While Mithali Raj might want to kick herself for making only a half-hearted, lackadaisical attempt to avert the run out (she could have stretched or even dived in an attempt to reach the crease), the rest of the Indian women’s team need not be too gutted at the meltdown that led to the nine-run defeat in the World Cup final.
Indian teams, particularly the men, were never good at chasing. Of course there were glorious exceptions, like the record 406-run chase against West Indies by Sunil Gavaskar, GR Vishwanath, Mohinder Amarnath, Brijesh Patel and Anshuman Gaekwad. But that was over 40 years ago, in 1976.
Even when the team had the famous four batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, India were not too hot when it came to chasing targets.
One collective flop in Tests readily comes to mind. I was there at Bridgetown, Barbados and was expecting the Indian team to cruise to a famous victory against a weakened West Indies team. The team had to get a mere 120 runs but packed up even before the new ball lost its shine. And this was a batting line-up that also included Navjot Sidhu and Mohammed Azharuddin. An average rookie medium pacer, Franklyn Rose, opened up the famous Indian batting order that collapsed spectacularly to pressure and was bundled out for 81.
Of course, there have been exceptional chases. Like the Mohammed Kaif and Yuvraj Singh-inspired two-wicket win chasing 326 against England at Lord’s or the way Tendulkar and Yuvraj lay waste to the Pakistan attack while chasing 274 during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.
But by and large, until a cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his successor Virat Kohli made a name for themselves with their approach to run-chases, India crumbled to the pressure of chasing a target on most occasions.
Thus Raj’s women need not take the defeat to heart. Most of the players are young and should be around for other mega events and the first-hand experience at Lord’s on Sunday should stand them in good stead.
Of course, the Indians will be peeved at the fact that they were cruising at 191 for 3 and yet lost all the remaining wickets for the addition of a mere 28 runs to end up losers. The lack of experience played its part in the collapse. Sure, all the experience in the world would be of little use if the team did not have batsmen with the right temperament and a cool-headed approach to handle the pressure of chasing targets.
Being excitable is probably the worst attitude that a team needs in tight spots. On occasion, when luck goes their way, those who cannot put a lid on their reactions might just get away with it and win the odd match. But by and large the quest should be for calm, assured batswomen who can control the situation in a run chase.
Additionally, winning is a habit. Coaches and teams should promote the relentless grind to victory. Sometimes coaches and captains indulge in empty talk about process and state — a somewhat hollow assertion — that they are not bothered about winning or losing. This is silly, to say the least. Winning, like any other trait, must be inculcated at youth and every team member must do what it takes to get the team across the line. Only then can a hardened approach to a task be ingrained within a team environment.
Anybody who saw the Indian women playing the final would have understood that the team needed the calculated approach of Harmanpreet Kaur and Punam Raut to take them across the line. Veda Krishnamurthy, no doubt a good striker of the ball, looked too excitable and chancy with her stroke play. Had she been more mature, she could have taken the team through in the company of the tailenders. But that was not to be.
Her quick-fire innings of 35 revealed potential. She probably needs somebody to mentor her in the art of building an innings in different situations.
Indian women’s team officials also need to pay attention to their tailenders. The current crop certainly doesn’t look like they have the strength to work the ball off the square. Cricket is slowly becoming a power game and women’s cricket is no exception as the England, Australia, West Indies or even Indian top order showed in this tournament. The tailenders need to wake up to that reality.
The loss in the World Cup should come as an eye-opener. Short-comings in fielding, strength and even temperament need to be addressed at the earliest for Indian women to take their game to the next level.
Overnight, after the high of the semi-final win against Australia, the Indian team will have learnt from the depressing final defeat at the hands of England that winning is not everything — it is the only thing.