SK Flashback: ICC Women's World Cup 2017, and where the Indian women stand exactly a year later
Ahead of the 2017 ICC Women's World Cup, the Indian side was ranked fifth in overall rankings. But with the presence of heavyweights like Australia and England, the Indians were supposedly mere participants who were there just to see "how far" they could go.
But then, cricket is a sport; and like all sports, you can't really predict the outcome in advance.
The unpredictability was evident right in the second game, as the hosts England got a taste of the Indian medicine. In a game where all four batswomen who came out to bat did well, India posted 281/3 and then followed up with some disciplined bowling to reduce the hosts to 246.
This was followed by a win against Windies, this time by chasing, as Smriti Mandhana, India's latest sensation, and Mithali Raj, probably India's oldest sensation from women's cricket, joined hands to see off the 183-run target.
The third game was altogether different, as it was the bowling that helped India win. Batting first against Pakistan, all they could manage was 169 runs, and it was reckoned that this would be India's first loss in the campaign that had been going exceedingly well so far.
But Ekta Bisht had other plans. She turned the tables around and handed India a huge victory, playing the role of chief tormentor as Pak was skittled out for a mere 74.
This was followed by a 16-run win over Sri Lanka, as India more or less assured themselves of a semi-finals spot.
The fifth and last group game against South Africa was an eye opener for the Indian team as the possible over-confidence led the Indian girls to a crushing defeat of 115 runs. This was followed by Australians running riot over India, and now things were looking pretty dark.
With four wins and two losses, India had already exceeded the expectations. But if they could push for a win in the next game, that would take them to the semis, which would be even sweeter. And that's exactly what happened.
The Indian women completed a famous victory at the County Ground in Derby, trouncing New Zealand by a whopping 186 runs. This made India come face-to-face with Australia once again, this time in the semi-finals.
Harmanpreet Kaur played the knock of her life as her 175 runs gave India a huge lifeline, leading the entire team to the all-important final.
By now, expectations had surmounted, and many people began hoping of a title, especially because England were the other finalists, and a previous encounter had seen victory for India.
But that was not to happen a second time. Exactly a year to this day, on July 23, 2017, India lost to the hosts in what was probably the most thrilling game in the whole tournament, by a paltry margin of just 9 runs.
Even in the loss, the Indian girls held their heads high, as they had traveled much farther than what was expected of them, eclipsing several teams that contested directly for the title. They became overnight superstars, and even received an enormous welcome back home, especially captain Mithali and batswomen Harmanpreet and Smriti.
India's unexpected run at the 2017 Women's World Cup was considered enormously significant on many levels. Whenever the ladies have played since then, expectations have always been sky-high. People have taken keen note of them, giving them an almost-equal importance as their male counterparts who are no less than Gods in different parts of the country.
When such news comes from a country like India, it is always a matter of hope and pride.
However, after the World Cup, the Indian girls remained out of action for nearly six months, with not much of national duty to undertake. While the BCCI's strategy on the issue was questioned, the new T20I captain of the side, Harmanpreet was happy about it as she cited the need for a much-needed "break" for the side to look after the injuries after "back-to-back series and tournaments in the run-up to the World Cup".
This was followed by two brief intervals of contrasting results - both away and home. India completed away games against South Africa winning the ODI series 2-1 and the T20I series 3-1. However, results at home were disappointing as Australia completed a whitewash 3-0, just before England nearly took away another ODI series.
After that came the Asia Cup in Malaysia which saw the world runners-up suffer twin shock defeats - once in the league stage and once in the finals - to Bangladesh, still regarded as mere minnows in the game.
Many of the stars have also landed contracts in the Women's Big Bash League and the Kia Super League, the two T20 international leagues popular among women. Players like Harmanpreet and Smriti have also experienced a huge spike in fan-following, as the little sphere of women's cricket seems to have expanded like never before in India.
Hopefully, all this leads to greener pastures for the girls, as lots of hidden talents across the country still wait to be unearthed.