Harmanpreet Kaur’s side had momentum and confidence heading into the World T20 semi-final against England. They were undefeated in the league stages and were boosted by victory over three-time champions Australia for the first time-ever in this tournament. When India won the toss and chose to bat, Harmanpreet announced that Mithali Raj was not playing in this crunch game. This resulted in some surprise and eyebrows were raised. Mithali had missed the game against Australia as she had suffered an injury but according to reports before the game, the India veteran had recovered. India had made good progress at 89/2 and everyone almost forgot Mithali's omission but a catastrophic collapse of eight for 23 saw India being bowled out for a below-par 112 and England achieved an easy eight-wicket win to enter the final where they will take on Australia.
Speaking in the post-match press conference, Harmanpreet said the decision to bench Mithali was taken for the team. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. One game doesn't decide whether we are a good team or a bad team. We have a very young team and it was a learning curve for us. We still have to work on our mental strength - learning to play under pressure will be a key thing to learn for us,” the Indian women’s skipper said.
However, looking at the performance of the Indian side in this crunch situation, benching Mithali has proven to be a fatal mistake.
In the league stages, Mithali Raj hit two fifties against Pakistan and Ireland. Her strike-rate in both the games were 119 and 91. In terms of scoring quick runs, Mithali was really not up to the mark but she ensured one crucial thing. The veteran shared partnerships with the middle order and brought stability. Playing almost till the end of the innings, Mithali ensured that the job was done and India had chased the total down.
During the game against England, India suffered a collapse from 89/2 to being all-out for 112. The lower-middle order, which was not tested in the entire tournament, came undone thanks to the discipline of the England bowlers. The Indian team could have benefited from Mithali’s ability to steady the innings.
India have reached the 50-over final twice in 2005 and 2017 and in two World T20 semi-finals in 2009 and 2010. The common factor in all these tournaments was the presence of Mithali. Her experience on the big game stage could have been vital for a team that has some fresh faces and facing the challenge for the first time but it was not meant to be.
Poor batting, misjudgement
During India’s collapse, most of the players were guilty of throwing their wickets away under pressure. Jemimah Rodrigues suffered a lapse in concentration and was run-out. Veda Krishnamurthy and Harmanpreet both pre-empted their shots and paid the price. Anuja Patil mistimed a lofted shot in the very first delivery she faced and was caught. Dayalan Hemlatha also went for an expansive drive and she was sent packing.
The lack of not playing proper cricket according to the situation once again pointed out the mistake of leaving out Mithali for this crucial game. All these batters would have profited from the India veteran’s presence in the centre.
The decision to bench Mithali, that too in a semi-final, can be compared to the Indian men’s cricket team dropping Virat Kohli for a crunch semi-final against Australia in the ICC Cricket World Cup because he has played too slowly. Harmanpreet’s misjudgement in not picking Mithali and robbing the team of stability played a huge role in India suffering a massive defeat.