Chances of Success Rating 6.0/10 (4th)
The question of whether young opening batter Smriti Mandhana would recover in time for the ICC Women’s World Cup was finally answered, with the left hander being included in the team for this year’s biggest tournament. Mandhana had been sidelined since January with a knee injury, and was in a race to be fit for the flight to England. She replaced all-rounder Devika Vaidya in the side, being the only change to the team that played a Quadrangular tournament in South Africa.
The team is led by legendary batter Mithali Raj. Raj was retained as captain of the ODI team in October last year, when Harmanpreet Kaur was named T20 captain. The move to split the captaincy pointed to a succession plan, and it will not be surprising if Harmanpreet takes over ODI captaincy as well after this tournament.
All together, India's 15 players have 651 ODI games of experience under their belt. However, this figure is offset by Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, who have played 328 ODIs between them. Six of the 15 have played less than 20 ODIs. While that may look like a lot of inexperience, keep in mind that the women’s cricket calendar is not nearly as packed as their male counterparts, and playing 20 ODIs usually means a player has been in the team for two to three years.
|Mandhan cannot take her spot at the top of the order for granted any more. (c) Don Miles|
Mandhana will face stiff competition to reclaim her opening spot. 19 year-old all-rounder Deepti Sharma, and 27 year old Punam Raut – recalled to the team - recently set a world record partnership of 320 runs against a hapless Ireland in the Quadrangular tournament. Both smashed maiden ODI hundreds, with Deepti going on to make 188, the second highest individual score among females.
Also in the squad is Mona Meshram, another opening batter, who scored two half centuries - both against a formidable South Africa - in the last series India played. With four regular openers in the side, there will be tough competition for the two slots, and someone might have to slot into the middle order. Besides form, fielding might well be the basis on which the final decision is taken.
The middle order itself looks well set, with Raj, Harmanpreet, and Veda Krishnamurthy. All-rounder Shikha Pandey and Goswami herself can be counted on for runs as well.
|Expect Jhulan Goswami to contribute with bat as well as ball. (c) Don Miles|
Goswami, fresh from becoming the highest wicket taker in women’s ODIs, will lead the attack in one of her favourite hunting grounds. She has traditionally enjoyed success in English conditions, and will be a threat, especially with the new ball.
Shikha Pandey will share the new ball with her. Pandey has had a good six months leading into the tournament, ably leading the attack when Goswami was injured in January, and is another who will enjoy the natural swing English conditions may provide.
Mansi Joshi, with just five ODI matches under her belt, is an unknown quantity. But she has both pace and swing, with a tall frame and a classical action, and could prove a handful. But India’s traditional reliance on spinners might mean she might not play unless the wicket is green.
As expected, India are well stocked in this department: two very different left arm spinners, the experienced Ekta Bisht and Rajeshwari Gayakwad; a leg spinner in Poonam Yadav; and the off spin of Deepti Sharma. Harmanpreet Kaur is also handy with her part-time off spin, and the biggest headache for India will be which of the spinners make the starting XI.
One of the weak links in this side is the wicket keeper's position. While Sushma Verma can be quite brilliant with the gloves, she is also prone to the odd miss. More worrying is the lack of faith in her batting. She has regularly batted as low as eight, has a top score of 4*, and has faced just 51 balls in her entire ODI career, despite making her debut in 2014. Talented newbie Nuzhat Parween is the reserve, having only made her ODI debut against Ireland last month.
A huge positive is that the core of the side has not changed much over the last couple of years, and the team looks settled. The likes of Raut, Meshram and Joshi have come in after injuries to incumbent players, and have done well enough to keep their places.
The batting has been beefed up, indicating what the selectors consider the weaker aspect of India’s game. But that has come at the cost of the fast bowling department. For a tournament in England, three fast bowlers is one too few. Should any one of them pick up an injury, the balance of the team will be severely affected. The wicket-keeping department too is a concern, but one that could be masked by the long batting order, as long as the glove-work is clean.
The team go into the tournament on the back of a surprising move to change the coach just two months before the World Cup. Former Baroda Ranji player Tushar Arothe replaced former India captain Purnima Rau, after the senior players in the side reportedly asked for a male coach.
This could also be the last ODI World Cup for Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, both 34 years old. The two veterans are the only remnants of the team that finished second in the 2005 World Cup, which is India’s best finish so far. That campaign was led by Raj as well. Goswami led the team to a third place finish in 2009, and both will be hungry for the one trophy that has eluded them in their careers.
A version of this article first appeared on Firtspost.com