India's players celebrate with their gold medals during the awards ceremony of the women's final cricket match against Sri Lanka at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, on Monday. AP
India struck gold on their Asian Games cricket debut when they beat in-form Sri Lanka by 19 runs in the women's final in Hangzhou on Monday.
They had declined to enter any teams on the two previous occasions cricket was played at the multi-sport event, at Guangzhou in 2010 and Incheon in 2014.
"It's a gold medal for the whole of India," said batter Richa Ghosh.
Batting first India reached 116-7 in their 20 overs with Smriti Mandhana (46) and Jemimah Rodrigues (42) putting on 73 for the second wicket.
"Winning a gold medal is something you dream about," said Rodrigues.
"It's a reward for all the efforts we have put in over so many years."
Sri Lanka's chase started badly when they were reduced to 14-3 in the fifth over by a devastating spell from right-arm seamer Titas Sadhu.
She took two wickets in her first four balls and another in her third over to finish with remarkable figures of three wickets for six runs.
Sri Lanka, who had beaten England in a white-ball series for the first time earlier this month, were always behind the run rate despite Hasini Perera looking to accelerate, hitting four fours and a six in a rapid 25.
When Nilakshi de Silva was out after a battling 23, Sri Lanka were 78-5 needing 39 more with only 23 balls remaining.
Two more wickets saw them face a near-impossible 25 off the last over and could only muster five as India began to celebrate.
"It's a golden first for us," India assistant coach Rajib Dutta told AFP. "Many more to come I hope.
"It's a low-scoring wicket so we thought 110 would be a good score, but when Jemimah and Mandhana were together we thought 130-135 might be possible so we were a little disappointed by 116," he added.
Sri Lankan all-rounder Oshadi Ranasinghe said they had missed a good opportunity to win gold.
"Looking at the way we batted, we have to get more disciplined," she said.
'The pitch was turning'
Accumulating runs has not been easy all tournament at the Zhejiang University for Technology Pingfeng Cricket Field, on a flaky wicket affected by rain last week.
India won the toss and opted to bat even though both semi-finals and the bronze medal match were won by the team chasing.
They lost star opener Shafali Verma with the score on 16, but steadied to 35-1 at the end of the six-over power play where only two fielders are allowed outside the 30-metre circle.
When Mandhana fell for 46 with the score on 89 in the 15th over, it sparked a succession of dismissals that stalled India's momentum when a testing total in excess of 130 had looked more likely.
Rodrigues, who had been not out 47 and 20 in her two previous Asian Games outings, was finally dismissed in the last over for 42.
"We had also struggled while batting on this pitch, so we thought we could defend this total," said Ghosh, who smashed a huge six in her cameo of nine off six balls.
"The pitch was turning and holding up a little bit."
Bangladesh took the bronze after restricting Pakistan to 64-9 and crawling to their target of 65 in 18.2 overs in their medal playoff.
It meant Pakistan, who won the gold on both previous occasions that cricket was played in the Asian Games, return home empty-handed.
"It's not a good feeling. We never got enough runs on the board," said Pakistan coach Mohtashim Rasheed.
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