January 6, 2002

Indian eves begin series with comprehensive victory

In a low-scoring affair, the Indian women began their five-match series against England with a thumping eight-wicket win at the India Cements-Guru Nanak College Grounds at Chennai. As predicted, it was a test of England's skill on the field against India's batting prowess. The former was rendered impotent by England's inability to put enough runs on the board on a flat batting track. On being put in to bat, the visitors were knocked over for 106, a total that was never likely to stretch the Indians.

It all began with a lively opening spell from seamers Jhulan Goswami and Suneeta Singh (born Suneeta Kanojia). With conditions being overcast, the ball moved around in the air just enough for Jhulan to find the edge of Caroline Atkins' (10) bat. After the fall of the first wicket with the score on 20, England lost wickets at regular intervals. The seamers gave way to the tantalising spin of Neetu David. The left-arm spinner, thought by many to be of the highest pedigree, strolled in effortlessly, bowled an impeccable line and length, coupled with teasing flight, to scalp 4/14 from nine overs. The effort, the fourth-best by an Indian woman in limited-overs games, earned her the Hero Honda player of the match award.

Mandie Godliman (9), Laura Newton (20), Kate Lowe (5) and Clare Connor, who top-scored with 22, found David too hot to handle. As England coach John Harmer summarised so aptly after the game, "Neetu David has caused problems for batsmen for ages now. She bowls very accurately and has the ability to turn the ball. You have to be on guard against her every ball. Even then, she will eventually get one to jag away and surprise you. She is a fine bowler," he said, with genuine admiration.

At the end, England managed just 106 all out from 44.4 overs. Coach Harmer realises that this was never going to be enough and that the team needed to work out a few things before the next game. "It is an attitude thing really. The players need to settle down and start to hit the ball well. A positive approach is the only one that will work, most of the time," he said. The former Aussie coach explained that much of it was in the mind. "I think they were a bit overawed by the whole situation. It is a mental thing rather than anything technical. That part of their game is fine. What they need to do is release all that energy when they are at the wicket," he said.

With the Indians, however, there were no such problems. Required to score at a sedate pace of 2.14 runs an over, openers Anju Jain and Jaya Sharma got off to a slow start. As a ploy to change things around, England opened the bowling with left-arm spinner Dawn Holden. The tactic appeared to work as Sharma (2) was out caught off the accurate Holden.

In company of skipper Anjum Chopra, Jain began to play a few strokes, tucking the ball neatly off her pads on more than one occasion. After making 21 and looking good for more, Jain was trapped lbw by Arran Thompson. India were almost halfway to their target at 51/2 at this stage. The fall of Jain's wicket brought Mithali Raj and her dazzling array of strokes to the wicket.

The middle-order bat, who showed tremendous promise in the CricInfo Women's World Cup before being laid low by illness, timed the ball impeccably from very first ball, opening her account with a classic straight drive for four. Raising the excitement level considerably, Mithali flicked and drove through the off side at will. Striking an unbeaten 36 off just 33 balls, Mithali found the fence on seven occasions - more times than all the other batsmen in the match put together. What set Mithali apart from the others was the amount of time she had to play her strokes, and with it, an ability to find gaps at will.

Chopra remained unbeaten on a well-compiled 26 (64 balls) when the winning runs were scored with more than 20 overs to spare.

In all this, one cannot ignore the fact that England gave away 25 extras - something a team can ill-afford when defending any kind of score, leave alone a small one.

In all the carnage, however, one must spare a thought for young Sarah Clarke. The 19-year-old leggie had a forgettable debut, making a duck with the bat and following it up with figures of 0/28 from 3.4 overs. This series, for players like Clarke, is very much a step in the learning process. It must also be remembered that Charlotte Edwards pulled out with a knee injury before the start of the tour. More recently, Claire Taylor ruled herself out by injuring herself in a practice session. Without two of their top batsmen, England will need some of the youngsters to come good. For Clarke, that wasn't to be today.