A 50-Over World Cup is just a few months away and all eyes are set on how Mithali Raj and her team will deal with the ODI dilemma and fine-tune their approach in search of their first world title. However, the multi-format nature of the England tour means every game has something at stake with the three-match T20 series deciding the ultimate outcome of the tour.
Here are a few things to watch for from an Indian perspective.
Will the real Indian middle-order please stand up?
Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma are undoubtedly India’s two best batters across formats and their importance in the T20 set-up can never be overstated. The only game that India won in the South Africa series saw the duo put up a stunning opening partnership of 96 runs. A lot will depend on how they answer the English question, but the likes of Jemimah Rodrigues, Harmanpreet Kaur, and Richa Ghosh ought to stand up to the occasion.
Since January 2019, Kaur has averaged 18.75 at a strike rate of 95.2. In 21 matches during this period, Harmanpreet has never reached a fifty and crossed 30 only four times. It stands as quite a contradiction to her credentials as one of the finest T20 batters.
“I am someone who likes to train and work hard every day but didn't have time to prepare because of covid and injuries. It’s not an excuse, but preparation is important at this level. After four matches in this series, I have understood what all things I need to work on,” she said in the pre-series press conference at Trent Bridge.
Rodrigues poses another problem that needs an immediate solution. In the same time frame, the Mumbaikar had a strike rate of 98.8 at an average of 22.39, which put too much pressure on the openers to deliver in every single game. That India qualified for the final of the last T20 World Cup speaks a lot about the performance of their spinners, but cricket is hardly a single-faceted game. The batters would do well to remember that.
The Roy-Bhatia dilemma?
For the South Africa series, India included four wicket-keepers - Richa Ghosh, Sushma Verma, Sweta Verma and Nuzhat Parween - and excluded Taniya Bhatia for reasons only known to the selectors. Safe to say it backfired, with Bhatia once again being called up for the England series. However, in the upcoming T20 series, she will face intense competition from an impressive Indrani Roy who had set the Senior One Day Trophy 2020-21 Trophy ablaze with 456 runs at an average of 76.00 and a strike rate of 86.52.
In cricket, continuity is an understated virtue. Bhatia will have all the reasons to feel disheartened if her two single-digit scores in two ODIs against England would result in her ouster. Especially knowing the captain has been one of the biggest disappointments in the last three years. But then again, the kind of numbers that Roy had put up is too hard to ignore while also presenting a similar role that Rodrigues plays. Will the team management take the hard call of dropping her and hand Roy a debut as a pure batsman? It is definitely an option on the table.
2-3 or 3-2 - the Pace vs Spin tangle
In the 2020 T20 World Cup final, India played one pacer in Shikha Pandey. A four-pronged spin attack led by Poonam Yadav handled things quite beautifully throughout the tournament before it all fell off when it mattered the most. The absence of Rajeshwari Gayakwad due to her COVID-19 complications before the tour brings up a question of India’s approach. A minimum of two pacers is guaranteed but considering the English conditions, will India raise the number to three?
The team management led by Ramesh Powar and Harmanpreet Kaur has options in Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy, and Simran Bahadur. All four have international experience to fill in with the Kookaburra and give Kaur varied options to fall back on. The return of left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht would also entice Kaur to go with a three-spinner attack.