On to the business end of the ICC Women’s ODI Championship, most teams have only one or two series left in the bag to push for direct qualification to the ODI World Cup in New Zealand in 2021. With Australia and New Zealand (as hosts) having already qualified for the showpiece event, three spots are still up for grabs— England, India, South Africa and Pakistan all in the hunt.
India are currently placed third on the table with 16 points, behind Australia (34) and England (24). A whitewash against West Indies— who are languishing at number seven with 11 points to their credit— will take them to 22 points, that much closer to ensuring they don’t have to play in the qualifying round.
Fresh off securing a clean sweep in the ODIs against South Africa, India go in to their three-match ODI series against West Indies as clear favourites. Despite the absence of Smriti Mandhana— who failed to recover from a toe fracture that she suffered ahead of the ODIs against South Africa— for the initial part of the tour, the visitors have put together a strong squad for the series. Led by Mithali Raj, they have a solid-looking batting line up, backed up by a group of extremely intelligent and supremely skilled bowlers.
In Priya Punia, India look to have found a good third opening option to back up the likes of Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues. The right-hander showed wonderful technique and temperament on her ODI debut, shepherding India home with an unbeaten 75. Young Rodrigues has taken up the mantle of ‘senior opening partner’ brilliantly— her naturally attacking style allowing the more sedate Punia to simply settle in before taking risks.
As seen in the final ODI against South Africa, one of India’s strengths in ODIs is the depth they have in their batting line up. Behind the likes of Mithali, Punam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur in the middle order, are a group of more than capable allrounders led by the new-and-improved Deepti Sharma. Taniya Bhatia, Shikha Pandey and Jhulan Goswami have the ability to contribute with the willow, and Ekta Bisht and Poonam Yadav have shown on several occasions that they can scramble a few runs as well. Whether Sushma Verma or Hemalatha Dayalan get a look-in will likely depend on how India fare in the first two matches.
The slow surfaces in the Caribbean will undoubtedly mean India’s spinners come in to play. With Rajeshwari Gayakwad having grabbed her chance in the lone match she played against South Africa, it will be interesting to see which three spinners India pick for the first ODI. The Goswami-Pandey combine has shown they can take wickets on any surface with both new and old ball, so it is likely they will start the series.
In stark contrast to this settled looking Indian side, West Indies have struggled to find their mojo in recent times. Without the services of Deandra Dottin (injured) and Hayley Matthews (suspended), they were blown away by Australia a little over a month ago. Ridden by injuries to many of their senior players, the hosts have been unable to zero in on adequate replacements— leading to questions about the health of their domestic system.
Only Stafanie Taylor, their captain, has shown the skill and heart to compete against the best. She will be desperate for the senior players to step up to give West Indies a chance in the series. The return of Shemaine Campbelle and Chedean Nation will mean more experience and (hopefully) more stability in the batting unit. With the ball, Afy Fletcher, Anisa Mohammed, Chinelle Henry and Taylor will have to provide the breakthroughs.
While there is no doubt Taylor’s team will not go down without a fight in their own backyard, it is hard to think of them— at this stage— handing India a defeat in ODIs. However, there will certainly be no sense of overconfidence when Mithali and co. take the field for the first ODI at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Friday (November 1). India are aware that they will have to battle the heat, the pitch conditions and the opposition to earn the two points on offer— that will be their first goal.
India: Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Punam Raut, D Hemalatha, Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Mansi Joshi, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Priya Punia, Sushma Verma
West Indies: Stafanie Taylor (capt.), Anisa Mohammed, Aaliyah Alleyne, Afy Fletcher, Britney Cooper, Chedean Nation, Chinelle Henry, Stacy-Ann King, Kyshona Knight, Natasha McLean, Shabika Gajnabi, Shawnisha Hector, Shemaine Campbelle, Sheneta Grimmond
This article was first published on Women’s Criczone, you can read it here.