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Another daunting challenge awaits India against the Aussie juggernaut

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Last updated on 05 Jan 2024 | 04:03 AM
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Another daunting challenge awaits India against the Aussie juggernaut

There are plenty of problems that the Indian team needs to solve in the three T20I series, with the T20 World Cup scheduled this year in Bangladesh

Death, taxes and the dominance of Australia in women’s cricket - the only three constants in life if you are a women’s cricket fan. 

If you thought that the Indians would repeat the heroics in the ODIs that they displayed in the one-off Test, then you were probably hopeful till the point of foolishness. 

Alyssa Healy’s team did not just defeat the Indian girls. They pulverised them and easily pocketed the series 3-0. Except for the second ODI, where Richa Ghosh’s heroics took India really close, the Indian team was dwarfed by the might of their opposition. 

As we move from the ODIs to the T20Is, the Indian team needs to paper over many cracks in its team and performance at the moment. With the T20 World Cup happening later this year in Bangladesh and no international games scheduled (as of now) for the Indian women until then, these three T20Is become extremely crucial as Amol Mazumdar and Harmanpreet Kaur would look to fine-tune their team combinations. 

As the T20I series begins in Mumbai, India would also like to rise from their woebegone fielding display that brought immense embarrassment and a crushing defeat. 

Meanwhile, it’s all yellow for the Aussies. Despite the defending champions not having their inspiring leader Meg Lanning, they look primed for another top-class performance with the firepower of Grace Harris joining them for the three T20I series. 

Things to watch out for 

Can the Indian openers please show up? 

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma at the top hold the key for India’s batting in the shortest format. Both are capable of batting at high strike rates and are more than capable of going for the big shots right from the word go. 

However, lately, both the Indian openers have been lacklustre. 

Smriti Mandhana got starts in the two ODIs she played. 34 off 38 and a run-a-ball 29 means India’s premier batter isn’t suffering from lack of form. She’s failing to convert these starts and bat big, which is hurting the team. In the ODI series, she struggled to get going when Australia covered the offside of the field, her go-to area for shot-making. 

Moreover, Mandhana and Verma have also been found guilty of failing to rotate the strike. This creates unnecessary pressure on both of them, resulting in a rash shot and a dismissal more often than not. 

If Mandhana suffers from conversion issues, Shafali Verma’s record in T20Is doesn’t justify the hype surrounding her talent. Shafali has an average of 22.32 in 46 T20Is since 2021. Moreover, she only averages 20.31 against the Australian side in the format, which nullifies her high strike rate against them as her brief cameos entertain without creating a long-lasting impact. 

If India wants to turn around its fortune against the dominant Australians, the openers would again be the lynchpin. 

A lot rests on little Jem

Jemimah Rodrigues puked. She was sick in the torturous Mumbai heat. But she batted like a champion in the first ODI, scoring 82 off just 77 balls. She was also the second-highest run scorer in the ODI series after its breakout star, Phoebe Litchfield. Rodrigues also looked a class apart in the field as her teammates’ hapless fielding exacerbated India’s woes on the field. 

Jemimah has been one of the few bright spots for the Indian women’s team lately, and she has clearly turned a corner in her career for good. She scores runs consistently, anchors the innings with astute ability, and shows her off-field leadership by being brutally honest about her team's performance. 

Last time she played a T20I series against Australia in Mumbai, her returns were forgettable. However, with Harmanpreet not in the best form with the bat, the responsibility to carry the Indian middle order will again rest on the shoulders of little Jem. 

It’s her hometown, and what better way to announce that she’s ready for the upcoming Women’s Premier League and T20 World Cup? 

Harmanpreet ‘Thor’ needs to wake up

Only three scores in double digits out of seven innings since the T20 World Cup in South Africa doesn’t fit in with the reputation Harmanpreet carries as a batter. 

If you add how she has gotten out in these games, you are bound to assume that the Indian skipper has asked her doppelgänger Kate Cross to bat in these games instead of her. 

Kaur is the fulcrum of the Indian middle order and has to ensure that runs come at a good pace in the middle overs. Moreover, her hitting prowess also assures the team of lusty blows in the death overs if she manages to bat deep. 

With lower-order hitting still being a problem for India, Harmanpreet’s presence at the crease in the death overs becomes extremely crucial. She recognises this, and her own performance was the elephant in the room when she addressed the media before the T20I series. 

“I have been getting the starts but am unable to convert them into big innings. Sometimes, luck plays a part. I have been getting out in very weird ways on a couple of occasions. I don't think I have played a wrong shot nor were they very good balls [which dismissed me]. I am trying my level best to train and bat well so that I don't feel I am out of form or not batting well.” the Indian skipper said. 

The fans and her team would hope their skipper gets to taste some runs in the T20Is after the ODIs famishing them. 

Grace Harris is ready to entertain

Mumbai has seen many avatars of Grace Harris so far. The burger-munching Aussie, the brutal middle-order hitter, and the entertainer on the field.

However, her infectious laughter is the only gentle thing about her as a batter. She is the definition of belligerent, and her skills are at their most glorious display in the shortest format. And boy, does she love playing against India in India! 

Harris is averaging 132 in three innings with a strike rate of 203.7 against the Indian team in their own home. With the likes of Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, and Ashleigh Gardner already in the side, Harris’s inclusion in the lower middle order gives the Australian batting order a look of invincibility. 

There is no doubt that India are going to be challenged. But it wouldn’t be international cricket if it wasn’t challenging, would it? 

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