After all the meticulous planning that has gone into this World Cup, it was on the field that things went awry. England opened their campaign with defeat to India by 35 runs, put to the sword by expansive batting but put to bed by their own mistakes.
On paper this was a shock. On the pitch, especially in the first innings, it looked a mismatch. Despite England’s record since the 2013 World Cup of winning 11 and losing three after batting first, they opted to bowl in overcast yet, ultimately, benign conditions. India reached 281 for three, beating their highest score against England by 30 runs and subsequently ending a run of six consecutive ODI losses, stretching back to July 2012.
Smriti Mandhana’s 90 in her first World Cup match set the tone, while Mithali Raj’s 71 finished it with style, but it was Punam Raut’s 86 that smarted the most. She was dropped three times, on 20, 21 and 79. Without question, this was England’s worst spell in the field since Mark Robinson took over as head coach at the end of 2015. That they got within 35 runs is solely down to a remarkable 81 from Fran Wilson.
Usually, you can set your watch by the bowling changes, but the fact that Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt sent down 13 overs between them shows just how India’s approach shocked a usually strong-willed unit.
Mandhana, player of the match, was the pick of the bunch. England worried too much about her drive and ended up feeding her cuts through point and some outstanding shots over midwicket. She raced to 40 from 25 balls, with seven boundaries including a six that cleared the leg-side fence. An elegant drive through cover brought up her half-century from 45 balls. With Raut, she put on 144 inside 27 overs for the first wicket, which set India up for the rest of the innings.
Mandhana looked unbothered by her knee, which she injured badly during a stint with Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League. A torn anterior cruciate ligament during defeat by Melbourne Renegades in the middle of January put her place in this India squad in doubt. To the credit of her franchise and Cricket Australia, they helped with the initial part of her recovery in cooperation with the Indian board. Even Heather Knight, a frustrated bystander as Mandhana waltzed all over England, could not begrudge her return: “She is one of the best young players around at the moment.”
On the eve of this match Raj spoke of the novelty of arriving in England early enough to pack in two warm-up matches, in the first of which, against New Zealand at Derby, Mandhana returned to competitive cricket after her lay-off. It clearly paid off. Raj also hammered home the point that batting sides need to push 250 to give themselves a chance. Fittingly, she became the first to call for the decision review system in a women’s cricket match when, after consultation with the bowler, Deepti Sharma (three for 47), and the wicketkeeper, Sushma Verma, she checked to see if Nat Sciver had been caught behind down the leg side. Raj’s call was successful. Her words over the past few days are having a profound effect.
England were under the cosh early in their pursuit of 282, reduced to 67 for three in the 18th over, as Shikha Pandey accounted for Tammy Beaumont, caught at slip, and Sarah Taylor, at mid on. Knight’s rebuilding job got as far as the 32nd over before she became the first of four needless run-outs. Then Wilson took over.
Her talent was evident early on, with her first two ODI caps coming in November 2010. In the six years it took to collect a third, she worked away at the England Academy. A move to Middlesex from Somerset in 2015 was followed by a full central contract at the end of the season, despite carrying drinks rather than churning runs for England.
She was recalled last summer but still arrived here with just six ODIs under her belt, a highest score of 30 and an average of 10.25. Whatever you might garner from those three statistics – inexperience, inability and inconsistency – were thrown out the window as she passed 50 for the first time in an England shirt.
That she thought she could pull off such a chase, striding to the crease at 67 for three, spoke of a bloodymindedness that will take her far at this level. Her fitness was evident for her first 52 runs from 57 balls, which featured only two fours but 10 twos. Then she showcased her hitting power, standing more upright and allowing a backlift that grazes her right ear to come through with precision.
A couple more fours, crunched through midwicket, took her into the sixties, before she and Brunt took Pandey to the cleaners with 17 from the 40th over. That ended the second power play with a flourish, one that began with England needing 123 from 15 overs and left them with a very gettable 76 from the final 60 balls, with five wickets in hand.
That will frustrate England the most. Even with the errors, the drops, the loss of early wickets and inability to effectively work India’s slower bowlers, this game was within their grasp going into the final straight. They saved their most costly errors for the end: a collapse of three for 13 in 19 balls, two of them – Brunt and Wilson – run-outs. With that, the game was gone.
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