When 44 runs are needed from 32 balls in a T20 game, one would think that any chasing side would chase it down easily. That was exactly the case with India when they were on their way to a famous victory over Australia in the gold medal match of womens T20 cricket at 2022 Commonwealth Games in Edgbaston, Birmingham.
Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues were ticking along nicely; the skipper playing a captain’s knock in the big final while her younger partner was giving the support she needed in the chase of 166. But from there, Australia made a comeback into the match. Jemimah’s leg-stump was uprooted by Megan Schutt and in the next over, Pooja Vastrakar (five-ball duck) as well as Harmanpreet (attempting a scoop) fell on successive deliveries.
That sinking feeling arrived yet again. Not for the first time for India. In 2017, Harmanpreet had scored a fifty alongside Punam Raut, who top-scored with 86, in the ODI World Cup final against England at Lord’s. But as Harmanpreet fell, India too fell nine runs short of the target of 229, with the last seven wickets falling for 28 runs.
From there, the Indian challenge just nosedived and were eventually all out for 152 in 19.3 overs, as last eight wickets fell for 34 runs. They lost the gold medal by nine runs, the exact same margin by which they lost the 2017 ODI World Cup final. It was also the third time India lost a major cricketing final in last five years, including being blown away by the Alyssa Healy-Beth Mooney combination in the 2020 T20 World Cup final.
During the medal ceremony, one could see the sadness writ large on Harmanpreet’s face despite trying to put on a smile when the silver medals were being given to the Indian team. Yes, they left a huge mark in women’s T20 cricket’s first foray into the Commonwealth Games.
After losing to Australia by three wickets in the competition opener despite being in the prime position to win, India bounced back with victories over Pakistan, Barbados and hosts England in the semi-final.
But what they had come and targeted for a podium finish was the yellow metal, which was heard from the words of many Indian team members, including Harmanpreet in the lead-up to Commonwealth Games. The nine-run loss in the gold medal match was anything but a deja vu for India and Harmanpreet.
“Every time in big finals, we make the same mistakes again and again [with the bat], that is something we have to improve. We don’t make these mistakes in the league phase or in bilateral. That is blocking our mind somewhere. I am someone who is always looking for one more batter in the side. Unfortunately, we’re working on that. Once we get that, this thing (collapsing) will go away,” were Harmanpreet’s words after the match.
There is no doubt that the Commonwealth Games has given India tons of positive points to build upon after they didn’t make it to the knockouts for the ODI World Cup earlier this year. Renuka Thakur, with her inswing, was a standout bowler.
The top-order, led by Smriti Mandhana, brought out their aggressive style of play. The spinners, mainly Deepti Sharma and Sneh Rana, were at their best while the fielding, led by Deepti and Radha Yadav, especially in the gold medal match, was top-notch and heartwarming at the same time.
At the same time, there will be questions raised of the Indian team in terms of handling pressure situations. Clarity in a pressure situation of a match comes from the experience of having previously been there. For India, they encounter such scenarios when they are in a contest for the elusive trophy/medal. That will come by playing more matches, especially with women’s IPL on the horizon next year.
Another thing India have to keep in mind is to get their selection and on-field calls right. Like in the white-ball series against Sri Lanka and at Commonwealth Games, India used some additional bowling options. But they need to think if they have to use every bowling option or make the most out of who can be their best resources who can keep the pressure on.
The decision to not include Richa Ghosh, an attacking option in the lower-order, was baffling. In a team where the top-order batters are stacked, one has to have firepower in the lower-order too to ease their way through chases. They also need to see how they can fit Yastika Bhatia in top-order after becoming a number nine batter more so, as Taniyaa Bhatia’s concussion replacement.
In all, India have a young squad which has tons of promise and exuberance in life post Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, including a killing attitude.
With a World event in frame in every year till 2027, including the Commonwealth Games making an appearance in 2026, India would have to steer clear of the errors made in recent times on as well as off the field to clinch the coveted silverware or yellow metal, as seen by the silver lining in Commonwealth Games.