India is back in the semifinals of a global tournament. They haven’t won a world event yet, so this will make them all the more excited. But when it does, it will be a little different from anything else offered in the game. They have a chance to win one of three medals at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. If they can pull it off, given how crazy India is as a country in terms of medal winners, the coming days could mean more for Indian women’s cricket than ever before. Every medal is a cause for celebration. But, needless to say, gold is the target.
Talk about wanting to win a medal and inspire the next generation, while also living the Olympic dream (or something similar). This, even as cricket takes small steps towards the 2028 edition of the Olympics.
“It [the chance to play for a medal] will take time to get to you,” said Jemimah Rodrigues after India’s victory over Barbados, sealing their spot in the semi-finals.
In the previous four global tournaments, India has been runner-up twice – at Lord’s in the 2017 50-over World Cup, and then a full MCG in 2020 T20 World Cup – and semi-finalists once. The other time, they fell to a group stage exit at the 50-over event in New Zealand earlier this year. India is now one win away from an assured medal.
“It’s not technically a global event, but for women’s cricket it’s as good as a World Cup,” Snehal Pradhan, the former Indian cricketer who is based in Birmingham in her capacity as broadcaster, told ESPNcricinfo. “That’s how much a medal – a gold – matters. All their press conferences and conversations are about ‘we are not here for anything but a gold’.
“In the World Cup, the winner takes everything. Even though second and third place are appreciated here, that’s not what India wants, they want the gold.”
The training sessions in India were very intensive. While teams are allowed to have a contingent of 15-20 players plus five support staff in the Games Village, the BCCI has sent three additional staffers at its own expense, including a throwdown specialist and a masseuse.
“Even during training, they work on all facets of skills,” Pradhan said. “There are two nets and then they’re in the midfield doing range-hitting. Almost all batters go through that routine where you hit out of the nets and then you’re doing that range-hitting training.”
“This team has redefined normally; reaching the semi-finals is absolutely normal for them. They want to keep on redefining normal. They want to create a culture for the next generation and I don’t think that culture means you lose semi-finals and finals . It’s about winning the thing”
Former India player Snehal Pradhan
Contributions have been made for India from various quarters. While Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana have each scored half a century, it was up to Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma to dig their side out of a hole in the unmissable game against Barbados. India was reduced to 92 for 4 at bats first, before the pair scored 70 on just seven overs. In the absence of all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar, who arrived in Birmingham late after testing positive for Covid-19, Renuka Singh has stepped it up and delivered two four-wicket-hauls. Sneh Rana’s dashing introduction to the Commonwealth Games complements Deepti’s offspin, with support from Radha Yadav.
“This team has redefined normal; reaching the semi-finals is absolutely normal for them,” Pradhan said. “They want to continue to redefine normal. They want to create a culture that the next generation will follow and I don’t think culture means losing semi-finals and finals. It’s about winning the thing. So they want to raise the bar raise it up.” “
In host England, however, India faces a team that may have been better rounded than them, against whom they have won just five out of 22 T20Is completed (numbers have improved to two out of five since early 2020). England ousted India from the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup in 2018, while the absence of a reserve day crushed England’s hopes and placed India in their first T20 World Cup final in 2020.
England are led by Nat Sciver in the absence of regular captain Heather Knight. They beat Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand to the top of Group B and are driven by the veteran Katherine Brunt and the wily Sophie Ecclestone. Teen Alice Capsey’s attacking instincts at number 3 helped fill Knight’s void. In addition, there is currently a feel-good vibe surrounding women’s sport in England.
“England is on the wave and momentum of energy behind women’s sport in this country,” Pradhan said. “We can sense how the turnout is building up, how everyone is talking about it and how the Lionesses [England’s football team that beat Germany last weekend to win UEFA Women’s Euro 2022] are still in the news even a week after Wembley. I think they will try to emulate the football team.”
Likewise, history beckons India. A win over England will secure them a silver or gold medal. A loss still gives them a chance at a bronze medal.
During the team’s last assignment for the Commonwealth Games, last month in Sri Lanka, Harmanpreet had asked the team what they needed to work on at a meeting. “Chilling attitude,” was what Vastrakar had said in response.
It should come as no surprise if this attitude – and Vastrakar – comes out on Saturday to take India one step closer to making their dream come true.