Australia proved that they love the biggest stage and there’s a certain reason behind it
Vibing Partner for this write-up: We Are The Champions by Queen https://open.spotify.com/track/1lCRw5FEZ1gPDNPzy1K4zW?si=t5G4kJyrTUm3DQvhLZpLsg
Coming into the finals, the women in Blue had had an exceptional journey wherein they defeated the might Aussies and Kiwis to finish at the top of their group. Full benefit of topping their group was extracted; some would say they got more than their due. Their semi-final against England was washed out and in absence of a reserve day, Team India qualified on the virtue of their group ranking.
Throughout the tournament, the backbone of the team was their strong, spin-heavy bowling unit which, along with the batting extravagance of the 16-year-old Shafali Verma, pulled the team through. Verma, who became the breakout star of the tournament, ended with 163 runs from five innings at a massive strike rate of 158.25. From the bowling unit, Poonam Yadav claimed ten wickets at an average of 11.9 followed by Shikha Pandey who bagged seven scalps at an average of 19.42
Playing the championship match in the intimidating Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on International Women’s Day in front of nearly 86,000 fans, it could be argued, was one of the grandest occasions in the recent history of the Indian Team. To put it plainly (and somewhat harshly), they crumbled under the enormity of the event.
Entering the contest on the back of a thrilling five-run victory against South Africa in the semis, from the word go, the Aussies were ready to confront the challenge in its face. Alyssa Healy gained command over the bowling from the very first over. She ended up with the second highest runs in the tournament i.e. 236 at an average of 39.33 and with a destructive strike rate of 156.29. Her storming innings of 75 runs from merely 39 balls was one of the finest innings played in a major final. The power hitting displayed by her, which included seven fours and five huge sixes (three of which came in one over of Shikha Pandey), was of the highest order. Her fifty was the fastest ever in any ICC event final, women’s or men’s.
Once she got out, her opening partner Beth Mooney, the player of the tournament and the highest run getter of the competition with 259 runs at an utterly impressive average of 64.75, took the reins of the game in her hands. She had rightfully assumed second fiddle while Healy was going berserk with a bat in her hand at the other end. However, after Healy’s dismissal, Mooney began dominating the tempo of the game and there was no stoppage in the run flow. She continued till the end, scored 78* of 54 balls and made sure that Australia reached the highest total ever achieved, i.e, 184-4, in an ICC T20 World Cup final, either women’s or men’s.
Australia, who had lost to India in the group stage because they were unable to deal with quality of spin attack that the Indian team possessed, rectified their faults. A vital element of their successful tactic was assertive use of their feet and not letting the spinner settle early in her spell. The first over, in a way, can be seen as an extended metaphor for the entire first innings since it set the pattern. The Aussies scored 14 runs in the first over. The eventful over bowled by Deepti Sharma involved three boundaries, three full tosses (the first three balls) and a relatively simple dropped catch of Healy. The Indian camp evidently had butterflies in its stomach. They went on to drop another catch in the powerplay, this time of Mooney. They weren’t forgiven by either. Their fielding standard, throughout the innings, was below par to say the least.
In the second innings, the story was the same. India’s biggest hope (it’s definitely a compliment for the 16-year-old Verma!) was dismissed in the very first over. The Indian batters were overwhelmed with the epic target and bundled down like a pack of cards. Each batswoman tried to go beyond their reach in search of something magical (which at one level was also needed) but the Aussies proved too strong for them. India ended up with a meagre total of 99. They lost by a massive margin of 85 runs. The Southern Stars were deservingly crowned the champions of the world.
There was a clear contrast in the way either team dealt with their nerves on this historic day. The Australians felt at home (literally but more importantly metaphorically) while the Indians never entered the contest. One might say that each day is different and this day just wasn’t for the Indian team. There is some substance in this argument but one must also look at the bigger, systematic impact. The Aussies have won five out of seven T20 World Cups. They know how to up their game on the biggest platform.
More so, Cricket Australia must also be commended for providing a similar stimulus of the World Cup at the domestic level too. Women’s Big Bash League, which has been running successfully for five seasons simultaneously with the Big Bash League, has become a great stepping stone for exciting talent. The hype created for the build up of the tournament and the media coverage provided is also admirable. England Cricket Board, too, runs a similar franchise tournament, Kia Super League aka Women’s Cricket Super League. They, however, have decided to discontinue this league which was launched in 2016 so that they can merge it with their new concept, The Hundred, a 100-ball match.
On the other hand, in the name of a professional T20 competition for women, India only has the tokenistic Women’s T20 Challenge which began in 2018. Initially, it was a one off match. In 2019, it was a small three team tournament. Contrastingly, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is arguably the most extravagant, two month long cricket festival.
Cricket Australia has undoubtedly reaped the rewards of its backstage work, is this final a cue for the BCCI as well?
Cricket commentator and journalist, Harsha Bhogle also tweeted about this. “Just brilliant to see how Australia raised their game on the big day. They have played at a different level today whether with bat or ball or, so visibly, in the field! I believe the Big Bash has played a big part and that is why I believe a woman's IPL is a necessity.” were his words.
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