cover region while going for the third. Harmanpreet blasted three fours and as many sixes. There was hardly any contribution from Veda Krishnamurthy (3) and Dayalan Hemalatha (1) but Mandhana kept going. In the process, she breached the 1000-run mark in this format.
Despite wickets tumbling at the other end, Mandhana kept the runs flowing for India before finally perishing in the first delivery of the penultimate over. Ellyse Perry, who became the first male or female Australian player to feature in 100 T20Is, marked the occasion with three scalps to avoid India from getting that late surge.
The chase was never going to be easy for Australia who had to start their innings without their top run-getter Alyssa Healy. The wicketkeeper-batsman had a nasty collision with Schutt in the 19th over and had to leave the field. Beth Mooney (19) and Elyse Villani (6), however, started on a positive note before off spinner Deepti Sharma removed both of them in consecutive deliveries in the fifth over. While Villani hit one straight to Veda at deep mid-wicket, while Mooney was bowled round her legs.
Gardner (20) played a couple of delightful shots to get going, which wasn't the case. The Australian captain struggled to find gaps and eventually fell to left-arm spinner Radha Yadav for 16-ball 10. With 111 needed off the last 10 overs, pressure started to build on Australia and it got the better of Gardner who fell to leg spinner Poonam Yadav.
Coming in at number 6, Perry looked at her usual best but by then the game had already slipped away from the hands of Australia. The all-rounder smashed an unbeaten 28-ball 39, studded with three fours and a six, to make her 100th T20I even more special but that hardly made any impact.
For India, Radha had a superb day at the office. The left-arm spinner picked up two wickets for just 13 runs and was mind-blowing on the field. Apart from her, off spinner Anuja Patil took three wickets, while Deepti and Poonam too picked up two wickets each.
India will now face the loser of Windies and England in the other group’s last pool match in the semi-final, while Australia will take on the winner. However, if the match is washed out, Windies will end up as Group A-topper, while England will take the second spot.