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India suffers meltdown as Australia marches to fifth title

Australia were worthy title winners, playing like champions, riding the crest of a massive occasion, not allowing the occasion to overawe them, rather lifting themselves to put together a performance that ended in a one-sided final. Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney, the openers, shone brightest on the day.

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Last Updated: Mar 08, 2020, 11.39 PM IST
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India’s Shafali Verma (L), Jemimah Rodrigues (C) and Harleen Deol after the final
By Anand Vasu

Shafali Verma stood in the middle of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), the sporting capital of Australia, on the greatest night in women’s cricket history and wept. Here was a 16-year-old who was heartbroken. She had dared to dream, and her pugnacious batting at the top of the order allowed the Indian team to carry millions of supporters into the final with high hopes. Only to come up against the most professional cricketing set up they would ever take on.

Australia were worthy title winners, playing like champions, riding the crest of a massive occasion, not allowing the occasion to overawe them, rather lifting themselves to put together a performance that ended in a one-sided final. Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney, the openers, shone brightest on the day.

When the toss was won, Meg Lanning did not hesitate for a second in choosing to bat first. The smile on her face, reflected in the dugout, was one of relief. Australia had battled the odds in this tournament, losing fast bowler Tayla Vlaeminck on the eve of the tournament and then Elysse Perry not long after. Imagine the Indian men’s team losing Jasprit Bumrah and Virat Kohli in the middle of a home campaign, such was the impact.

Healy showed her intent very early on, taking on the bowling. It did not matter to her if she played and missed and she did not flinch when the ball just eluded the infielders. On nine, Healy could, and probably should, have been back in the dugout, a low drive to cover going into Verma’s hands and popping out.

Soon after, Mooney offered a chance, a return catch to Rajeshwari Gayakwad, and the bowler seemed to react late, turning an eminently catchable offering into a chance that went down. With these two catches being floored, India had the oxygen sucked out of them.

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Australian players celebrate their fifth T20 World Cup

Shoulders dropped a touch, the bowlers began to lose their lengths and Healy strutted about the crease like she owned the MCG. Clearing the ropes with ease, one six going 83 metres, which would have been a maximum in any ground, even with the boundaries set back, Healy set the tone. The shot of the day came off Shikha Pandey, when the medium pacer floated one in full and wide. Attacking from a stable base, hands flying through the line of the ball like greased lightning, Healy carved the ball over cover and watched it sail the distance.

Healy brought up her half-century off 30 balls —the fastest 50 in any ICC event final, men’s or women’s 20- or 50-over — and where other players may have taken the foot off the pedal, she accelerated even more, adding another 25 off only 9 balls before she finally fell, holing out.

The departure of Healy should have brought relief to India, but Mooney showed that there was more than one way to skin a cat. While Healy had been all in-your-face aggression and nonstop attack, Mooney had picked her spots, timed her shots and placed the ball with class. While the left-hand bat had been more than comfortable to play second fiddle to Healy and protect the partnership, giving the strike selflessly back to the aggressor, she switched gears almost effortlessly, wading into the Indian bowling.

Mooney was unbeaten on 78 —taking her tournament tally to 259 and sealing the Player of the Tournament award — and Australia had ramped up the pressure, putting 184 on the board. For India to challenge this target, they needed their three power-hitters, Shafali, Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur to all fire. Shafali began brightly enough, pinging the first ball back over the bowler’s head, but when she tried to run a ball down to third man, and edged, Healy did not return the favour she was earlier given, snapping up the catch behind the stumps.

Mandhana laced two deliveries through the off side in trademark fashion but tried to force the pace a touch too much and ended up finding the mid-off fielder. Harmanpreet, by now also consumed by the pressure of the scoreboard, heaved to midwicket, but could not clear the fielder. With those three gone, and only 30 on the board, the writing was on the wall, and it was not a massive surprise the innings imploded, India bowled out for 99, giving Australia victory by 85 runs. The final had been a complete anti-climax for the Indian team, but the tournament must be looked at as a success. Here was a women’s team that entertained, competed and had everything in place to grow the game.

As soon as they had collected their medals, the distraught team began their walk back to the dressing-room, only to be stopped by their coach and recalled, to stand and applaud Australia as they took their place on the podium. It was a moment that encapsulated India in this tournament. They did not win, but they certainly fought the good fight.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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