With Meg Lanning and Rachel Haynes having retired in the space of a year, Australia had massive shoes to fill. Given the quality at the team's disposal, Lanning’s successor, Healy, may not have an issue in terms of churning out results despite the absence of two senior pros. However, a youngster coming through the ranks and living up to her potential is always encouraging.
That is what 20-year-old Phoebe Litchfield’s impressive run of form in the three-match ODI series has done. Playing pace bowling came to her naturally, given her history of playing against men in grade cricket aged 14. She played plenty of pace bowling, which also helped her improve her fielding. By her own admission, that experience fast-tracked her into playing for New South Wales, the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) and now for Australia.
While playing pace was not a big deal for Litchfield, her ability to play spin was a tad suspect, especially in conditions like India, where the bounce and turn are unpredictable. In the one-off Test recently, she seemed positive against the likes of Sneh Rana and Deepti Sharma.
With a sniff of what it would be like to face the Indian spinners, Litchfield took those learnings into the ODIs.
But what worked for India is they managed to keep her quiet, and as many do in white-ball cricket, she was forced to unleash a reverse-sweep as her release shot. That proved to be too fatal for her.
That has not been the case in the ODIs, where she has scored at a strike-rate of 200 with the reverse. When you come to India, you have to be confident enough to play the sweep shots, and she has done that incredibly well and has been the hallmark of her batting.
Not to mention, her graceful cover drives, straight drives and audacious pull shots further add to her incredible batting repertoire.
While grade cricket helped her greatly, her progress could have been hampered if she had not churned out the runs at the domestic circuit. In her debut season with NSW at the National Cricket League (NCL) 2019-20, she finished as the side’s second-highest run-getter with 252 runs at 42.
Playing in the WBBL seemed to be just around the corner, and it was Sydney Thunder who pounced upon the chance to procure her services in the same season. Incidentally, she played under Haynes that season.
She showed her ability, temperament and class in the second game itself when she scored an unbeaten 48-ball 52 against Brisbane Heat to help her side chase down a competitive 151 after they were reduced to 56 for 3 in the seventh over.
She grew in stature after that and went on to move up the ranks in WBBL further. She also earned herself a contract with the Northern Superchargers in The Hundred.
She formed a bond with Smriti Mandhana in the WBBL, where she would often look to the Indian batter for tips.
"Smriti was awesome to play with. She is a class above. As a lefty I learnt a lot off her. She helped me through those innings. I definitely made the most of her time over there, picked her brains. She's one of my favourite left-handers to watch," Litchfield had said ahead of the T20I series in 2022.
Smriti has been absent from the WBBL for the last two seasons for various reasons, which has benefitted Litchfield as she started to open the batting.
It could not have come at the right time for her and, as things stand, also for Australia, as she has shown on more than one occasion that she can flourish in that role.
With a couple of World Cups to defend in the next two years – one in Bangladesh and the other one in India - Litchfield certainly seems to be a lock-in for them. As a result, her two fifties and a ton in the ODIs on the tour are certainly good news for Australia for more reasons than one. Incidentally, and ironically, she became only the second Australian batter with an ODI century at the Wankhede Stadium.
The first? Lanning!
Her patience and ability to grind are crucial for any opening batter, but to do it so well regularly at such a young age shows the immense talent she possesses.
The batter was also picked by Gujarat Giants in the Women's Premier League (WPL) auction last month for INR 1 crore (Base price INR 30 lakh), further indicating how quickly her stocks have gone up and how highly she is rated.
Things are certainly looking up for the southpaw, and with Litchfield in the side, Australia are packing quite a punch.
Gujarat’s woebegone batting display just the tip of the iceberg
Gaurav Nandan Tripathi
Titas, Mandhana, Shafali lead the way in a much-improved performance
Harmanpreet’s woes against spin a concern as Australia decimate India again
Richa at No. 3 is jackpot, but India can't trust Deepti as finisher
Players who could grab a lot of attention in 2024 WPL Auction
‘Megastar’ Lanning leaves behind a legacy that could go unmatched
Meg Lanning, the architect behind Australian dynasty
Why is Meg Lanning’s Australia so good?
Gaurav Nandan Tripathi
Litmus test awaits India as they face stern Aussie huddle