India women (164-5) beat England women (160-6) by four runs
For the first time this summer, England faced an opponent capable of landing a few blows of their own. And like a knockout artist with a glass chin, the Commonwealth Games hosts crumbled in a heap, succumbing to a four-run defeat to India in their semi-final.
England obliterated South Africa in last month’s Twenty20 series and trounced them again when they met here in Birmingham. In their tournament opener they swatted Sri Lanka aside by five wickets and then restricted New Zealand to 71 for nine in a seven-wicket victory. They were steamrolling their way to the final. Then they confronted the middle of Smriti Mandhana’s bat and India’s boa constrictor-like spinners.
“We’re gutted,” captain Nat Sciver said afterwards, failing to pinpoint a single moment that turned the game. “I can’t really think about it now. [India’s spinners] bowled really well. We obviously wanted to be in the gold medal match. It will be tough to take.”
First up, Mandhana plundered 61 from 32 balls, hammering eight fours and three sixes, catapulting her side to 164 for five. Later, when England looked destined to reach their target, Deepti Sharma claimed one for 18 from her four overs to keep England beyond arm’s reach.
Mandhana had first use of a fresh pitch and she cashed in, reaching her fifty off her 23rd delivery. At the end of the powerplay, India had hurtled to 73 for no loss.
Pressure does strange things to even the coolest of elite athletes. Katherine Brunt started admonishing her fielders. Sciver couldn’t settle on a field plan. Spin wizard Sophie Ecclestone had her head in her hands as Mandhana and Shafali Verma thwacked her for 13 in her first over.
England needed a breakthrough and they got one thanks to 17-year-old Freya Kemp whose slower ball caught the toe-end of Verma’s lofted drive. Brunt, at mid-off, held on to the skier and let out a violent roar in celebration.
One wicket brought another as Mandhana spooned her scoop off Sciver to Issy Wong at short fine leg. Still, it was a breathtaking knock that provided a platform for future fireworks.
Kemp returned and was immediately belted for six over cow corner by India’s skipper Harmanpreet Kaur at the start of the 13th over. Kemp pulled her length back and Kaur swivelled her pull shot towards deep square. She timed it well but picked out a diving Maia Bouchier.
Jemimah Rodrigues - unbeaten on 44 - and Sharma - caught by Brunt in the final over off her own bowling for 22 - regularly found the boundary in a fourth-wicket stand of 53. England did well to keep India under 200 but would need to chase their highest target since 2018 to reach the final.
They looked on track with Sophia Dunkley and Danni Wyatt bludgeoning 28 runs in three overs. The former, though, was out lbw for 19 when she moved across her stumps to sweep Sharma. Wyatt was unperturbed, taking 14 runs from Meghna Singh in the fourth over.
Wyatt kept the pace even when Alice Capsey ran herself out for 13. But as the required run-rate climbed, Wyatt was compelled to innovate. In the ninth over she tried to paddle Sneh Rana behind square but knocked the ball back onto her stumps for 35.
That left Sciver and Amy Jones with 84 runs to get. They were forced to fight for every one as India took the pace off the ball. With three overs left, England needed 30.
Jones was run-out for 31 attempting to steal a single but Sciver was still there. She hammered Pooja Vastraker for six on the pull and saw her attempted sweep ricochet off her pads to the fine leg fence. Momentum was with her until she ran herself out, recklessly trying to turn one into two.
That left 14 needed off the final over. It was always going to be too much for Brunt and Ecclestone. The former was caught at mid-off attempting a miracle and the latter cleared the ropes off the final ball. It was immaterial. England were floored. They’ll now compete for bronze, a sorry end to a golden summer.