Business took its normal course for India women as they trounced South Africa women by eight wickets in the first of the three ODIs at Vadodara. Bolstered by the return of Jhulan Goswami and Ekta Bisht, they bowled out South Africa for 164, and their batters hardly broke a sweat en route a win with over eight overs to spare.
With Pooja Vastrakar underused and Arundhati Reddy and Mansi Joshi disappointing in their only match, Shikha Pandey was the only Indian seamer to have any impact in the T20Is. Indeed, there was reason to worry with the Women’s T20 World Cup just a few months away.
The worries remain, for Jhulan Goswami, now thirty-six, who had announced her retirement from the format a year ago. However, even at this age she has demonstrated why she is among the most-feared fast bowlers of all time.
Two years ago, Lizelle Lee’s 65-ball 92 was responsible for India’s first defeat in the World Cup. Five days before the Vadodara ODI, Lee had smashed 84 in 47 balls at Surat.
Today was different. Goswami pitched up the first ball of the series outside off. Lee shouldered arms. The ball came back to hit her on the pad, and that was that.
It was the second time in less than a week that a South African had paid the price for shouldering arms to a seamer from Bengal.
Goswami then had debutant Nondumiso Shangase caught at slip. And just when Marizanne Kapp – past her maiden fifty and batting with the No. 11 – was on the verge of cutting loose, Goswami had her caught at cover to round things off.
Pandey’s Protean love
Some cricketers have a habit of “favouring” one opposition ahead of others; for Shikha Pandey, it is South Africa.
In this case, the tourists were already struggling at 103/4, but they still had enough firepower left to strive for 200. Sune Luus, fresh from a fifty in the last T20I, was gritting it out.
Luus tried to flick Pandey but was beaten by the lack of pace; Pandey took the return catch. Two balls later she trapped Nadine de Klerk leg-before. She finished with 10-0-38-2.
Here is how Pandey’s record stack up against South Africa, compared to other oppositions:
Taniya dazzles behind stumps
The experiment to promote Taniya Bhatia to the top had not worked out for India Women in last year’s T20 World Cup. She promptly returned to the bottom half of the line-up.
India kept faith on her despite that. And while she has not exactly set the world on fire with the bat, Bhatia justified her inclusion with sublime glovework, especially to the spinners.
Unlike most wicketkeepers, Bhatia did not retract her gloves as she gathered the ball. Her hands stayed put close to the stumps, which denied the both Trisha Chetty and Mignon du Preez that extra split second they needed to avoid getting stumped off Ekta Bisht.
Of course, she will now have to prove her mettle on the other side of the stumps.
Priya Punia had been sub-par during her debut T20I series, in New Zealand earlier this year. Her three innings had fetched just nine runs, while a hilarious dropped catch made her an easy target on social media. That series remained her only international exposure till now.
Punia was not supposed to play here. She was drafted in only as a last-minute replacement for the injured Smriti Mandhana. True, the target was barely challenging; Jemimah Rodrigues made things easy for her with a breezy 55; but Punia still had to bury the ghosts of that horror tour.
A natural strokeplayer, Punia had to curb her instincts as she dropped anchor at one end. Impatience could have got the better of her a couple of times, but there was no slip to catch the edges. And once she settled down, she opened up in a delightful assortment of drives, both on the ground and over the top. Fittingly, she scored the winning run.
Punia’s 75 not out was the fourth-highest score by an Indian debutant in Women’s ODIs. The highest, of course, remains Mithali Raj’s 114 not out over two decades ago.
A score for Mithali Raj
Mithali Raj was around, of course, when India finished things off at Baroda. India have not played an ODI for over seven months; however, when she took field on Wednesday, she became the first female cricketer to complete two decades in ODI cricket.
There was little to do when she walked out to bat (in a floppy hat, of course), but there was enough time for a silken cover drive off the back foot for four.