Women’s WC semifinal berth at stake as India face South Africa in much-win game

CHRISTCHURCH,  Mar 26:  Their destiny in their own hands, India will go all out to brush off an inconsistent run and seal a semifinal berth in the Women’s World Cup when they play South Africa in a do-or-die match here on Sunday.

So far in the tournament, the 2017 runners-up haven’t fired in the manner they would have like to.

With three wins and as many losses India, who are in the fifth spot with six points in the overall standings, find themselves in a must-win situation heading into their final league match.

Their semifinal chances were dented when West Indies, who are also vying to advance to the knockout stage, and South Africa’s match was washed out with the former moving up to seven points earlier this week.

A win on Sunday will see India advance to the last four, and a point from the game will also work for the Mithali Raj-led side, as they have a superior NRR (+0.768) than West Indies (-0.890).

In case India lose to South Africa, their only hope of advancing to the semifinals will be if England, who have a better NRR (+0.778), also lose their last league stage match to Bangladesh and finish on a lower NRR. That seems unlikely, though.

But the ‘Women in Blue’ would want to hold all the cards and also get a two-match winning momentum going into the semifinals.

India’s inconsistent batting came to the fore yet again in an otherwise 110-run win against Bangladesh, and skipper Raj would be keen to improve on that aspect against a challenging South African bowling attack.

“Tomorrow is a crucial game and everyone knows that. They are all ready to give their 100 percent. Whoever goes out to bat goes out thinking we have to get partnerships and back each other,” Shafali Verma said at the pre-match press conference.

“We want good partnerships in tomorrows match as a batting unit.The bowling and fielding has become quite good. We have improved as a team,” she added.

Raj herself has been struggling with the willow. She has four single digit scores in the tournament.

Potentially playing her last game for India should they not make the semis, the 39-year-old veteran would be eager to get some runs under her belt, and ensure that her team makes the cut.

Smriti Mandhana, barring the century against West Indies, has also looked scratchy. Shafali got some much-needed runs against Bangladesh while Yastika Bhatia has slotted herself perfectly at No. 3.

Vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur has been India’s most consistent performer with the bat while all-rounders Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana have shown they can be counted on to score quick runs down the order.

The batters will need to fire as a group to get the better of South Africa who have only lost one match in the tournament.

The bowling department, which has looked lacklustre at times, put up a much-improved show against Bangladesh. The move to bring in spinner Poonam Yadav in place of pacer Meghna Singh paid off for India.

However, it remains to be seen if India persist with two pacers, three spinners strategy at the Hagley Oval, which has a balanced track where the bowlers will have to be disciplined with their line and lengths.

South Africa, on the other hand, have already qualified for the semifinals. They sit second in the overall standings, behind Australia.

However, batting remains a concern for the Proteas. Laura Wolvaardt has been South Africa’s stand-out batter. Skipper Sune Luus has three half-centuries while Marizanne Kapp has played a few cameos.

The teams (from):

India: Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (wk), Sneh Rana, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav.

South Africa:

Sune Luus (c), Chloe Tryon (vc), Tazmin Brits, Trisha Chetty, Mignon du Preez, Lara Goodall, Shabnim Ismail, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Lizelle Lee, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Tumi Sekhukhune, Laura Wolvaardt.

Match starts 6.30 am IST. (PTI)