Women’s s cricket in India would look to find a new direction post the ICC Women’s World Cup in New Zealand set to be held from March 4 to April 3. For, the current captain Mithali Raj, in her 22nd year of international cricket and Jhulan Goswami, in her 20th year in international cricket, are into their 40th year and are hopeful of some magic happening in New Zealand in the form of their team upsetting the apple cart of Australia and England, and the host New Zealand to win the title for the first time.
That these two, notwithstanding their advancing years, are still playing competitive cricket at the highest levels mirrors their enthusiasm, but it also points to the flip side of the system that has failed to find replacements for the aging stalwarts. It’s highly creditable that Jhulan, who is a new ball operator and bowls fast medium pace, is still held in awe and admiration by her colleagues and opponents, but she should be a tired cricketer and only the dream of the ultimate prize has kept her in the game. Ditto with Mithali, who now holds virtually all individual records.
There will be much attention on the women in blue, and Mithali and Jhulan in particular when the ICC Women’s World Cup begins in March. Their mood will be evident in the outcome of the white ball series against New Zealand.
Things look much better for the team now heading towards the big event. But the coronavirus pandemic did hamper their preparations by not allowing them to play for 15 months. After India won the three-match series against the West Indies at Antigua in November 2019, they did not have opportunities to play competitive ODIs till the home series against South Africa in Lucknow in March 2021. India lost that series 1-4.
This loss to South Africa without a few of top players was a big setback, but the BCCI went out of the way to schedule an all-format series in England and in Australia to provide match opportunities for the team. India played three ODI matches each against England and Australia, and won two matches and lost four; all under Ramesh Powar as coach. Apart from a total of six ODIs, India played a Test match each against England and Australia (pink ball under the lights) and three Twenty20 internationals each against the two teams. They also played three T20Is against South Africa in Lucknow and lost 1-2.
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So, in all India played 22 internationals after the tour of the West Indies. They also played five T20 World Cup matches in Australia and lost the final to the home team by 85 runs.
A few members of the Indian team also showcased their talent in The Hundred in England and in the Women’s BBL in Australia.
The Indian team will play five ODI matches against New Zealand at Napier, Nelson and Queenstown from February 11 to 24, following a T20I at Napier on February 9. This is bound to assist the team management to work out plans for the World Cup. They will open their campaign against Pakistan on March 6 at the Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui.
The Indian team has been selected and there are notable absentees. They are Punam Raut, Jemimah Rodrigues and Shikha Pandey. The selection committee has not given any reason as to why these three players have not been considered.
As for as the World Cup, India are a contender for the title. They had lost to England in the 2017 final in England. Former India allrounder and captain Shubhangi Kulkarni believes that each player has to contribute if the team wishes to win the Cup.
“If India has to win the Cup, each and every one has to play their role. As far as batting is concerned, we will be looking at Smriti Mandhana, Mithali, Harmanpreet Kaur, and Deepti Sharma to lead the pack with their experience. Shafali Verma, Richa Ghosh and Yastika Bhatia are a bit inexperienced, but they have shown huge potential. Harman has played some outstanding innings in the earlier World Cups and this time too it will be expected of her to strengthen the middle order which has not been consistent in the last few series,” Shubhangi told News18.
Shubhangi further said: “The two areas which have been a cause for concern while batting for all these years — the number of dot balls and running between the wickets -– needs to be addressed. We don’t always need to play the big shots. If we keep getting the ones and twos and wait for the loose delivery to get the big ones, we can easily get a good total. Rotating the strike is absolutely necessary. “
With regard to the bowling department, she felt that Shikha with all her experience could have been included. “The World Cup is a huge stage and I feel we need the experience particularly on reaching the last stage. Jhulan Goswami (medium pacer) has been exceptional, and we will depend on her to give us the initial breakthroughs, but on the New Zealand pitches, we will need the other medium pacers to perform. Our spinners are experienced and have done the job in the past, and we expect them to play their roles in this World Cup as well. Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana can contribute with the bat as well. I would go with a specialist keeper – Taniya Bhatia – to take advantage of whatever chances come our way to put pressure on the opposition.”
India have played 35 ODIs after the 2017 World Cup final, won 18 and lost 17. They have not been able to post substantial totals batting first and hence lost 14 matches. They won 12 matches batting second. Clearly, their top order and middle order has to rise to the occasion in New Zealand.
India’s best opening pairs after the last World Cup have been Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma, Smriti and Jemimah and Smriti and Punam. Batting first, these three pairs have been part of opening partnerships upwards of 31 seven times. And Jemima and Punam are not even in the team. While chasing, Smriti and Jemimah have been India’s best with three century partnerships in the last four years.
Smriti has scored at 5.46 runs an over (4.90 batting first and 5.98 batting second) after the last World Cup. Harmanpreet has scored at 4.10 an over, Jemimah at 4.13 an over, Taniya Bhatia at 4.31 an over and Shafali at 4.43.
Only time will tell whether it was a right decision to drop senior players like Punam, Shikha and Jemimah for the marquee event. The players, the coach and the BCCI know that slow scoring in the middle order has affected the end total batting first, and it’s an area the batters have to rectify, especially at the business end of the tournament.
The World Cup is a big stage that should drive the likes of Smriti, Shafali, and Harmanpreet to make their performances count. There are quite a few more who can spring a surprise or two, but these three are the stroke players and hitters and hence there have an opportunity to show the way all the way.