More than an encounter between Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals, Sunday’s Women’s Premier League was projected as a summit clash between the two finest cricket captains in the world - Meg Lanning and Harmanpreet Kaur.
Over the last three years, Lanning had squared off against Harmanpreet in major finals twice - in the T20 World Cup in 2020 and the Commonwealth Games last year. And on both occasions, Lanning’s Australia had the last laugh.
But several months and a couple of heartbreaks later, Harmanpreet finally settled scores with Lanning - albeit in a franchise league - as Mumbai Indians rode on her gritty 37 (39b, 5x4) and yet another unbeaten half-century by Nat Sciver-Brunt (60 not out, 55b, 7x4) to clinch the maiden WPL title, beating Delhi Capitals by seven wickets.
After the bowlers - Isabelle Wong (three for 42) and Hayley Matthews (three for 5) - restricted Delhi Capitals to 131 for 9, Harmanpreet and Sciver-Brunt ensured that they took things in their stride and rebuilt with a 75-ball-72-run partnership.
Coming in at a time when the Mumbai outfit lost its openers Yastika Bhatia and Matthews inside the first four overs, with just 23 runs on the board, it was a challenging task for Harmanpreet to settle in.
But even as a packed Brabourne Stadium chanted ‘ Mumbai, Mumbai’, the seasoned Harmanpreet cut out the noise and dealt with singles to lead the team’s fightback. While the Delhi Capitals looked desperate to find a breakthrough, Harmanpreet and Sciver-Brunt went about their business in style, and did not seem to be in a hurry. And as the game progressed, their strategy was simple - rely on singles and occasionally aim for a big over. That mantra seemed to have worked as Delhi Capitals bowlers struggled to find a breakthrough.
There was a time when it looked as if both Harmanpreet and Sciver-Brunt would finish it off in style, but in the first ball of the 17th over, there came a twist as Harmanpreet was run out.
Mumbai Indians still needed 37 off 23 deliveries and things could have gone topsy-turvy had Sciver-Brunt not stepped up with a couple of boundaries. And that set the tone.
Pairing with Amelie Kerr, Sciver-Brunt ensured there were no slip-ups and the duo added 16 runs in the penultimate over, before the England international sealed the deal with a boundary in the third ball of the final over.
As the Mumbai Indians players rushed towards the ground amid huge cheers from the spectators, the television cameras panned towards Wong and Matthews - the other two architects of Mumbai’s success.
It was, after all, Wong and Matthews who gave the ‘home team’ the much-needed breakthroughs after Delhi won the toss and opted to bat.
Shafali Verma started off aggressively with a six and a four off Wong before the young England bowler bounced back with a high full-toss delivery. Shafali made room and sliced it in the air, hoping to clear the boundary rope. But it was caught comfortably by Kerr at backward point. Though Shafali took a review for a no-ball, the ball-tracking showed that it was on the waist and was dipping at the end. It was certainly a touch and go and the third umpire gave the benefit of doubt to the bowler, much to the displeasure of Shafali and Lanning.
Adding to its woes, Delhi Capitals lost another wicket in Alex Capsey in a span of two deliveries. Wong’s low full-toss delivery below the waist caught Capsey unawares as she lobbed it in front of cover and Amanjot Kaur dived forward to take a perfect catch. Coming into the final after a hat-trick against UP Warriorz in the eliminator a couple of days ago, the young Wong continued with her magic as she banked on yet another full-toss delivery to claim the wicket of Jemimah Rodrigues - her third of the game.
Lanning and Marizanne Kapp added 38 runs for the fourth wicket before Kerr found the breakthrough by dismissing Kapp and shortly, Lanning was run out.
Thereon, a collapse ensued. From being at 73 for 3, Delhi Capitals slipped to 79 for 9 in no time. It seemed an herculean task for the Capitals to breach the 100-run mark then, but a whirlwind last-wicket partnership of 52 runs off 24 balls between Shikha Pandey and Radha Yadav helped them put up a modest total. However, that was not enough for Delhi to defend as Mumbai Indians overcame the early jitters to remain unbeaten at the Brabourne Stadium.
With Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and other members of the MI men’s team in attendance for the final, Harmanpreet’s team ensured they had the last laugh!
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