Against all odds, the Indian women team prevailed over marauding Australia in the third one-day international on Sunday. The win by two wickets and three balls to spare was the most pleasant news for the visitor that had gone down in the first two games at the same venue at Harrup Park, Mackay in the east coast of Queensland. The teams move to Gold Coast for a pink ball day-night Test after which they will close the tour with a three-match Twenty20 international series.
India’s hard-fought win with Jhulan Goswsmi hitting a straight boundary shot in the last over of the match ended the home team’s 26-match winning streak, but more importantly the victory — and posting a high score of 274 in the previous match — mirrored the response from the young players introduced to international cricket like Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, and Richa Ghosh after a lacklustre showing in the first match it lost by nine wickets and 54 balls to spare.
The absence of Harmanpreet Kaur, because of a thumb injury, enabled the team management to mould a team without its hardest hitter, but someone who failed to click in the three-match ODI series in England in June. Apart from Harmanpreet’s absence, Mumbai’s Jemima Rodrigues did not get the confidence vote from the captain, Mithali Raj and coach Ramesh Powar, who went to the extent of saying that Jemima may or may not figure in India’s World Cup scheme of things. She has been dismissed for single digit scores in the last five matches. A fit and in-form batters like Smriti Mandhana, Jemima and Harmanpreet would create wherewithal that can work wonders for India which is in search of a first ICC event title.
The happy news though is that in the second and third matches, India made 274 and successfully chased down a target (266/8). The team’s batting coach Shiv Sundar Das said he has been working with the players on a one to one basis, and after being outplayed in the first match, he made a confident statement that India will put up a far improved show in the second and third matches. The players did not let Das down. The away one-day series against England and Australia has shown that India can compete with the best on equal terms and be a contender at the ICC Women’s World Cup to be played in New Zealand from March 4 to April 3 next year.
Although the national team has had its share of controversies, especially on issues related to the head coach being changed a number of times in the last five years, a good number of players have stuck to their task, focusing on their skill and role in the team, and are beginning to show their mettle. The new players who have come up with good showing are Sneh Rana (comeback after five years), Yastika Bhatia and Richa Ghosh.
The team will play a first pink-ball Test and follow it up with a three-match Twenty20 series at Gold Coast. But India’s focus will remain on further preparation for the World Cup, and it would be interesting to see the opportunities the players get once the tour of Australia comes to an end. Talking to News18, the former India Test opener and captain, Sandhya Agarwal said that the current Indian team has the right mix of experienced hands and youngsters to go all the way and win the World Cup next March.
“This is the golden chance. After seeing them play in all the three formats in England and in the ODI series in Australia, I have great hopes of India playing well in the World Cup. We have a core group of players and they are all good. We have to groom them. Jemima Rodrigues did not play in any of three matches against Australia. But she is a player for the future,” said Sandhya.
Furthermore, Sandhya talked about the composition of the team." They have experienced players like Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Harmanpreet Kaur, Shikha Pandey and Smriti Mandhana and bright young players like Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia and Richa Ghosh. Mithali knows her responsibilities and I have full faith in her coming good at the World Cup. She has been a great performer for India. Our spinners are good and Jhulan Goswami is getting support from Pooja Vastrakar and Meghna Singh. From what I have seen of the team in England and Australia, I would say we will do well at the World Cup."
Former India all-rounder and captain Shubhangi Kulkarni, who knows the pulse of Indian women’s cricket said: “The current Indian team is extremely talented and we can still be world beaters if we work on all the areas before the World Cup. We need to be more consistent in all departments. If each of the Indian players focus on doing their best in the role assigned to them, we can win the world cup. It is a bit late to start preparing now but with the talent we have, we can do it."
Shubhangi believes that there are young players waiting in the wings. “There are some young spirited players who are waiting to get an opportunity to show their game. Consider the names of Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Richa Ghosh and others. These players have made an impact. Sneh Rana, Deepti Sharma, Radha Yadav and others have also contributed to the team’s success. Add Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Harmanpreet Kaur, Rajeshwari Gaekwad, and others’ experience, and we have a formidable team."
India will play New Zealand, Australia, England, South Africa and three other qualifiers in the group stage of the World Cup. And Shubhangi dwelt on the importance of being consistent against these countries. “The key to win the World Cup is for all the players to play well consistently. The team will have to work on focusing on each aspect of the game at every opportunity and it will be upto the Coach, Captain and support staff to motivate the players to perform at their best regularly. As of now we have brilliant performances from individuals in patches which has led to victories. If we have to win any world championship, all need to contribute consistently."
Shubhangi also feels that the Indian team needs to improve in all the areas. “Fielding, running between the wickets, rotating the strike and ensuring we play the least dot balls are the main areas. The mind-set of the batters has to be to score off every ball. Considering we have been able to win a few matches in spite of not playing much cricket and being in bubbles most of the time, I feel bullish about our team. Nurturing the talent and bringing out the best of the players consistently is the key to us winning the World Cup".