Mithali Raj Bowlers Star As India Clinch Sixth Straight Asia Cup Title
Every run was cheered for, every boundary hooted and every wicket sparked a near frenzy as India Women went on to clinch the 2016 ACC Women's Asia Cup T20 title with a convincing 17-run victory over Pakistan at the Asian Institute of Technology Cricket Ground on the outskirts of Bangkok on Sunday (December 4).
Indian fans outnumbered those of Pakistan but the intensity on the either side never died down even as clouds scattered off and temperatures soared with every passing ball of the game. On the field, the familiar hands of Mithali Raj propelled India to a commanding score of 121 for 5, which the bowlers defended with consummate ease as the Harmanpreet Kaur-led team claimed their sixth straight Asia Cup title in style.
Raj was the pivot around which India's batting revolved yet another time in the tournament. The former captain's pristine run of form continued as she slammed her career-best 73 not out - her second fifty in this Asia Cup - to lead India's charge and help them post a challenging total.
Asmavia Iqbal proved expensive. She began the proceedings with a 10-run over including five wides and was taken off the attack immediately afterwards. Bismah Mahroof, in fact, rung in the changes from the other end but none with reasonable success. Anam Amin, who came into the attack as early as in the third over, drew first blood by taking out off-colour Smriti Mandhana cheaply in the fifth over.
A couple of quite overs followed the early wicket but Raj launched a counterattack to optimise the loose offerings from Asmavia. A boundary on either side of the strip and a total of 11 off her third over saw Asmavia taken off the attack for good. Next at the receiving end was offspinner Nida Rashid Dar, who Raj pulled for a boundary off a head-high no-ball before lofting the free-hit straight over the bowler's head.
After this brief spell of madness, Pakistan fought their way back into the game with the wickets of Meghana Sabbineni and the in-form Veda Krishnamurthy. Meghana, who had been a silent spectator in her 44-run stand with Raj, was late on responding to her partner's call for a single that cost her dear. Javeria Khan, fielding at deep square leg, capitalised on the opportunity by identifying the right end and catching the No. 3 bat short of her crease. Raj raised her fifty with a push to long-off but Krishnamurthy's exit with the final ball of the succeeding over pegged India back.
Even as wickets continued to tumble at the other end, Raj's concentration never wavered. The former captain took matters into her own hands and pushed the accelerator. Sana Mir, who had kept a check on India from one end in the powerplay, was welcomed back into the attack with a nine-run over - the first of the five big ones that saw the defending champions adding 42 to their total at the death.
Anam tried to slow India down by cleaning up Harmanpreet Kaur with a peach of a delivery but all-rounder Jhulan Goswami (17) combined with her senior teammate for a quickfire 31-run partnership that set India on course for the winning total. Making full use of her tall built, Goswami slammed Nida over the deep-midwicket fence to bring up India's 100 in the 18th over. Her 10-ball cameo saw another demoralising six - Mir at the receiving end this time - before Goswami fell off the penultimate ball of India's innings.
Pakistan's reply was a wicket fest barring a brief spell in the first half of their chase. The batters failed to build partnerships, which they had done beautifully in the lead up to make it to their second straight Asia Cup final. Skipper Bismah (25) and her deputy Javeria (22) offered some resistance but once the duo were back in the hut, the pressure of a mounting asking rate got the better of Pakistan's lower order.
Ekta Bisht returned the favour by starting off with a 10-run over before being replaced in the attack by Goswami. The senior pacer produced the first breakthrough by cleaning up Ayesha Zafar, who had done the bulk of damage thus far. The pacer also became the first Indian women to take 50 wickets in T20Is. Shikha Pandey capped off an improved powerplay performance by the Indian bowlers as she sent Asmavia packing without contributing any substantial score to the tall chase.
Javeria survived a run out scare when on 12 but didn't make much of a difference to the chase. Just as it seemed the captain and vice-captain duo was putting Pakistan back on course, Bisht returned from the other end to put an end to the 28-run third-wicket partnership. The Pakistan opener swept the left-arm spinner only to see the ball flying straight to Harmanpreet at cover.
Spin attack from both ends pegged Pakistan back but Mahroof kept the scoreboard ticking to take her side to 56 for 3 at the halfway mark. Anuja Patil, who had led India's comeback with some tight bowling, capped off her brilliant spell with the prized scalp of the Pakistan skipper who popped a leading edge back to the bowler for a comfortable catch.
With 45 required off the final six overs, it was up to seniors Nain Abidi and Sana Mir to provide the impetus. Abidi, who survived a stumping chance in the 13th over when on 3, was out dismissed in similar fashion in Preeti Bose's succeeding over. Bisht had Iram Javed stumped in the following over to put India firmly on top.
By the time Mir walked in - with her team needing another 40 off the final four - Pakistan were already starring down the barrel. Despite Bisht and Goswmai going for seven each in their respective final overs of the day, Pakistan had an improbable 25 to get off the final over and the result was a foregone conclusion.
Brief scores: India Women 121/5 in 20 overs (Mithali Raj 73*; Anam Amin 2-24) beat Pakistan Women 104/6 in 20 overs (Bismah Maroof 25; Ekta Bisht 2-22) by 17 runs.