The Women’s World cup 2017, was hosted in England from June 24th to July 23rd. This month long tournament proved to be an electrifying one, filled with twists and turns and culminating in perhaps the most exciting World Cup final till date.
Coming into the tournament, while Team India was viewed as a potential threat, they lacked the experience and squad depth of the giants of the women’s game: England and Australia. With a total of 9 of the 10 world cups shared between these 2 nations, it was always going to be a difficult task for anyone to upstage these pre-tournament favourites, let alone India. With a largely inexperienced unit, for India, the onus was on the big guns, captain Mithali Raj and leading all-rounder Jhulan Goswami to deliver. In what would in all likelihood be their last world cup, both these players hoped to leave an eternal mark in the World cup.
While, there was a concern in the Indian camp, that the team would not withstand the high pressure in such a big tournament, there was never a doubt about the potential of these young women. And quite fittingly, the potential translated into immediate results as India upstaged the mighty Englishwomen in the very first game of their tournament. Fine contributions from the openers and Mithali guided India to a mammoth total which proved too much for even this English side. Such a result against a champion side gave India the much-needed confidence going into the games ahead. After the 90 against England, young opener Smirti Mandhana went one step further by destroying a woeful West Indies side with a fantastic century.
Next up in India’s tracks was their arch rival, Pakistan. Despite being some way off India’s level in Women’s cricket, Pakistan always had the knack of raising their game in a match against their rivals. It certainly did look that way when India was restricted to a below par score of 169. With no mood to lose their winning streak, the Indians came out all guns blazing. With no answers to the Indian bowling attack, Pakistan was bowled out for a paltry score of 74. Sri Lanka did put up a better fight in the next game but was just not good enough to get past India. 4 games down, 4 wins. Team India was at the top of the table.
It was never going to be that easy, was it? India went into their next game with a chance of landing a semi-final spot as well as knocking South Africa out of the tournament. The South Africans, however, had other plans. Their batters launched a counterattack like no other and India crumbled under scoreboard pressure. A game against defending champions Australia followed. A game where India battled to reach a respectable total of 226. A game where Mithali Raj became the Highest run getter in a Women’s cricket. And a game where opener Poonam Raut scored just her 2nd ODI century. So many rights, yet so much went wrong for India that day. The experienced Australians ran through that target with so much ease that it made the Indian women look like schoolgirls in front of them. It was a ruthless defeat and one that would be a turning point in team India’s campaign. They just didn’t know it yet.
The game against New Zealand was a virtual knockout and the pressure was building on India. With the team feeling down and out, the occasion was set for a Mithali Raj special. And she delivered, by stroking perhaps the finest and most important century of her career. She held the innings together as the New Zealand bowlers tried in vain to breach through her defences. A clinical performance from the bowlers followed as India set up a semi-final with Australia.
Barely a week after being handed a thrashing, India returned with newfound confidence to face the defending champions. They were, however, put back on the mat very soon as Australia attacked from word go. As India lost their captain, one feared that the final would turn out to be a one-sided affair. They were right about it being one sided but not even the divine Gods could’ve known how the tables were about to turn in the final 20 overs. Harmanpreet Kaur, the heir apparent, launched an assault of epic proportions. Showing absolutely no respect to any bowler, Kaur ripped the attack apart, smashing them to all parts of the ground. With 171 of just 115 balls, Kaur’s innings surely had to be the greatest innings of all time, perhaps an equivalent of what Kapil Dev did at Tunbridge Wells, 34 years ago. And when Jhulan Goswami broke through the defences of Australian captain and World Number 1 Meg Lanning, the game was very much over. India had done the unthinkable. It was as if their story in the cup was straight out of Chak De India. Only 1 game separated them from greatness. The final against England would be a cracker.
As Mithali led India out on the hallowed turf of Lords, there was a sense of excitement in the air. A fully packed Lord’s crowd watched in anticipation as Jhulan Goswami, playing her last World Cup game delivered a scintillating performance with the ball. Restricting England to a total of 228, India knew they were in with a real chance. India started off shakily losing their captain in an unfortunate mix up but Raut and Kaur stabled the ship. Keeping their composure, they built up a crucial 95 run stand. Slowly but steadily, India was inching closer to a famous win. 38 runs needed at less than a run a ball with 7 wickets in hand should’ve been a canter. But England seam bowler Anya Shrusbsole had other plans. With a steady pace and efficient variation, Shrubsole managed to rip through the Indian middle order as India capitulated in a dramatic fashion. Losing their last 7 wickets for a mere 27 runs, India fell short by the closest of margins as England were deservedly crowned champions.
So near yet so far. While this may be cast as the summary of the campaign of the Indian national women’s team, it does not take into account a lot of things. This campaign wasn’t just about winning or losing. It was about so much more. It was a campaign of realisation of the potential of the Women’s cricket team. A campaign filled with growth and maturity among the younger players along with being guided by the experienced ones. So while team India may not have had the fairy-tale ending, they certainly did take a step towards a very exciting future for Women’s cricket in India. And what the future holds for women’s cricket can only be left to our imagination. But one thing’s for sure: It’ll be pretty darn good.