WWT20: Mithali Raj fifty steers India to victory

SUMMARY: India 137-3 (Raj 56) beat Pakistan 133-7 (Maroof 53, Dar 52, Poonam 2-22) by seven wickets

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First, there was the silly – five dropped catches from India, one where the fielder ran away from the ball instead of towards it – and 10 penalty runs given against Pakistan for traipsing up and down the danger area of the pitch. And then there was the sublime – the cricket world knows full well how fun it is to bat but Mithali Raj just makes it look so darn good. She came in, got set, struck her 16th T20I fifty and wrapped up victory with six balls and seven wickets to spare.

At the innings break, there was the sense of a contest brewing. Bismah Maroof, after scoring a half-century of her own, replete with the most picturesque cover drives, spoke to the broadcaster about how India’s batsmen don’t do well against Pakistan’s bowlers.

That the pitch was slow and low and their spinners should be able to defend 133. That they even got there after being 30 for 3 was the result of an excellent fourth-wicket stand. Nida Dar, who was the other half of that rescue effort, made 52 off only 35 balls, gleefully slogging the ball through midwicket every chance she got.

It was during that 93-run partnership that the biggest talking point from the game emerged. With India’s spinners bowling ever so slowly through the air while maintaining a strict line outside off, Maroof and Dar tried to force the pace by constantly stepping down the track.

But after that, when they ran down the pitch, they kept treading on the danger area. The umpires warned both players – at least twice – before Sue Redfern finally punished them in the 18th over.

The ICC rulebook says the officials will tell each incoming batsman to stay away from the middle of the pitch while sprinting between the wickets but Nahida Khan and Sidra Nawaz forgot all about it – which was understandable considering they were searching for a quick single off the last ball. Nevertheless, they too were reprimanded and India’s total swelled by a second set of five runs. All without them facing a single ball.

The Pakistan captain Javeria Khan later admitted that it was unprofessional of her side to keep making such mistakes – and even mentioned a instance in Sri Lanka earlier this year, when they were docked for the same offence.

India made generous contributions to the blooper reel as well, Smriti Mandhana and Veda Krishnamurthy fumbled straightforward catches in the third and 11th overs. Poonam Yadav had two chances in seven balls, but she couldn’t convert either one as she awkwardly backtracked from square leg the first time and the bowling crease the next. To think she had done so well with her legbreaks to secure a false shot from Maroof only to completely misjudge the flight of the ball and run in the wrong direction.

Those were isolated incidents, though. India’s bowlers kept the opposition to a total that was well within reach – even if it was Pakistan’s best in a World T20 game – and the batsmen were downright clinical.

Mandhana got going with a cover drive that began as a defensive push before ending up as the shot of the match. Raj picked up length so well it was like she knew where the ball would pitch right down to its GPS coordinates. Her strike-rate in T20Is has been a talking point of late, with critics saying it’s not good enough in the modern game, but promoted to open, specifically for her ability to play spin well, she finished with 56 off 47 balls, including seven fours.

By the end of the game, those 10 bonus runs India were given seemed only to deny their big-hitters the chance to make a bigger score. (ESPNCricinfo)

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