India’s impressive batting line-up made a collective statement of intent, not least their 20-year-old prodigy Smriti Mandhana, as England, the hosts, were overwhelmed by a display of power and finesse in the opening match of the Women’s World Cup at Derby.
After winning the toss and bowling first under overcast skies, England’s captain Heather Knight had anticipated an opportunity for her side to lay down a marker of their own as they embark on their first home World Cup campaign since 1993, and the first ICC event on home soil since their victory in the world T20 in 2009.
But they had reckoned with the silken skills of Mandhana, who capitalised on a nervy opening gambit from England’s bowlers, not least the veteran Katherine Brunt, to lead the charge with an innings of 90 from 72 balls.
Despite the insistence from India’s captain, Mithali Raj, that women’s cricketers should not be judged against their male counterparts, it does Mandhana no disservice to say there were shades of Sourav Ganguly in her strokeplay, particularly her powerful driving on the up and through the covers. She also swung hard through the line for two big sixes over long-on, as she and Punam Raut left England with no place to hide in an enterprising 144-run stand for the first wicket.
Raut was the sheet anchor as Mandhana went for her shots at the other end, seeing off a restrictive opening burst from Anya Shrubsole en route to an 86-ball fifty before lifting her tempo as her innings progressed. She benefited from a brace of drops from Tammy Beaumont at long-on and Shrubsole at midwicket, but was looking good for a century until she picked out Danielle Wyatt with a slog-sweep to deep midwicket in the 43rd over.
Mandhana, by this stage, had also perished, holing out to Danielle Hazell at midwicket as she climbed into a short ball from Knight and trooped off, proud but disconsolate for 90 from 72 balls. It was a stunning performance from a young player who is on the comeback from cruciate ligament tear sustained at the WBBL this winter. There were concerns of a relapse when she limped from the field midway through the England innings, but she later confirmed it had been a hamstring twinge, and she is confident of being ready for the rest of India’s tournament.
Her departure paved the way for the entrance of Raj, who in her 15th year of international cricket is in the midst of a golden vein of form. She charmed her way to a women’s record seventh consecutive ODI half-century before holing out for 71 from 73 balls from the final delivery of the innings. Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s aggressive allrounder, showed glimpses of her strength with a big six over midwicket off Hazell, and finished unbeaten on 24 from 22.
In reply, England opened with a notable returnee, as Sarah Taylor stepped in for the absent Lauren Winfield in her first full international appearance for more than a year. It was an achievement in itself to complete her comeback after her much-publicised battle with anxiety, but she found India’s bowlers hard to dominate in a 31-ball 22, which ended with a mistimed slap to mid-on.
Beaumont was dropped off a top-edged sweep early in her innings but failed to capitalise as Mandhana clung on to a sharp edge to slip for 14, whereupon England’s middle-order was becalmed by India’s slow bowlers, who dropped the ball on a good length and gave the batsman nothing to work with. England relied on a diet of sweeps to keep the score moving before Knight stepped up the pace with a pair of sweetly struck sixes down the ground. But, after Nat Sciver had been caught down the leg side via the first DRS review of the tournament, Knight fell victim to a sharp pick-up-and-throw from Kaur, to be run out for 46.
At 134 for 4, England seemed in peril, although Fran Wilson wasn’t done yet. Her hard-hitting 81 from 75 balls gave her side genuine hope going into the final eight overs. But a spate of run-outs – three in four overs, including Wilson herself and the dangerous Brunt – wrecked their fightback. Victory was duly sealed with 15 balls to spare, as Shrubsole slogged to deep midwicket, moments after a defiant six had been caught in the stands by the father of her team-mate, Jenny Gunn. For India, it was their 18th victory in their last 19 matches, and a very impressive show of force at the outset of the tournament.