All-rounder Sneh Rana showed nerves of steel by choking runs in the death overs as the Indian women’s cricket team pipped host England by four runs to enter the final of the Commonwealth Games 2022 on Saturday.
Needing 165 to win, England was cruising along at 132 for three. The host required only 33 runs off 24 balls but off-spinner Rana (4-0-28-2) bowled extremely well. She gave away only three runs in the 18th and nine runs in the final over.
England finished at 160 for six and even a last-ball maximum from Sophie Ecclestone couldn’t save the day for the host with Harmanpreet Kaur’s brigade avenging India’s 2017 ODI World Cup final defeat.
If Smriti Mandhana’s 32-ball-61 was a treat for the eyes, Rana, India’s forever ‘MVP’, Deepti Sharma (4-0-18-1) and Pooja Vastrakar (3-0-20-0) didn’t err in line or length under pressure.
The match seemed to have decisively tilted in favour of England when Harmanpreet introduced Shafali Verma, whose friendly “donkey drops” in the 16th over fetching the home team 15 runs.
But Deepti and Rana collectively gave away only six runs in the 17th and 18th overs, respectively.
Pooja leaked 13 runs in the 19th over but the Mandhana-Taniya Bhatia combination pulled off a brilliant run out of the dangerous Nat Sciver to change the course.
It was then left to Rana to bowl at least five good balls that assured a medal for India in the inaugural edition of women’s cricket.
Earlier, Mandhana’s elegant yet brutal knock of 61 along with Jemimah Rodrigues’ useful 44 not out powered India to a healthy 164 for five in 20 overs.
Mandhana’s 32-ball assault in the PowerPlay laid the platform while Rodrigues, who is finally doing justice to her enormous potential, improvised well during his 31-ball unbeaten stay at the crease.
En route her knock, Mandhana also recorded the fastest T20 International fifty in women’s cricket off only 23 balls.
A new and improved Deepti chipped in with 22 off 20 balls but India might think it ended 15 runs short of the par-score after 64 runs came in the six PowerPlay overs.
The next 14 overs yielded 100 runs as India lost the momentum when three wickets fell in quick succession during the middle overs.
Rodrigues and Deepti added an invaluable 53 runs for the fourth wicket partnership.
Mandhana’s drives are the most exquisite in women’s cricket and one would rub their eyes in disbelief when the normally rampaging Shafali Verma (17 off 15 balls) was the silent partner in their opening stand of 76 in 7.5 overs.
There were cover drives off Katherine Brunt, pulled sixes off seamers Sciver an Issy Wong and a lofted one off spinner Sarah Glenn’s bowling over long-on.
The half-century came in only 23 balls as England bowlers looked clueless during that phase.
Once Sciver got rid of Mandhana, who was trying to play the lap-scoop, the run-rate slowed down as skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, despite a couple of fours and a six, played a few dot balls in her run-a-ball 20.
While Mandhana had eight fours and three sixes in her knock, Rodrigues had seven fours to her credit, mostly using the gaps in the arc between point and extra-cover.