Smriti Mandhana fell marginally short of a century on World Cup debut but made amends with a fine unbeaten 106 to script India’s seven-wicket win over Windies in Taunton on Thursday (June 29). Continuing a dream return to the international fold, the opener combined with skipper Mithali Raj for a 103-run third-wicket stand, enroute her second ODI hundred that laid the platform for India’s comfortable win. Even though Raj fell short of her eight consecutive fifty, Mandhana stayed on till the end to take India over the line with more than seven overs to spare.
India’s reply though was not without initial hiccups. Shamilia Connell dealt an early blow as Punam Raut fell off the fifth ball of the chase, trying to pull a short one. Promoted to one-down, Deepti Sharma didn’t look at the top of things from the word go and paid the price with her wicket shortly afterwards. Having consumed too many dots, the left-hander tried to take on Stafanie Taylor but failed to connect and the ball pegged back her middle stump.
Despite the setbackat the other end, Mandhana carried on with flair to negate any advantage Windies might have extracted early on. She particularly went after Connell in the powerplay, picking up three boundaries and six to set the tone. Raj took her time to settle in after the wicket-maiden from her counterpart Taylor but for the 26 overs that the duo batted together, Windies were pushed to the backfoot.
There was no stopping Mandhana, who wasn’t as brutal as against England but made scoring look just as easy. Daley strayed down the legside way too often and the left-hander used the pace to help herself to boundaries. In the second half, the Windies allrounder resorted to bowling short, and Mandhana pulled them away as effortlessly. With her partner in punishing form, Raj was happy to play the second fiddle. Her 88-ball knock worth 46 included only three fours. Hayley Matthews broke the century stand when the Indian skipper, within striking distance of an eighth fifty on the trot, failed to clear mid off for a tame dismissal. But with the century in sight, Mandhana carried on unperturbed.
She battled cramps, and some nerves, but stayed focused enough to bring up the hundred she missed on the opening day of the tournament, with a lofted drive through extra cover. While Mandhana sealed the deal with her 13th boundary of the day, Mona Meshram, chipped in an unbeaten 18, coming ahead of Hamranpreet Kaur.
Earlier, it could have been a walk in the park for the Indians if not for Matthews’s attacking 43 at the top and some resistance from the lower order. The spin trio of Poonam Yadav (2-19), Deepti (2-27) and Ekta Bisht (1-23) bowled measly spells and Harmanpreet, though expensive, chipped in with two key wickets in the middle overs to rip open the Windies batting. It was Shanel Daley and Afy Fletcher’s counter-attacking knocks worth 33 and unbeaten 36 respectively that gave Windies a decent 183 from their allotted quota.
Matthews feasted on India’s strike bowlers, dispatching both Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey to the fence twice each after Mithali Raj opted to field first. But Windies’ joys were short-lived. It took Ekta Bisht all of one ball to put an end to the opening stand in the seventh over. Scratchy from start, Felicia Walters attempted to cut the left-arm spinner but could only offer an outside edge to the keeper. Learning from their mistakes, skipper Taylor promoted herself at No. 3 but it was Matthews who kept a healthy strike-rate with a run-a-ball 31 in Windies’ score of 43 for 1 at the end of powerplay.
Though spinners managed to put a lid on scoring once the field was spread, Raj frantically shuffled her bowling options to break the defiant second-wicket stand. She’d used as many as six including the part-timer Mona Meshram but the breakthrough came four overs into Deepti’s spell, and triggered a panic in the opposition camp that resulted in five wickets for 22 runs. Enraged with her shot selection, Matthews trudged off the field after sending the easiest of all return catches Deepti’s way and, in the process, throwing away another fine start.
The pressure of drying up runs – Windies had only managed 70 by the end of 20 overs – and the wicket of a set batter, took its toll on Taylor and in-coming Deandra Dottin. A communication breakdown between the duo playing their 100th ODI and Mandhana capitalised on the hesitation to hit the bullseye at the non-striker’s end that cut short Taylor’s stay on 16 in the landmark game.
Dottin struggled to rotate the strike and Merrisa Aguilleria was only marginally better as Windies added seven to their total in as many overs before dropping run rate consumed another wicket, Poonam opening her account this time. The wicketkeeper-bat was deceived by the turn and Sushma Verma was quick behind the stumps to whip the bails off, reducing Windies to 80 for 4. Dottin’s misery came to an end soon after with Punam Raut taking a fine catch in the deep to give her namesake a second wicket.
Harmanpreet was also economical in her initial spell where she accounted for the wickets of Kyshona Knight and Chedean Nation in the space of five overs. The offspinner, who spent some time off field with a dislocated ring finger on her left hand early in the day, however leaked too many in the death overs that allowed Windies to aim higher.
But that doesn’t take anything away from the way Daley and Fletcher played, especially against spin. After a poor comeback game, Daley justified her selection in the XI by chipping in a valuable knock towards the fag end of their innings that lend some respectability to the total. Goswami returned for the 36th over, just before drinks, but Daley’s twin boundaries meant that was the end day for the senior pacer. The duo rotated strike better than any of the top-order batters and kept punishing the lose ones on offer.
It was Deepti again who produced a wicket just as Windies seemed to getting on top of things. Looking to accelerate Daley stepped out to the offspinner, only to be done in by some sharp glovework from Verma. But two quiet overs later, Fletcher looted 28 off Harmanpreet’s last two to give Windies a fighting 183.
Brief scores: Windies 183/8 in 50 overs (Hayley Matthews 43, Afy Fletcher 36*; Poonam Yadav 2-19, Deepti Sharma 2-27) lost to India 186/3 in 42.3 overs (Smriti Mandhana 106*, Mithali Raj 46; Stafanie Taylor 1-24) by seven wickets.