Mithali Raj: Harmanpreet's absence puts focus on depth in batting

Harmanpreet Kaur has been ruled out of the three-match series with an ankle injury.

Mithali Raj addresses the media in Mumbai on the eve of the first ODI against England women.   -  PTI

Mithali Raj's exclusion from the Indian women's team for the Twenty20 Internationals against New Zealand had led to speculations about retirement from the shortest format.

On Thursday, ahead of India’s ODI series against England, Mithali refuted such claims. “When it's the right time, I’ll let you all know,” she said, with a smile.

The ODI series, which is part of the ICC women's championship, is crucial for India as it needs to gain maximum points to ensure a direct qualification to the 2021 ICC Women's World Cup. Mithali, the ODI captain, wants the team to retain its position in the top-four of the world rankings till 2020 to get direct qualification. “England are a formidable side, being the World Cup champions and they will come strongly at us. We should be playing a positive brand of cricket,” said Mithali.

“They’ve got their senior players back in the squad, and we are without one of our senior players. But this series will also show how we meet this challenge. It will reflect the depth of our team,” she said.

India suffered a major blow ahead of the series as its key batter, Harmanpreet Kaur, was ruled out after sustaining an ankle injury. But Mithali feels that her absence is a chance for the youngsters to come good.

“She is one of the main players in the team for a long time, but it is also an opportunity for the young players in the team,” said the India captain. “Harman is not there because of an injury. I should emphasise that we, as a batting unit, should take the (added) responsibility and whoever gets the opportunity should play that role,” she added.

India had defeated New Zealand 2-1 in the recent ODI series in different conditions and Mithali said they will take the confidence into the series.

“It was our first win on the New Zealand soil, so it feels great, but to come home and play England is completely different,” she said.

“The conditions are different. We’ll take a lot of positives and confidence from that series win, but our preparation and strategy differs from what it was in New Zealand.”

Playing at home, Mithali believes that the spinners will play a key role. But then, an early start--at 9 am--would mean that there would be some moisture for the medium pacers to exploit.

“A little bit of moisture will be there because most of the matches in India start at 9 am. But as the days progress it (wicket) will ease out. Jhulan (Goswami) had done very well in New Zealand, supported by Shikha (Pandey) and Mansi (Joshi),” she said.

“I think spin will be the main factor for all the matches we play at home and that’s one of the reasons why we produce the best spinners. If there is moisture the fast bowlers will come into play and in the second innings there will be some slow turn.”

She also added: “In New Zealand they (Indian spinners) did very well and considering the slowness of the wickets, I hope they will do well in these conditions.”

In New Zealand, the openers provided good starts and the middle-order did not get much time in the middle. However, the spotlight will be on the middle order this series.