By the time Indian women play their inaugural T20 World Cup match against Australia in Sydney on Friday, the men would have ended the first day’s play in the first Test against New Zealand at windy Wellington. If the women’s team is hoping that batting will take care of its interests, the men not only have world-class batsmen, but also the world’s best bowlers to do the job for them.
For Australia, the World Cup is an extension of the popular Big Bash as the venues are the same for both events. Only the semifinals will be played at SCG and the final at MCG. The World Cup will kick off at the Sydney Showground Stadium at the Olympic Park, developed for the 2000 Olympic Games, when it was the venue for baseball.If India win the opening game, they can play the remaining matches with more confidence to secure a semifinal berth. If they lose, then the New Zealand match will become a do-or-die affair. The other teams in the group, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, can make things difficult for them. Remember, India lost to Bangladesh in the 2018 Asia Cup twice, by seven wickets in the league phase and by three wickets in the final.
But a new crop of players has come up and Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Harmanpreet Kaur are in the top 10 of the T20 batting rankings. The player to watch is Shafali Verma, the youngest Indian to score an international 50. She showed her guts and quality against Australia in a tri-series game recently. If batting comes good, then India have three spinners and much depends on how Deepti Sharma, Radha Yadav and Poonam Yadav hold their nerves bowling to some hard hitters.
India cannot complain of not having enough exposure. Though they are ranked second in the 50-over format, they are fourth behind Australia, England and New Zealand in T20s. That shows how strong India’s group is. India’s men are also playing in the Antipodes and it’s never easy to take on New Zealand in their backyard. India began well by winning the five-match T20 series which they could have lost 2-3. But they lost the ODIs 0-3. India should go into the series remembering the series win in Australia on their last visit, their first in Tests Down Under. Australia missed Steve Smith and David Warner, but their bowling was at full strength.
There can be some discussion about the wicketkeeper and the spinner. There is a school that believes Rishabh Pant should get in because of his aggressive batting, since he is safe standing back overseas. Of course there cannot be any argument about Wriddhiman Saha’s ‘keeping, easily the best. Should Ravichandran Ashwin play or Ravindra Jadeja? Left to Kohli, he might prefer Jadeja, more because of his fielding and batting, but at Basin Reserve, Ashwin would be a better proposition.
Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami will be keenly watching whether Ishant Sharma is match-fit to join forces with them. If he is not feeling up to it, then Umesh Yadav should bowl as he has in the last couple of years. India have always played six batsmen overseas as they seldom got a good start, though Mayank Agarwal did well in Australia and also back home. With Rohit Sharma not there, Hanuma Vihari’s presence is that much more essential to hold the middle-order and carry on with the lower-order.
New Zealand’s bowling at home can be devastating. Trent Boult is back and Kyle Jamieson proved a handful in the ODIs. In Tests, he can be more dangerous. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor lead a competent batting line-up to make the series exciting. (The writer is a veteran commentator. Views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)