After one of the most heated controversies in Indian Women’s cricket, in 2018 World T20, Mithali Raj played 4 more matches for India. She scored 24*, 7, 20 and 30*, batting down the order before hanging up her boots in 3rd September 2019. The first Indian cricketer – male or female, to score 2000 T20I runs – had come under the hammer for her non-aggressive approach in the T20 matches. One who mainly played the role of an anchor, top of the order, failed to match the changing composition of the shortest format of the game and eventually lost her position in the side.
Here we will look into the batting scenario of Indian T20 side over the last one year after Mithali Raj retired from her 13 years old T20 international career. Teams like Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies are taken into consideration to get a comparative scenario.
After the retirement of Mithali Raj, India defeated South Africa (4-1) and West Indies (5-0) while lost the final of Tri-Series and T20 World Cup in 2020. In 19 innings, India played, they won 14 out of that. In the rest 5 matches, they lost chasing twice while failed to put enough total on the board to defend in the three occasions.
It’s evident from the table that India had better average score while batting first and their run rate is only better than West Indies. They replicated the same thing while chasing. However, they took a lesser ball while hitting each boundary, batting second. There, in all the matches, India had been predominantly dependent on its top order.
The chart below shows that Indian top order has scored almost 60% of the team total in the last 19 matches. Inclusion of teenage sensation Shafali Verma has given them enough opportunity to take advantage of the fielding restrictions. Her aggressive batting has given Smriti Mandhana to take her time on the other hand and play more accordingly to the need of the hour.
Australian and Kiwi top order too contributed almost 70% of the runs, England relied on their middle order more than the other sides.
In the reign of Mithali Raj, she and Smriti Mandhana were assigned the job of opening. In 25 innings, the duo scored 884 runs for the first wicket. Smriti used to go for the blast from the beginning whereas the then skipper played the role of an anchor. However, they scored 6.69 runs per over in an average at a strike rate of 111. India used 8 more opening pairs in the absence of Mithali Raj in the last five years. India sent players like Taniya Bhatia, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol or even Priya Punia to open with Smriti in T20s, but none satisfied the management.
They continued to lose early wickets which exposed the middle order. Then came Shafali Verma. Harmanpreet Kaur got the fire-power she was looking for at the top of the order in 16 years old Verma. She was given the allowance to free her arms and Shafali grabbed that with both the hands. Her fearless batting and effortless abilities to send the balls to the boundaries at her will, sent the message loud and clear.
She didn’t bog down by the names she was facing and treated bowlers like Ellyse Perry or Megan Schutt with disdain. Megan Schutt who witnessed the carnage both in the Tri-Series and T20 World Cup even said that she doesn’t like to bowl against Verma, before the World Cup final. Though Verma got out early in both the finals India played in last own year, it does not undermine her efforts.
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Her 487 runs came at a strike rate of 146. She even took less than 5 balls to hit a boundary (4.21). She created carnage in West Indies as well when 42-ball 73 and unbeaten 69 from 44 balls announced her arrival at world cricket. In the 19 matches she played, she faced more than 10 balls 10 times and India never lost those matches. Her brisk but whirl-wind knocks set the tone of the matches for India. Even Smriti Mandhana’s 418 runs with a strike-rate of 120 looked blurred in front of Shafali.
Because of Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues got the opportunity to take their time before the onslaught. From 9th March 2019, Indian top order not only piled up almost 60% of the run but at the same time their scoring rate increased too. They (1-3) batted at the strike rate of 118 while took 5.69 balls to hit a boundary. In both cases, they were 2nd only to Australia.
Indian top-order provided the ‘the aggressive cricket’, Harmanpreet Kaur is fond of was visible from the fact that they had scored 63.19% of their runs through boundaries. While Australia, consisted of players like Beth Mooney and Alyssa Healy scored 63.92 % of runs through boundaries in 20 matches. Even in the recently concluded World T20, Indian top order scored at a rate of more than 8 in power-play, except the final. Their highest run came against Bangladesh when they amassed 54 runs in first 6 overs. Even Jemimah Rodrigues who trust her abilities to pierce the field rather than muscling the ball joined the party too. India failed to utilize the powerplay (32/4) in World Cup final like they did in the group stage – 46/2 (vs Aus), 54/2 (vs Bang), 49/1 (vs NZ), 49/1 (vs SL), which eventually cost them the game. In World T20, none of the Indian batters stood up except Shafali Verma and she scored 126 runs in 5 matches for India in power-play. It was more than 50% of the team total (230). Her strike-rate was more than 193 in those overs.
Even if we look at the matches that India had won, one of the openers got the runs if not both. Smriti and Shafali batted 17 innings together and amassed 605 runs for the 1st wicket. The duo scored more than 8 runs per over (8.21) with a strike-rate of 136. Out of 17 matches they batted together, they added more than 30 runs for the first wicket 7 times.
And out of those matches, India won 6, with a winning percentage of almost 90. Their highest partnership came against West Indies. They added 143 runs in just 93 balls in the first match. Moreover, India had never lost a game while chasing when the duo adds more than 30 runs in the opening. In their 2nd match against West Indies, duo piled up unbeaten 104 runs in just 11 overs to secure a 10 wickets victory.
In Australia, in one of the tri-series match against Australia, India was given the target of more than 170. Verma and Mandhana added 85 runs inside 10 overs to provide the required momentum. Later India went on to win the match comfortably. How much India relied on Shafali became more prominent by the fact that when Shafali has scored more than 30 runs, India turned out to be invisible. And when the seamers got rid of her earlier in the innings the win % for India dropped down to 50. In both the finals that were lost by India, Verma got out on 10 and 2 respectively.
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While Indian top order was near perfect, with some exceptions, Indian middle-order projected dismal performances. Australia depended on players like Rachael Haynes, Ashleigh Gardner, Delissa Kimince or even Anabel Sutherland to finish the match where England had Katherine Brunt or Nat Sciver.
Even South Africa backed hard-hitting all-rounders like Chloe Tryon or Nadine de Clerk. They even sent Laura Wolvaardt to strengthen the middle order and that ploy clicked in the World Cup where the world watched an evolved Wolvaardt. On the other hand, after Mithali’s departure, Indian middle-order scored only 747 runs in 19 innings. Middle-order scored just more than 16 runs per wicket, better than only West Indies.
Their strike rate too dropped down to below 100. Middle-order took almost 12 balls to hit a boundary, more than any other country we took to compare, while only 39% of their runs came from the boundaries. Absence of solid middle order or any finisher, hurt India in crucial matches. Indian middle-order hit only one half-century in 19 innings. Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemimah, Deepti Sharma or even Veda Krishnamurthy failed to provide the resilience, India was looking for.
Indian batting had no face to trust in the crunch situation who can win the matches with whirlwind batting. Even after the 2018 World Cup, Mithali Raj was sent down the order to solidify the middle order but that didn’t help the cause and India lost two close matches against England and New Zealand. That problem intensified more after Mithali’s exit in 2019.
There was a lot of dependence on skipper herself in the middle order. Skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, though helped India to cross the finishing line in some of the matches her, decreasing strike rate remains as an area of concern. She scored 24o runs in 15 innings but at a strike rate of 90. In World T20, she scored 15 runs in 4 matches to rub salt to the insult. She batted at number 4 or 5 in most part of her T-20 career. Though most of her runs came, batting in number 4, he became the first Indian to hit a century in T-20 World Cup while batting at number 5.
Her strike rate was better in number 5 compared to her batting at number 4. Moreover, among the above-mentioned teams, none of the batters (2007-2020)has scored more runs than Harmanpreet Kaur at number 5. Her average is only 2nd to Lydia Greenaway and strike-rate is 4th in the list after Chloe Tryon, Deandra Dottin and Katie Martin. Despite the facts, she batted 13 out of 15 innings at number 4 after 9th March 2019. In most of the cases, she has to come to bat before 10 overs.
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She knew that there are no batters to depend after her and she needed to bat through the innings. She shook off her natural game and tried to anchor the innings. Her intention may have been to accelerate after 15 overs. In contrary to her intention, she got out in the middle overs in 10 out of 15 innings she batted. This exposed the lower order which failed to take advantage of the last 5 overs. In some of the matches, Harmanpreet stayed till the end to steer India to the victory while chasing.
Prior to the 2020 World Cup, India played a tri-series against England and Australia. India won two out of three matches and Kaur was there till the end in both the matches. India had never lost a game while Harman was at the crease, chasing. On the other hand, in the final of the tri-series, India was required 45 from 36 balls with 7 wickets in hand. Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur were well set. India lost Smriti in the 2nd ball of 15th over which triggered a collapse. India lost 7 wickets for 29 runs to lose the final by 11 runs. In those 15 matches, Harmanpreet played, India scored 507 runs in 543 balls and lost 38 wickets after Harmanpreet got out.
50 overs World Cup was pushed back to 2022 making it a packed schedule for the women cricketers. Apart from the 50 overs World Cup, there will be T20 World Cup in South Africa and the Commonwealth Games. In these two years, India need to fix their middle order. Either they need to groom a couple of pinch hitters who can turn the game at any given moment, or else they can send someone like Deepti Sharma or Richa Ghosh to number 4 to anchor the innings from one end in the middle overs.
Harmanpreet Kaur herself can come at number 5 with a bit more freedom and play the role of a finisher. Apart from that, all-rounders like Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar or even Anuja Patil need to contribute with the bat to shorten the tail. If Wicketkeeper-batter Taniya Bhatia also excels in batting like her keeping skill, it will be a huge bonus for India in the upcoming seasons as well.