And that was the way the cookie crumbled! The Indian resistance just fizzled out against New Zealand in the second semi-final of the CricInfo Women's World Cup when they were comprehensively beaten by a big margin of nine wickets. And it was not the margin of defeat but the manner in which it was engineered that gave the impression that India was totally outplayed in all departments of the game; just like Australia swept aside the South African challenge in the first semifinal in exactly the same fashion and the same margin.
The planning was made but it needed proper execution. The Indians, batting first on winning the toss, opened with Smitha Harikrishna and Purnima Rau, this being the first time ever they batted in tandem. They gave India a good start but things went awry with the exit of Smitha, brilliantly caught at square leg while trying to pull. The immediate loss of Kaul and Chopra, both for no scores, put the Indians on the back foot from which they could never extricate themselves. Kaul and Chopra were the two main run getters for India in the tournament and their dismissals dealt the team a severe blow.
The aftermath of this was that Purnima, sent to open the batting to clear the infielders and use the first 15 overs, played the sheet anchor role and her innings eventually was the only one of substance from the Indians. Anju Jain, the Indian captain, appeared to be the most compact of the Indian batsmen but just when it looked that a rescue act was on, she was run out. And with that receded India's chances of putting up a respectable total.
Purnima played an innings uncharacteristic of her and when it was essential for her to take the initiative and protect the tail-enders, she failed to do so. The innings revolved round her and she carried her bat through for a well-compiled 67 off 133 balls but it was not the best innings I have seen of her. India did not play out the stipulated 50 overs and crumbled in the 46th over with Purnima stranded without any partners.
With just 117 runs to defend, it was just a matter of time before the Kiwis overhauled the Indian score. And they did it in great fashion. The Indians were left with no option but to attack and they tried but to no avail. O'Leary and Drumm made the attack look ragged when they took just 26.5 overs to rattle up the required runs.
Jain tried various options to dislodge the partnership but couldn't succeed. Though the Indians lost, they have advanced to the third position, which is creditable by itself. It is time to look ahead and plan for the future - the next World Cup which is to be held in South Africa early 2005. And the preparation has to commence from now in right earnest.
There is a dire need to have a re-look into the domestic structure where there is not much of opposition to the top teams. The emphasis will have to be laid on fitness, which includes fielding and running between wickets, and better opposition for the top teams by making the Rani Jhansi Inter zonal tournament a five-team affair with all the cricketers playing for the five zones based on their place of domicile instead of playing for their institutions. But then this needs to be examined back home and not here. The Indian team may be disappointed, as most well wishers are, but if they have learnt something out of the mistakes and by watching the Aussies and the Kiwis, just that would mean a great deal for Indian cricket.