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Feature

Cricket matches Bollywood's glitz and glamour on opening night of WPL 2024

A last-ball six for a WPL debutant to win a thriller for Mumbai Indians followed a star-studded opening ceremony headlined by superstar Shah Rukh Khan

Ashish Pant
24-Feb-2024
An uncapped Indian batter walks out with her team needing five off the last ball. She's just watched her captain fall, and is going to face a bowler high on confidence after taking two wickets in the first five deliveries of the final over. The odds are stacked against her. She sees the ball looped up a touch, takes two steps down the pitch, swings with all she's got, and bam: the ball flies towards wide long-on where the fielder thinks she has a chance, moving to her right and leaping, but the connection is clean. A last-ball six to seal a dramatic victory on the opening night of the season.
Sounds rather Bollywood, doesn't it? The opening game of WPL 2024 sure felt like a box-office blockbuster. A night that began with the movie industry's leading men shaking a leg at the opening ceremony ended in a thrilling climax, with 29-year-old allrounder S Sajana lofting Alice Capsey over the wide long-on boundary to clinch a four-wicket win for Mumbai Indians over Delhi Capitals.
As the WPL made its debut in Bengaluru, the fans flocked to the Chinnaswamy Stadium in numbers. Most of the stands open to the public were packed. They screamed their lungs out and danced to the fullest during the song and dance, but also watched the cricket with equal enthusiasm. The glitzy opening ceremony headlined by Shah Rukh Khan was a draw but the quality of cricket ensured they stayed through the game to witness a finish for the ages.
Last season's finalists went at each other like boxers, trying to assert dominance and take a grip on the game. They both had their moments but a punch was quickly followed by a counter-punch. Mumbai struck the first blow through South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail, who clocked 128.3 kph on the speed gun while also taking out Shafali Verma.
Then came the Capitals' recovery and surge, led by 19-year-old Capsey. She struck her England team-mate Nat Sciver-Brunt for two fours off her first three balls to say: what's the fuss?
Capsey is a sucker for ice cream. She also loves Prue Pizza. And hitting boundaries. She struck 11 of them on opening night - eight fours and three sixes - during her 75 from 53 balls to give Capitals a rush after a slow start. It wasn't the easiest pitch to bat on. Capitals head coach Jonathan Batty said the covers on the surface during the opening ceremony had made a difference: "It sweated a little bit and gave the Mumbai opening bowlers assistance".
Once Capsey got going, she ensured the Capitals' innings did not stall, adding 64 with her captain Meg Lanning for the second wicket and 74 off 40 balls with Jemimah Rodrigues. The run rate jumped from 4.33 after the powerplay, to 6.50 after ten overs, and 7.93 after 16. Marizanne Kapp's cameo helped them finish on 171 for 5. Advantage Capitals.
Mumbai had a perfect record in chases last season - five wins out of five. But now they were faced with pulling off their highest chase in the WPL, and they lost West Indian star batter Hayley Matthews second ball. Sciver-Brunt, their rock at No. 3, also fell not long after.
Yastika Bhatia threw the counterpunch to begin Mumbai's recovery. More accumulator than aggressor, Bhatia started sedately, but laid into Annabel Sutherland and Shikha Pandey to race to 30 off 18 balls before raising her maiden WPL fifty off 35 deliveries. While she couldn't carry on much longer, Bhatia had picked Mumbai up off the mat.
"When I went to bat today, I had the freedom. The MI management has given me the freedom to express my shots, and hit the through-the-line shots", Bhatia said after the game. "I just wanted that we have a good powerplay and play according to the situation."
At the other end was the Mumbai captain Harmanpreet Kaur, who was coming into the WPL with five single-digit scores in her last five white-ball innings. So she decided to change the narrative.
Harmanpreet began with a fluent cover drive but took charge only after Bhatia was dismissed. With the asking rate hovering around 10.66, Harmanpreet struck Sutherland for back-to-back fours in the 15th over, but saved her best for last. She hit only one six in her innings off 55 from 34 deliveries, and it came at a crucial time: bringing the equation down to 12 off six balls.
Mumbai seemed poised to land the knockout blow but Lanning had one more move to make. She gave the final over to Capsey, despite the offspinner going for ten runs in her first over. This had start as her night and so it continued, with Pooja Vastrakar and Harmanpreet falling off the first five balls. Celebration time for Capitals, right?
But in strode "the Kieron Pollard of the Mumbai team", and Sajana proved the comparison was not unfounded with a match-winning six off the first ball she faced in the WPL.
"She has been smacking sixes throughout the practice sessions. She showed what she had. Because of Sajana, I am standing here [as Player of the Match]," a beaming Harmanpreet said after the match.
As far as opening games go, the contest was breathtaking. It had begun with a dash of Bollywood, and ended with cricket fittingly making the headlines.

Ashish Pant is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo