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Match Analysis

Rana and Vastrakar provide timely answer for India's search for allrounders

Though bowling is their primary skill, their batting has come as something of a godsend for India

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana put on a record stand for the seventh wicket  •  AFP/Getty Images

Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana put on a record stand for the seventh wicket  •  AFP/Getty Images

Before last year, Sneh Rana and Pooja Vastrakar had spent extended periods away from the national team. Rana was out of the reckoning for over five years because of injury and inconsistent form and Vastrakar, who debuted in 2018 and had a fifty against Australia from that year, wrestled with intermittent injuries.
But 2021 proved a pivotal year for both and India. Three-sixty-four days went by without India playing any international cricket after the T20 World Cup final in March 2020. And after they returned to the international arena, almost exactly a year ago, four straight defeats in as many bilateral ODI series followed. The results meant India appeared underprepared for the 2022 50-over World Cup.
Most of their senior players, notably captain Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, and head coach Ramesh Powar, however, maintained the four defeats had battle-hardened them. Most of all, the losses to South Africa at home and England, Australia, and New Zealand away, they said, had helped scout and identify key personnel for the 2022 World Cup.
Rana, for example, emerged as the "find of the England series" with an epic rearguard 80 not out at No. 7 in the one-off Test. Vastrakar, meanwhile, kept chipping in with lower-order cameos across the three overseas tours and formats, most memorably in Australia, where Rana, too, had handy contributions. Though bowling is their primary skill, their ability to shoulder batting responsibilities, in overseas conditions, against top-drawer opponents, came as something of a godsend for India, in the nick of time.
On a broader level, except Deepti Sharma, India had no frontline allrounders or bowlers who could be tasked with scoring quick runs below Nos. 6-7 in times of need, on a consistent basis. This heightened the want of balance in India's ODI side even as their middle order remained fraught with inconsistency. Their No. 3 kept changing hands, and the search for a long-term opening partner to Smriti Mandhana became an exercise in futility for the best part of the 2017-22 World Cup cycle.
Pretty much all of these problems India had long battled, and painstakingly sought to find solutions to, since their implosion in the 2017 World Cup final chase, reared their head in their 2022 ODI World Cup opener against Pakistan in Mount Maunganui. Backing themselves to set a target, they slumped to 114 for 6 with nearly 17 overs still to go. That opener Mandhana had made 52 or added a 92-run second-wicket stand with Deepti mattered little at the time, with Pakistan's spinners on the attack.
Vastrakar and Rana made the difference, though. Both between a sub-200 total and India's eventual score of 244 for 7, and an undefeated streak against Pakistan in ODI World Cups and a campaign-threatening loss. On World Cup debut, the pair resuscitated India's innings with a 122-run seventh-wicket stand, a Women's ODI World Cup record. They struck at over 110 each, when the next best strike rate of an Indian batter with 10 or more runs was about 71.
"When I walked in, Charu di (Rana) was set and she told me that only the two of us were left to make amends, so we must play out the full 50 overs," said Vastrakar, the Player of the Match. "I had a feeling from within that we must try to set 180-200 as a target, so we started playing with that goal in mind.
"But we were aware that if we could get ourselves set, we could score more … Given we had very few wickets in hand, we decided we would deal in only doubles and singles till the 45th-over mark, and we'd go for the charge only in the last five overs."
Sixty-nine of the pair's 122 runs came in singles, twos and threes, reasonably more than the 48 combined runs they scored in boundaries - all fours. The incessant running meant Vastrakar even sustained calf cramps during the partnership and didn't return to the field for Pakistan's chase as a precautionary measure.
"The pitch was slow, so we decided we would focus on strike rotation," Rana said. "We told each other that knowing we are good strike-rotators, we'll keep the scoreboard ticking and take the innings deep. Congratulations to her for [winning] the Woman of the Match [honours]."
Rana later struck with the ball, too, taking out Omaima Sohail in her first over and then No. 9 Nashra Sandhu. Her two strikes helped India skittle Pakistan for 137 inside 43 overs.
"It was an emotional moment for me to represent India in a World Cup match after playing for so many years," Rana said about her outing. "Finally, the moment came. To come up with the goods when your team needs you, the value of your performance goes up, so I am feeling very proud today."
Though Pakistan are among their less-fancied opponents in this World Cup, India will take heart from the jailbreak Rana and Vastrakar orchestrated on Sunday, for question marks over the reliability of some of their frontline batters, or the choice of them, remain.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha