Third time lucky and India, led by Mithali Raj, now the highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket, finally have a win in this multi-format series with England. That India’s record-breaker, much maligned in the series so far, was there at the end to stroke the winning runs will have made it only sweeter still.
At the half-way mark the statistics were in England’s favour; a total of 219 off 47 rain-reduced overs against an India side who had failed to go past 221 in 50 was, probably, just fine. Only this was also the first time that India sensed they were in with a chance. A sense was all they needed. It came down to the wire, with only three balls to spare. But it was retribution for Raj, whose third consecutive half-century at the third time of asking finally resulted in a victory. Raj’s more leisurely strike rate might be fast becoming a thing of the past against modern, aggressive sides but cricket is a funny game and sometimes, just sometimes, an elegant anchor holds firm.
In the end, India needed this victory more than England. The visitors, having won their first toss this series, duly inserted the home side, the statistically shrewd move. For the first time India entered the field unencumbered with having to defend a below–par score; a blank slate and they were buzzing. A lot has been spoken of India’s ‘intent’, or lack of it, especially in their batting. But at Worcester India’s fielders at least, and the determined stares set on the faces of their bowlers, were looking to make up for lost time.
They did. The fielders knew what they were doing, where they should be, got there quickly and stuck to Raj’s mandate. This was an opportunity. For the first time, India’s string of much-vaunted individuals played as a team. The bowling was tight from the seamers to start, before the plans fell into place for the spinners on a slow pitch. If there is one area in which India have dominated this series, it is in their patience. And while this has been largely detrimental with the bat, with the ball it worked. They lured England’s batters to sweep well outside off, or dance a yard too far, and India broke the back of England’s middle order.
That Raj was the only batter to surpass 50, ending unbeaten on 75, demonstrates a flurry of England starts but no finishes. Four of England’s top six fell between 25 and 50. None were bamboozled out, nor the victims of prodigious turn, but prized out, like pawns in a game of chess, tactically vulnerable and without the patience required. Both teams might do well to swap notes.
More encouraging for England is the cementing of the string of change bowlers into their attack behind the veteran duo of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole. Sophie Ecclestone’s 2 for 36, including the late wicket of Sneh Rana for 24 to haul England back into contention, was the pick of the bunch. Adding to her three-wicket hauls in each of the preceding ODIs, the young left-arm spinner was rightly crowned the player of the series. That Ecclestone performs so well, so consistently, is a luxury England mustn’t forget.