On Sunday night at Melbourne, the biggest cricketing night of 2020 so far played out to a packed stadium. The Indian women’s cricket team, the only team to be unbeaten on their way to the final, went down to the hosts and favourites Australia in a one-sided final. Australia’s women won a stunning fifth World T20 title, cementing their place as one of the greatest sporting teams of this generation.
Here are five takeaways from India’s 85-run defeat:
1. The way openers Alyssa Healy and Player of the Series Beth Mooney began the Australian innings, pummeling the shell-shocked Indian bowlers into submission, triggered memories for many of the men’s 2003 World Cup Final. But the one-sided thrashing aside, the two games weren’t so identical. For starters, this Indian team had defeated the defending champions Australia in the first match of the group stages, unlike Ganguly’s men, who were beaten by nine wickets in the opening game by Australia. Secondly, Virender Sehwag provided a glimmer of hope with his innings in the final, as did the weather and the threat of the match being rained out. From the very first over of the Indian innings here, not one batswoman put up a fight – India looked doomed and hopeless the moment Shafali Verma was dismissed for two. The next 97 runs were painful to watch.
2. The final proved that the Australian women’s team is unarguably the greatest cricket team of the last decade across genders and formats. Meg Lanning’s women operate at another level compared to all the underdogs and erratic Indian or West Indian teams that display spurts of brilliance. England has come closest to challenging the Aussies, but much like their male counterparts in the decade that preceded the last one, the Australian team on their day is unbeatable. And their days come more often than not. They are not the current ODI World Cup champions, but it’s only a matter of time before they become seven-time ODI champions and six-time T20 champions.
3. India’s disappointing performance at Melbourne proved that their entire campaign was built on the efforts of only two in-form players. Shafali Verma and Poonam Yadav were the driving forces, but it was too much to expect them to maintain that level of consistency through the tournament. India had an easy pass to the final, after their semifinal clash against a formidable England was washed out. However this resulted in an eight-day break before the final, which may have interrupted their rhythm. The celebrated players in particular disappointed the most: Jemimah Rodrigues (85 runs), Smriti Mandhana (48 runs) and captain Harmanpreet Kaur (30 runs) failed to fire in all their five games. The middle order was non-existent, leaving young Verma and Yadav to do all the lifting. No team can win an entire World Cup with so many players out of form, and India suffered in the end, being exposed by the best team in the world on the only day that mattered. The only seamer in the side, Shikha Pandey, went for a whopping 52 runs in her 4 overs, condemning India to their fate very early on Sunday.
4. Despite the result and the quality of the final, Melbourne Cricket Ground’s record crowd of 86,174 is the highest-ever attendance for a women’s event in Australia. Widely considered the most path-breaking Women’s World Cup so far, the tournament changed the perception of women’s cricket for good, making it just as popular as the men’s game in a sport-obsessed nation. The support and noise were heartening to see, making this World Cup a big step in the direction of gender parity in sport.
5. The Indian senior teams’ (men and women) long and frustrating wait for a first ICC title since 2013 continues. Together, the teams have now lost four finals and four semifinals over the last six years. The U19 team has managed to win one World Cup title (2018), but even they lost the final to Bangladesh earlier this year in the 2020 edition. One way to look at it is that the Indian teams are good enough to reach the knockout stages consistently and dominantly over the years. Another way, however, is that India is cricket’s new South Africa, almost always falling on the big stage despite impressing throughout the tournament. Being a cricket tragedy is romantic, but it has started to get frustrating for a nation full of cricket lovers, who believe that both the men and women’s teams are better than the zero trophies in their cabinet. The c-word is not far away.