Harmanpreet to miss first ODI against Australia as India begins World Cup preparations

The Indian team is coming into the series on the back of consecutive ODI series losses, and will be looking to rebuild ahead of the ICC World Cup in March 2022.

FILE PHOTO: Harmanpreet Kaur had sustained an injury to her thumb at practice. - VIVEK BENDRE

India will be missing its vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur in the first One-Day International as the team gears up for the ODI series Down Under against Australia, which is on a 22-match winning streak.

“She was declared fit. She was selected for this tour. But unfortunately, some days back she got a hit on the thumb, and she is not available for first ODI. Next ODI we’ll take a call according to her pain and fitness management,” Ramesh Powar, coach of the national side, said in a virtual press conference.

However, medium-pacer Shikha Pandey, whose fitness was under a cloud after she missed the warm-up game on Saturday, is fit and available for selection, the coach added.

The Indian team is coming into the series on the back of consecutive ODI series losses, against South Africa and England earlier this year, and will be looking to rebuild ahead of the ICC World Cup in March 2022 to be held in New Zealand.

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“We are definitely looking at the compositions 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,” captain Mithali Raj said when asked about her side’s plans ahead of the mega-event.

“Moving towards World Cup, we as a group, batting unit, bowling unit, we have set some targets. We want to be consistent. As a batting unit we want to score consistently over 250, and in bowling we are trying to get opponents all out. We are trying to use Jhulan Goswami as an experienced bowler who can give us good openings upfront,” Powar said.

In keeping with the Australian bowling attack's penchant to employ pace and bounce to intimidate oppositions, the Indian contingent is using two sidearm throwers to acquaint batters with the short-pitched deliveries. “A lot more cuts and pulls is what we’ve been working on during our training sessions,” Mithali added.

The explosive opener Shafali Verma, whose vulnerabilities against the short ball were laid bare recently, has been in consultation with Mithali, Powar and batting coach Shiv Sundar Das.

“She knows her role, what is expected out of her. We don’t push a 17-year-old who is very expressive in her batting. We don’t want to curtail her game. We give her freedom with some responsibility,” the coach said.

Talks around India’s inconsistency have also involved the batting position of the team’s erstwhile No.3 mainstay Mithali. The skipper, with four consecutive scores of fifty plus in her last four innings at No.4, hasn’t gone one down in ODIs since September 2018.

“I’m flexible with my batting order. It all depends on the composition of the team. If we have a good middle-order then I push myself up at No.3, if there is a little more inexperience in the middle-order then I push myself at No.4. With Harman out for the first ODI, I probably have to think about my order again,” Mithali said.

Speaking about the challenge posed by the Australians, who India last faced in the T20 World Cup final in 2020, the skipper said that playing the best side before the World Cup was the best preparation that her team could get.

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