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WPL Eliminator: RCB hope to get the better of MI, again

Mandhana’s team beat the defending champs on Tuesday but can they do it with a place in the final on the line?

On Tuesday night, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) romped past Mumbai Indians (MI) by seven wickets to seal a spot in WPL-2’s Eliminator.

Mumbai Indians Women (MIW) captain Harmanpreet Kaur and Royal Challengers Bangalore Women (RCBW) captain Smriti Mandhana(WPL-X)

On Friday night, RCB will again face MI with a place in Sunday’s final against Delhi Capitals on the line.

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A place in the playoffs for RCB is indicative of a much-improved campaign after a fourth-placed finish in the inaugural edition. That was underlined by their all-round display against the defending champions a couple of nights ago, bowling out the Harmanpreet Kaur-led side for 113 before chasing down the target in just 15 overs.

But MI are defending champions for a reason. They had a rare off-day with the bat, but for RCB to engineer another such display will require an effort as special as Ellyse Perry’s 6/15 in four overs.

From MI’s perspective, it is imperative that Harmanpreet clicks. She was out first ball on Tuesday, triggering a meltdown that saw MI lose their next four wickets for only 17 runs.

But other than that, the 35-year-old has been striking the ball exceptionally well and leads the way as their top run-getter with 235 runs in six innings at an average of 58.75 and a strike rate of 146.87. Evidence of her ball-striking ability came against Gujarat Giants last Sunday as a blazing knock of 95 not out (48 balls) guided MI to a daunting target of 191.

Though Harmanpreet hadn’t set the stage alight going into this season’s WPL — she had mediocre returns against England and Australia — she’s seemingly able to flick a switch and get going in a way that few of her compatriots can in the shortest format.

“Every player has a way of preparing. She was asking me before that knock (95) for more lofted shots,” MI batting coach Devika Palshikar said on Thursday. “She usually does knocking in a different way. That day was different. Her inner voice may have told her to do things differently that day.”

While MI also have the overseas calibre of Hayley Matthews, Nat Sciver-Brunt and Amelia Kerr in the batting unit, they will be pleased with the return of Yastika Bhatia at the opening slot. The wicketkeeper-batter, who has scored 185 runs in seven games at a strike rate of 131.2, missed the previous game versus RCB due to a niggle. With the ball, Shabnim Ismail, Sciver-Brunt and Saika Ishaque have been MI’s leading contributors.

If RCB have been a much more difficult team to beat this year, it’s because they have had several players sparkle at different stages. Sample the returns of the batting department, where skipper Smriti Mandhana, Perry and Richa Ghosh have shone with 200-plus runs. The bowling unit too hasn’t been overly reliant on any one performer — Sophie Devine, Sophie Molineux, Asha Sobhana, Shreyanka Patil and Perry have all chipped in with crucial wickets.

“Really excited to qualify for the playoffs. To be able to do that, you need different contributors at different times,” said RCB coach Luke Williams. “That’s what we have been able to do. We certainly haven’t been anywhere near perfect. We have had some good performances and some performances that we think we can improve on. But we feel like we are really primed to play some good cricket on Friday and hopefully on Sunday as well.”

Ask Williams — he has had success as coach in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) — what has changed from last season and he says: “It’s a little bit of experience with T20 cricket and franchise cricket and that there are going to be ups and downs in a tournament and the best way to navigate that is to stay calm and quite level. Hopefully we have been quite consistent with the way we have reviewed games whether we have won or lost. We have had real confidence that we can challenge all teams in this competition when we play our best cricket.”


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