The focus of the Indian women’s cricket team is firmly on the 2022 ODI World Cup as they embark on a crucial multi-format tour of Australia starting next month, which includes their first-ever pink ball Test match.
India will play three ODIS, three T20Is and a Test in their second multi-format series this year, a month after a similar tour of England.
The day-night Test match was the focus of many questions to Mithali Raj and Ramesh Powar during their virtual pre-departure press conference, but the captain and coach insisted that the team is looking at the tour from the point of view of the World Cup to be held early next year in New Zealand.
“Australia is going to be a tough and a good tour for us before the World Cup because we are playing against the best, so we’ll know where we stand,” Mithali told media on Saturday. India had knocked out defending champions Australia in the semi-finals at the last World Cup but Meg Lanning and Co have gone on a record-breaking run since.
“A good thing about this Indian team is that we’ve got a couple of series under our belt whereas this is Australia’s first this season. Having said that, we know that we’re playing against the best side in the world and we clearly need to bring our A game in every match we play,” she added.
Powar also said that the main focus is the three-match One Day international series, which is expected to be India’s last big series before the tour to New Zealand for the World Cup.
“See, we’ve got three ODIs first and then we’ve got a World Cup which is a very important tournament for us. We’re focussing right now on the World Cup preparation,” he said.
About the Test, Powar said that it’s an one-off that didn’t need extra preparation as of now and it will be down to executing basics right with the bat and ball. In July, India made a comeback to the longer format after seven years with a drawn Test in England and the team management was confident that experience will help, even though this match would be under lights.
“If you see, it’s only a one-off Test match. I think it’s about confidence. If we can carry our one-day confidence into the Test match - especially given the way we made a comeback in the last game [in England] without our star players getting their rhythm - I’m very happy and I’d say I am very confident that the pink-ball Test we don’t need to prepare extra for.
He added, “At the end of the day, it’s only a game between the bat and ball. We don’t want to put pressure on the team where we have to prepare differently for every format. We back our players in that particular format and they are good enough to react to situations. We did try to inculcate how we should approach every format.”
The Indian team had a training camp in Bangalore and the captain said it was vital for the players. The team last played Down Under in early 2020, with a tri-series and the T20 World Cup where they finished as runners-up. Mithali, Jhulan Goswami and other ODI players were not part of that tour.
“Considering the pandemic situation, we were fortunate to have a camp of 30. We managed to get match simulation and had a couple of games under lights.”
Mitahli, joking about how the magnitude of the pink-ball Test can be gauged from the questions, said that playing under lights will be a challenge and that they have trained for it, and sought out inputs from the men’s teams on the behavior of the ball.
“We have never played a Test match under lights nor do we frequently get to play ODIs under lights. The biggest challenge would be to play the pink ball during the twilight period. That is the feedback we got from interacting with a few of the men cricketers,” she said.
Powar also mentioned that the focus in the camp was on getting the pace bowling group to ease the pressure on Jhulan Goswami so that she can express herself in a more attacking fashion. The Mumbaikar also added the team practised scoring at a quicker rate for the ODIs, focusing on minimising dot ball percentages so as to score 250 and above more often.
Sep 19: First ODI,
Sep 22: Second ODI
Sep 24: Third ODI
Sep 30 – Oct 3: Test match
Oct 7: First T20
Oct 9: Second T20
Oct 11: Third T20
A big task for the Indian management this series will be to finalise the pace bowling combination with the World Cup in mind. Goswami leads the charge but consistent support from the other end has often been missing other than Shikha Pandey. To that end, newcomers Railways pacer Meghana Singh and Himachal seam-bowling allrounder Renuka Thakur have been selected for the tour.
“See, we have to have support for Jhulan Goswami. As far as fast bowling is concerned, we’re looking for consistency at the other end so that Jhulan has the freedom to express herself. Because of the lack of bowling partnerships, she tends to get a little defensive which we don’t want as a team. And she will come out differently this time because we will give her that,” he explained.
“Not just Meghana, we’re also looking forward to all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar’s skill set in Australia. Every player selected in this team has the skill set to do it, so we don’t want to get into why someone’s picked or dropped,” he added when asked about the selections.
India will begin with a tour match on September 17, with the first ODI in Sydney on September 19. However, the final itinerary for both dates and venues is yet to be confirmed due to the recent lockdown situation in Australia.
Australia squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Stella Campbell, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Georgia Redmayne, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham
India Test and ODI squad: Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Punam Raut, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Shikha Pandey, Jhulan Goswami, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh, Ekta Bisht.
India T20I squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana (vc), Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Shikha Pandey, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh (wk), Harleen Deol, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Renuka Singh.