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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Cool India survive the grit of the Irish

This could so easily have been a game to forget; India virtually assured of a semi-final berth, Ireland consigned to the depths of the points table. Instead it would be a candidate for best match of the CricInfo Women's World Cup.

The bare facts were that India batted first at Hagley Oval, set Ireland a target of 200 runs and won the match by 30. But bare facts hide the pleasures of a fine contest by two committed teams.

That the match turned out a classic was probably destined by events in the first six overs. Miriam Grearley won the toss for the fifth time in succession. She put India in and the luck - and the true grit - of the Irish went into overdrive.

Three wickets for four runs, the first a beautiful ball from Ireland seamer Barbara McDonald to beat the defences of the Indian captain, Anju Jain, in the opening over without any runs on the board.

What a shock for India. And it brought out the best in them. Anjum Chopra and Hemlata Kala dealt with the first priority of surviving against a fired-up Ireland team and then accumulated, taking the score through to 96 in the 32nd over. It took magic to break the partnership. Kala, on 40, swept hard, only to find the outstretched hand of a leaping Isobel Joyce at backward square leg, from where she had already been an impenetrable barrier to the Indians trying to score off their legs.

Chopra, with an innings perfect for the state of the game, went on to 70 before being the sixth wicket at 157. Rupanjali Shastri (23) and Smitha Harikrishna (34) were the other major contributors as the bottom order batted India apparently out of danger.

But if they thought the 199 they ended on would be daunting for the Irish, the fielding effort of the women who wore the green shamrocks so proudly today should have given due warning. Just the sight of a crippled McDonald completing the second to last over as smooth as you like after using her leg to field a full-blooded drive off her own bowling was a sure sign that the Irish would not give up.

And they never did. Off a better-than-three-an-over opening partnership between Cliodhna Sharp (19) and Anne Linehan (20), the Ireland top order saw the team through to 89 for three at the 30th over, just one run short of India at the same stage. But by then the Indian spinners Neetu David and Purnima Rao had tightened the screws on the Ireland batsmen.

However, it took a brilliant diving catch by Deepa Kulkarni to remove Miriam Grearley for 16 just when the Ireland captain looked ready to cut loose to stop the Irish progress. And when Caitriona Beggs went two runs later for 25 with the score at 99 for five it looked all over for Ireland.

Nobody told the Irish. They fought for every run just as the Indian bowlers and field fought to deny them. Through the inspired running of Nikki Squire (19) backed by Saibh Young (16) and Sandra Dawson (10), the score frenetically climbed to 157 for nine in the 45th. Even then, with the cause supposedly lost, there was the sight of a hobbling McDonald coming to the crease with Squire as runner. A further 12 runs were added before the Irish had to concede.

The Indian bowlers bowled and fielded as though their lives depended on it, producing a fine all-round team effort with the fielding of Kulkarni a highlight.

Said an obviously proud Ireland coach, John Wills: "That was one of the best performances ever by an Irish team. A little bit more experience in the running and it would have been close.

"I'm pleased for the girls. They brought onto the pitch what they had learned in practice.

"The Indians bowled very well. There was a little ebb and flow all the way. I thought the brilliant catch that removed Miriam Grearley was the turning point.

"I'm sad and pleased. It was nearly a glory day. Fantastic stuff."

The Indian cricket manager, Sudha Shah, was more subdued.

"We made it very difficult for ourselves with the loss of the early wickets."

She said however that the side had batted themselves out of trouble well. And they had produced some great catching.

But those early wickets had certainly made a game of it.