It seemed like a masterstroke from the Indian management to include Rajeshwari Gayakwad in the team for the crucial clash against New Zealand. © ICC

It seemed like a masterstroke from the Indian management to include Rajeshwari Gayakwad in the team for the crucial clash against New Zealand. © ICC

The video of Simon Doull’s post-match interview with Rajeshwari Gayakwad after India’s 186-run win over New Zealand in Derby on Saturday (July 15) has gone viral. Doull’s questions are in English, which Veda Krishnamurthy translates for Gayakwad into Kannada. Gayakwad then replies in Hindi, which Veda translates back to Doull in English.

Gayakwad speaks about not being disappointed despite missing the first six matches of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 and keeping fit by carrying drinks. It is hilarious, and also indicates that she is a team person. The team could not have been happier for her, delivering in the biggest game that most of the players have been a part of in their careers so far.

With India needing to beat New Zealand for a place in the semifinals, they dropped Ekta Bisht for Gayakwad and it proved to be a masterstroke. Gayakwad’s career-best returns of 5 for 15 helped India dismiss New Zealand for 79.

For the uninitiated, dropping Bisht, India’s most experienced spinner, for Gayakwad in a virtual knockout clash might seem illogical. But the team management deserves credit for having done their homework and a willingness to experiment.

India’s five-match One-Day International series against New Zealand in Bangalore in 2015 – the first televised bilateral series in many years – was a close fought one, with the hosts prevailing 3-2. One of the vivid memories from that series was how New Zealand took just one game to figure out Bisht, while Gayakwad remained difficult to crack.

Gayakwad, who made her international debut in 2014, finished as the highest wicket-take of the series with eight scalps. Bisht, dropped for the fourth game, was joint-second along with Harmanpreet Kaur with six wickets. But her average and economy of 18 and 3.22 were inferior to Gayakwad’s 15.62 and 2.75 respectively.

Gayakwad was successful in the home series against New Zealand and finished fourth on the wicket takers list in the ICC Championship. © Getty Images

Gayakwad was successful in the home series against New Zealand and finished fourth on the wicket takers list in the ICC Championship. © Getty Images

Confident after that performance, Gayakwad ended fourth on the bowling charts of the Women’s Championship with 25 wickets in 16 matches, behind only Jess Jonassen (Australia), Heather Knight (England) and Anisa Mohammed (Windies). Her economy of 3.43 was the best among the top 20 bowlers of the Championship across two years.

Gayakwad carried that form into the Qualifier in Colombo and Quadrangular Series in South Africa earlier this year. India won both events. But it was always known that in England, where India would field a maximum of three spinners apart from Kaur, Gayakwad would be the first to be left out. Deepti Sharma is an offspinner and a top-order bat, Poonam Yadav is a legspinner, and Bisht is the senior left-arm spinner.

Bisht had toured England thrice in the past, and only three left-arm spinners have taken more ODI wickets in the country than her.

She did not make much of an impact against England and Windies, but her 5 for 18 against Pakistan proved crucial in a low-scoring game. She took just one wicket against Sri Lanka, but couldn’t deliver against South Africa and Australia. The likes of Lizelle Lee, Dane van Niekerk, Chloe Tryon, Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry were able to read Bisht from her hand, and used the pace to their advantage.

Still India’s highest wicket-taker in this World Cup with nine victims, her economy rose up to 4.39 in six games. The team management could not afford to field her against a New Zealand line-up consisting of Suzie Bates, Rachel Priest and Sophie Devine, all of who had worked her out in that 2015 series.

While Bisht is faster through the air and relies more on her arm ball, Gayakwad flights the ball more and is a natural turner of the ball. Also, because her release point is higher she derives more bounce.

Dropping Ekta Bisht seemed necessary after both Australia and South Africa had worked her out in the previous matches. © ICC

Dropping Ekta Bisht seemed necessary after both Australia and South Africa had worked her out in the previous matches. © ICC

“Not really,” said Bates, New Zealand captain, when asked if they were surprised to see Gayakwad playing. “When we toured India as a part of the ICC Championship (in 2015), she bowled well. I can understand why she was selected in the team.”

“Ekta is definitely an experienced spinner, but when you need to slow down a bit, she has to work on her bowling especially when the batters are charging at her,” said Mithali Raj, explaining the change in the line-up. “Rajeshwari is someone who can turn the ball, is a little slow. They are two different left-arm spinners. It does happen that sometimes a player is not able to perform their skills, and it reflects on their fielding as well. So, we thought to give her (Bisht) a break. Maybe when she gets the next opposition she is in a better state of mind to perform.”

Coming in to bowl in the 12th over when New Zealand were 32 for 3 in their chase of 266, Gayakwad was slightly faster. She took two overs to understand the conditions, and there was no stopping her after that.

Coming from over the wicket for the first ball of her third over, she got Amy Satterthwaite, the left-hander, to step out and play for the turn. The ball went with the arm for Sushma Verma to complete an easy stumping. She also switched to bowling over the wicket to Devine, and set her up well.

The first three balls to Devine in her fourth over were either on leg-stump or middle-stump, and it tied the batter down. Eager to break the shackles, Devine tried to loft the fourth ball – bowled outside the off-stump – only for Deepti to run back and take a good diving catch on the practice pitches just outside the inner circle. With two wickets in two overs and New Zealand reduced to 57 for 6, India had broken the game open.

Hannah Rowe became her 50th victim, and she finished with two more to climb to ninth on the list of India’s highest wicket-takers. Her final figures read 7.3-1-15-5, the third-best by a spinner in England.

India now have the pleasant headache of finding their right bowling combination for the semifinal clash against Australia at the same venue on July 20.