India’s most potent weapon on Sunday will not be their batting strength but the spinners who have made life difficult for the best of the lot.
It is set-up for a carnival like atmosphere on Women’s Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground where India will take on defending champions Australia in the final of the ICC T20 World Cup. History beckons for both sides in one of the most iconic arenas for cricket.
Four-time winners Australia, led by Meg Lanning, are in familiar territory while for Harmanpreet Kaur’s India this will be their first ever T20 World Cup final.
Australia, who were beaten by India on the opening day of the tournament by 17 runs, have since shown that they have the ability to produce the goods in high pressure situations and even without their superstar all-rounder Ellyse Perry are the overwhelming favourites for Sunday.
“It seems like it has sort of fallen into place a little bit, and Sunday is going to be massive,” said Lanning ahead of Australia playing their sixth successive final.
“So hopefully there is 90,000 people there. Everything’s been done that could possibly be done, and we’re just really pumped we get to be out in the middle and play in front of everyone.”
After beating Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, they edged out New Zealand before overcoming South Africa in a nerve-shredding and rain-affected semi-final.
India, unbeaten so far in the tournament, have had their fair share of good fortune and come into the final with the likes of Shafali Verma and the spinners in fine form, especially Poonam Yadav, who caused havoc against Australia on the first day.
After defeating Australia, India went on to beat Bangladesh, New Zealand and then Sri Lanka before automatically making the final as Group A winners after their semi-final against England was washed out.
For the hosts, who are likely to feel the pressure of a first ever home World Cup final, the likes of Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney and Meg Lanning will be required to hold their nerve against India’s bowlers.
With the momentum well and truly on their side after the semi-final, Lanning will hope her side can continue their journey on the upward curve.
Amongst the bowlers, Megan Schutt (nine wickets from five games), who has admitted to being wary of the Indian top order, along with Jess Jonassen will have their task cut out against the fearless youngsters Shafali, Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma.
Mind you, Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur maybe out of touch but the big occasion is likely to bring out the best in them, adding much needed depth and firepower to the batting. For India’s sake, the big hitting duo must live up to their reputations on a stage that’s fitting!
“Rather than thinking about what is going to trouble us, it’s only about being there, enjoying the moment and giving our best,” said Harmanpreet.
“One thing we have to keep in mind, Sunday is a fresh day, a fresh start. We have to start from ball one.”
“We were hoping we’d get there because everybody’s feeling very positive about women’s cricket at the moment,” she said.
Nonetheless, India’s most potent weapon on Sunday will not be their batting strength but the spinners who have made life difficult for the best of the lot.
Poonam, with nine wickets from four games, has been ably supported by Deepti Sharma, Radha Yadav and Rajeshwari Gayakwad, all of whom will need to be on top of their game against a powerful Australian batting unit.
Good performances against Australia in T20 World Cups will give the Indian team a lot of confidence but they are dealing with seasoned campaigners, who have been there done that.
But there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip and Harmanpreet’s young team has nothing to lose in front of a crowd that is likely to have large sections of Indian fans.
It is the organizers’ dream final and all the ingredients for an absolute cliffhanger are in the mix.
Australia squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Erin Burns, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy (wk), Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham.
India squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Veda Krishnamurthy, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Arundhati Reddy, Rajeshwari Gaekwad, Richa Ghosh