Veteran batswoman Mithali Raj and opener Smriti Mandhana hit stylish half-centuries as India cruised to a comfortable nine-wicket victory over South Africa in the second women's T20 International on Friday. The Harmanpreet Kaur-led team is now 2-0 up in the five-match series, having won the opening encounter by seven wickets.
Chasing a modest 143, India cantered to victory in 19.1 overs as Mandhana hit a blistering 57 off 42 balls while Raj anchored the innings to perfection with her second successive half-century, remaining unbeaten on 76 off 61 balls.
Raj was declared 'Player of the Match' once again. "The wicket was on the slower side and it wouldn't have been easy for a new batter to come in and start hitting straightaway. The century partnership (with Mandhana) was really important," Raj said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
Her skipper Harmanpreet was equally ecstatic with the senior pro's performance. "We had discussed that if a player gets settled, she would have to bat through.
It was a fantastic effort from Mithali di as she performed the role of a senior player," she said.
Mandhana struck four boundaries and three sixes - one off leg-spinner Dane van Niekerk and another two off Raisibe Ntozake. It wasn't exactly a flawless innings as she was dropped twice during her second half-century in the shortest format.
Along with one day skipper Raj, Mandhana added 106 runs for the opening stand in 14.2 overs. Mandhana, who scored a century and a half-century in India's ODI series win, was in her element, attacking the Proteas bowling from the word go and reaching her half-century off only 37 balls.
Raj, on the other hand, completed her 12th T20 half-century off 48 deliveries. She waited for the loose deliveries to hit her customary cover drives and also rotated the strike well.
Only after Mandhana was adjudged leg before, she took charge with 23 needed off the last three overs. She targeted medium pacer Ayabonga Khaka, bowling the 18th over, hitting her for two boundaries to ease off any pressure that was there.
In all, Raj hit eight boundaries and the last was a thump over mid-wicket off Shabnim Ismail, which brought about India's victory.
Earlier, leg-spinner Poonam Yadav (2/18 in 4 overs) and off-spinner Anuja Patil (2/37 in 4 overs) shared the bulk of the spoils as the Proteas women could never up to the ante during the entire 20 overs. The only notable partnership was between Sune Luus (33) and Nadine de Klerk (26), who added 43 runs for the fifth wicket after they were in a spot of bother at 58 for 4.
Brief Scores: South Africa 142/7 (Sune Luus 33, Nadine de Klerk 26, Poonam Yadav 2/17 in 4 overs) lost to India 144/1 in 19.1 overs (Mithali Raj 76 not out off 61 balls, Smriti Mandhana 57 off 42 balls).
(With PTI Inputs)