Key match-ups: where the T20 World Cup could be won and lost
The Women’s T20 World Cup final will be the fifth time Australia and India have met in just over a month. The played three times in the recent tri-series, including the final, and also played in the opening match of the tournament. The teams have won two games each across the last month and the match-ups have been fascinating. They know each other inside out but both teams will need a find a way to get the match-ups in their favour at the MCG in order to take the title.
Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana versus Megan Schutt
Schutt started the year as the No.1 T20I bowler but has since slipped to No.2 while Verma has climbed to No.1 in the batting rankings after mauling Schutt at every opportunity.
“They’ve got the wood on me,” Schutt said. “Smriti and Verma, they’ve got me covered. There are some plans we’re going to revisit as bowlers. Clearly, I don’t think I’m the best match-up to those two in the powerplay, they find me easy to play.”
Verma has scored 33 runs in 14 balls off Schutt this year without being dismissed, including four boundaries in an over in the tournament opener. But despite her own doubts, Schutt is a good match-up for Mandhana having dismissed her four times for 55 runs in 44 balls since 2016. If it’s not Schutt bowling in the powerplay Australia have precious few other options. Ellyse Perry and Tayla Vlaeminck are the perfect match-ups for the India pair but both are unavailable due to injury.
Verma has had trouble against extra pace bounce but has dominated everything else. Australia doesn’t have extra pace. The only other pace options they have from the semi-final side is Nicola Carey and Delissa Kimmince, but both bowl at well under 110kph. They tried the offspin of Molly Strano in Sydney without success after she had dismissed Verma five times in seven innings for Australia A and the Governor-General’s.
Harmanpreet Kaur versus Jess Jonassen
Kaur has had a tough tour of Australia. Since her outstanding 42 not out against England in the tri-series in Canberra she has only reached 20 twice in nine innings and has three single-figure scores in the World Cup. Jonassen has her measure. The left-arm spinner has claimed her three times in her career and Kaur has scored just 16 runs in 21 balls against her since 2016. Australia have a couple of good match-ups for India’s middle order. Kimmince has knocked over Jemimah Rodrigues three times for just 17 runs in 17 balls. The worry for Australia is Deepti Sharma who played a valuable innings in Sydney making 49 from 46. The left-handed Sharma has trouble scoring freely against Schutt and Kimmince, but if those two are forced to bowl a lot upfront, it could be left to two left-arm orthodox and a legspinner later in the innings if Australia pick the same side from the semi-final. Sharma can find the boundary hitting with the spin as she proved twice against Jonassen in the opening match of the World Cup. Molineux has a poor record against all of India’s players and Georgia Wareham has strategically not been selected against them.
Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney versus Deepti Sharma
Sharma and Shikha Pandey are the match-ups in the powerplay for Australia’s key pair. Like India, if Australia’s openers get away the game can disappear quickly. Sharma has been phenomenal against Australia’s dynamic duo getting Healy twice and Mooney three times and conceding well under a run-a-ball. India cannot turn to Rajeshwari Gayakwad or Radha Yadav against Healy and Mooney as both have feasted on the left-arm orthodox. It is strange for Healy, a right-hander, to prefer the ball spinning away but the way she uses her feet and her hand path and bat swing means she is much more comfortable creating room and going inside-out over the offside. Sharma can bowl wide of the crease and angle in which cramps Healy. Mooney oddly doesn’t sweep Sharma very often despite the fact she bowls over the wicket pitching the ball outside leg stump. Pandey is a gamble. Mooney has scored 49 off 32 against her for one dismissal but Pandey has caused Healy some concern. Poonam Yadav has got Healy twice but she is unlikely in the powerplay with only two fielders out.
Meg Lanning or Ash Gardner at No.3 versus India’s spinners
This is an interesting debate for Australia. Lanning has taken control at No.3 in the last two games against New Zealand and South Africa, going against Australia’s previous plan of sending Gardner out at No.3 if Healy falls first. But Lanning’s career strike-rate drops from 117 to 103 against India and she’s never made a half-century, while Gardner’s record against India and at No.3 overall is outstanding compared to her career numbers. Both of Gardner’s career half-centuries have come at No.3 including 93 against India in the tri-series. She also averages 26.23 at No.3 and strikes at 133.13 compared to her career rates of 21.50 and 127.97. Against India, she averages 32.42 and strikes at 135.11. Lanning has fallen to Radha and Gayakwad twice each and Sharma once. There is a case to be made for Australia to get Gardner to bat as high as possible for this game. That will be weighed up against Lanning’s current form, her experience, her leadership, and her record in big finals. But Gardner was Player of the Match in the last World Cup final against England in the West Indies in 2018 where set batted No. 3
Australia versus Poonam Yadav
The fear is real for Australia after Yadav ripped through them taking 4 for 19 in the opening game. “We will talk about Poonam Yadav,” Lanning said. “There’s a lot of learnings from that first game that we feel like we can implement. We’ll do all our research over the next few days, have a look at them, but also how we can play. I’ve got no doubt we’ll be able to adapt.”
The MCG is a vastly different surface to the Sydney Showground with much more grass and less turn. Poonam has taken just one wicket in each of the past two games partly because of the lessons other sides have learned. Australia tried to play Poonam’s slower than normal legspin off the front foot and all four of Poonam’s victims fell either advancing down the track or lunging forward and not reading the spin correctly. A back-foot blueprint was provided by New Zealand’s Amelia Kerr who sat deep in her crease and moved outside off stump to pull her twice over backward square. But it’s one thing knowing what to do, it’s quite another being able to execute under pressure in a World Cup final.