It was a case of ‘so near and yet so far’ for India as they suffered a spectacular middle and lower order batting collapse to lose by nine runs to England in a nail-biting final of the ICC Women’s World Cup in London on Sunday.
This was the fourth World Cup title for the English girls. They had earlier emerged champions in 1973, 1993 and 2009.
They are second most successful nation in this tournament after Australia who have seven titles to their name.
It was deja vu for India as this is the second time they have fallen at the final hurdle. They had lost by 98 runs to Australia in the final of the 2005 edition.
Electing to bat first, England produced a competitive total of 228 for seven in their 50 overs.
The Indian eves rode on half-centuries from opener Punam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur to almost overhaul the target.
Raut played a crucial knock, guiding the Indian innings right from the start and almost batted till the end. She was the highest scorer among the Indians with 86 runs from 115 balls with four boundaries and a six.
By the time she was trapped leg before by England pacer Anya Shrubsole, India were in sight of victory, needing 38 runs from 41 balls.
The in-form Harmanpreet produced a solid innings of 51 runs, with three boundaries and two hits into the stands studding her 80-ball stay in the middle.
Punam and Harmanpreet added 95 runs between them in 128 balls and helped to steady the Indian innings following the loss of two early wickets.
However, the Indian eves seemed to lose their wits towards the end, losing seven wickets for just 28 runs to be all out for 219 runs in 48.4 overs.
Anya turned the match in England’s favour with figures of 6/46 in her 9.4 overs including the crucial wickets of Punam, Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet and Jhulan Goswami.
Anya, who was adjudged the player of the match, displayed excellent swing and control to trouble the Indian batters.
The Indians were off to a rocky start when Anya displaced the off-stump of experienced opener Smriti Mandhana with an excellent delivery in the second over.
India skipper Mithali Raj seemed to be in good touch during her 31-ball knock which produced 17 runs. But she fell victim to a piece of miscommunication with Punam and was run out, stranded virtually miles out of her crease.
That saw Harmanpreet join Punam in the middle and the duo battled steadily to almost take the match away from the hosts.
At one point, it seemed that the Indians will canter away to an easy victory and lift their maiden World Cup title.
But the match was destined to turn on its head.
Harmanpreet, who was going great guns, fell to a poor shot when she tried to loft a delivery from England spinner Alex Hartley over the on-side but could only manage to offer a comfortable catch to Tammy Beaumont at square leg.
Punam continued to anchor the innings, putting together a stand of 53 runs along with Veda Krishnamurthy. But her dismissal in the 43rd over saw the Indian eves go into a tailspin.
Sushma Verma was bowled by Alex in the very next over as the tide started to turn in the hosts’ favour.
Veda, who played a series of rash shots in her effort to get the run rate going finally paid the price when yet another ill-timed lofted shot handed Anya her third wicket.
Anya handed Jhulan a golden duck in the very next over to bring the home supporters onto their feet. The dangerous Jhulan was the last recognised batter in the Indian line-up and her departure virtually sealed the fate of the match and the trophy.
Earlier, England posted a competitive total in their 50 overs. Natalie Sciver (51), Sarah Taylor (45) and Katherine Brunt (34) were the major contributors for England.
For India, who were playing their second final till date, veteran pacer Jhulan Goswami bagged 3/23, while spinner Poonam Yadav took 2/36.
After opting to bat, Lauren Winfield (24) and Tammy Beaumont (23) provided the hosts a strong start, putting up 47 runs for the opening wicket. While Indian pace ace Jhulan kept it tight from one end, Sikha Pandey leaked 28 runs in her first spell of four overs.
India bagged England’s first wicket when left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad bowled Winfield in the 12th over.
Beaumont then followed Winfield to the pavilion after having offered a simple catch off a full toss from spinner Poonam Yadav to Jhulan Goswami at deep mid-wicket on the third ball of the 15th over. England were then at 60/2.
Soon, leg-spinner Poonam Yadav dealt a big blow to the home fans as she got a LBW verdict against captain Heather Knight (1) to reduce England to 63/3 in 16.1 overs.
For England, the responsibility of arresting the slide fell on Sarah and Sciver. The pair played positive cricket against the hostile spin bowling from India.
Starting with ones and twos, they took the attack to the opposition by using their full might and power as they pulled England out of trouble.
Forced by the onslaught from the English pair, India captain Mithali Raj resorted to her pace ace Jhulan. And the Bengal veteran delivered for her captain as Taylor nicked one to wicket-keeper Sushma Verma in the fourth ball of the 33rd over, breaking the 83-run stand.
Jhulan struck again off the following delivery when a yorker hit the front pad of right-hander Fran Wilson (0) — and the umpire raised the dreaded finger.
Jhulan didn’t stop there. She got rid of Sciver off a ripping fast delivery in the first ball of the 38th over that struck the pads — and once again, the Indians got the umpire’s favourable response. Sciver left the middle after hitting five fours during her ninth 50 in ODI cricket.
The Indian pace-woman ended her quota of 10 overs, much to the relief of the English team.
Katherine later got good support from Jenny Gunn (25 not out) and collected crucial runs before being run out by a direct throw from Deepti Sharma at short cover.
Gunn and Laura Marsh (14 not out) put up an unbeaten partnership of 32 runs to take England to a competitive total of 228 runs.