Experienced Mithali Raj single-handedly guided India’s batting against Pakistan in the final of Asian Cricket Council Women’s T-20 Asia Cup at Bangkok on Sunday. On Saturday, Pakistan had ensured their entry into the final by thrashing hosts Thailand by 5 wickets and matched India very well in the final. But Mithali came in their way and foiled any winning ambitions they might have had on Sunday. It wasn’t exactly a cake-walk for India as Pak bowlers kept Indians on a tight lease and made scoring difficult. But Mithali’s defiance and Jhulan Goswami’s 10-ball 17 run innings-ending cameo came handy for India. 121/5 in the end provided India’s bowlers enough cushion to restrict Pakistani batsmen to 104/6. India thus recorded a 17-run win to lift the Asia Cup for sixth consecutive time since 2004. This was also India’s second straight championship victory in the new T-20 format after they won 2012’s first edition in China.
Mithali Raj proved once again why she is regarded as India’s premier batsman for the last so many years. She has stopped leading India in T-20 format but continues to be the national captain in Tests and ODIs. After India’s fine run in ACC women’s T-20 Asia Cup last week, they were expected to beat their opponents with ease. But Pakistani bowlers didn’t allow Indian batting to flourish. India won the toss and chose to bat. While Mithali Raj held one end, Pak bowlers restricted the other opener Smriti Mandhana from scoring freely. A bogged down Smriti finally lost her wicket in the 5th over with her labored 6 runs taking 14 balls. One-drop batsman Sabbhineni Meghana was similarly restricted and couldn’t tackle Pakistani bowlers. Regardless, Mithali was doing her job at the other end. The only thing Smriti and Meghana could do was to provide support to Mithali. After Meghana left in 12th over for a measly 9 off 16 balls, Veda Krishnamurthy and captain Harmanpreet also lost their wickets cheaply and India’s score stood at 89/4 in 17th over. At that stage, 59 runs had already come from Mithali’s bat and she still looked good for many more. But loss of partners, all of whom could only muster single-digit scores, didn’t bode well of India. However, Mithali found next batsman Jhulan Goswami as an ideal foil. As Mithali continued to pile up runs at one end, the tall Jhulan swung her bat and scored 2 sixes. The two women added an invaluable 31 runs for the fifth wicket before Jhulan holed out on the fifth ball of 20th over and India finished at 121/5. If Jhulan’s 17 and 9 extra runs are disregarded, India’s total could only have been 95. Since that included Mithali’s 73 not out, it tells you about Mithali’s role. If she had not performed the way she did, India could have been pushed to a very pathetic total. Mithali’s 7 fours and Jhulan’s 2 sixes were the only boundary-crossing shots in the entire Indian innings.
Pakistan came on to chase 122 required for victory and began briskly. The way openers Ayesha Zafar and Javeria Khan batted in first 4 overs, Pakistan looked like having an upper hand. Ayesha had slammed 3 fours in her 15 off 14 balls before a Jhulan Goswami express delivery sneaked past her swinging bat and clattered the stumps. One-drop batsman Asmavia Iqbal dragged Shikha Pandey’s ball on to her stumps and Javeria fell to a catch in the cover region off the bowling of Ekta Bisht. That opened the flood-gates but skipper Bismah Maroof played an anchor role at one end though her colleagues kept losing wickets on the other. After making a 26-ball top-score of 25, Bismah too got out to leave Pakistan at 75/4 in 14th over. Bismah’s fall took the breath out of Pakistan batting even as Indian bowlers tightened their noose. The sixth-wicket pair of Nada Mir and Sana Mir made a last-ditch attempt to lift Pakistan out of the woods but couldn’t succeed. Together, they added 23 runs, but Pakistan still fell short in the end. India thus claimed their sixth consecutive Asia Cup title with a 17-run victory over Pakistan on Sunday.
Very aptly Mithali Raj bagged the two awards of player-of-the-match and player-of-the series. She performed admirably through the league phase and her batting in the final was singularly responsible for India’s final score of 121/5. That gave enough space to Indian bowlers, when Pakistan came on to bat. Mithali has played in every Asia Cup since 2004 and her role in India’s victorious performance has been laudable.
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