VADODARA: The Indian women’s team had started its practice session at the Reliance Cricket Ground on Wednesday, a day before the second ODI against Australia. All cameras were pointed at Mithali Raj. The skipper was back, taking a lot of high catches during fielding drills.
Unlike the practice session on the eve of the first ODI when she had to leave the ground early due to illness, Mithali was hitting the ball hard at the nets. She was there throughout the three hours, in temperatures touching 37 degrees. The captain looking better is a morale booster for India. But she once again finds herself in a situation where she has to pull the team back, from the spectre of a series loss.
Outplayed in the opener, India’s focus will be on utilising the conditions, putting up more runs on the board and not experimenting too much while bowling. In her first interaction with the media this series, Mithali said the top-order has to convert starts, something that was the difference between the teams in the first match. While Australia had three 50-plus partnerships, India had one for the eighth wicket.
“We need to post bigger totals batting first. Barring a couple of them, everybody got starts but didn’t convert. Our batters didn’t pick the right balls. Everybody got about 15-20. They need to go beyond that and keep the batting together. It was the first game at home (after a while). Tomorrow is going to be a better day.”
After five T20Is in South Africa, failure to shift gear for the 50-over format was another reason, Mithali felt. “Having said that, the top-order has to step up. We’re coming from the T20 format. Maybe we’ll see a different batting unit tomorrow. Maybe getting into the groove took some time.”
This inability to adapt was evident not only in the way they batted but also in the inconsistent line and length of the Women in Blue. It was mostly short and wide, giving Australia batters ample room to hit over square on the off, mid-on and mid-wicket. The spinners were unsettled by sweep shots, something the Australians have got better at after a tour of Sri Lanka in September 2016. This was perceivable in Nicole Bolton’s unbeaten 100.
It’s not clear who Mithali will replace. It will be one of experienced opener Punam Raut or youngster Jemimah Rodrigues who opens in domestic cricket. Punam came in handy in the first match, scoring 37 at a strike-rate of 74. “I wouldn’t say I’d be making major changes, but there are going to be a few. It’s important to give youngsters a chance at a point when the team depends on seniors for runs. I think the seniors need to give the youngsters opportunities, a cushioning. Even if one or two games don’t go their way, they are still needed by the team. They are the players that the team looks forward to in the future.”
Jhulan to return
Pacer Jhulan Goswami has returned to the squad for the tri-nation series, involving Australia and England. She is not in the ODI team because of a heel injury. Harmanpreet Kaur will continue to lead. The series will be played from March 22-31 in Mumbai.
T20 squad Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, Veda Krishnamurthy, Jemimah Rodrigues, Anuja Patil, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Rumeli Dhar, Mona Meshram.