Women's T20 Challenge: Devoid of top foreign stars, but still a thrilling affair

Smriti Mandhana’s 68 off 49 balls proved enough to give Trailblazers the title, as Supernovas failed miserably while chasing 119 in the summit clash.

Trailblazers players with the trophy after defeating Supernovas in the women’s T20 Challenge 2020 at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

She came dancing down the track and lofted the ball well over the long-off fence. It was more about timing and less about power, so Sourav Ganguly-esque. The shot, in the second over of the final of the Women’s T20 Challenge, announced that Smriti Mandhana was ready to serve up something special at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on that Monday night.

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That she did. The skipper’s 68 off 49 balls (5x4, 3x6) proved enough to give Trailblazers the title, as Supernovas failed miserably while chasing 119. The champion side of the last two years could only manage 102 for seven.

It was indeed a poor response from Harmanpreet Kaur’s women. They were in the game as long as their captain was at the wicket, despite the injury she sustained while fielding. When she was bowled by off-spinner Salma Khatun in the penultimate over for a 36-ball 30, it was all over.

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Trailblazers, of course, bowled and fielded well. That wasn’t surprising, as it boasted the best attack in the competition. It had dismissed Velocity for 47 in the league stage.

That disastrous innings proved the undoing for Mithali Raj’s side. The three teams were level on two points at the end of the league phase and the finalists were identified by the net run-rate.

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While Trailblazers had more or less ensured its place in the summit clash with its annihilation of Velocity, Supernovas had to win its last match. That encounter, against Trailblazers, turned out to be the most exciting in the entire tournament.

It went right down to the wire, with Supernovas winning by two runs, as Radha Yadav bowled a superb last over. The left-arm spinner did even better in the final. She took five for 16, registering the best-ever figures in the three-year history of the tournament. She thus justified her captain’s decision to bowl first after winning the toss. However, later in the night, Trailblazers’ spinners — Sophie Ecclestone, Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Salma — turned the match around.

Radha Yadav of Supernovas celebrates after dismissing Deepti Sharma of Trailblazers. Radha took five for 16, registering the best-ever figures in the three-year history of the tournament, but her effort went in vain in the end.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

 

Englishwoman Ecclestone was one of the biggest draws of the tournament. The World No. 1 bowler in women’s T20 didn’t disappoint. She was brilliant against Velocity, taking four for nine from 3.1 overs.

She was one of the overseas stars who left an impression. Since the tournament clashed with the women’s Big Bash in Australia, most of the big names could not travel to the UAE. Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates, Natalie Sciver, Stafanie Taylor, Amelia Kerr, Lea Tahuhu and Hayley Matthews were among those who were forced to miss the event; all of them had played in Jaipur last year.

However, Deandra Dottin and Shakera Selman (West Indies), Danielle Wyatt (England), Chamari Atapattu and Shashikala Sirwardene (Sri Lanka), Sune Luus and Ayabonga Khaka (South Africa), Leigh Kasperek (New Zealand), Jahanara Alam and Salma (Bangladesh) and Nattakan Chantam, the first star to emerge from Thailand, made up for their absence. Most of them made their mark, too.

Atapattu emerged as the leading scorer with 117 runs and it was her failure in the final that proved a big setback to Supernovas’ chase. Chantam may not have got enough opportunities to showcase her batting skills, but the final saw her coming up with some astonishing fielding.

The overall standard of fielding was good in the tournament, despite the fact that most of the women hadn’t played a match for eight months. The impact of COVID-19 has been huge for India’s female cricketers, so the BCCI deserves credit for conducting the tournament.

Last year, it was a big success in Jaipur, where excellent crowds turned up for the matches. The final was watched by over 15,000. That had increased the hopes of women’s own IPL.

The quality of cricket in Jaipur was pretty high, too. During the tournament, Rajasthan Royals’ vice-president Rajeev Khanna had told this correspondent that he was surprised by the cricket he saw and that his franchise would be keen to field a team in the women’s IPL when it materialised.

The cricket-playing women around the globe are hoping they would not have to wait too long for that. They showed in Sharjah that there was certainly scope for a professional league in India.