The beat of the drums reached a frenzied crescendo as the Indian Captain Harmanpreet Kaur trotted in to bowl the last ball of the 2018 Asia Cup Women’s Cricket Finals. Jahanara Alam, who an hour and a half earlier had distinguished herself with the ball for Bangladesh waited, watching the trajectory of the ball. For a telling second, time stood still, as a hushed set of supporters at the quaint Kinrara Oval Stadium in Selangor, Malaysia held their collective breaths. Alam swung hard at the delivery to leg and hared down the track like her entire existence depended upon it. By the time Deepti Sharma swooped down on the ball and hurled it back to her wicket keeper, the batsmen (I deplore the usage of the terms ‘batswomen’ and ‘batter’), had completed a brace. Pandemonium enveloped the ground as the entire Bangladeshi team rushed along with their horde of supporters towards the middle of the pitch. The seven time Asia Cup finalists and six time champions were upset by an irreverent set of upstarts who had clinched their maiden Championship victory.
On a blistering Malaysian afternoon, under clear blue skies punctuated by a few wistful tendrils of clouds, the women from India and Bangladesh took the field in what would ultimately turn out to be a humdinger of an Asia Cup Final played in the T20 Format. Although the Indian women were the firm favourites to grab the trophy (yet again) they must have been wary of their opposition. Bangladesh was the fairy tale story of the tournament beating India convincingly in the group stages before merrily continuing to scalp teams on their way to the final. The initial few overs denoted the harbinger of things to come as the left arm spin of Nahida Akter and the controlled off spin of Salma Khatun kept things on a tight leash. Strangulated from scoring, India blinked first to the mounting pressure when in the fourth over, the in-form southpaw Smriti Mandana was run out trying to grab a third run, courtesy a direct hit from Akter. Bangladesh kept up the relentless pressure until the power play as an uncomfortable Mithali Raj and a laborious Deepti trudged along in pedestrian fashion. India’s prospects of putting up a challenging total then faltered when wickets tumbled in a heap. Medium pacer Jahanara Alam first castled Deepti (4 runs off 11 balls), while off spinner Khadija Tul Kubra ended Raj’s agony by inducing a soft spooning catch. Raj was dismissed for a painful 11 accumulated off 18 deliveries. Anuja Payil soon created history by becoming the first woman in T20 cricket to be given out obstructing the field. With the scoreboard reading a miserable 37/4 in 9 overs, the Bangladeshi supporters gave full vent to their voice and vigour. Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy then stabilized things by putting on a partnership of 30 runs. However, an ill-conceived sweep (or an attempted one) by Krishnamurthy saw her losing her wicket to leg spinner Rumana. The leg spinner’s promising spell turned devastating when in the 15th over, she proceeded to conjure a double jeopardy for India by scalping both Taniya Bhatiya and Shikha Pandey for measly scores.
Meanwhile Harmanpreet continued in her customary vein timing the ball superbly well and picking the gaps. Finding an able ally in Jhulan Goswami, she proceeded to chalk up her best ever T20 score of 52 before falling to the final delivery of the innings attempting a massive slog. India finished their innings at 112/9 and the feeling was that the total was short by at least 15-20 runs even considering the slow nature of the wickets at Kinrara that aided and abetted spin.
The Bangladeshi innings began in an eventful fashion when in the second over Shikha Pandey left the field due to injury not before conceding two cleanly struck boundaries. Ekta Bisht and Deepti Sharma however kept the batsmen honest with some tight display of spin bowling. In the final over of the power play Shamima Sultana, capitalized on some loose bowling by Anuja Patil racking up two well hit boundaries. Bangladesh at the close of the power play were ticking along sedately at 33/0 and India desperately clamored for a wicket, or two. Enter Poonam Yadav. In a spectacular display of leg-spin bowling, Pandey first dislodged Ayasha Rahman getting her caught by Jhulan Goswami before sending the equally well set Shamima Sultan back to the hutch off the very next delivery. Bangladesh 35/2. Fargana Hoque and Nigar Sultana then proceeded to steady the ship by rotating the strike and keeping the scoreboards ticking. A nudge here, a push there and an occasional boundary off a bad ball ensured that Bangladesh were never left far behind the required run rate. Just when things seemed to be stabilisng for Bangladesh, the wrecker-in-chief Poonam Yadav again set the cat amongst the pigeons by getting Fargan caught behind in the 12th over. At the end of the 14th over, Bangladesh still required 47 runs from 36 balls. The atmosphere was taking a tense hue as nerves grew taut and emotions raw. The ubiquitous cries of “Jeetega Bhai Jeetega India Jeetega” reverberated across the stadium fervently matched by roars of “Bangladesh”.
The 15th over of the innings turned out to be the most fateful and game changing over for both the sides. The normally reliable Jhulan Goswami, in a rare display of poor bowling leaked 14 runs off her second over with Nigar Sultana dispatching the most decorated Indian bowler for three significant boundaries. The writing was on the wall for the champions. Poonam Yadav made one last ditch brave effort in her final over by dislodging the dangerous Nigar Sultana for a well-made 27. When the dust finally settled, Yadav had notched up her career best figures of 4-9, an incredulous achievement that bore monument to a low scoring cliffhanger. Three more wickets tumbled in quick succession but not before Bangaldesh had reduced their target to just 9 runs off the final over.
Unfortunately for the hundreds of Indians assembled at the Kinrara and fortuitously for their Bangladeshi counterparts, Harmanpreet could not repeat her mesmerizing 2016 Asia Cup miracle with the ball as Jahanara Alam took Bangladesh to an improbable, albeit deserving victory. While the Indian bowlers distinguished themselves gallantly and admirably well, they were let down by their batsmen who failed to push the scoring rate when it was most required and needed. The Bangladeshi women bowled exceptionally well and fielded like fiends throwing themselves at the ball and stopping vital runs. When push came to shove and when the rubber hit the road, their batsmen maintained appreciable calm and adroit composure.
We came with our drums, we yelled our voices hoarse, danced, jumped and swayed till our clavicles hurt. We came to see the indomitable lasses of Harmanpreet Kaur. We came to see India’s daughters in Blue. They played neither for the strobe lights not for starry eyed fame. They played the game just for what it is, the greatest spectacle on the Planet. In the process they came second best, but without denting their dignity one meagre bit. Pride may have taken a beating, but the passion will never diminish. There will come yet another Asia Cup and again we will come with our drums; we will yell our voices hoarse and we will jump and prance around like mad men. We will wave, hoist and clasp the tricolor like there is no tomorrow.
Yes we will come again to see our own brave hearts give it everything. The immortal Neville Cardus once said, “we remember not the scores and the results in after years; it is the men who remain in our minds, in our imagination”. We agree with you Mr. Cardus, but we will equally remember our women too!
THANK YOU HARMANPREET! THANK YOU INDIA!