Mithali Raj led Team India have failed to carry their momentum in the 3rd ODI against South Africa and faced a defeat despite having a good start by none other than Smriti Mandana and Punam Raut. They stitched a 64-run stand before Tumi Sekhukhune ended Mandhana’s quickfire knock. Despite others’ effort, Lizelle Lee smashed a century and sealed the deal.

While with Harmanpreet Kaur‘s presence, the score was looking to go over 250, her dismissal in the last ball of the 45th over put a hold on Team India’s total. They managed only 27 runs in the 30 balls following her dismissal. While they ended up scoring 248 in 50 overs, Lee’s unbeaten 132 took South Africa home with ease in a rain-hit game. And, this event has shown the absence of a power-hitter after No 6 in the batting order.

Mithali Raj, the Indian captain, in the post-match press conference, opened up about their total. She said they need to score around the 270-run mark. But it didn’t happen as over-dependence on the openers and on Harmanpreet Kaur to give the late boost somehow failed to work.

“We definitely need to have batters playing the last 10 overs because obviously the sort of game that a batter has and can improve it to the optimum, the lower or tail-ender may not, so it is important that we have the batters playing the last 10 overs and a settled batter will always be very very helpful in those times, but yes we have players like Harman (Harmanpreet Kaur) and Deepti (Sharma) and it is just a matter of few innings that they will come good in those 10 overs,” Mithali Raj said.

The highest run-getter in ODIs, Raj also said that her team needs to have a considerable amount of matches before they find their rhythm properly. She also expressed how other teams had started playing cricket after the COVID-19 pandemic while India started quite late.

“We are looking at competing with the best – the Australia or England side – we are looking at 270-plus. But having said that, I think this was our third game after a long gap and we are one of those countries that have started cricket quite late whereas the other teams already played a couple of series,” she added.

While this is India’s first international series after more than a year, they brought some changes in the squad too. The 17-year-old Shafali Varma, who has quite good numbers in the shortest format, didn’t get the maiden call-up in the ODI set up. Moreover, they didn’t includeย Veda Krishnamurthy and Pooja Vastrakar, who has the ability to hit the big shots. Even though the team management has said that they would try out certain players, there is not much time in hand for India to find their best team before next year’s ICC Cricket World Cup.

“We need to have some game time but we’re also trying to work on the players to build a sort of gameplan in the future series. And those will become very important in terms of how we are going to plan our campaign for the World Cup. And what [who] are the players and what are the things that we work on. So it’s going to be a process, yes, we’ve already started on it. But I wont say that okay this is our first series so we should be aiming for 200, because clearly need some outing there,” Mithali Raj further added.

Apart from that, dot balls are another concern for the side. Most of the India batters, apart from Smriti Mandhana and Kaur, usually take time to get settled in the middle. In this way, sometimes they fail to cover that as well. However,ย Raj said it depends on an individual as sometimes they may think about the risk of taking a hit due to an early dismissal as well.

“In our ODI side, we have a batting order that is experienced. I wouldn’t call it an inexperienced or young order. But, yes, it [dot-ball percentage] is something we all work on. But, I think, it’s got more to do with how individual players are able to work on it, and a lot more depends on when the batters walk in. If you’re losing a wicket in the first over itself, clearly you wouldn’t be looking at getting six runs per over. You need to work on your partnerships and that might result in a few dot balls and lower strike rate,” she again shared.

“But again, there are batters who try to make up for that when they develop a partnership. Usually, it’s made up in the latter part of the innings. But, again, it’s got more to do with how you play according to the situation, rather than working on the strike rate because clearly, we are not playing the T20 format. It’s more important how you utilise the momentum generated in the beginning or if there is a fall of wicket how you develop a partnership and then continue, stretch that. That’s what we, as batters, work on in the one-day squad,” Raj further added.

However, apart from batters, bowlers too failed to claim wickets with the new ball. Just before the rain stopped the game, the game reached a nail-biting position and Mithali Raj handed the ball to Kaur to restrict the run-flow. But she failed and conceded 10 runs in the second last over before the game stopped. Mithali Raj backed her deputy, shared that the visitors were ahead in the game and also admitted that the premier bowlers failed to provide the early breakthroughs.

“I don’t think so. There were moments in the game when the main bowlers were bowling an important spell which could have changed the momentum of the team and we weren’t able to do that. And when she (Harmanpreet) came in to bowl I think they were already ahead according to the DLS method. So I don’t think it would have made much of a difference,” Mithali Raj concluded.

Both teams will play in the fourth ODI at the Ekana Cricket Stadium on Sunday, March 14.

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