Magnificent Mithali guides India home in a thriller

Mithali Raj in action © Getty Images

Skipper Mithali Raj played a captain’s knock on what possibly was her last innings in England to take India to a thrilling win in the final ODI against the hosts in Worcester on Saturday (July 3). It was after the bowlers helped India restrict England to 219 after a rain delay reduced the match to 47 overs-per-side. England now lead the multi-format series having registered six points to India’s four with three T20Is left to play.

India needed 15 runs from the last two overs and they took four runs from the first four deliveries of the penultimate over before Sneh Rana’s strong hit to deep mid-wicket got her a boundary and reduced the target to six from the last eight balls. But Sophie Ecclestone came back in the last ball to dismiss Rana when she tried to go for a big hit and was bowled. Needing six from the last over, India started with two singles before Raj drove Katherine Brunt through the off-side for a boundary to take India to a memorable win.

Chasing 220 to win, Smriti Mandhana made sure that India got out of the blocks quickly even as Shafali Verma struggled at the other end. Although Verma hit the visitors’ first boundary, it was Mandhana’s three boundaries off Brunt in the fifth over that got India’s innings going. She first hit the pacer through square-leg before backing it up with one through cover and third man. Verma tried to join in by hitting Brunt over mid-on and then slapping Kate Cross over point while Mandhana added two more boundaries to her kitty off Anya Shrubsole.

Verma was growing impatient and tried to back away and clear mid-off against Cross and was caught by Knight for an uncharacteristic 19 off 29 ending the 46-run partnership. Batting at three, Jemimah Rodrigues struggled as she survived a few anxious moments, including two DRS calls, to score only four off 21 balls before chopping Ecclestone onto the stumps.

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Mandhana continued to find boundaries as she hit Ecclestone for two distinct looking fours. She first launched the left-arm spinner over mid-off for a four in 12th over and then caressed her through cover in her next over. But the introduction of Sarah Glenn saw the southpaw walking back to the pavilion after trying to play across a delivery and getting caught in front of the wicket for 49.

From 81 for three, England bowlers tied down Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur with the later struggling more even as Raj found occasional boundaries. When Raj lofted Natalie Sciver over her head for a four in the 24th over, she overtook Charlotte Edwards’ 10272 runs to become the highest run-getter in international cricket. Meanwhile, Kaur was dismissed by the Heather Knight when she went for a reverse sweep and was adjudged LBW even though replays suggested the impact was outside the off-stump.

Needing 90 from 82 balls, Raj and Deepti Sharma added 33 runs in the next six overs before Sharma became a victim to Sciver’s off-cutter for 18. At the other end, Raj was beginning to look the most fluent she has been in the series and got to her third fifty of the tour. Rana’s boundary through fine leg in the 42nd over brought down the required target to 38 off the last five overs. In the 44th over, India scored 12 runs including a couple of boundaries leaving them needing 20 runs off the last three overs to get the first win of the series and it eventually came down to the third ball of the last over.

Earlier, opting to bowl on a slow and low surface, India got off to a great start with Shikha Pandey trapping in-form Tammy Beaumont in front of the wicket for a duck in the second over. Pacers Jhulan Goswami and Pandey kept it tight for India in the first few overs giving away only 23 runs from seven overs.

In the eighth over, Lauren Winfield-Hill broke free to hit three boundaries off Pandey with the bowler keeping it too full and allowing the batter to pierce the off-side. Winfield-Hill and Knight put on 67 runs for the second wicket even as the England skipper took her time on the slower surface.

However, the introduction of Rana into the attack got India a reward immediately with Winfield-Hill hitting one straight to Pandey at mid-wicket for 36. Sciver started confidently with a couple of boundaries off Rana and Pandey and a Knight boundary off Kaur brought up England’s 100 in the 23rd over.

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When it looked like the experienced duo will form another partnership for the hosts, Kaur struck to remove Knight – who became the fourth England player to score 3000 runs in ODIs when she was on 37 – for 46 off 71 balls in the 25th over. Sciver and Amy Jones, playing her 50th ODI, added another 41 runs for the fourth wicket to take them over the 150-run mark. But England needed them to bat deep into the innings and in pursuit of quick runs Jones smashed one straight to long-on in the 34th over bowled by Sharma.

From there, England lost wickets in regular intervals with the Indian spinners keeping it tight on a surface that seemed familiar to the ones back home. Sciver was the big wicket India needed to restrict England to a moderate total and Mandhana’s brilliance on the boundary provided them with that in the 38th over. Sciver came down the track to hit Sharma towards deep mid-wicket but only to see Mandhana flying to her left to grab the catch leaving the England allrounder one run short of a fifty.

22-year-old Dunkley was impressive as usual at one end with a well-made 28 before she became Sharma’s third victim but none of the other batters could push on the scoring rate. No.11 Cross hit a few lusty blows in the final over in her cameo of 16 off nine to take England score to 219 before their innings finished with Glenn’s run out in the final ball.

For India, Sharma was the most successful bowler with figures of three for 47 while five other bowlers took one wicket each.

Brief Scores: England 219/10 in 47 overs (Natalie Sciver 49, Heather Knight 46; Deepti Sharma 3/47) lost to India 220/6 in 46.3 overs (Mithali Raj 75* , Smriti Mandhana 49) by 4 wickets. POTM: Mithali Raj