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Amidst the chaos, India unearth young stars in a hard-fought series

Last updated on 26 Sep 2021 | 10:32 PM
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Amidst the chaos, India unearth young stars in a hard-fought series

Looking up to the World Cup, here are the takeaways for the Indian team from the series against Australia.

"I was just telling the girls, Australia's winning streak started against India in India, so now we are the ones who broke that streak", said Mithali Raj in the post-match conversation moments after the Indian team managed to halt the 26-match winning streak of the Australian side. 

On 12th March 2018, the Australian side registered a comprehensive eight-wicket win over India at Vadodara in the three-match ODI series. After a dismal World Cup in 2017 by their standards, the Aussies vowed to make a strong comeback and assert their dominance on world cricket. With plenty of young players in the squad, Australia kickstarted their campaign in a commanding fashion with a clean sweep against the hosts. 

Over three years, the Southern stars have been the most dominant side in the white-ball format with an unmatched streak in WODIs along with a World title in the shortest format of the game. However, the same cannot be said about their Indian counterparts, as they struggled with their combinations and suffered their third successive series defeat in 2021. 

With an eye on the ICC World Cup scheduled to commence in five months, the Women in Blue need to incorporate radical changes in their approach if they aim to emulate their heroics from the 2017 World Cup. 

While the third ODI showcased glimpses of the great things to follow, the series against Australia opened up numerous glaring issues that Mithali Raj and the team management must address before the high-voltage tournament. 

Let us look at the key takeaways for the Indian team:

The bowling unit is in dire need of their spinners to come to the fore

While all the talk has been about the middle-order muddle and the lack of depth in the pace bowling department, the Indian spin-bowling unit has been in disarray.  

One of the significant areas of concern for the Indian team is the lack of discipline in the spin bowling department. Over the years, India has been heavily reliant on their spinners to provide them wickets in the middle overs and dent the opposition batting unit. 

However, in 2021, the spinners have struggled to weave their magic with the ball and leaked runs at an economy rate of over 4.9 runs per over. In 10 innings, the spinners have picked up 24 wickets at an average of 55.3 and a strike rate of 67.7. All the numbers are lower than any other side except economy which is better than only the White Ferns.

With a lack of wickets in the middle overs, the opposition side often put up massive first innings total or cruises towards the target in case of a run chase.

The emergence of young talent 

In the 2017 World Cup, the skipper was the designated number three batter for the Indian team. Bringing in years of experience at the international level, she anchored the innings from one end, allowing an opportunity for the free-flowing middle order with the likes of Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy to give the innings much-needed impetus in the back end. 

However, Raj dropped down a position post the World Cup to give youngsters a chance to create an impact whilst cementing their place in the Indian squad. 

While Priya Punia and Jemimah Rodrigues failed to grab their opportunities at the top of the order, the emergence of Shafali Verma prompted the selectors to give her the opening position along with Smriti Mandhana in the series against England. 

With Shafali and Mandhana forging a formidable opening partnership, the Indian team handed a debut to Yastika Bhatia and a child prodigy, Richa Ghosh, in the first ODI against Australia. 

The duo created an immediate impact, as Bhatia scored a valuable 35 while Ghosh contributed with a quickfire 32 off 29 balls. In the three matches, they showcased shades of brilliance and amassed 102 and 73 runs, respectively, to give the Indian team a glimmer of hope in refreshing their middle order to match the firepower of stronger teams. 

Harmanpreet Kaur and the batting conundrum 

The vice-captain of the Indian team in the ODI format, Harmanpreet Kaur, missed the three-match series due to a thumb injury. The 32-year old has been one of the most destructive players in world cricket and has often taken the game away from the opposition with her brutal hitting. 

Ever since her match-defining knock of an unbeaten 171 against Australia in the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2017, the right-hander has struggled with consistency in the past couple of years.  

Her absence in this series provided Raj and the team management an ideal opportunity to try out players and different combinations before the world event. With Bhatia and Ghosh grabbing the opportunities with both hands, it will be interesting to see the strategy adopted by the Indian team and the batting combination they incorporate in the upcoming matches. 

While Harmanpreet Kaur remains an integral part of the batting department, her batting position in the team remains a point to ponder. 

Validation of India's batting prowess

One of the biggest takeaways from this series would be the rise of the Indian batting unit. While most of the batting has revolved around Raj in the past couple of years, it was heartening to see the young Indian contingent taking up the responsibility of guiding the team out of a challenging situation in these three matches. 

Prior to the first ODI, Mithali Raj had notched up 495 runs at an average of 99 with four consecutive half-centuries in the last two series. While she continued her form in the first game with a sublime 63, India putting up a great fight despite a string of low scores in the next two games from Mithali showcased the potential of the Indian side with the bat. 

In the second ODI, the skipper was dismissed with the score reading 88 for the loss of two wickets. However, Mandhana's scintillating 86, along with a valuable contribution of 44 runs off 50 deliveries by Ghosh, propelled the Indian team to 277 in the first innings. 

On 26th September, the Women in Blue etched their name in the history books as they registered their highest ever successful run chase of 265 runs in this format.

While the opening combination of Shafali and Mandhana started the innings with a 59-run stand, the turning point of the game was, however, a 101-run stand between Shafali and Bhatia for the second wicket. 

Making only her third appearance at the international level, the southpaw smashed 64 off 69 balls to record her maiden half-century. Along with Shafali, she laid a solid foundation for the run chase and proved to be one of the finds of the series for the Indian team. 

Despite a flurry of wickets, including the wicket of Raj for 16, cameos from Deepti Sharma (31 off 30) and Sneha Rana (30 off 27), India managed to scamper over the line with two wickets to spare. 

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