Preview: India needs big guns to fire at New Zealand women

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In fine form after beating Pakistan in their Women’s World Cup opener, India will need to raise their game when they face New Zealand in their second game on Thursday. Mithali Raj’s side are a backing lot but need to be wary as the Kiwi Girls beat them 4-1 in an ODI series just before the showpiece tournament.

India won the final game of the series to avoid a clean sweep, but otherwise senior pros Mithali and Harmanpreet Kaur were unable to make game-winning contributions. Opener Shafali Verma is clearly struggling with her form. Smriti Mandhana scored a fine 52 against Pakistan but was far from his best. Deepti Sharma made a valuable 40 at No.3, a position more suited to Yastika Bhatia, who looked in fine form in warm-up matches against South Africa and West Indies, scoring 58 and 42 respectively.

If India are to play Yastika in the XI, they will have to give up Pooja Vastrakar or Sneh Rana, heroes of their triumph against Pakistan. Their record 122 runs for the seventh wicket saved India from embarrassment. Both players are also quite capable with the ball in hand.

India will need more of the established stars though. Mithali scored a laborious 36 9-balls, while Harmanpreet managed 5. The pair struggled to turn the strike and continued to eat point balls down the middle. Numbers 4 and 5 are crucial batting positions, and that’s where a youngster like Yastika can do a better job. The left-hander is a smooth hitter with a healthy 73.94 strike rate in her small ODI career.

Indian women’s cricket team. (PTI)

Mithali, 39, has been a great servant to Indian cricket and is also in fine touch, scoring nine half-centuries in his last 20 outings but only two have Indian wins. The captain is playing in her sixth World Cup and is guilty of scoring too slowly by today’s standards. The opposition may prefer Mithali to face more balls than Yastika, Richa Ghosh, Sneh or Pooja.

Mithali’s assistant Harmanpreet beat 63 in the last ODI against New Zealand, which was only her third half-century since the 2017 World Cup final. She managed to get a century in the warm-up match against South Africa, but his 14-ball stay in the crease against Pakistan was miserable.

Shafali’s skinny run is another concern for India. The Haryana girl went without scoring in the first match as well as the second warm-up match against West Indies. She managed just 96 runs in the five-game series against New Zealand.

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Aside from the versatile duo of Pooja and Sneh, veteran pacer Jhulan Goswami and left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad were equally good in India’s 107-point win over Pakistan. Rajeshwari varied his pace brilliantly and capitalized on the surface used to come back with impressive numbers of 4/31.

Without forgetting Rich, the young stumper who was excellent behind the counter. The teenager had five dismissals (four catches and one stumping).

Jhulan, the top wicket-taker in Women’s ODI history, is just a step away from overtaking Australia’s Lyn Fullstone (39 scalps) to become the top wicket-taker in the Women’s World Cup. Much will depend on her when India take on New Zealand. Kiwi halfbacks Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates are in fine form, and India will be banking on Jhulan to get them out cheaply. Devine scored a crafty 108 against West Indies, while Bates scored an unbeaten 78 on just 67 balls against Bangladesh.

New Zealand, who suffered a three-point loss to West Indies in their opener, bounced back to beat Bangladesh by nine wickets and will be eager to put on a dominating show against India.

On the other hand, Team India would love for their experienced pros Mithali and Harmanpreet to be more proactive and pull out all the guns blazing. India cannot afford another mid-order collapse against New Zealand, and unlike Pakistan, the Kiwis will not allow them to recover so easily.

A victory against New Zealand would give a huge boost to Team India, runners-up in the 2017 and 2005 editions.



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