Indian Eves take a groupfie after thrashing New Zealand © Getty Images
Indian Eves take a groupfie after thrashing New Zealand © Getty Images

Cricket journalism, like all professions, comes with its pluses and minuses. While you get to watch cricket at work — out there in the press-box or in front of television sets — you cannot cheer for your side. Of course, the intensity of match-time activity plays a role in that, but… are you not supposed to be unbiased as well?

One may wonder what that has to do with this piece. This was supposed to be about India Women, who needed to beat New Zealand on Saturday to make it to the semi-final. They won, but then, one of the two sides had to win, so there was nothing spectacular about that.

What was spectacular was the way they did it. They put up 265 for 7 and bowled out New Zealand — remember, one of the strongest teams both historically and currently — for 79, their lowest in World Cup history. The margin of victory was 186 runs.

Where was I? Ah, bias in journalism. No, this is not going to be a eulogy of India Women. Their performance demands one, of course, but there is no shortage of people doing that: first, this is a World Cup; and secondly, there is no men’s cricket around to divert the attention.

This is a plea — a plea to you, Indians, to cheer for your women in the semi-final. It is going to be an encore of the 2015 men’s semi-final: India met favourites Australia on that occasion. They had lost, but I remember (and have website traffic data to back me) how keen you were for an Indian win that day.

I cannot see a difference between the two matches. Perhaps you can. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that you do not even know who you are going to cheer for. If you feel guilty about that, do not: when West Indies — World T20 champions, if I may remind you — toured India last year, there was no telecast of the matches. You got to see only the final of the Asia Cup. And India won the Quadrangular tournament in South Africa without anyone realising.

So, who are you going to cheer for? Will it be Rajeshwari Gayakwad, who waited patiently for her time to come? She waited for six matches, remember, celebrating with her teammates when they won and standing by them when they lost — from the sidelines. And when her time came, in what was virtually a quarter-final, she took 5 for 15 to put New Zealand, no less, on their flight back home. Will you cheer for Rajeshwari?

Or will you cheer for Veda Krishnamurthy, a fielder so good that you need to rub your eyes to see whether you are actually not dreaming? Veda smashed a 45-ball 70 on Saturday, you know. She did exactly what one is supposed to do in the slog overs: look for the gaps, hit clean, and when possible, hit big — big enough for the lighter balls to clear the ropes.

Or will you cheer for Sushma Verma, who catches and stumps and yells the brains out of the opposition behind the stumps and clicks the victory-selfie once the match gets over? She came into the tournament with a batting average of 1.85 (no, there is no typo involved here). Promoted up the order here, she immediately scored a 35-ball 33 against Pakistan, and averages 17 here with a strike rate of 88.

No, I guess it will be Ekta Bisht, who won the Pakistan match single-handedly with 5 for 18? Ekta has Pakistan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you know: 11 wickets at 6.90 will tell you that. That little chatterbox can bowl, you know. Unfortunately, even a couple of failures resulted in her losing a spot: she was, after all, competing with Rajeshwari…

You can also cheer for Smriti Mandhana — did you know she was the only Indian to be named in the ICC XI last year? She became a sensation after that 90 against England and hundred against West Indies in consecutive matches, bringing the crowd to its feet with her exhilarating strokeplay. She has not got off since then, but you always get the feeling that the next big innings is around the corner.

Have you seen Deepti Sharma bat, bowl, or field? She is probably best at the third: had there been no Veda, she would easily have been hailed as the best of the lot. She has two fifties in this World Cup. She also has 9 wickets and has gone for 4.35 an over. Oh well…

But hey, there is Poonam Yadav too! Never hesitant to toss the ball above eye-level (you know how risky that is, don’t you?) and always looking for wickets, Poonam has been India’s invisible star of the tournament. No one has really mastered her, you know: that economy of 3.45 bears testimony to that. When was the last time that a leg-spinner — an aggressive one at that — turned out to be the most parsimonious of the lot?

Of course, there is Punam Raut, whose hundred against Australia went in vain, while others stole the show when she scored 86 against England. She averages over 40 in the tournament. She has gone past 15 five times in seven innings. She is the one you will probably be cheering for, I guess.

Ah, but then there is the captain herself. Mithali Raj needs no introduction. She started the World Cup with becoming the first to score 7 consecutive ODI fifties. She became the first to reach 6,000 ODI runs and looks on course for the next thousand. She got a hundred against New Zealand. She has failed twice, of course, but her other 5 innings have been in excess of forty; and she sometimes does this while reading Rumi as openers go on a rampage.

What does one say about Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s T20I captain and BBL star, the girl who once hit a six so outrageous that the bowler’s face broke into an astonished laughter? She has obviously not been at her fittest, and to makes things worse, she has kept picking up injuries along the way — but there was no way Harman would miss a match. So she played, limped at times while batting, got treatment while she fielded in the deep, and still got a crucial 60 on Saturday, curbing her natural instincts to dig deep. Harman averages 27.40 with bat here despite not being fully fit — but has chipped in with wickets every now and then (her strike rate, 38.4, has been the best among Indian spinners).

Mansi Joshi is tall and quick. She can be erratic, but she can bother them with that extra bounce. She had a brief, incisive burst against Pakistan but was dropped after that one failure, against Sri Lanka. But then, India can go in with three seamers any time: this is England, after all…

Shikha Pandey was taken to the cleaners by the English and the West Indians and was dropped for 2 matches. She has 20-2-68-4 from 3 matches since she has returned. This feisty Goa girl is easy to spot, for she is the one who uses a band to keep her hair in control while bowling. She is also the best batter of the bowlers (did you know she averages 26.30?), so don’t be surprised if she bails India out a couple of times.

It is not easy being Nuzhat Parween. As reserve wicketkeeper you know your chance will come only if Sushma does something wrong, something that seems unlikely at this point. But Nuzhat continues to remain cheerful while waiting: check those innumerable photographs that keep featuring.

Mona Meshram lost her place to Veda after an unbeaten innings and exactly one failure. As in the case of Mansi, the management was not being unfair: the competition is so stiff (and healthy) that there is little room for complacency. Given a chance we have seen what she is capable of: wasn’t she the one who stood firm amidst ruins in the warm-up match against New Zealand and shifted gears to adapt against Sri Lanka?

Finally, we come to Jhulan Goswami. The tallest and hungriest of them all, Jhulan still sprints in like a predator, hurls them like missiles, bothers batters with pace and bounce, beating bats, hitting stumps (without dislodging bails), making their stay uncomfortable at the crease. Remember, she has more wickets than anyone in ODI history. With bat she tonks them like there is no tomorrow. And despite being one of the quickest bowlers in the world she still flings herself to her wrong side to take sensational slip catches — this, despite being in her mid-30s.

So, which of these girls will you be cheering for? Anyone specific? Some of them? Or will you be cheering for the team — which, presumably, is bigger than the sum of its parts?

Or will you choose to ignore them the way you always have been?

Make up your mind. It is a weekday, but you can always follow it on the internet, on your desktop or whatever handheld device you own. Or perhaps return early to catch your stars on the television.

Won’t it be one for your grandchildren if you see them pull it off?