On a high after thrashing Pakan in their Women’s World Cup opener, India will need to raise their game when they take on hosts New Zealand in their second game on Thursday. Mithali Raj’s team is a buoyed lot, but need to be wary as the Kiwi girls beat them 4-1 in an ODI series just prior to the showpiece tournament.
India won the final game of the series to avoid a clean sweep, but otherwise senior pros Mithali and Harmanpreet Kaur were unable to make winning contributions. Opener Shafali Verma is clearly struggling with her form. Smriti Mandhana did score a fine 52 against Pakan, but was far from her elegant best. Deepti Sharma made a valuable 40 at No. 3, a position more suited to Yastika Bhatia, who looked in good nick in the warm-up games against South Africa and West Indies, scoring 58 and 42 respectively.
If India has to play Yastika in the XI, they will have to drop either Pooja Vastrakar or Sneh Rana, heroes in their triumph against Pakan. Their record 122-run stand for the seventh wicket saved India from embarrassment. The two players are also quite capable with ball in hand.
India though will need more from the established stars. Mithali scored a painstaking 36-ball 9, while Harmanpreet managed 5. The duo was struggling to rotate strike and kept on eating dot balls in the middle overs. Numbers 4 and 5 are crucial batting positions, and this is where a youngster like Yastika may do a better job. The left-hander is a free-flowing batter with a healthy strike rate of 73.94 in her small ODI career.
India womens cricket team. (PTI)
Mithali,39, has been a great servant to Indian cricket, and is in fine touch, too, scoring nine half-centuries in her last 20 outings, but only two have come in Indian wins. The captain is playing in her sixth World Cup and is guilty of scoring too slowly current standards. The opposition may prefer Mithali to face more balls than Yastika, Richa Ghosh, Sneh or Pooja.
Mithali’s deputy, Harmanpreet, smashed 63 in the last ODI against New Zealand, which was only her third half-century since the 2017 World Cup final. She managed to get a century in the warm-up game against South Africa, but her 14-ball stay at the crease against Pakan was miserable.
Shafali’s lean run is another concern for India. The Haryana girl went without scoring in the first match as well as the second warm-up game against West Indies. She managed only 96 runs in the five-match series against New Zealand.
Apart from the all-rounder duo of Pooja and Sneh, veteran pacer Jhulan Goswami and left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad were equally good in India’s 107-run win against Pakan. Rajeshwari varied her pace brilliantly and capitalised on the used surface as she returned with impressive figures of 4/31.
Not to forget Rich, the young stumper who was excellent behind the wicket. The teenager accounted for five dismissals (four catches and one stumping).
Jhulan, the leading wicket-taker in women’s ODI hory, is just two shy from going past Australia’s Lyn Fullstone (39 scalps) to become the leading wicket-taker in the Women’s World Cup. A lot will depend on her when India lock horns with New Zealand. Kiwi openers Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates are in red-hot form, and India will be banking on Jhulan to get them out cheaply. Devine scored a crafty 108 against West Indies, while Bates scored an unbeaten 78 off just 67 balls against Bangladesh.
New Zealand, who suffered a three-run loss against West Indies in their opening match, bounced back thrashing Bangladesh nine wickets and will be itching to put on a dominating show against India.
On the other hand, Team India would dearly want their experienced pros Mithali and Harmanpreet to be more proactive and come out all guns blazing. India can’t afford another middle-order collapse against New Zealand, and unlike Pakan, the Kiwis will not allow them to recover so easily.
A win against New Zealand would give a huge impetus to Team India, runners-up in the 2017 and 2005 editions.