Harmanpreet & Co. falter at end to miss women’s cricket gold

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The common refrain this summer had been that Indians brought a spot of happy sunshine along to the UK when they came for the Commonwealth Games. Bathed in glorious warmth that Birmingham just can’t seem to get enough of, as crowds thronged stadia in the summer of sport, India’s T20 cricket team wanted to steal a bit of filigreed gold in return. The women looking to have their own big 1983 Lord’s moment at Edgbaston threatened to prick the Aussie bubble, but imploded at the final hurdle losing by 9 runs.

In a run chase of 162 that always looked on, the power outages from the Indians came far too often, as the considerable match poise would trickle out of their fight, and set them back after Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemima Rodrigues looked, at one point, to be steering the ship safely home. The Aussies had only just enough on the board with 161-8, but chasing for the first time in the tournament against a bigger team, India had familiar ghosts haunting them, and pegging them back to yet another runners-up finish, this time at Edgbaston.

Lord’s over 50 overs against England, MCG in 2020 and now the inaugural CWG final – the resistance put up had got progressively more optimistic. But the end result would be the same, with just two of the top order looking in control in the chase. While Harmanpreet stayed, India looked like they had a chance. Once wickets fell around her, the same old desperation, sweaty palms and slipping feet lost their grip over pacing the chase, and faltered.

The promise of a couple of boundaries – if they could back themselves to hold their nerve – could have sorted them out. But India doesn’t have a full-fledged women’s IPL, Australia has their Women’s Big Bash, and the experience of being in these situations in their domestic league finally made the difference.

READ |Why India needs to stop participating in Commonwealth Games

Earlier though, Harmanpreet offered India its biggest hope after Smriti Mandhana went early.

It was that little Jemimah hop at the other end, completing a boundary-filler of a non-single, that would signal Harmanpreet had smashed the ball to the pink boundary ropes, and at times beyond. Edgbaston filled up to watch the big hits, and the Indian captain didn’t disappoint.

There were two hits that cleared the deep midwicket and long- on fielders, Harmanpreet swept with elan and used the fast outfield to send a hot welter cannonballing under the cover fielder’s eluded outstretched arm.

Harmanpreet & Co lit up the Commonwealth Games final with their audacious challenge of Australian hegemony, but just didn’t have the arsenal or tools of destruction to boss those moments. Just like they started in the opener where they had Australia on the mat before Ashleigh Gardener rescued them, once again, the Aussies were not allowed ascendancy with a bunch of Indians pinging them with a wicket here, a one-handed catch there.

Deepti Sharma lifted one straight behind the bowler, to keep them going, but it was panic in the chase that put paid to all the early efforts.

Australia did the basics right, didn’t try anything fancy, and banked on the Indian proclivity to go down on these situations. The run-outs came in a bunch, and pointed to not merely ill-judged singles but jangled nerves that repeated losing in the finals can trigger.

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Yet, this was a stunning debut for cricket at the CWG. And it needed India in the finals to bring a final alive.

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