2016 was a distinctive year for women’s cricket in India. There were disappointments, heartbreaks and yet there were moments to savour, moments that scripted history.
For a long time now, the women’s team has been dwelling under the shadows of the men’s team, all the time performing commendably, and winning important matches. In a country where cricket is considered a religion, it is surprising that few are aware of what goes on in women’s cricket throughout the year.
Mithali Raj and Co. travelled to Australia in January, the first tour of the year. This was around the same time that the Indian men’s team had just beaten the Australian team. It was a three-match T20 series against the three-time defending champions of the ICC Women’s World T20 Championships. However, the Indian eves scripted history by clinching the series 2-1 in a highly contested affair.
This series win is a milestone. Defeating Australia in their own backyard is definitely an achievement on its own. What one should keep in mind is that prior to this series, India had only managed to get the better of the Australians just once in T20 cricket, and that too four years ago. And of course, Mithali Raj was again the star performer for India.
In February, neighbours Sri Lanka visited India for a three-match ODI and a three-match T20 series. Favourites India whitewashed the Lankans in both the series. In the ODI series Deepti Sharma, the off-spinner starred as India climbed up to the fourth spot of the ICC Women’s Championship points table.
The T20 series was of immense significance because it was earmarked as the preparatory series for the World T20 scheduled to be held in March in India. India showed no mercy as they swept through the Lankans 3-0. The team performed well as a whole, while Smriti Mandhana, Veda Krishnamurthy and Mithali were the standout performers. India went into the World T20 with a lot of promise.
The T20 World Cup, however, did not turn out as expected. The Indian eves started the campaign on a strong note defeating Bangladesh by a massive 72 runs. But after that, it went downhill.
The second match was the high-octane fixture against arch-rivals Pakistan. A batting collapse saw the Indians setting a target of only 97 runs in 20 overs for Pakistan. However, a strong bowling performance helped India fight back until the match was interrupted by the rain. Pakistan were deemed winners on the basis of D/L method.
This turned out to be the turning point for the Indians at the tournament. They didn’t fully recover from the shock defeat and went down to England in the next match. Kaur was the villain this time around as she put down a sitter with England at 88 for 8 in the 19th over chasing a target of 91 runs.
In the final group fixture, the Indians faced West Indies. A win against the West Indies along with a favourable result from the England vs Pakistan match would see the Indians qualify for the next round. But the equations never came into play as Raj’s team fell short of the target set by West Indies by only three runs. It would appear that luck was the only thing missing for India in the World Cup.
In the meanwhile, Jhulan Goswami became the world number one bowler in women’s ODI cricket. She reclaimed her position at the top of the ranking charts after seven years and will be the top ranked bowler at the end of the calendar year. Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana became the first Indian cricketers to be lapped up by the Women’s Big Bash League to be held in Australia.
Then came the ODI series against West Indies. Before the start of the series, India were placed sixth on the ICC Women’s Championship table while West Indies were fourth. The Indians, languishing in the bottom four, were almost certain to be relegated to the qualifiers. On the other hand, the West Indians were one win away from an automatic qualification for next years ICC Women’s World Cup in England.
Moreover, it was about avenging the World T20 defeat that denied the Indians a spot in the semi-finals. And boy did the Indians take their revenge. The Indians routed the West Indies 3-0 – their first series whitewash against a top six team after a gap of 14 years. What was more pleasing was the fact that for once, Mithali Raj was not the star. Veda Krishnamurthy top-scored in the series scoring two half-centuries and averaging 131 at a strike rate of almost 80.
This victory was a timely save for the Indian eves. The pain of not being able to qualify for the semi-finals of the World T20 despite having home advantage were finally eased. This white wash was a big deal for Indian women’s cricket.
The most significant factor is that this was no fluke. The Indian women proved that they were indeed back to their best in the Women’s Asia Cup that concluded recently in Thailand. Jhulan Goswami and Co. stamped their authority with superlative bowling performances as India dominated the Asia Cup winning all the matches. In the final, they defeated Pakistan by 17 runs after Mithali’s unbeaten half-century and clinched the trophy to end the year on a high.
Alls well that ends well.
Nothing gains sports fans, like a winning team. And the Indian women’s team is an inspiration to the young women of the country, an inspiration to fight the societal norms and to stand out in the crowd.