While speaking to the broadcasters during the first One-day International against India, mic’d up from the middle, Australia’s Rachael Haynes joked that Meg Lanning loves chasing so much that it was not a surprise to see her win the toss and opt to bowl on a pitch that was described as a belter a few minutes earlier. It was a nice, hard surface and once the early phases had been negotiated due to the freshness on it, the runs should have flown. Lanning resisted that temptation, and on Australia’s return to international action after five months, asked Mithali Raj and Co to bat first in Mackay.
It put India in a situation they have come to struggle more often than not in the last few years. Mithali Raj and Co have now lost seven straight matches while batting first in ODIs.
Indeed, since the end of the ICC Women’s ODI World Cup in 2017, no team has lost more matches while batting first in the 50-over format than India. With 13 defeats in 19 matches when batting first, India’s win percentage of 31.58% is only below West Indies, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in this World Cup cycle.
Win % since Jul 2017 while batting 1st in ODIs
It is a problem that has tied into the fact that India’s approach with the bat seems much more suited with a target in front of them than setting the pace or playing with a tempo that takes them to a winning total. Both Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj, for instance, have significantly better numbers while batting second.
And so it turned out. Despite new names in the line-up, despite sparks of brilliance and flashes of intent from the younger brigade, the story was similar. A decent start, but openers not making it big, middle order dropping anchor, and when it comes to making it a big total, falling short. That there was an useful cameo from Richa Ghosh at the end and the fact that Australia’s bowlers were generous to gift 22 extra runs meant India at least crossed 200. And even then, the supremely talented Aussie lineup needed just 41 overs and three batters to chase down 226.
India while batting 1st in ODIs since July 2017
|v SA||213/7||50||4.26||won||Kimberley||5 Feb 2018|
|v SA||302/3||50||6.04||won||Kimberley||7 Feb 2018|
|v SA||240||50||4.80||lost||Potchefstroom||10 Feb 2018|
|v AUS||200||50||4.00||lost||Vadodara||12 Mar 2018|
|v ENG||113||37.2||3.02||lost||Nagpur||9 Apr 2018|
|v SL||219||50||4.38||won||Galle||13 Sep 2018|
|v SL||253/5||50||5.06||lost||Katunayake||16 Sep 2018|
|v NZ||149||44||3.38||lost||Hamilton||1 Feb 2019|
|v ENG||202||49.4||4.06||won||Mumbai||22 Feb 2019|
|v ENG||205/8||50||4.10||lost||Mumbai||28 Feb 2019|
|v SA||146||45.5||3.18||won||Vadodara||14 Oct 2019|
|v WI||191/6||50||3.82||won||North Sound||3 Nov 2019|
|v SA||177/9||50||3.54||lost||Lucknow||7 Mar 2021|
|v SA||248/5||50||4.96||lost||Lucknow||12 Mar 2021|
|v SA||266/4||50||5.32||lost||Lucknow||14 Mar 2021|
|v SA||188||49.3||3.79||lost||Lucknow||17 Mar 2021|
|v ENG||201/8||50||4.02||lost||Bristol||27 Jun 2021|
|v ENG||221||50||4.42||lost||Taunton||30 Jun 2021|
|v AUS||225/8||50||4.50||lost||Mackay||21 Sep 2021|
Speaking after the match, Mithali Raj said: “See, when you know the kind of batting line-up the Australians have, anything closer to 250, is what we were looking at, but losing two wickets, especially batters like Shafali [Verma] and Smriti [Mandhana] in the power-play itself, it was important that the middle-order starts to compensate for that and build a partnership, that is what we did with Yastika [Bhatia], but again we didn’t get enough partnerships in the lower-middle as well.”
The key, Mithali added, was partnerships.
“We need to now have partnerships, rather than thinking about playing fearless cricket, the girls need to get down to developing some partnerships in the middle and that definitely will give them confidence at some point to play fearless,” the captain, who scored a half century for a fifth straight ODI for the second time in her career, said.
While it is easy to rue the lack of a good start, this has been a problem that has been going on for years now and despite comments in the press about having to work on it, India simply have not cracked the code in ODI batting while setting a target.
Mandhana’s average, for instance, in ODIs played since last World Cup is a tad above 55 but it drops to the low 30s when India bat first. Only Mithali and Punam Raut average more than 40 in this period but their strike rates are under 62.
India's top 10 (avg) while batting 1st since WC
Openers' AVG while batting 1st since Jul '17
The team management has, in the recent past, repeatedly insisted the scoring 250 consistently is an area they need to work on but without the extras and cameos in Mackay in the first ODI, they would have fallen way short of that mark instead of coming within 25 runs. Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa all score more than five runs an over on average since the last World Cup. Except World Cup hosts New Zealand (who are struggling themselves in recent times), that has reflected in the sides’ records in that period.
RPO since Jul 2017 while batting 1st in ODIs
|Team||Mat||Win %||RPO||Highest score||Lowest Score||Ave|
India’s average score while batting first in this period: 208
England’s average score while batting first in this period: 241
Australia’s average score while batting first in this period: 280
While it is valid to rue the lack of consistent good starts while batting first, India’s middle order don’t do themselves any favour. The rebuilding task often falls on them, and that often dents the scoring rate. But while the collapses happen frequently, the team’s overall strike rate from Nos 3 to 7 in the batting order do not make for good reading. When a team comes under pressure from the opposition in the middle overs, counterattacking can often do wonders, but that rarely, if ever, happens with this Indian batting unit in ODIs.
SR for Nos 3-7 while batting 1st since July '17
It is worth noting that apart from Australia, and to a lesser extent England and South Africa (the best among the rest in the world), setting a target and winning a match is not that common right now in the women’s game. It is also clear that India are a better chasing side, having won 11 matches out of 14 in this World Cup cycle when they bat second. Only South Africa (who have developed a knack of hunting down targets) and Australia (who have perhaps forgotten how to lose ODIs) have won more matches chasing. In fact, India’s win-loss ratio while chasing is second only to Australia.
But the gulf in numbers exposes India’s glaring weakness, and the team cannot be toss-dependent to win ODI matches. Whether it is better start from openers, more responsible batting from Mandhana or a quicker rate of scoring from Mithali and Co, the team needs solutions and needs them fast.
All statistics courtesy ESPNCricinfo Statsguru. Numbers updated till the end of first ODI between Australia and India, and the third ODI between England and New Zealand.