India begin T20 World Cup quest against favourites Australia

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20 Feb 2020 | 06:25 AM
authorHardik Worah

India begin T20 World Cup quest against favourites Australia

India have played 18 T20Is against Australia, winning five and losing 13

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The Harmanpreet Kaur-led side made it to the semi-finals of the 2018 Women's World Twenty20 in West Indies but the team looked divided and things turned ugly pretty quickly after their defeat to England. There was a lot of debate over Mithali Raj's omission but the team management stuck to their decision, keeping an eye on the future. Mithali retired from T20I cricket last year and the young Indian team has grown substantially in the last 13-14 months and are entering the 2020 Women's T20 World Cup as one of the top contenders.

Placed in Group A, India will commence their quest for their first ICC title against the red-hot favourites and hosts Australia at the Sydney Showground Stadium on Friday (February 19). Australia are the defending champions and the most successful team, having won the tournament four times. Meanwhile, India have made it to three semi-finals (2009, 2010 and 2018) but not once have played the final. The average age of this Indian team is 22.8 but they do have all the ingredients to earn their maiden silverware.

India have quite a few talented players in their squad but a lot will depend on how Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet go about their business. India's batting mainstay, Mandhana has been in astonishing form in the shortest format of the game and will be eager to stamp her authority in the showpiece event. The stylish left-handed opener, who had a below-par 2018 T20 World Cup, will not just be burdened with the responsibility of providing her team quick starts but will also have to stay in the middle and bat for as long as possible. 

The 23-year-old has a superb record against Australia in this format, having scored 374 runs in nine encounters at 46.75 and a strike rate of 136.99. She was the highest run-scorer in the recently concluded tri-series against Australia and England, scoring almost 31 percent of the team runs. Overall, no other batter has scored more runs than Mandhana (1236) in T20Is since 2018, and the emergence of teenage sensation Shafali Verma will give her enough space to take some time at the start and bat through the innings.

Shafali is only 16 but the aggressive right-handed opener has already shown glimpses of what she is capable at the top of the order. It was her 28-ball 49 that helped India chase down 174 against Australia – the highest successful run chase for India - in the tri-series. Meanwhile, Jemimah Rodrigues has been around for quite some time now and was also part of the World T20 squad. The No. 3 batter from Mumbai might be only 19 but has already played 40 T20Is. The right-hander will probably bat in between Mandhana and Harmanpreet and the onus will be on her to make sure that the senior pros aren't burdened with extra responsibilities.

India rely heavily on their top-order batters because the middle-order simply hasn't been able to perform. Chasing 156 in the tri-series final, India were 115 for 3 at one stage before they lost their last seven wickets for just 29 runs. Since 2019, the top-order has scored 60.9 percent of the team runs while the middle-order has only contributed 32.6 percent. Apart from Mandhana (34.5), not a single batter from the current squad averages over 25 since 2019, including Harmanpreet (24.54) herself.

Harmanpreet, who will be playing her seventh T20 World Cup, hasn't managed a fifty-plus score in this format since that 103* against New Zealand in the 2018 World T20. Both Harmanpreet and Rodrigues will have to pull up their socks if India want to win the trophy. Contributions will also have to come from wicketkeeper-batter Taniya Bhatia, Deepti Sharma and Harleen Deol. India can also use Pooja Vastrakar as a pinch-hitter, if/when needed.

In the bowling department, skipper Harmanpreet made it pretty clear that "our strength is spin and we have to stick to that". India have quite a few spin-bowling options in their squad and their ploy in the tri-series was a clear forewarning they will be sticking with their pace-off tactics. Shikha Pandey is the only frontline seamer India have, while all-rounders Vastrakar and Arundhati Reddy can chip in if/when needed.

The Women in Blue will be delighted to have Poonam Yadav back. The legspinner didn't play a single game in the tri-series because of a finger injury but will lead India's spin department in the tournament. Poonam, who's India's highest wicket-taker in T20Is, has taken the most number of wickets in the 20-over format since 2018. She took 3 for 20 in the warm-up game against West Indies and helped India defend 107 runs. She will find ample support from two left-arm spinners Radha Yadav and Rajeshwari Gayakwad who have been in good form of late.

Meanwhile, despite being far from flawless in the tri-series, Australia are entering this tournament as favourites.

Australia have won 26 of 31 T20Is since the start of 2018. They have a very balanced squad and have got all areas covered. In Beth Mooney and Alyssa Healy, Australia have solid openers. Mooney has scored the most number of runs for Australia since 2019. She was also outstanding in the tri-series in which she scored 208 runs at an average of 52. However Healy, who was last edition's player of the tournament, has been on a lean run as her last five T20I innings - 4, 1, 0, 1 and 9 - suggest. But prior to these five innings, the wicketkeeper-batter slammed 148* against Sri Lanka and will look to turn around her fortunes in the World Cup.

In captain Meg Lanning, Rachael Haynes and Ashleigh Gardner, Australia have a formidable middle-order, but it's Ellyse Perry who easily increases their value by 20-30 percent. The ace all-rounder is a captain's dream. The 29-year-old is inarguably the best all-rounder going around and has solid numbers in all facets of the game. Perry has been in pretty good form of late with both bat and ball. She averages over 40 with the bat since 2019 and has also picked up wickets at an average of 17.3. Also, no other bowler has picked up more wickets than Perry (36) in this tournament.

Apart from Perry, Gardner, Erin Burns, Delissa Kimmince, Annabel Sutherland and Nicola Carey too can contribute with both bat and ball. India will also be wary of left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen who claimed five wickets in the final of the tri-series and triggered an incredible collapse. Australia's pace attack will be led by Megan Schutt, but they have an injury worry with Tayla Vlaeminck suffering a stress-related foot injury.

India have played 18 T20Is against Australia, winning five and losing 13. Harmanpreet and Co. will have to come up with something special if they want to topple Australia, something that they did in their final league game of the tri-series.

Squads

Australia - Rachael Haynes, Megan Schutt, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning (c), Ellyse Perry, Jess Jonassen, Delissa Kimmince, Beth Mooney, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Sophie Molineux, Georgia Wareham, Erin Burns, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck.

India - Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shikha Pandey, Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Veda Krishnamurthy, Deepti Sharma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Pooja Vastrakar, Taniya Bhatia, Radha Yadav, Harleen Deol, Arundhati Reddy, Shafali Verma, Richa Ghosh.

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Smriti Shriniwas MandhanaHarmanpreet Kaur BhullarEllyse Alexandra PerryIndia WomenAustralia WomenSydney Showground Stadium, SydneyICC Women's World T20, 2020

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