© Getty Images
Mithali Raj was awarded Man of the Match for her stunning 109 © Getty Images

After the spectacular 5 for 18 against Pakistan, Ekta Bisht had managed 3 for 171 in 3 matches. It was time India looked for another option. Rajeshwari Gayakwad was named replacement, and thanks to her 5 for 15 that New Zealand slumped to 78, their lowest in World Cup. On the other hand, Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, the senior girls, had not — for better part of the tournament — batted up the order. It was time they played the most deliveries, and thanks to their partnership that India put up a competitive total.

It was indeed overdue that India re-strategised if they were to beat New Zealand. They did so and how, winning it by a massive 186 runs, to meet Australia at the same venue, Derby, for the second semi-final.

New Zealand made early inroads after choosing to field first. With sheer swing, New Zealand sent the Indian openers Smriti Mandhana and  Punam Raut packing within 8 overs.

In the first two matches, Smriti had set the platform. Punam and Deepti Sharma laid the foundation in the next few matches. Punam and Mithali did the same in the last match, adding 157 runs together. If anything, the top order had done the most hard work, but it was not enough against Australia, although Indian batting collectively failed against South Africa.

India had long partnerships, but the scores were not enough. They were lucky in a few matches that their bowling unit, especially spinners, came to their rescue. However, their inability to score run quickly in the death overs kept them behind. They often lost the plot despite being in firm control. All the same, they wielded all the chinks in their armoury and displayed one of the finest performances in World Cup.

Smriti and Punam were in the pavilion. It was over to the veterans Mithali and Harmanpreet.

New Zealand made life tougher for the duo, choking them with the new ball. They kept it full with fielders waiting for the ball to jump in their hands. The dark clouds that loomed over helped them seam the ball, but it halted the game for a few minutes and broke the momentum. It, in fact, helped India. As the sun blossomed on the Derby sky, the ball lost its shine and eventually the swing, thus began the Mithali-Harmanpreet show.

Harmanpreet’s extension of arms to drive on the off-side and her roll of the wrists to guide short deliveries through leg-side had everyone in a maze. This time she had time to get into the groove, and she made the most of it. She struck a delightful 60 decorated with 7 boundaries. With Mithali at the other end, it was a splendid sight for the traditionalists of the game. She was so at her best that she, after playing almost 36 overs, played a straight-drive with the same force and vigour as the new batter. The pair added 132 together.

In an attempt to increase the scoring rate, Harmanpreet fell for a fine 60. However, Mithali created an encore of a long partnership with Veda Krishnamurthy. This time, though, it was faster version of the previous one.

With not many opportunities to relish so far, Veda’s appetite for runs was quite evident. She pulverised the potent New Zealand bowling and scored 70 off 58 including 7 fours and 2 sixes.

Mithali, meanwhile, stuck to her delicate strokeplay and converted her 50th half-century into sixth hundred. In the quest, she also became the first Indian and fifth overall to complete 1,000 runs in World Cup.

Veda and Mithali’s partnership of 108 off 78 ushered India to 265 for 7.

Against West Indies, New Zealand had chased down 151 in 18.2 overs. Against Pakistan, they had  chased down 145 in 15 overs. Against Sri Lanka, they had chased down 189 in 37 overs. You get the gist. They have some swashbuckling batters in their ranks. That said, Rajeshwari made a mockery of their might and finished the match within 25.3 overs.

Shikha Pandey removed Suzie Bates for 1. Jhulan Goswami had Rachel Priest caught and bowled. Deepti soon got the better of Katey Martin. All this while, Rajeshwari had not got a wicket.

Amy Satterthwaite repelled India, hitting 4 fours. New Zealand were on the verge of being in command, but Rajeshwari tossed one away from Satterthwait to leave her stumped. New Zealand were 51 for 4 in 17.1 overs.

Katie Perkins was bowled off an absolute peach. It was a reminiscence of Deepti’s dismissal against Pakistan. After pitching well outside off, the ball snorted back in and rocked the middle stump. A few more wickets fell before Rajeshwari returned to the thick of things. New Zealand lost the remaining 5 wickets in 6 overs, losing by a walloping 186 runs.

Brief scores

India 265 for 7 (Mithali Raj 109, Veda Krishnamurthy 70; Leigh Kasperek 3 for 45) beat New Zealand 70 all-out in 25.3 overs (Amy Satterthwaite 26, Amelia Kerr 12; Rajeshwari Gayakwad 5 for 15, Deepti Sharma 2 for 26) by 186 runs.

Player of the Match: Rajeshwari Gayakwad.

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