Derby: Riding on left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s brilliant five-for and skipper Mithali Raj’s magnificent century, India crushed New Zealand by 186 runs to storm into the semi-finals of ICC Women’s World Cup on Saturday.
Put into bat, India recovered from an early wobble to score a challenging 265/7 in their final league match, riding on a 132-run stand between Mithali (109) and Harmanpreet Kaur (60) and a quickfire 70 by Veda Krishnamurthy. India then produced a superb bowling display to dismiss the Kiwis for 79 in just 25.3 overs. Gayakwad (5/15) was the peak of the bowlers with her five-wicket haul, while Deepti Sharma (2/26) scalped two and Jhulan Goswami (1/14), Shikha Pandey (1/12) and Poonam Yadav (1/12) picked one each.
“Extremely happy. For a couple of us, this will be the last World Cup, so our first aim was to enter semifinals," said Mithali, who was adjudged the player of the match for her 109. “I’ve always dreamt of getting runs for the country. The hunger never dies. There were two vital stands, with Harmanpreet and Veda (Krishnamurthy). After the powerplays, we needed more runs. Her (Krishnamurthy’s) 70 was as important as my 100. Harmanpreet’s knock was important too," she said.
“If you’re aiming to be in the top four teams in the world, you have to come back after defeats. In the previous World Cups we had not done that, so it was important to fire today," Mithali said, talking about the two consecutive defeats before Saturday’s win. Gayakwad said, “I was out for six games but I didn’t feel bad. We were doing so well, I was happy. When I got the chance, I wanted to give my all. This is my best performance, I hadn’t taken a five-for previously, so this is special."
Chasing 266 for a win, New Zealand lost two early wickets with both openers Suzie Bates (1) and Rachel Priest (5) back in the hut in three overs. At 7 for 2, Katey Martin (12) joined Amy Satterthwaite but the former was dismissed by spinner Deepti Sharma in her first over as New Zealand were reduced to 27/3 in 11th over.
Satterthwaite was then dismissed in 18th over with Sushma Verma producing a brilliant stumping off Gayakwad’s bowling. Katie Perkins (1) too was sent back quickly with Sharma cleaning her up as New Zealand lost half their side for 52/5 in the 19th over. Gayakwad then dealt two more quick blows, removing Sophie Devine (7) and Hannah Rowe (4) as New Zealand were looking down the barrel at 62/7 in 21.5 overs.
Lea Tahuhu became the fourth victim of Gayakwad, who also cleaned up last batswoman Leigh Kasperek (0) to complete her five-wicket haul. Earlier, India were reduced to 21 for 2 in eighth over but a 132-run stand between Mithali (109) and Harmanpreet (60) for the third wicket brought them back into the match. A brilliant quick-fire 70 off just 45 balls from Krishnamurthy, studded with seven fours and two sixes, then took India past 260.
However, the highlight of the virtual knock-out match was Mithali’s sixth ton in her 184th match and her 109 came from 123 balls and had 11 fours in it. Mithali, who in the earlier match against Australia became the highest run-getter in ODIs and first batswoman to reach 6000 runs, continued with her purple patch. She has already hit three half centuries and a 46 not out, besides Saturday’s ton, from the seven matches she has played so far.
Coming in the eighth over at the team score of 21-2 at the fall of opener Smriti Mandhana (13), Mithali anchored the Indian innings magnificently. She first steadied the Indian innings with Harmanpreet after the initial loss of two wickets and then took her side to an advantageous position before being dismissed in the final over. She found an able ally in Harmanpreet, who made a crucial contribution despite her slow batting.
Harmanpreet consumed 90 balls for her 60 and hit seven fours. India were going strong at 152 for 2 in the 36th over but New Zealand struck back with two quick wickets—Harmanpreet and Deepti Sharma (0)— but that did not bother them. Krishnamurthy was there to give impetus to the Indian innings towards the close and she was by far the most aggressive batswomen as she was always looking for big shots. She was out in the penultimate delivery. In fact, India lost three wickets in the final over in the space of four deliveries for eight runs.