India 164 for 5 (Mandhana 61, Rodrigues 44*, Kemp 2-22) beat England 160 for 6 (Sciver 41, Wyatt 35, Jones 31, Rana 2-28) by four runs
Undaunted by their opponent's might and undeterred by their own history of faltering under pressure, India rose to the occasion in front of 17,000 fans to beat England in a tight contest and set up a bout for the gold medal at CWG 2022.
Having endured a massive heartbreak, England, unbeaten in the competition until today, will have to turn up in less than 24 hours for their bronze-medal playoff. India, meanwhile, are through to the final where they will play the winner of the second semi-final, the trans-Tasman clash between New Zealand and Australia.
Mandhana's blast upfront
Mandhana had been timing the ball superbly all tournament, and it was no different on Saturday. An exhibition of clean ball-striking and a game without half-measures delivered a 23-ball half-century to set the game up after India elected to bat. Very early in the innings, she put pressure on the 17-year-old offspinner Alex Capsey and the inexperienced Issy Wong, whom she pulled disdainfully over the ropes in front of square to lay down a marker. India raised their fifty in just 4.3 overs - it was their quickest effort in T20Is - and at the end of the powerplay they had moved to 64 without loss.
From a comfortable 76 for 0 in the eighth over, India slipped as Shafali Verma and Mandhana fell in the space of five deliveries. Shafali holed out to mid-off while trying to muscle one down the ground, and Mandhana fell while attempting a scoop off a full delivery that had no pace on it. These dismisals coincided with England tightening the screws as overs 8-11 produced just 12 runs. Harmanpreet Kaur broke the shackles with two fours and a six in overs 12-14, but was out soon after, brilliantly caught by Maia Bouchier running in from deep backward square leg. After 14 overs, India were 113 for 3, in the midst of a slowdown.
Like as in the game against Barbados, Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma had a platform from where they could launch India to a strong total. They began by playing touch cricket, mindful of another wicket exposing the lower order, and thereafter began to change gears. Rodrigues was particularly impressive with her footwork against spin, stepping to the leg side to repeatedly hit inside-out over cover. Deepti was a touch more adventurous, exposing all three stumps and using Sophie Ecclestone's pace to scoop her for back-to-back boundaries to begin India's final ascent. They added 53 off just 38 balls to give India momentum and a score they would have perhaps taken at the toss. Rodrigues ended unbeaten on 44 off 31 after chugging along at a run a ball for large parts of her knock.
Renuka Singh Thakur began India's defence with a no-ball that Sophia Dunkley thumped for four, and followed up with a free-hit that was walloped over midwicket. One legal delivery into the innings, England had nine runs on the board and were in the mood to keep punching. The first two overs went for 24, and India went to Plan B, bringing on Deepti's offspin. It seemed to work immediately as Dunkley was out lbw attempting a premeditated sweep. But any relief India may have had from the wicket was quickly offset as Danni Wyatt continued to plunder runs off the pacers. England were neck and neck with India's powerplay score, getting to 58 for 1 after the first six overs.
The spin strangle
After Deepti delivered the initial breakthrough, India turned to their second offspinner Rana. Where Deepti bowled a touch flatter, Rana gave the ball a lovely loop, unperturbed by the batters attempting to either step out or even try the reverse-sweep. She got some early breathing space when India got their second wicket two balls into her spell - Capsey run out - and she took the big wicket of Wyatt in her second over, playing on while trying to shuffle across and scoop a fullish delivery from outside off stump. At 81 for 3 in nine overs, the game was in the balance.
Sciver and Amy Jones steadied the innings after the fall of Wyatt, as England hit just two boundaries in overs 10-15. But they milked enough runs in that period to stay in the hunt, as England went into the last five overs needing 48. India, intent on taking the pace off, gave part-time offspinner Shafali the 16th over, and Jones hit her for back-to-back fours to bring the equation down to a manageable 33 off 24 with six wickets in hand. But both Jones and Sciver were run out, with England back under pressure following a tight 17th over from Deepti, and India were on top once more. Rana eventually nailed her full lengths in the final over to close out the game. Deepti and Rana finished with combined figures of 3 for 46 from eight overs, which proved decisive in the end.