MACKAY, Sept 20: The under-fire middle-order will be expected to deliver when India take on the mighty Australia in the ODI series beginning here on Tuesday, aiming to finalise their combination ahead of the Women’s World Cup next year.
India have lost back-to-back series against South Africa and England primarily due to poor batting and even poorer strike-rate save for openers. The next challenge could not be tougher with Australia on a record 22-match winning streak.
Key batter Harmanpreet Kaur is unavailable after injuring her thumb before the warm-up game on Saturday.
“Unfortunately she injured her thumb few days ago and is not available for the first game. The rest of the squad members are fit and available for tomorrow,” head coach Ramesh Powar said on the eve of the game.
Lack of firepower has been an issue for India since the home series against South Africa and Powar has clearly conveyed his expectations to the batters.
Depending on how the batting performs, skipper Mithali Raj will decide on whether to bat number three or four in the longer run. With Harmanpreet injured for the opener, she is likely to stick to four to lend more solidity to the batting line-up.
The team has realised that Punam Raut neither has the power nor the game to build momentum at one-drop position after Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana’s flamboyance.
Jemimah Rodrigues, who had a dismal run against England, played brilliantly in The Hundred and is back in the reckoning for the number three spot.
Mithali, with her two-decade long experience, also makes a lot of sense at number three as the innings can be built around her presence in the middle. She had scored three consecutive fifties in England at number four.
Deepti Sharma is another slow-scorer in the middle-order, which has often lost momentum.
Even during the one-off practice game, Deepti consumed as many as 93 deliveries to return with a 49 not out but its her tight off-breaks that India would require in the middle-overs which makes her indispensable.
However during the warm-up game against Australia that India lost by 36 runs, left-handed batter Yastika Bhatia gave a good account of herself scoring 41 off 42 balls as Harmanpreet was not fit for the game.
Yastika has a good chance of starting tomorrow. She is a hard-hitting batter with a good range of strokes in the off-side area.
Richa Ghosh looks set to play the 50 over format as Taniya Bhatia’s strokes also lack strength, something where the Bengal girl is far ahead.
The advantage for India will be Australia’s bowling line-up which isn’t the most experienced one as the cricket board wants to manage the workload of the players in a series with short turnaround between formats.
So Ellyse Perry will have Annabel Sutherland, Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Stella Campbell for company in absence of seasoned pacer Megan Schutt and spinner Jess Jonassen.
The Australia bowlers have made their intentions clear: they will be aiming to bounce out the India batters as it was evident in the warm-up game.
It is Southern Stars’ might batting line-up that will pose a bigger challenge for the Indians.
If the warm-up match is anything to go by, Indian bowlers, save leg-spinner Poonam Yadav and senior seamer Jhulan Goswami, looked out of rhythm as the home team scored 278 in 50 overs which is more than winning score in women’s cricket.
The line up of Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning, Perry and Beth Mooney form a formidable five.
It is no surprise that Goswami and Yadav will need a lot of support. With Shikha Pandey not having measured up in recent series as Goswami’s pace bowling partner, rookie Meghna Singh might be tried out along with bowling all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar.
India: Mithali Raj (Captain), Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Punam Raut, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Shikha Pandey, Jhulan Goswami, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh, Ekta Bisht.
Australia: Meg Lanning (captain), Rachael Haynes (vice-captain), Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Stella Campbell, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Georgia Redmayne, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham.
Match Starts : 5:35 am IST. (PTI)