The 116-run stand for the third-wicket between Deepti Sharma (78) and Mithali Raj (53) held the innings together. © Getty Images

The 116-run stand for the third-wicket between Deepti Sharma (78) and Mithali Raj (53) held the innings together. © Getty Images

Veda Krishnamurthy returned to the Indian side in place of the out-of-touch Mona Meshram for her first game of the Women’s World Cup 2017, and showed her worth with a 33-ball 29 from No. 7 and a brisk partnership of 50 runs with Harmanpreet Kaur. This intent was not always visible while India were batting during their 16-run win against Sri Lanka at the County Ground in Derby on Wednesday (July 5).

While Veda provided the impetus in the late stages, the 116-run stand for the third wicket between Deepti Sharma (78) and Mithali Raj (53) held the innings together. But despite their fourth consecutive win and being one step away from a semifinal berth, India would be the first to admit that theirs was a far from complete performance.

After opting to bat first on a fresh pitch, India lost two wickets off consecutive deliveries twice before reaching 232 for 8. In response, Sri Lanka failed to read Poonam Yadav’s legspin and were restricted to 216 for 7. Dilani Manodara’s entertaining 61 could have been decisive had she got support from the rest of the batters.

The decisive moment in the game came in the 18th over of Sri Lanka’s innings when Chamari Athapaththu failed to read a googly from Poonam that did not turn much, and was bowled while playing a slog sweep. Having hit four fours in her 25 and put on 40 runs for the second wicket with Nipuni Hansika, she looked in good touch. But her dismissal exposed the lack of Sri Lanka’s depth in batting, and India cashed in on it. Poonam then drew Hansika forward with a classical stock delivery and had her beautifully stumped by Sushma Verma in the 24th over.

With the required run-rate climbing, Shashikala Siriwardene and Manodara gave a push to the chase. They took their chances during a fourth-wicket association of 60 runs, but Poonam’s parsimonious returns of 10-1-23-2 ensured that India never lost control despite some easy boundaries being conceded by the other bowlers.

Sri Lanka hit 40 runs in the batting Power Play, but Veda ran forward from long-on to take a well-judged diving catch and send Siriwardene back for 37. Veda held another smart catch inside the inner circle, but otherwise India’s fielding left a lot to be desired.

It is an area that they need to work on as they play South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in their last three games. They also need to find a way to rotate the strike better. After playing 194 dot balls against Pakistan, they failed to score off 165 balls in this game.

On what looked like a good batting surface, India lost Smriti Mandhana and Poonam Raut by the 11th over. Deepti, who is usually slow to start, relied on Raj to get the scoreboard moving, but the Indian skipper was uncharacteristically slow to get off the blocks. Known to have an issue against inswingers, Raj first had to counter Sripali Weerakkody and then the offspin of Siriwardene. She got off the mark off her 15th ball, but her experience came to the fore after that. She upper her strike rate, and Deepti played a few lofted strokes to ensure that Sri Lanka stopped attacking with eight fielders, including one slip, inside the circle. Once the field spread, run-making seemed to become easier. The two had spent 25.5 overs together when Deepti, in the 37th over, was caught against the run of play. Deepti’s first World Cup half-century was crucial in the bigger picture as she has been the key cog in India’s recent run of successes.

Raj believes in the idea of set batters batting for as long as possible, so it was a bit surprising to see Jhulan Goswami come ahead of Kaur while the batting Power Play was on. While the logic was understandable as India were 156 for 3 in 36.5 overs, there was not enough pace provided by the bowlers for Goswami to use it to her advantage.

Once Poonam struck, the result was never in doubt. a© Getty Images

Once Poonam struck, the result was never in doubt. a© Getty Images

Eager to change the tempo, possibly factoring in Athapaththu’s form, India failed to play to their strength. As a result, Goswami and Raj fell off successive balls to Inoka Ranaweera in the 40th over. Raj, who now has the most fifties by a captain, surpassing Charlotte Edwards’s 36, played across the line to be leg before wicket. She now needs 34 runs to go past Edwards to become the highest run-getter in the history of ODIs.

Kaur and Veda played a few cheeky shots to show their teammates how things could have been done, but they too fell in the space of two balls in the 49th over bowled by Weerakkody. Without Verma’s seven-ball 11 and Sri Lanka’s sloppy fielding – they dropped a total of four catches – India might have struggled to cross 220.

Goswami removed Hasini Perera in the fifth over of Sri Lanka’s chase, but once Mansi Joshi gave away two fours in the next over Raj returned to her spin theory. But with two left-handers at the crease, Raj brought Deepti Sharma instead of Ekta Bisht, the left-arm spinner.

The offspinner bowled 14 dot balls at a stretch as India started to work their way through into the Sri Lanka’s chase. Once Poonam struck, the result was never in doubt. India, though, gave away 77 runs in the last ten overs. How the margin of victory, which could have been much bigger, affects them on the points table remains to be seen.