ICC Women’s World Cup: It is time for Indian middle order to stand-up and counted – Slow batting, lack of penetration from pacers have taken Indian eves on downward curve after promising start, leaving them in must-win scenario against NZ
Mithali Raj (PTI)
On a day when Mithali Raj should ideally have been smiling and celebrating her feat of becoming the highest run-getter in women’s ODI, the India captain wore a forlorn look.
India had lost yet another game to the dominant Australians, thus making their chances of qualifying for the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup that much more difficult.
With eight points from six matches, India are fourth in the table while New Zealand are fifth with seven points. The two teams’ clash on Saturday will determine who will join England, Australia and South Africa in the semifinals.
Just when congratulatory messages for becoming the greatest ODI cricketer came pouring from all quarters including the greats from the men’s field, Mithali was issuing a caution to her team. Even the former Englishwoman Charlotte Edwards, whose record the Indian broke on Wednesday, posted a video message for the India captain. She said: “Hi Mithali, huge congratulations on crossing my record and reaching 6,000 runs in ODI women’s cricket. Great achievement and thoroughly deserved. Well done, mate!”
Despite messages like these, Mithali’s message to her players was stern: that if the team continued to play the way it did against South Africa (lost by 115 runs) and Australia (lost by 8 wickets), India cannot make it to the semifinals.
“Obviously, we now have a decider ahead against New Zealand to get to the semifinals. As a team, we have to step up. If we perform again like this, it will not be enough,” Mithali said post-match on Wednesday. “We really have to improve all over the pitch, especially producing more consistency from how we are bowling and fielding,” she added.
After a bright start against England in their opening game and winning easily against two Asian sub-continent opponents and a lowly West Indies, India’s form dipped against South Africa.
After raising hopes of scoring big by amassing 281 against England, India’s batswomen seem to have gone into slow motion mode. India’s highest when batting first in the subsequent games was 232/8 against Sri Lanka.
Compounding India’s woes has been the pathetic form of opener Smriti Mandhana. After two back-to-back player-of-the-match performances in the first two games, the left-handed aggressive batter could muster only 2, 8, 4, 3 in the following matches.
This, in turn, has put the other top-order batswomen under pressure, with fellow opener Punam Raut, Deepti Sharma and Mithali coming good with the bat, though not collectively and consistently.
The non-performance of the lower middle-order has, perhaps, forced the top-order to play cautiously, and hence slowly, rather than risk losing wickets in trying to accelerate.
Mithali said: “There are times when you want to take calculated risks, but I can’t really push it because if I lose my wicket, it’s a big problem for the team.”
What hasn’t helped India’s cause either is the failure to accelerate the scoring by middle-order batter Harmanpreet Kaur. The 28-year-old is a far more capable batswoman than her scores of 24*, 10, 20, 0, 23 between Nos. 4 and 6 reflect. And, lack of overs is not an excuse for her, because in every match, she had at least 10 overs to try and take the Indian score to a position of strength.
The team’s bowling, meanwhile, has largely been reliant on spin. The slow bowlers have accounted for 28 of the 39 wickets that the Indians have claimed in the six matches.
Perhaps, it may not be a bad idea to try former India captain and current Committee of Administrators member Diana Edulji’s suggestion of playing four tweakers and spin a web around the New Zealand batters in their attempt to accomplish their first mission of entering the semifinal.
The only encouraging factor for India is that they will take on the White Ferns at the venue where they have a 100 per cent win record in this World Cup. At Derby County Ground, India defeated England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka before the slide began.
One hopes the slide would end there come Saturday.
India in WC so far
Beat England by 35 runs
Beat West Indies by 7 wickets
Beat Pakistan by 95 runs
Beat Sri Lanka by 16 runs
Lost to South Africa by 115 runs
Lost to Australia by 8 wickets