India vs South Africa: Curious case of Richa's role in ODIs

After batting at three in the previous ODI series, Richa Ghosh is back at six again. Is this just an experiment ahead of World Cup or more?
Richa batted at six against South Africa in the first ODI, with Dayalan Hemalatha batting at three
Richa batted at six against South Africa in the first ODI, with Dayalan Hemalatha batting at three (Photo credit | BCCI)

CHENNAI: "We believe that she can be a good top-order player. We believe in her talent." That was India's head coach Amol Muzumdar when Richa Ghosh fell agonisingly close to what could have been her maiden ODI century against Australia in December last year.

All the praise the wicket-keeper batter received despite India's narrow loss was absolutely valid. Till that series, in her short career with the national side, Ghosh had never batted at three. To take up that position and come out as India's second-highest run-scorer behind Jemimah Rodrigues against the no 1 ranked team was no mean feat.

Hence Muzumdar's declaration of Ghosh continuing at three came as no surprise despite abundant pre-series reservations. "What a knock it was. Under pressure at three. It was a new position for her but she proved why she has been spoken about so highly.

Her talent speaks for itself. It was a special knock. You have seen what kind of shots she can play. If she can use the first 10 overs and then play according to a situation, that's the best spot for her. At least for now, we think Richa at three will be a very good choice," Muzumdar had said in a post-match media interaction in December.

The planning for the ODIs took a back seat after a 3-0 series loss against Australia. With Ghosh raising her stocks as a finisher for the Women's Premier League champions Royal Challengers Bengaluru, she continued to bat in the lower-middle order in T20Is. She continued to put her attacking foot forward as her strike rate dipped below 130 only once in the five-match series. The 20-year-old did what she was expected to do.

Cut to June 2024. With one eye on the T20 World Cup in October, India restarted their ODI championship campaign against South Africa in Bengaluru on Sunday. It was surprising when Dayalan Hemalatha walked in at three after the opener Shafali Verma fell early and Ghosh walked in at six. Neither of the batters contributed a lot for India, Hemalatha scored 12, while Ghosh managed only three before Sinalo Jafta took a catch behind the stumps. It would have put India in trouble if it wasn't for vice-captain Smriti Mandhana's brilliant century.

It did raise a lot of eyebrows when after announcing number three as the best possible position for her to bat, the team management asked Ghosh to go back to her original batting position. Maybe there are some experiments going on with the batting order. One could argue that India have already confirmed their spot in the 2025 World Cup as host, and there is no harm in carrying out these experiments.

One can also suggest that this is maximisation of India's resources given having Hemalatha at three and Ghosh at six only expands the batting lineup for India. Or it was just a reward for someone like Hemalatha, who has performed exceptionally well in the domestic season and WPL.

Mandhana suggested all three possibilities while ruling out Ghosh batting at three in the future. "The brilliant thing about her (Ghosh) is that she can adapt and play in any situation," Mandhana said after India's comfortable win by 143 runs. "We all saw what she did at number three. I am not ruling out that she won't be batting at three, but the way Hema was batting in the Bangladesh series, even in the nets, she looked good.

She had a brilliant domestic season and also the WPL. With our middle order, the best thing is that they can adapt and bat according to the situation, which is great. I am not ruling out Richa batting at three, it comes down to who fits well at what place. We are all ready to do whatever is needed for the team," Mandhana mentioned.

Only team management knows where Ghosh bats in the short and long run. One thing is for sure, with these many options in the middle order, the team management is facing a problem of plenty. This is a problem they won't mind having with the home ODI World Cup approaching in 2025.

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