Teen pacer Titus Sadhu is quickly turning out to be the player for the big occasions. In January, Sadhu set the tone with the ball by jolting England’s top-order in India’s win in the U-19 World Cup final. Seven months on and with only four senior-level overs under her belt between them, the tearaway speedster starred in another final as India claimed maiden Asian Games gold in the sport with a 19-run win over Sri Lanka.
Defending a modest total of 117 at the Pingfeng Campus Cricket Field on Monday, Sadhu’s pace was too hot to handle for the Lankans’ chase. After Deepti Sharma went for 12 runs in the first over of Sri Lanka’s chase, the returning Harmanpreet Kaur turned to pace, and Sadhu, who is four days shy of her 19 th birthday, rewarded her captain with a wicket of her first ball.
Anushka Sanjeewani miscued a shot to mid-off, and two balls later, Sadhu speared through Vishmi Gunaratne’s defence to disturb her stumps. In her second over, the experienced Chamari Athapaththu fell looking to take on the youngster. Her figures after her first spell read: 3-1-2-3 before she finished with 4-1-6-3. In the U-19 final, too, she finished with nearly identical numbers but with only a wicket short.
India’s approach was different from Sri Lanka’s, who deployed 17 overs of spin on a dry wicket, which was slow in nature and had uneven bounce. The 2 p.m. start saw the sun beating down on the surface with the temperatures rising to 30 degrees compared to the overcast conditions of last week.
Sadhu, who was discovered at the age of 16 by former India fast bowler Jhulan Goswami to be fast-tracked into the West Bengal state set-up, said the team management backed her ability along with bowling partner Pooja Vastrakar to contain the opposition early on.
After Sadhu’s hostile spell, Sri Lanka rebuilt with Hasini Perera and Nilakshi de Silva, particularly the former taking on India’s spinners with four boundaries and a six. As Lanka crossed the 50-mark, Hasini looked to take on Rajeshwari Gayakwad for a second maximum of the over but ended up finding Vastrakar stationed before the ropes.
Nilakshi and Oshadi Ranasinghe got their side within 43 off 30 balls before Harmanpreet brought on her pacers Sadhu and Vastrakar to stem the flow with the latter cleaning up Nilakshi with a yorker. The spinners then came on to see out the win comfortably.
Earlier in the afternoon, Sri Lankan spinners put a chokehold on India, which had opted to bat after winning the toss. After a restrained start, Shafali Verma stepped out to left-arm orthodox Sugandika Kumari but failed to read the line and got stumped.
Jemimah Rodrigues, who finished as the top batter of the Games with 109 runs, and Smriti Mandhana came together in the fourth over to rebuild the innings. The pair didn’t take much risk and put on a 73-run stand in 67 balls for the second wicket. Jemimah (42 off 40 balls) used her feet well to get to the pitch of the delivery to cut, play inside-out cover drives, and play behind the square. Mandhana top-scored with a 45-ball 46 and was severe on anything short or in the slot.
The partnership was broken in the 15 th over, when Mandhana looked to go big on the leg side but only managed to spoon a catch off the bowling of Inoka Ranaweera. Richa Ghosh came ahead of Harmanpreet, who fell for just two on her return, and went big with a six off just her third delivery but she fell victim to Ranaweera on the sweep. India scored just 14 runs in its final 21 balls while losing four wickets. Jemimah, too, perished looking to go for the big hits but, in the end, her contribution was more than enough to help her team get over the line this time.
For Jemimah, who has been part of two final defeats in the 2020 T20 World Cup and the Commonwealth Games last year, this was her ‘Chak De!’ moment with her national team.
“In the movie, Kabir Khan says ‘I am seeing a foreigner raising the Indian flag’ and it was very emotional for me. I told Smriti next to me, ‘See, they have put our flag up there. And singing the national anthem and standing on the podium with the gold medal, as an athlete, I am blessed to have had the opportunity to do this with the team I love the most,” said a proud Jemimah.
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