India who was the finalist of World T20, lost the match to Australia, has won 7 out of 8 ODI series. Despite their achievement, they fell victim to a worldwide pandemic, which made a gendered game more gendered. And once their series resumed, it witnessed the shift of their momentum, that they have built for the last 4 fours years after 2017World Cup
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. Verma silenced her critiques with 96 and 65 in the test match. Along with her natural aggressive style, her temperament also earned praise 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 a few more matches.
A dual against Katherin Brunt exposed Verma’s uneasiness against the short pitch balls. And to tackle that she was often seen standing on the backfoot, expecting short pitch balls every time. This approach sometimes saw her fall in many fuller balls as well as against the sharp rising deliveries. In the first match, she fell to Darcie Brown, trying to pull one after scoring 8. It was followed by an almost run-a-ball 22. In the third ODI where we saw a more defensive approach from Verma earned her first ODI half-century. Moreover, in the last two matches, Smriti and Shefali added a 50 run partnership. When Verma did not have a good run in NZ, with her 96 runs in 5 innings, Sabbhineni Meghana, making her comeback after 5 years, missed her first half-century by a run in the 2nd match while scoring 61 in the 3rd match. If India wants to go beyond Verma or Bhatia in the opening, Meghna is a suitable opening pattern with Smriti Mandhana
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.
India rested all their options for no 3 for the Australia tour and Yastika Bhatia made her debut. Bhatia scored 41 in the practice match which earned her the national cap.
Bhatia looked confident in that position from the very first match. Her footwork against spinners and fearless attitude against the short pitch balls earned praise too. Yastika not only scored 99 runs at no 3 in two innings but also scored at a strike rate of 82.5. Her average is only second to Punam Raut while her strike rate is better than anyone at that position for India after the 2017 World Cup. After scoring 35 and 3 in the first two matches she crafted her 64 with 9 boundaries in 69 balls. Her 91 runs in 4 matches against New Zealand were not of her best but she has proved her point. Another half-century in the practice match against South Africa while opening the batting also gives India another opening option.
Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur have been the two stalwarts for the Indian batting lineup for decades. While Mithali Raj is among the runs for the last three series she has been criticized for lack of intent and strike rate. Even in the pre-series press conference, she talked about that. In the series against NZ, her 232 runs came at a strike rate of 83, much higher than her career strike rate. Three half-centuries were the icing on the cake. On the other hand, Harmanpreet who has been out of touch for some time showed the signs of a comeback with a 66 ball 63 in the last match while another century in the practice match against South Africa.
Apart from Yastika Bhatia and Richa Ghosh who has been on the T-20 side for some time, made her debut in the longer formats. India has struggled with a wicketkeeper batter in for a long time. Taniya Bhatia though has been flawless in her tenure, she was not that prominent with the bat. Richa’s proved her point by scoring an unbeaten 32 from 29 balls with 3 fours and a six. Her partnership with Jhulan helped India to reach the 225 runs mark. She was promoted in the 2nd match after this innings. She came out to bat in the 20th over. And along with Smriti Mandhana added 76 runs for the 4th wicket.
Though T- Mac cleaned her up that too not before adding 44 in her tally. Apart from hitting big her abilities to find the gaps and rotate the strike makes her a good middle order bat. Though there are areas in which she needs to work regarding her wicket keeping, with time she can be the go-to player, India has been looking for.
Richa Ghosh came up the ranks in the New Zealand series. Though there have been questions about her keeping skills, she has earned praises for her fearless batting. India has found a much-deserving destructive lower-order bat in her. Ghosh in the 2nd match came out to bat in the 29th over and added 108 runs in 17 overs along with Mithali Raj. That included 65 runs from 64 balls from her. Her maiden ODI half-century. Again in the 4th match, India lost 4 wickets in just 19 runs, and Ghosh became the fastest Indian to score a half-century, her 2nd of the series.
In the Australia series, the lower order chipped in too. India for years has been infamous for its collapse. Their lower order too didn’t contribute much which means once their top 5 is removed, Indian batting felt short. But in these three matches, India’s lower order bats, the all-rounders contributed with some runs. In the first match. Richa Ghosh and Jhulan Goswami added 47 runs for the 8th wicket and took the score to 225. In the 2nd match as well, when it looked like that after the fall of Smriti, India will barely manage to get to 250 the lower middle order took the score to 275. Richa Ghosh’s 44 from 50, Jhulan’s 28 from 25, Deepti’s 23 and 29 from Pooja gave India a space to breathe.
In the third match, India at one moment lost 4 wickets in just 40 runs. From there Sneh Rana and Deepti Sharma controlled the chase in a fashion. While they were aggressive, they faced the attack according to the match situation. Sneh Rana’s three boundaries against McGrath or Jhulan lofting Molineux to the boundary gives us an impression. One of the reasons behind Australia’s streak of 26 matches was that their shorter tail and players stood up when the team needed that. If India with a couple of all-rounders can create makes this a habit rather than one of two matches it will help them in longer runs.
Poonam Yadav has been wicketless in South Africa series. Her figure of 0/151 in 35 overs in 4 games has hurt India the most in the middle overs. She picked up 2 wickets against England and Australia while 3 wickets against NZ in as many matches. 7 wickets with an average of almost 70, Yadav neither picked up wickets nor managed to stop the run flow, both the things she has been known for.
Deepti Sharma has been the highest wicket-taker among the India spinners in the last four series. She claimed only one wicket conceding 127 runs in 4 innings against South Africa while 3 and 1 wickets in the next two series. However, Sharma finds her rhythm back against NZ in the recently concluded series. 10 wickets with an average of 24 came along with the only 4 wicket haul. Deepti not only contained run in the middle overs but played her role in the death over too, in absence of specialist seamers.
Like seamers, spinners hunt in the pair too. Though there were patches of the good spell from the spinner, as that didn’t get the desired support from another end, the Indian side failed to sustain the pressure. Rajeswari Gayakwad didn’t also live up to the expectation, but she showed her class in the last where her figure 10-4-13-3 proved her worth. Her 8 wickets against South Africa made her the highest wicket-taker for India. The collective failure of Indian spinners who have picked up 50 wickets conceding 2348 runs at an average of 47, broke the backbone of the Indian attack. They took more than 54 balls to pick one wicket against the opposition’s 41. India’s inability to pick wickets in the middle overs has given the opposition middle-order time to settle down, before the final assault. This has been the case, as Beth Mooney, T-Mac, Amelia Kerr, or even Lauren Down exploited the loopholes.
- 6 March – v Pakistan
- 10 March – v New Zealand
- 12 March – v West Indies
- 16 March – v England
- 19 March – v Australia
- 22 March – v Bangladesh
- 28 March – v South Africa
Squad: Mithali Raj (C), Harmanpreet Kaur (VC), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (WK), Sneh Rana, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (WK), Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav