India in search for desperate comeback with series on line
When Smriti Mandhana slipped on her ankle while fielding early on in the second innings and walked off the field, the Indian team management and fans would have had their heartbeat go up. The last thing they would want is an injury to their stand-in skipper after the regular captain Harmanpreet Kaur missing out due to injury. Such has been the story of the series so far for India.
Playing after a year, most of the players, especially in the T20I squad, stepped on the field for the first time since the T20 World Cup. The difference in game-time both the teams have had coming into the series was visible. As many as six players in the playing eleven – Shafali Verma, Harleen Deol, Simran di Bahadur, Richa Gosh, Arundhati Reddy, and Nuzhat Parween – took the field for the first time. The other five were a part of the ODI series that had completed before.
Despite that, there were quite a few positives for India. Deol’s performance with the bat was a huge bonus. Particularly, in the absence of Kaur, she stepped-up and scored a fifty, batting at number three. Jemimah Rodrigues showed glimpses of form, but it was not enough to trump a South African side brimming with confidence.
Over the last few years, India have been heavily reliant on the openers to get them through in the shortest format. With the availability of Kaur for the second T20I still uncertain, they desperately need Mandhana and Verma to come good and dominate the tourists from ball one. However, the lack of experience in the middle-order could be a reason why they are not able to go all guns blazing. If Kaur is fit to play, it would be a great boost for India, and the openers will have the licence to play their natural aggressive game.
As far as the first T20I goes, India did not have enough runs to defend. However, there are a few chinks in their bowling they might want to address. First, the way the Indian spinners operated was completely contrasting from their counterparts. They were giving the ball a lot of air and flight, trying to draw the batters forward. Given the conditions, the South Africans were happy to play their shots off the back-foot. With the pace at which they bowled, it was far easier for them to do so.
The South African spinners, on the other hand, were flat and quick, not giving any time for the Indian batters to go on back-foot and play those big shots. The dismissal of Verma was a perfect example. She was trying to hit them down the ground with almost every ball. Both Nonkululeko Mlaba and Sune Luus kept the length just short enough at an ample pace to deceive the teenager. It is something that the Indian contingent – both batters and bowlers – might have to take a look at, going into the second T20I.
For the tourists, there is not much to worry about as everything has worked in their favour so far. Opening the batting with Lizelle Lee, Anneke Bosch’s performance at the top, especially the way she took on Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma, was very impressive. Even with the ball, she brought South Africa back into the game in the last five overs, dismissing Deol and Rodrigues in the same over.
The stark difference between the way two teams was the ability to play those big shots against the spinner in front of the square on either side of the pitch. The Indians, often, were trying to hit them down the ground, whereas Bosch and Luus employed the slog sweep to a great extent to unsettle the spinners. Also, the fielding effort from South Africa was a couple of notches higher than that of the hosts. It shows the impact of having sufficient game-time behind in a high-profile series.
In the bowling department, Shabnim Ismail imposed the pace early, as she always does, troubling Verma and Deol. She finished with three wickets for just 14 runs in her four overs, giving away 3.5 runs per over. To think that they delivered such a clinical performance – without Marizanne Kapp (rested), Dane van Niekerk and Chloe Tryon (injured) – is a bit scary.
Though it seems like a repetitive point, it all comes down to the lack of matches for the Indian players. They are not as bad as they have fared. It is the same team that reached the final of the T20 World Cup last year. As in the ODI series, they would get better with time and matches. And the Indians would be hoping that it happens in the second T20I on Sunday(March 21), before the series is lost.
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh, Harleen Deol, Sushma Verma (wk), Nuzhat Parveen (wk), Ayushi Soni, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Mansi Joshi, Monica Patel, C. Prathyusha, Simran Dil Bahadur
South Africa: Sune Luus (c), Ayabonga Khaka, Shabnim Ismail, Laura Wolvaardt, Trisha Chetty, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Nondumiso Shangase, Lizelle Lee, Anneke Bosch, Faye Tunnicliffe, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Mignon du Preez, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Tumi Sekhukhune