With contradictory track records this year, India and Australia are ready to lock horns in down under after 5 years, from Tuesday. While Australia is riding with 24 matches streak, India has lost their back-to-back series against South Africa and England. While India had a remarkable T-20 series victory last tour, India lost their ODI series 1-2. While Smriti Mandhana had her first-ever ODI century, Mithali Raj‘s remarkable knock gained a consolidatory victory. 

Shafali Verma’s Inclusion in the longer formats: 

After their series defeat against South Africa, many experts have raised questions over teen prodigy Shafali Verma’s exclusion from the longer formats of the game. If there was anything against her candidature, there were doubts about her temperament in the longer formats of the game. But in 5 innings in England, including Tests, Verma who has been India’s go-to person in T-20s with a career strike rate of 149 in 22 matches, proved her critiques wrong.

After the 2017 World Cup India has used 6 different pairs in 32 innings prior to the series. While India went with Punam Raut and Smriti Mandhana in 2018 (351 runs among them in 6 innings with 4 half-century stand), they quickly moved towards the Maharashtrian duo of Jemimah and Smriti Mandhana. Raut was pushed back to three. Both of them added 556 runs in 13 innings with 3 century and one half-century stand between them. More importantly, they scored at a brisk pace of 5.38 runs per over, Though In absence of Smriti, Priya Punia opened for India, her relatively slow approach didn’t earn much praise.

Indian openers failed miserably against South Africa. Jemimah looked out of touch, coming from the break of one year. In the three innings that she opened for India, the side lost the first wicket at 16,22,0. While she scored 1,9,0 in three matches. India went with Priya Punia in the remaining matches. This disasters performance also opened an avenue for Verma, who had been in touch. Verma silenced her critiques with 96 and 65 in the test match. Along with her natural aggressive style her temperament also earned praised from the experts. This 17-year-old girl played 265 balls against one of the most fearsome pace attacks in favourable condition, where most of the seniors failed.

In the ODI series, India fielded Verma along with Smriti Mandhana, and in the first two matches, they added 23 and 56 runs. Moreover, she shaded away her preferable pitch-hitting avatar, playing the initial overs more cautiously. In the last game, where India chased down a remarkable win, based on Mithali Raj’s bat, Smriti and Shafali added 46 runs in 9 overs. Better than the previous series.

After scoring 15 in the first match, Verma looked in good touch with her 44 before getting stumped. While India is most likely to get very few series before the 2022 World Cup, Indian management would like to give this teenage sensation few more matches.

While Smriti Mandhana has been in great touch after the 2017 World Cup in ODI formats, she needs to get back in touch. Mandhana, who had 4 half-centuries and one century in 7 innings in 2019, has hit one half-century in 8 innings in 2021. In the third match, she scored 49, before getting out to Glenn.

Question Remains About No. 3 For India: 

One of the most pertaining questions throughout the series has been India’s treatment regarding number three batter. While In most of the time after the 2017 World Cups, Punam Raut batted at number three for India, her strike rate became the area of concern for many. To many experts, it also added an extra bit of pressure for number 4, Mithali Raj who is a slow starter. However, if we look at numbers Punam Raut has scored with an average of 50 with 6, 50+ scores, and her tally of 602 runs is only 2nd to Meg Lanning’s 911.

In the series against South Africa, Raut was the only silver lining. She scored 2 half-centuries and an unbeaten 104, amidst the batting collapses. In the first match of the series, her 32 came from 62 balls after losing Verma in the 5th over. India lost the match, and the question about the strike rate was raised again. India added Jemimah for the next two matches. She scored 8 from 15 and 4 from 21 balls, chasing 221.

 

Mithali Raj

Mithali Raj celebrates reaching fifty during the Second ODI against England. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

While the World Cup is more or less knocking at the door, this remains the area of concern for India. Would they give Jemimah a longer run at three? Jemimah has been in good touch for Yorkshire in the Hundred to place her candidature. Or Would they try to go with the trusted Punam Raut, who had been among the runs? Will they try someone like Deepti Sharma at three, who has been handy with the bat in the test and ODI’s as well. Promoting Deepti Sharma at number three also gives space to another all-rounder, adding variety to the bowling.

Worries Continue at Middle Order Despite Mithali Raj’s Brilliance: 

Social media went gaga after India’s defeat in the first match against Egland. And among those who were at the receiving end of those criticisms, there was Mithali Raj, who scored 72 from 108 balls. But more than the runs, it was her intent that came under the question. Social Media went divided -while one group backed her because of her runs, others pointed out the flaws.

India batted first in the next match as well and Mithali’s 92 balls 59 didn’t do much to save India from another defeat. While the strike rate once again came to the fore, it would be worth remembering that Raj has scored almost 27% of the team total in this series. And was only half centurion from the side. Indian skipper, with two half-centuries, under her tally, guided India into a victory in the third one. She came out to bat at 16th over, India 66/2. She once again took her time in the middle and settled the innings. She went past Charlotte Edwards in terms of overall international runs, completed her 3rd consecutive half-centuries.

India needed 70 runs in the last 10 overs. Mithali was well set while Deepti Sharma lost her wicket to execrate the run. Sneh Rana was making her return to international cricket, and the duo added 50 runs in 40 balls for a consolidatory victory. More than the win, what is more, important is that the way India got it. Indian middle-order, which has a bad reputation of trigger a collapse, finally contributed while the later blasts from the lower order secured the win.

Mithali Raj

Mithali Raj and Punam Raut. ©BCCI

However, the worries continue. In the first two matches against England, India barely managed to go past the 200 runs mark, batting first. The record shows, while Teams like Australia have an average of more than 250 runs, India lingered between 200-225. Lack of firepower down the order has always been the area of concern. The over-dependence on top order has started to hurt India. Once India is 3/4 wicket down, runs seem to dry up. Though Indian all-rounders, Deepti Sharma and Sneh Rana contributed in the last ODI, they need to be consistent.

In the lone practice match, left-handed Yastika Bhatia scored a run a ball 41 while Richa Ghosh kept wicket. It would be interesting to see if Indian management looks to go with their Taniya Bhatia or give Richa a chance to boost the batting. As seen in the practice match Pooja Vastrakar with the bat can pile some runs as well.

Spinners Sinking The Hope:

Poonam Yadav has been the go-to bowlers in One Day matches as well as T20 matches for India, for quite some time. After the 2017 World Cup, Poonam Yadav has taken 39 wickets with an average of 21 in 24 innings, till India’s series against South Africa. In those 24 innings, Poonam Yadav took 2 or more wickets 14 times. And Out of those 14 times, India won the match 12 times. 

The importance of Poonam Yadav’s bowling can be turn out to be more visible when we would see that in the aforementioned time India won 15 matches. That means if Poonam Yadav takes 2 or more wickets in an ODI, India’s winning percentage is 80. 

At times Poonam has to turn out to be the deadliest weapon for the India skipper. Her accuracy, flight, and control as a leggie choked the batters, which in return created the opportunity to take wickets.

Spinners have always played a remarkable role in India’s victory. Even in the prior two series against South Africa, Poonam Yadav had taken 11 wickets at an average of 16. And India won 5 out of 6 games. On the contrary, Poonam Yadav has been wicketless in this series. Her figure of 0/151 in 35 overs in 4 games has hurt India the most in the middle overs. In the series against England, she had picked up 3 wickets with an average of 35. Picking up wickets in the middle overs is going to be crucial against the dominant side like Australia. And India lacked in this area in the past two series.  

India

Team India. ©BCCI

Deepti Sharma claimed only one wicket conceding 127 runs in 4 innings against South Africa and 3/120 against England. It was not at all Deeptisque. India did not include veteran left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht in England series. Rajeswari Gayakwad didn’t live up to the expectation, but she showed her class in the last where her figure 10-4-13-3 proved her worth in the side in the one match she played against South Africa. While Sneh Rana shows prominence, and Yadav picked up 3/28 (6) in the practice match, it should be a collective effort from the Indian spinners to create any dent against a batting unit, who have won 24 ODI’s on the trot. 

As India’s hunt for next-generation seamers continues, India’s hopes heavily depend on the experienced shoulder of Jhulan Goswami. The oldest cricketer to pick up a test wicket picked up three wickets with an economy less than 4 against England. She picked two wickets in the practice game as well. Shikha Pandey and Pooja Vastrakar really need to support her on the surface which is expected to offer a lot of bounce.

Australia Marches Along: 

“From Vadodara to Bay Oval” – that is what they are saying at the moment. The phrase has a legitimate reason and it’s sweeping over social media. Another series against the Kiwis and Australia took their streak to 24. They have broken the record of their male counterpart regarding the longest winning streak of 22 matches in ODI. Australia’s streak started with a clean sweep against India in 2018.

The batting unit which consisted of Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Meg Lanning, Rachael Haynes, and Ellyse Perry needs no introduction. Healy and Mooney’s pair is like the combination of fire and ice. Healy with an average of more than 55 and a strike rate of 100 can blast in the opening, while Mooney can control the batting. If they put Mooney in the middle order, Haynes is there to grab the spot.

Australian middle order will be depended on Lanning, Haynes, and Perry. All of them have scored more than 500 runs and a couple of half-centuries under their belt. Georgia Redmayne, who has been in great touch in WBBL and domestic in the last season, finally earned her maiden international call-up. A bunch of all-rounders in form of Sophie Molineux, Ashleigh Gardner, Nicola Carey, and Tahlia McGrath will expand the lower order. Though in absence of Jess Jonassen, the Australian spin department will lot depend on Wareham, Molineux, and Gardner.

While Megan Schutt will miss the series due to her maternity leave, that doesn’t undermine the seam bowling attack. Ellyse Perry took 2 wickets in the practice match while a bunch of youngsters will compete for the remaining spot. 19-year-old quick Stella Campbell each claimed two wickets inside the first 15 overs of India’s innings to have the visitors in early strife. With her 3/38, Sixers fast bowler Stella Campbell hopes her excellent display in Australia’s one-day practice match against India is enough to earn her a maiden international cap in next week’s ODI series in Mackay.

Campbell bowled with a good pace and bounce to dismiss India bats Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh in the early stages of Australia’s bowling innings during their 36-run win, having replaced fellow teen tearaway Darcie Brown, who took the new ball with Ellyse Perry. With 7 fast bowling options at their disposal, Australia can exploit the Indian batters with the pace and bounce. Indian batters have time and again was uncomfortable against the short pitch deliveries. Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Hannah Darlington, Annabel Sutherland have reputations for their fearsome pace which was evident in the practice match as well.

Australia squad: Meg Lanning (C), Rachael Haynes (VC), Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Stella Campbell, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Georgia Redmayne, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham

India Test and ODI squad: Mithali Raj (C), Harmanpreet Kaur (VC), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Punam Raut, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Shikha Pandey, Jhulan Goswami, Meghana Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh, Ekta Bisht

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