'Simple mindset' powers Deepti Sharma's explosive knock against Australia
The allrounder struck an unbeaten 36 off 15 balls to give India a strong finish in Navi Mumbai
Australia had applied the squeeze successfully. From a high-flying 45 for 1 in four overs, they had brought India to 76 for 4 in the 12th over. India had tried to claw back, with Devika Vaidya and Richa Ghosh putting on 56, but Australia kept them largely under control.
At 132 for 5 with three overs to go, India were in danger of not crossing even 150. A packed crowd at the DY Patil Sports Academy in Navi Mumbai had lost their voice. A joyous, festive atmosphere had turned grim. Which is when Deepti Sharma walked in.
In T20Is since January 2021, Deepti has done almost everything. She has batted at all positions from No. 3 to No. 8, she has bowled in all phases, she's an excellent fielder, and, of course, she performed one widely debated act. Her 28 wickets in T20Is since the start of last year are the most by a bowler from a Full Member nation. Only five players from Full-Member teams average more with the bat than Deepti's 38.88 among those with at least 300 runs in the format.
On Friday, she revived India's hopes with a thrilling finisher's knock. She got going with a pull off Annabel Sutherland that beat deep backward square leg, and then a cut through point a couple of balls later. She also picked up two fours in the next over off Ashleigh Gardner. But Deepti meted out special treatment to Megan Schutt, carting her for four successive fours in the final over. She finished with 36 off 15 balls and helped India amass 40 in the last three overs and get to an unlikely 172 for 5.
"Before the Commonwealth Games and also before this series I worked on my batting," Deepti said after the match. "Those practice sessions worked for me. My mindset is quite simple. I generally walk in when there are very little balls left. So my aim is to always score maximum runs in those deliveries, which is what I did."
But for a Beth Mooney masterclass - aided by some poor fielding and catching from India - the total could have sufficed for India. Radha Yadav first put down Mooney in the third over before shelling Tahlia McGrath in the tenth. Dew also perhaps contributed to the misfields. Mooney and McGrath added an unbroken 100 to see Australia through to a nine-wicket win and go 1-0 up.
Deepti admitted that India's fielding and bowling had let them down even though they began well.
"The total was good but we could have fielded better," she said. "We bowled loose balls also. There was dew after seven-eight overs but no excuses. We tried slower ones, variations, and talked about focusing on our stock balls. We wanted to continue doing what we did over the past few months."
Over 25,000 turned up to watch the first T20I in Navi Mumbai, though the exact number was not available as the match was not ticketed. The teams play at the same venue on Sunday before moving to the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai for the last three contests.
"I thought this is the first time there was this much crowd [for a women's cricket match in India]," she said. "It was hard to hear one another in the middle. It feels good to see them though and I hope more people turn up.
"I enjoy playing under floodlights. I enjoy it because we don't get many games under floodlights as most domestic games are in daytime."
Deepti also had words of praise for debutant Anjali Sarvani, who became the first left-arm seamer to play a women's T20I for India. Although she didn't pick up a wicket, Sarvani finished with respectable figures of none for 27 in her four overs.
"I have played her in domestic cricket - I played the [Senior Women's T20 Trophy] final for Bengal against Railways," she said. "She [bowls] a good inswinger with pace. Very few bowlers beat right-handers with inswingers. It was her debut [today] but it didn't seem like that. She was very confident to bowl in any situation and everyone backed her."
S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo