Proteas women flatten India in vital clash

Lizelle Lee’s 50th One-Day International six went straight past Deepti Sharma’s head. The thumping sound as the ball hit the scaffolding beside the sightscreen on the Bennett End at Grace Road in Leicester was a perfect metaphor of the game. Her boisterous 92 off just 65 balls set the tone for South Africa’s 115-run win over India in its 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup game on Saturday.

The other South Africa batsmen played around Lee and Dane van Niekerk, who made 57 from No. 6, to stretch the total to 273 for 9 after being asked to bat first on a placid pitch. Once van Niekerk bowled Mithali Raj for the first golden duck of her career and trapped Harmanpreet Kaur in front of the wicket – both with straight balls – in the 13th over, India’s chase was effectively over.

Deepti Sharma (60), who made her second consecutive World Cup 50, and Jhulan Goswami (43 not out) offered resistance with a 53-run stand before India was dismissed for 158 in 46 overs.

Shikha Pandey, returning in place of Mansi Joshi, began the proceedings bowling Laura Wolvaardt with a full inswinger in the second over. She also gave away two fours – one off a waist-high full toss – and a six the sixth over, to open the floodgates.

Lee is so powerful that anything pitched up was easily lofted over the in-field, and anything short was hit to the square boundary with brute force. She made it difficult for India to bowl to a plan, and by the time Ekta Bisht deceived Trisha Chetty in the air to have her caught at mid-off, the second-wicket stand was worth 91 runs in 87 balls.

Lee’s imposing presence forced Raj to exhaust all her bowling options by the 21st over. It was her last throw of the dice that finally worked. Harmanpreet Kaur, coming from round the wicket in her first over, got Lee to play across the line.

Lee’s departure brought the Indian supporters in a crowd of 1,442 to life, and the spinners brought the run-rate down, led by Poonam Yadav’s figures of 10-1-31-1. South Africa, though, was so ahead in the game that a few easy boundaries every now and then kept releasing the pressure.

Mignon du Preez added 26 with Marizanne Kapp before stepping out to flick a stock delivery from Yadav. Her stumping and Kaur uprooting Kapp’s stumps in a space of ten balls hardly dented South Africa’s approach. Van Niekerk and Sune Luus added 41 runs before Luus was out off the last ball of the bowling Power Play after India conceded just 14 runs in that phase.

Van Niekerk and Chloe Tryon hit Bisht for three sixes in the 46th over to make up for the high percentage of dot balls. South Africa scored 71 in the first Power Play, and then 70 in the last 10 to nullify India’s spin quartet. Bisht’s off day meant that India was always a bowler short despite Pandey bowling with control in her third spell to finish with 3 for 40 in nine overs.

While some bowling changes worked for India, it was one of those days where South Africa had answers for all questions. Maybe India could have bowled a fewer short and overpitched balls. Also, India’s fielding was much improved barring a few misses. Most crucial of them was Sushma Verma dropping Kapp on just one, and Goswami failing to collect the throw from mid-off at the bowling end when van Niekerk was on 39 in the 44th over.

India needed Smriti Mandhana to click to counter Shabnim Ismail and Marizanne Kapp, one of the best new-ball pairs in women's cricket. She started with a backfoot punch to the cover-point fence off Kapp in the second over, but pulled the second ball straight to Ismail at deep square-leg.

Poonam Raut and Deepti, both grafters, played 41 dot balls in the first 10 overs. It could have been made up had India had a hitter in its ranks, but the current line-up doesn't have someone as strong as Lee.

South Africa always knew that India would attack Ayabonga Khaka and Moseline Daniels, which meant a chance for a wicket. Raut stepped out to hit a cross-batted shot against Khaka in the 12th over only to be bowled.

Raj kept aside Rumi’s book, and walked out with a helmet on – quite unusual as she has been wearing hats while batting in recent past – and returned within a space of two balls after playing for turn – still 34 short of becoming the highest run-getter in ODIs, and 41 away from 6,000 runs. It was her fifth duck, and the first golden duck in 163 innings.

When van Niekerk dismissed Kaur, India lost three wickets for one run in a space of five balls, and her figures at the venue, including 4 for 0 against Windies, stunningly read: 7 for 5 off 5.5 overs.

After India became 65 for 7, Deepti and Goswami, egged by the fans dancing to the tunes of ‘Jai Ho’ and singing ‘Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Chodenge’, batted for 112 balls. Van Niekerk returned to dismiss Deepti and finish with 4 for 22, leaving many to wonder why she doesn't bowl her full quota of overs more regularly.