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Women's Cricket

Mithali Raj calls for a long partnership from the Indian openers ahead of 2nd ODI

Since the ICC Women's ODI World Cup in 2017, no team has lost more matches than India in the ODI while batting first

India women

India women's cricket lose to Australia in first ODI (Source: Firstpost)


Shruti Banerjee

Updated: 23 Sep 2021 9:29 AM GMT

Five months away from the 2022 ODI World Cup in New Zealand, the Indian women's cricket team is struggling with their core team. After having lost back-to-back two series against South Africa and England respectively, they lost the 1st ODI against Australia on Tuesday in Mackay.

It was a nice and hard surface and if the early phases had been managed well due to the freshness on it, the runs should have come on the board. And, Australia Captain Meg Lanning didn't go for it instead she put India to bat first.

And, their struggle continued. Openers – Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma added 31 runs before an inexperienced bowling attack of Australia started troubling them. However, this is not the first time as they have come to struggle more often than not in the last few years and they have now lost seven ODIs while batting first.

Since the ICC Women's ODI World Cup in 2017, no team has lost more matches than India in the ODI, while batting first. They lost 13 matches out of 19 with having a win percentage of 31.58%.

Win percentage since July 2017 while batting 1st in ODIs:



This chart clearly shows the position of India and it describes the approach of their batting. However, they are more comfortable when it comes to chasing. Although they tried and tested a few new faces the story remains the same. Despite having a good start, the openers fail to capitalize and the pressure fell upon the captain Mithali Raj.

To anchor the innings, she chose the defensive approach and eventually the team fall short in total. As far as the 1st ODI is concerned, Australia bowlers gave 22 extra runs that helped India went past the 200-run mark. Megan Schutt and Jess Jonassen, the mighty Aussies restricted them to a below-par total and took just 41 overs to chase it.

And, Mithali Raj has called for a long partnership from the opening pair of Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma after India's nine-wicket loss in the first ODI. Both Mandhana and Verma got out to 18-year-old pacer Darcie Brown. While the 17-year-old Shafali is relatively new in the 50 overs set up, Mandhana has nearly 150 international games in her name but her consistency has come under the scanner for quite some time now. In nine ODIs this year, against South Africa at home and in England recently, Mandhana has only one fifty and seven scores under 30 as well in a total of 244 runs which came at an average of 30.50.

18-year-old pacer Darcie Brown dismisses opener Smriti Mandhana

"The opening partnership - if they can give us a good start, clearly the middle order can take the momentum from there," Mithali Raj told reporters after the match. "But if you lose wickets, you actually have to build an innings in the first ten overs. Smriti [16 in 18 balls] has been on the international circuit for a while, so we would expect some runs from her."

She continued: "When you know the sort of batting line-up the Australians have, anything closer to 250 is what we were looking at, but losing two wickets, especially batters like Smriti and Shafali [8 in 10 balls], in the powerplay itself, it was important the middle order starts to compensate for that and build a partnership there. And that's what we did with Yastika [Bhatia, the debutant, who scored a 51-ball 35], but then again, we didn't get enough partnerships in the lower-middle order. "

Notably, Mithali Raj has pushed herself to No. 4 since the New Zealand tour in 2019 and since then they have tried Punam Raut, Jemimah Rodrigues and even Deepti Sharma too where Rodrigues lost form and Raut lost management's faith due to her below-par strike rate. And, the lack of experience in the middle-order made it worse for them.

As far as her own knock is concerned, Mithali Raj was not impressed with her strike rate too. She scored her 59th ODI fifty but that came off 92 balls. She took 12 balls to open her account. "It is always in my mind to improve on that [strike rate] aspect. I wouldn't say I definitely don't think about it, but it's not something that crosses my mind when I walk in to bat. I've always felt no matter how many runs I score there's always some room for improvement. I want to evolve as a player, too. I know I've been scoring runs but it isn't enough for the team to win, so there's always room for improvement," she said.

Notably, the youngster, Yastika Bhatia has been tested at No.3 and she was quite impressive. After having a good show in the warm-up, she successfully added 77 runs with Raj. Although her debut came because of Harmanpreet Kaur's injury, her 51-ball 35 has certainly left a mark and another chance in the next game as well. She played the pace and bounces of Darcie Brown well and looked comfortable against the short-balls.

Debutant Yastika Bhatia and captain Mithali Raj's inaction during 1st ODI (Source: Sonyliv)

"Yastika had a very good camp in Bangalore. She was among runs and she continued that in the practice game [in Brisbane]. Whatever little she scored, she was quite impressive and positive in her approach. And that's why without a doubt we picked her to replace an injured Harman. The position we sent her in today, she was quite positive out there and [showed intent] to score runs," Raj said.

Along with Yastika, Richa Ghosh too made her debut and her unbeaten cameo worth 32 off 29 was equally praiseworthy. Her fearless knock showed her capabilities to finish well. Over the last few years, Team India has tried and tested a few wicketkeepers, namely Sushma Verma, Nuzhat Parween and Taniya Bhatia before Ghosh was handed over the responsibility earlier this year. And, her batting skills worked for her which saw Bhatia out of the T20I squad as well.

Along with her impressive work behind the stumps, her solid batting at the lower-order and played as a finisher – left everyone impressed. Her 45-run eighth-wicket stand with Jhulan Goswami could have been the game-changer if they have some more runs on the board. And, the captain shared that her ability to bat aggressively in the lower order was the only reason not promoting her before Deepti or Pooja Vastrakaar as well. But she didn't rule out the idea of promoting her.

"Because it was her first game, so you want the player to walk in with confidence in the role that they've already [carried out]," revealed Raj. "Richa has already been a part of the T20 set-up and scored runs for India there at a particular position. So, when she was making her debut [today], we wanted to give that comfort level to the player to slide into the same role that they have played with and have experience in. That's why she went in the order where she did. But yes, she was very impressive today and clearly, it does make us think if we could promote her up the order [in coming games]."

With just 225 on the board, India required a strong attack from their bowling unit, especially from the spinners - Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana and Poonam Yadav. But the hosts' top three - Alyssa Healy, Rachael Haynes and Meg Lanning punished them quite well and Raj admitted that this is certainly a matter of concern.

"Yes, we do have a lot to work in terms of our bowling department because predominantly we are spinners, a spin attack, and spinners are getting hit everywhere, so that's something we need to work on," she said. "The wicket is good for batters as well as fast bowlers. Having said that, the bowlers need to be a little tighter in their line and length on a wicket like this, which we did get to see with the Australian fast bowlers but not really with the Indian seamers."

While a lot of questions are going around and the answers are yet to be found, Yastika's intent and Ghosh's fearlessness were certainly the positives for the visitors. Be it a better start from openers, consistency from the middle-orders or aggressive bowling attack, Mithali and Co. need to work on the loopholes before they take on the Aussies on Friday.

Stats taken from ESPNCricinfo

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