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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Best possible preparation for ODI World Cup: Mithali Raj on Australia challenge

Key batter Harmanpreet Kaur is unavailable for Tuesday's match after injuring her thumb before the warm-up game on Saturday.

By: PTI |
Updated: September 20, 2021 6:39:42 pm
Mithali Raj averages over 50 in ODIs with the bat. (File)

India captain Mithali Raj and head coach Ramesh Powar on Monday listed out their objectives from the ODI series against Australia and said playing the mighty hosts is the best possible preparation for next year’s Women’s World Cup.

Powar, who had spoken about the need for playing fearless cricket following the UK tour in July, said it is high time the team starts scoring 250 consistently to compete with the likes of England and Australia, who are on a record 22-match winning streak in ODIs.

The team also needs to improve in the fast bowling department with veteran Jhulan Goswami not getting enough support from the other end.

“Moving towards the World Cup as a group, batting unit, bowling unit, we have set some targets. We want to score consistently over 250. And we are planning towards that.

“In bowling we are trying to get opponents all out so we are trying to use Jhulan Goswami as the experienced bowler who can give us good openings in front and senior players as always, we expect them to guide youngsters and drive the team which they are doing quite well,” said Powar ahead of the series opener on Tuesday.

Mithali, who was the only consistent batter against England with three consecutive fifties, said she could move up to number three from four, like she did in the warm-up game if the other batters are performing as per expectations.

“We definitely are looking at the combinations for the World Cup, and we will be giving a little more game time to the players to fit into those roles, that’s our objective in the series, but the main thing definitely is that we are fielding in the best level to win every game.

“Playing against the best side before the World Cup, it is the best preparation that we can get,” said Mithali.

Powar spoke about the progress of Shafali Verma in international cricket and Jemimah Rodrigues” return to form after a forgettable time against England.

“The way she played in England, we were happy and as a 17-year-old I think we have to give a little breathing space and Mithali, SS Das (batting coach) and me we have had conversations with her. She knows what is expected of her, so we don’t push a 17-year-old who’s very expressive in her batting.

“We don’t want to curtail her game, but we want to give her freedom with some more responsibility and SS does plays a major role.

“He has spent a lot of time with Shafali, and he’s working on her game, and mental aspects also, and she has played the hundred. She’s got some confidence from England. We can’t forget that she is just 17.”

The under-fire middle-order will be expected to deliver when India take on the mighty Australia in the ODI series beginning 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 challenger could not be tougher with Australia on a record 22-match winning streak.

Harmanpreet Kaur unavailable after injuring her thumb

“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,” 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. 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.

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