Sensational Sadhu propels India to Asian Games gold

Smriti Mandhana and Titas Sadhu, India's batting and bowling stars, celebrate AFP/Getty Images

India 116 for 7 (Mandhana 46, Rodrigues 42, Prabhodani 2-16) beat Sri Lanka 97 for 8 (Hasini 25, Nilakshi 23, Sadhu 3-6, Gayakwad 2-20) by 19 runs

In South Africa this January, Titas Sadhu was named Player of the Match in the final as India beat England to be crowned champions of the inaugural Under-19 women's T20 World Cup. Nine months later, in Hangzhou, Titas not only realised her childhood dream of debuting for the senior team, she also bowled a memorable spell (4-2-6-3) in the final, this time to help India clinch the Asian Games gold.

That victory was sealed by someone all of 18, especially with victory far from being a foregone conclusion, made it even sweeter. India were under pressure, having lost 5 for 14 to be restricted to 116. Then they saw Chamari Athapaththu make a brisk start in Sri Lanka's chase.

A sense of deja vu may have hit them that very moment. Memories of stage fright that got them at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and at the T20 World Cup semi-final in Cape Town may have come rushing back. But where Australia were a ruthless machine who knew to close out games from a corner, Sri Lanka perhaps let the occasion of a final get to them.

Where calmness was the need of the hour, they panicked. And in losing three wickets inside the powerplay, they allowed pressure to dictate terms. They tried to limit damage by playing themselves in and taking the game deep. By then the asking rate on what seemed a rank turner, with balls bouncing and shooting off the rough, spiraled beyond reasonable measure.

India, not-so-ecstatic after their batting meltdown only 90 minutes earlier, celebrated. Sri Lanka, riding a massive wave of confidence - only last month, they recorded a historic maiden T20I series win in England - sank to their knees. Two contrasting emotions that make sport the ultimate theatre were on display as the sun, which shone the brightest in the final after days of rain in the lead-up, went down behind the hills.

Mandhana, Rodrigues steady India

India started cautiously as it became clear very early on that the pitch was going to take a lot of turn. Between overs 2-5, Sri Lanka didn't concede a single boundary and the frustration of not being able to score one led to Shafali Verma's dismissal as she was stumped off Sugandika Kumari. Yet, by the end of the first six overs, India had recovered to 35 for 1, and were looking for a lift off.
Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues recalibrated India's approach and turned into run accumulators, instead of looking to bash the ball. Occasionally, Rodrigues got bad deliveries that she kept putting away as India chugged along at a run-a-ball for the first 10 overs.

Mandhana was at her calculative best and reined herself in for large parts, seldom looking to sweep against the turn, until she got to a point where she wanted to cut loose in the 12th. When Athapaththu fed her a full toss, she swatted it to the square leg boundary to signal a change in intent. But she was foxed soon after when left-arm spinner Inoka Ranaweera slowed it down nicely and had her top-edge a slog to short fine leg for a 45-ball 46 as Sri Lanka broke a 73-run stand.

The collapse

This set into motion a full-blown middle order collapse. Harmanpreet Kaur, playing her first game of the tournament, struggled to adjust to the pace and was out nicking behind. Richa Ghosh was caught behind trying to play a full-blooded sweep against the turn and Pooja Vastrakar dragged a slog to deep midwicket. India managed just one boundary in the last four overs that went for 16 as Sri Lanka went into the break with momentum on their side.

Sadhu lets it rip

Athapaththu began the chase with clear intent of looking to put the bowlers under pressure and pocketed 12 off Deepti Sharma's offspin. But that onslaught didn't last long with Sadhu, brought on for the third over, striking twice. Anushka Sanjeewani was out toe-ending a slog to mid-off and Vishmi Gunaratne was late to defend a skiddy length ball that sneaked through to smash the stumps.
In her second over, the fifth of the innings, Athapaththu slapped a length ball straight to cover where Deepti hung on to an excellent catch to leave Sri Lanka 14 for 3. Sadhu could've had a fourth two balls later, but for Amanjot Kaur putting down a chance at point to reprieve Nilakshi de Silva. Sadhu's USP is her ability to hit hard lengths and move the ball off the seam. Much like her mentor Jhulan Goswami did for a better part of the last two decades. Here she was now, in a grand final, exhibiting tremendous control on the face of a challenge.

Hasini roars but India have last laugh

Hasini Perera didn't take long to get going and broke the run-strangle with back-to-back fours off Vastrakar to end the powerplay. Over the next couple of overs, Hasini played herself in with an effort to try and put pressure on India in the back half. When Harmanpreet threw the ball to Amanjot Kaur in an effort to get an over or two in quickly, Hasini put the pressure right back by walloping her for a six across the line.
She followed that up by clattering left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad for a four and six off the next over. She was now picking her spots and hitting them at will. Just when it seemed as if India were in for a fierce counterattack, Gayakwad roared back. By tossing the ball up nicely outside off, she challenged Hasini to clear the longer leg-side boundary and had her holing out to deep midwicket. That was a massive moment. India knew then it was theirs to lose.

Sri Lanka's lower order hung around valiantly, bringing out the odd big hit in the hope of a late surge, but India closed out the game clinically through their spinners to seal a win they were made to earn.

S Lanka (W) 2nd innings Partnerships

1st13AMCJK AthapaththuMAA Sanjeewani
2nd0AMCJK AthapaththuRMVD Gunaratne
3rd1AMCJK AthapaththuGWHM Perera
4th36GWHM PereraNND Silva
5th28OU RanasingheNND Silva
6th8OU RanasingheWK Dilhari
7th6BMSM KumariWK Dilhari
8th4SIP FernandoBMSM Kumari
9th1KDU PrabodhaniSIP Fernando