Deflated India Find Optimism In Melbourne Heartbreak

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NEW DELHI, March 9 (Reuters) - The crushing defeat in Sunday's final against Australia will haunt Harmanpreet Kaur and her team for a while but India hope the experience will only make them better before the next Women's Twenty20 World Cup in 2022.

India finished the group stage as the tournament's only unbeaten team and progressed to the final after their semi-finals against England was washed out.

The expectations were naturally high, especially since India had beaten the hosts in the tournament opener, but Australia thrashed them by 85 runs to lift their fifth title.

The cricket-mad country reacted with maturity to the setback and support poured in for Kaur's team, which included several teenagers.

"It was a tough day for #TeamIndia. Our team is young and will grow into a solid unit," batting great Sachin Tendulkar tweeted.

"You have inspired many across the globe. We are proud of you. Keep working hard and never lose hope. It will happen one day," he added.

Encouragement also came from men's team captain Virat Kohli, who endured similar heartbreak in last year's 50-overs World Cup, where India topped the group stage but lost in the semi-finals against New Zealand.

"Proud of all the efforts put in by the Indian Women's Cricket Team throughout their #T20WorldCup campaign. I'm confident that you girls will bounce back stronger than ever," tweeted Kohli.

Opener Shafali Verma had set alight the group stage with her batting pyrotechnics but endured a nightmare on Sunday when she manage two, having dropped player-of-the-match Alyssa Healy earlier in the match.

The 16-year-old was in tears after the defeat and was consoled by senior team mates.

"I told her she had to be really proud of the kind of campaign she´d had," opening partner Smriti Mandhana said.

"This is a time to introspect. Failure teaches you a lot more than success. The team needs to be left alone and think of how we can be better in the next few years."

Both Mandhana and skipper Kaur were woefully out of form in the tournament while India's fielding was below-par in the final.

"We didn´t field well...When you are playing a great level of cricket, you cannot drop the chances and we were not up to the mark," Kaur said.

"We will take this seriously and when we come to play next time, we will be one of the best fielding sides." (Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Michael Perry)