First hurdle: Passing the English test

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Smriti Mandhana struck form against Australia, and will look to replicate her form in the semifinal against England. ICC

They have been on a winning spree since landing in the Caribbean, but that will count for nothing if the Indian team fails to get past England in the semifinals of the Women’s World T20 early on Friday. After a perfect record in the group stages in Guyana—including wins against Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan— Harmanpreet Kaur’s team is up against a side that pipped them to the post in the Women’s World Cup last year.

The likes of Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and veteran Mithali Raj will want to make up for the pain of that nine-run defeat at Lord’s after the Indians, at one stage, looked odds-on favourites to become world champions. England finished runners-up in Group A after being beaten by the hosts and defending champions West Indies and will enter the semifinal at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua, needing to raise their game a few notches to make it to the summit clash.

It has been only months since Tushar Arothe had to leave the coaching position due to what can only be termed as player power. The seniors in the team found his coaching methods too demanding and demanded a change. India also had a disappointing outing at the Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur, where they lost twice to Bangladesh, including in the final. But an impressive run at the world stage should bring back the good vibes experienced at the 2017 Women’s World Cup in England.

For India, the big positive is that at least one of Kaur, Mandhana and Raj have been among runs in each match so far, with the 103 off 51 scored by the skipper against the White Ferns from New Zealand setting the tone for the campaign. She is the highest scorer of the tournament going into the semifinals and has got also her runs at a rollicking strike rate. Mandhana hammered 83 off 55 balls against the Southern Stars and has the fourth- highest run aggregate, while Raj has hit two half-centuries, including one in a chase against Pakistan. Among other batswomen, Jemima Rodrigues hit a fifty against New Zealand, stitching a match-winning partnership with Kaur.
When India have batted first, they have usually posted a formidable target for the opposition. Raj was not fielded against Australia—wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia opening the innings – but given the significance of the occasion and her good form in the competition, there is every likelihood that she will return to the top of the order against England.

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Head coach Ramesh Powar is a former off-spinner himself, and the Indian bowling attack is also based around spin and taking the pace off the ball. Leg-spinner Poonam Yadav has eight wickets in her kitty while left-arm orthodox bowler Radha Yadav has seven. The spin attack is well balanced with Deepti Sharma (four scalps), Dayalan Hemalatha (five) and Kaur (one) providing off-spinning options. Medium-pacer Arundhati Reddy, who has just two wickets till date, generally bowls a couple of overs before ceding the stage to her slow sisters.

Morale-booster

The win over Australia has only boosted the team’s confidence and Rodrigues, still only 18 years of age, said the team fears no opponent. “I think it’s important not just because it’s Australia, but for ourselves and our team,” the Mumbai girl felt. “I think it plays a huge impact on our team and I think we look forward to it, but are not carried away by it, and we will try to do even better in the semifinals.”
England has not had a smooth ride in the tournament. Their opener against Sri lanka was rained out without a ball being bowled. Their match against Bangladesh was a rain-curtailed one, which they won after an early hiccup in the chase. It was followed by a regulation win over South Africa before they were pipped by the hosts in the final over.

Their batswomen have not been in rhythm and have just one score in the thirties among them. But the likes of skipper Heather Knight, Nat Sciver, tammy Beaumont, Danielle Wyatt and Amy Jones can be expected to rise to the occasion.
In contrast to the Indians, the English bowling is based around seam, with Anya Shrubsole, who broke Indian hearts in last year’s World Cup final with a six-wicket haul, claiming seven wickets in three matches. Fellow seamer Sciver has four scalps while left-arm slow bowler Gordon has accounted for six wickets.

England have been one of the traditional powerhouses in women’s cricket, but more teams have become competitive in recent times. Coach Mark Robinson and his wards cannot afford to take India lightly. Opening batswoman Beaumont believes India would be hurting from the close miss in the World Cup final and would be looking for some sort of retribution.

“India will definitely put a target on our back, and (want to) prove a bit of a point from last year. But T20 is a very different game. It only takes one player to grab it by the horns and bring it home,” she said. She admitted India are a much better team. “India are a much-improved team, they’ve got quite a lot of threats. We can’t think that we can take them on, and go toe-to-toe, and come out on top.”

After a stop-start campaign, Beaumont thinks it is here that the English campaign will get into top gear. “There are enough players of high-class in that top-order there. Someone’s got to score eventually. It’s just a case of putting some key things together. Our bowling attack has been exceptional every game,” the 27-year-old felt.