The English test for the eves

Indian women’s cricket team, currently ranked third, needs to maintain the ‘top-four’ spot in the world rankings till 2020 to get direct qualification for the 2021 World Cup.

India skipper Mithali Raj greets her counterpart Heather Knight on the eve of the first ODI at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Thursday.   -  Prashant Nakwe

 

As the Indian cricketers walked back to the change rooms after a long practice session at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday morning, one could hear foot-tapping Bollywood music blaring out of the public address system.

Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues were humming a few lines. They looked calm and composed ahead of the three-match ODI series against a formidable England side.

Coming into the tournament (which is part of the ICC Championships) after a mixed outing in New Zealand — where the team clinched the ODI series but conceded the T20s — the Mithali Raj-led side has a tough task in hand.

The team [currently ranked No 3] needs to maintain the ‘top-four’ spot in the world rankings till 2020 to get direct qualification for the 2021 World Cup.

READ| Powar questions Mithali’s skills, fitness and behaviour

Skipper Mithali is confident of her side’s chances. “It is a very important series for us, being number three right now in points table. The points are at stake and I definitely want the team to get direct entry (into the next World Cup),” she said on the eve of the first ODI.

The series stands even more significant given the current political situation in India.

India’s road to 2021 Women’s World Cup could get tricky if it does not play a series against Pakistan in ICC Women’s World Championship.

If India refuses to play the series, the dates of which aren’t announced yet, then it will lose six points, which will be directly added to Pakistan’s tally.

As per the rules mandated by ICC, the host New Zealand, along with top four teams in the table, will receive a direct qualification for the World Cup. In case, New Zealand is among the top four, then the 5th placed team will get the direct qualification.

READ| Mithali happy to represent India for so long

The remaining teams will have to compete among themselves in a play-offs tournament to qualify for the World Cup. Four teams will make it into the World Cup from the playoffs.

In 2017, India had lost out points for similar reasons and had to make it to the World Cup via the playoffs. India had won the playoffs tournament after defeating South Africa in the final by one wicket.

“Last time, I remember we were short of three points, and that’s why we had to play the qualifiers. It’s always been in our minds that we probably won’t play Pakistan, and that’s why, whatever matches we play against whoever, we should be going in keeping in mind that we need those points,” the India captain said.

India’s batting department will certainly miss its key member, Harmanpreet Kaur, who has been ruled out of the series after sustaining an ankle injury. Though she has been replaced by newcomer, Harleen Deol, it is unlikely that the youngster will make it to the final eleven.

England skipper Heather Knight at a training session on Thursday.   -  PRASHANT NAKWE

 

In the absence of Harmanpreet, the onus will be on Mithali, Smriti and Jemimah to fire. Mithali’s position in the T20 squad has created quite a bit of controversy in the past few months, but she is still at the top of her game in the 50-over format. And the team will rely heavily on the 36-year-old to come good.

Smriti, on the other hand, has had phenomenal success over the last couple of years and the ICC woman cricketer of the year, will need to play to her strength to ensure there are no batting collapses. The local girl, Jemimah, too, is expected to provide the requisite spark to the batting order.

However, the team’s middle-order is untested and that’s one area, coach W.V. Raman, needs to be careful about.

The team’s bowling department has an all-round look with the pace attack led by seasoned Jhulan Goswami, and also comprising Shikha Pandey and Mansi Joshi. In the spin department, the side has seasoned campaigners in Deepti Sharma, Ekta Bisht and Poonam Yadav, who could prove effective in the middle overs.

Jhulan Goswami is also the first woman to claim 200 ODI wickets.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

England has experienced campaigners in its ranks too. The focus will be on Danni Wyatt and Heather Knight.

Knight has amassed 2,331 runs in 86 ODIs, and also came up with a fine display in the warm-up fixture against Board President’s XI.

All-rounders Sophie Eccelestone, experienced pacer Anya Shrubsole and medium pacer Nat Sciver also provide the balance to the visiting side.

With the stage set for a mouth-watering contest, both India and England will hope to make every opportunity count.

Teams (From)

India Women: Mithali Raj (Captain), Jhulan Goswami, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), R Kalpana, Mona Meshram, Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Shikha Pandey, Mansi Joshi, Punam Raut, Harleen Deol.

England women: Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Alex Hartley, Amy Jones, Heather Knight, Laura Marsh, Nat Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor (wicketkeeper), Lauren Winfield and Danni Wyatt.

Match starts at 9 am