The 50-over World Cup in New Zealand is less than six months away and the forthcoming three-match One-Day International series against top-ranked Australia, starting Tuesday (September 21) in Mackay, will give Mithali Raj and Co. a perfect opportunity to prepare themselves for the mega event. Australia, who are on a world record 24-match winning streak in the format, have never lost an ODI series against India and they are more so formidable, at home.
Meanwhile, the Women in Blue will be coming into this series on the back of two consecutive series defeats against South Africa and England and are a bit far away from calling themselves a settled unit. The three ODIs in England gave India a perfect reflection of what’s wrong with their brand of cricket and where they can find solutions.
Batters need to be more aggressive
India have made huge improvements in the last few years but are still way behind the likes of Australia and England. Since 2019, India have the fourth-best scoring rate (4.3) in ODIs but are still need to do a lot of work if they want to compete with Australia (5.6) and England (5). They have the highest dot ball percentage (61.9%). They do score a boundary in every 13.4 deliveries but end up playing way too many dot balls.
India have won 11 of their 20 ODIs since 2019 but most of their wins have come while batting second. They have won eight of the nine games in which they have batted second and only three of the remaining 11 in which they had to set a target. In those 11 encounters, only once they have managed to breach the 250-run mark. Meanwhile, Australia (seven times in 10 innings), England (five times in 11 innings) and South Africa (three times in 11 innings) have all fared better than India in this time frame. India have the fourth-best batting average (24.6) and second-best balls/wicket ratio (36.3) but that's only because most of their batters don't take enough risks.
Overall, the main issue with India’s batting is they don’t have enough firepower in the middle-order. Amongst batters who have scored at least 500 runs in the 50-over format since 2018, Punam Raut (60) has the worst strike rate. Deepti Sharma (64), Raj (64.1) and Harmanpreet Kaur (68.3) too feature on the same list and all four of these are regular members of India’s ODI set-up. Meanwhile, Shafali Verma has featured in only three ODIs and Smriti Mandhana operates at 91 but apart from these two openers, India don’t have anyone who could put pressure on the opposition’s bowling attack. India (4.8) also have the second-worst scoring rate in death overs after Sri Lanka (4.3) since 2019 (minimum five games).
What could be done?
Raj batted at No. 3 in the one-off warm-up game on Saturday and that’s an ideal batting position for the Indian skipper. The 38-year-old has been batting at No. 4 since the tour of New Zealand in early 2019 and India have tried Raut, Deepti and Jemimah Rodrigues at No. 3. Raut has scored 602 runs in 14 innings at an average of 50.16 but has a strike rate of just 62.1. With Raut and Raj at No. 3 and 4 respectively, it puts a lot of pressure on the lower middle-order to up the ante. Raj, who is India’s most consistent batter, should continue to play the role of an anchor and the others could bat around her.
The Indian team management would also be worried about Harmanpreet’s fitness. The 32-year-old only featured in three encounters in The Hundred before a quad injury put an end to her stint in England. Harmanpreet has been ruled out of the first ODI and the visitors could play two of Rodrigues, Richa Ghosh or Yastika Bhatia. Rodrigues, who was struggling with her form in international cricket, looked in superb touch at The Hundred and finished the tournament as the second-highest run-getter. Baroda's left-hand batter Yastika Bhatia, who is yet to make her India debut, scored a 42-ball 41 at No. 4 in the warm-up game and could feature in the first ODI. Meanwhile, Richa Ghosh too might get a look-in ahead of Taniya Bhatia, adding to India's firepower lower down the order.
Lack of depth in pace department
"We have to have support to Jhulan Goswami. If she is consistent over a period of time, we need to find a partner who can bowl in partnership so that we can get the desired results. We have Meghna (Singh) and Pooja (Vastrakar). In the fast-bowling department, we are looking for consistency so that Jhulan can express herself. Because of lack of partnership, she is defensive which we don't want as team. And we are giving her that support," said head coach Ramesh Powar.
Goswami has picked up the most number of wickets (29 at an average of 20.5) in ODIs since 2019 but the Women in Blue don’t really have a replacement ready for the 38-year-old. Apart from Goswami (18), Shikha Pandey (15) is the only other Indian pacer who has played more than five ODIs since 2019. Thanks to Goswami and Pandey, India's pace attack has the second-best bowling average (22.8) since 2019 but the management would want some back-ups in the long run.
Pandey did bowl in the warm-up and if the 32-year-old is not fit, India will have to play at least one of Pooja Vastrakar or Meghna Singh. The right-arm seamer from Uttar Pradesh, Meghna is yet to make her international debut. The 27-year-old shared the new ball with Goswami in the practice match and returned with figures of 0/35 in seven overs. Meanwhile, Vastrakar picked up 1/28 and also scored 57 runs, which should give her a spot in the XI for the first ODI.
There’s a reason why Australia are the top-ranked ODI side. With skipper Meg Lanning, Ashleigh Gardner, Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney in the squad, Australia have a formidable batting unit. However, in the absence of the top-two ranked ODI bowlers Jess Jonassen (stress reaction in her lower leg) and Megan Schutt (unavailable), Australia have a slightly inexperienced bowling line-up. The hosts haven't played an international game since April and several planned team camps were also cancelled because of COVID.
Be it batting or bowling, Australia are miles ahead of other teams. Lanning and Co. have a batting average of 44.3 and a scoring rate of 5.5 in ODIs since 2019. In the bowling department, they have operated at a collective average of 22.8 and a strike rate of 28. They are the only team who have conceded less than four runs per over in this time period. Australia haven’t lost a single ODI since October 2017 and India will have to be at their absolute best if they want to topple the six-time World Cup winners.