Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Women's World Cup - India Falters at the Final Hurdle

So near yet so far. But there is no shame in this loss. The Indian women practically won the Cup and gave it away. It was almost like they could not handle the moment, the burden of winning and chose to give it away. It was an inexplicable loss of belief that did the team in.

It happens at the big stages. There is a sudden loss of belief that it is going to come true. And if the mind has not seen and is comfortable with that reality, it is quite easy for it to throw away what is already in the hand. I believe that is what happened to India. They went in perhaps thinking that they had already done enough, that they will give it their best, gave their best and suddenly when it started coming true, did not know what to do and gave it back. Remember Jana Novotna's loss to Steffi Graf in 1993 when she was 4-1 up in the final set and 40-30 and inexplicably lost.

It all blanks out a bit. You go through the motions and hope that the other team will make mistakes and lose. When they do not make mistakes, you end up serving easy stuff and making basic errors and give back the advantage. It is here that a compelling picture of winning, of dominating, of continuing what you had done thus far which is to dominate, that is required. If you take the foot off the pedal and hope, you could lose it, especially if the opponent is not someone to give it up too.

So England laboured to a not-too-good score of 228 for 7 in their 50 overs and looked like they would make far lesser than that at one stage. It was just that professionalism that Jenny Gunn showed in adding runs cautiously until England reached a score of respectability. But 228 seemed a walk in the park for the in-form Indian batting line up. The only thing that mattered now was - did they believe they could do it.

Smriti's early loss was a blow. But Poonam Raut played a beautiful inning, going low and lofting beautiful sixes and kept going in that same spirit. Mithali Raj as always a cool presence out in the middle until she seemed to have gone into a daze in that most inexplicable of run outs. She did not take a start not did she finish. It was almost as if she was hoping that somehow she would not get out even if she did not give her best, put int he dive. But finals are not won on hope and I thought for a moment that perhaps it showed a chink in the preparation. A small one, but still Mithali's wicket is not something you give up like that.

The gutsy Harmanpreet settled in again and with Poonam for company took the game away from the English girls. They looked so confident, so in control, until Harmanpreet went after her 50. Veda Krishnamurthy came and dominated as she does, scoring a run a ball and the match was as good as gone for England at 191 for 3 which is when Poonam fell lbw, having scored an invaluable 86. What a knock under pressure. Now all the girls had to do was knock the ball around, and they had enough batting and experience to do that and get the remaining 38 runs in 40 odd balls.

For some reason they changed the batting order and sent Sushma Verma ahead of Deepti Sharma who would have been ideal foil for the attacking Veda. Sushma went for a duck which would have certainly added pressure on Veda. And Veda instead of changing tactics a bit and planning to play out the 50 overs, decided that attack was the best form of defence. Her slightly rattled mindset resulted in the shot she played which was almost a gift to the English girls who had almost given up. But full credit, they held all their catches, some of them difficult like this one from Veda, and threw down run outs. Veda was a set back but they still needed to keep their heads which they did not.

Shikha Pandey looked competent but looked like she would get run out and she did. Deepti looked capable of holding the innings together but succumbed to pressure. They just had nothing to fall back on and fell apart. Shrubsole, though not the most penetrative of bowlers, rose above her weight and kept it in the right areas to win the match for India.

From the moment Poonam Raut got out or even after Veda got out, the team could have spoken a little more, could have slowed down a bit more, and organised themselves and their thoughts. But they went on hopefully, fatalistically. It is here that the coach could have taught them how to break their thinking pattern, to change the context, or even like Sehwag does 'sing' their favorite song - anything to keep the plummeting thoughts from spiralling further down. The best way to deal with such pressure is to keep the mind in neutral, to stay in the moment, which can be done by doing something like singing, talking to oneself, or even simple focusing on the process such as keeping all focus on ball and bat. By bringing full concentration to the moment the mind gets away from the pressure of the future scenarios, the what ifs and allows you to play to you potential. That they had in plenty. They just did not visualise this possibility, that they would have to snatch the Cup from England. Because England would not give it to them.

That said, there is no shame and they played so well and won so many hearts including mine. I love the way they play, so correctly. Their batting, bowling, fielding...everything is so technically right and efficient. So beautiful to watch. The English players were so good too - Sarah Tayor was outstanding behind the stumps and with the bat, the spinners as well.

All in all, a wonderful final. Lessons to learn for the girls but they are a champion side whichever way. They pretty much won the Trophy. And there are so many champions there. Lovely to see. Looking forward for the women's IPL now.

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