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The first of the cliff hangers in the CricInfo women's World Cup was very much in evidence today as India overcame stiff resistance from England to assure themselves of a semi-final berth. England, beaten earlier by South Africa, are virtually out of the semi-finals, as it seems highly unlikely that they can get the better of Australia and New Zealand. Be it as it may, England were definitely vanquished but not disgraced as they fought a hard battle against India.
It is India's batting that has always been a cause for concern. And today, when they were up against some better opposition, the openers failed to take off and the onus to play a sheet anchor's role fell on Chanderkanta Kaul, an under rated batswoman who is a gutsy player and plays her heart out for the team. With both Anju Jain and Anjum Chopra succumbing early to the medium pacers, it was left to Mithali Raj and Kaul to resurrect the Indian innings. From 6 for 2, they took the score to 51 before Raj departed, a victim to the slow left arm spin of English captain Clare Connor.
India was somewhat extricated from the dire straits of 109 for 7, by some excellent rearguard batting by Roopanjali Shastri (29 off 28 balls with two fours and two sixes) and Smitha Harikrishna (17) who added 46 runs for the unbroken eight-wicket partnership. This eventually proved to be the difference between the two teams - the ability of the lower order to get runs. The way Shastri approached the task on hand warrants her a promotion in the batting order, instead of the No.9 that she presently occupies.
The England team, which is in the process of rebuilding, looked a shadow of their team that played in the 1993 World Cup and earlier. However their performances in the 1997 and this year's World Cup must be a big disappointment for their supporters. They clearly look out of sorts and outplayed by the other four teams in the top five.
The 156 runs set as a target for England definitely appeared to be a defendable score given the potent Indian bowling and the improved fielding. The Indian fielding wilted under pressure on a few occasions but the overall fielding was excellent with the Indians latching on to some superb catches.
But Purnima Rau, the Indian off spinner, was completely off form today as she went for runs and Neetu David also did not get the breakthroughs that her team needed. However Shastri and Harikrishna, with figures of 3 for 25 and 2 for 18 played a big role, besides Deepa Kulkarni (2 for 29) in getting England all out with a run out to boot in the final over to get India a well deserved victory.
India is assured of a semi-final berth but a lot of homework needs to be done to ensure that India meets the right team in the semi-final. I for one think India deserve a berth in the final against Australia though I am aware a lot of New Zealand supporters will not like my assessment. I am confident India, if they play at their natural best, can overcome the New Zealand resistance in spite of the fact that home conditions are supposed to favour the home team.