Team selection, the importance of strike-rates, and the onus on top order batters to score the bulk of runs were the big talking points as India captain Mithali Raj and head coach Ramesh Powar addressed a press conference on Sunday.

Starting February 9, India are set to play one T20 International and five ODIs in New Zealand before the 50-over World Cup begins in March.

It’s been a while since India played an international game. Their last assignment was the tour of Australia in September-October 2021, where they narrowly lost the ODI series 2-1, drew a one-off Test, and went down in the T20Is 2-0.

One of the concerns for India on that Australia tour was their inability to score at a higher rate during the middle overs. The team got strong starts with the bat in two of the three ODIs but the scoring rate dipped considerably through the middle overs.

Asked if dot ball percentage and strike-rate are points that the team has addressed over the past three months, Raj insisted that too much importance is given to these things.

“I think too much importance is given to strike-rate by you all (journalists),” said Raj.

“It is always spoken when it comes to batting or putting up big totals. I just wanted to know if you all only follow the strike-rates of the India players or the players from other teams as well. Because in the Australia series itself, the game that Australia won, the decider, Beth Mooney scored her 50 in 80-odd balls, but she went on to play a match-winning innings for her team. So for me, cricket is a game played on situations on the ground.”

She added: “Yes, it is important that we keep in mind that we need to have a healthy strike-rate. But at the end of the day it is about how a batting unit revolves and the depth of the batting unit in our team. To score more 250-270 we need to have a healthy strike-rate but having said that, we are not only entirely focussed on strike-rate. It’s important to play an innings to win and build partnerships, and that happened not because of strike-rate but because you apply yourself according to the situation on the ground. Sometimes you have to play fast, but sometimes you have to play to get your team out of the hole too.”

Middle order SR of teams since Jan 1, 2020

Team Players Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50 0 4s 6s
AUS 8 9 32 7 874 101* 34.96 85.60 1 7 3 83 15
IRE 6 5 17 3 484 121* 34.57 83.88 1 2 2 40 0
ENG 6 11 39 6 1116 101 33.81 81.69 1 7 2 123 6
NZ 9 17 67 5 1653 119* 26.66 68.27 1 9 3 158 7
IND 11 11 41 7 1330 104* 39.11 67.85 1 10 1 135 6
SA 10 16 51 15 1202 68* 33.38 66.22 0 6 4 125 7
BAN 5 4 10 5 225 53* 45.00 65.02 0 2 0 25 0
PAK 8 13 52 4 1203 87 25.06 63.98 0 6 1 100 8
WI 11 14 52 9 1268 105* 29.48 63.43 2 4 3 123 8
ZIM 9 8 32 2 545 103* 18.16 62.86 1 2 4 49 0
Courtesy ESPNcricinfo

Elaborating on her batting philosophy for the team, Raj suggested that the middle and lower order can’t be expected to score the bulk of the runs. That responsibility, according to her, is that of the top order.

“Firstly, if we go back to the 2017 World Cup where the team did well and put up scores of 250-270, it was because there was at least one top order batter who played through the innings and the rest revolved around that,” said Raj.

“So it’s important that one of the top order batter takes the responsibility of playing through the innings. There has to be a partnership or two of 50 runs. If the top order contributes more, I think we will be able to get to a total of 250-270. It is very rare that the middle order or the lower middle order scores the bulk of the runs. It’s important that as a batting unit, all us take the responsibility of playing our roles.

She added: “There will always be areas to address in any team. No team is perfect. We will be looking to put up totals of 250-270 consistently, and that requires a top order to score runs and be consistent.”

SR of Ind batters since 2017 WC (over 200 runs)

Player Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50 0 4s 6s
S Mandhana 30 4 1444 135 55.53 90.93 2 13 1 178 22
JI Rodrigues 21 1 394 81* 19.70 68.76 0 3 6 52 1
H Kaur 23 4 543 55* 28.57 68.30 0 2 0 54 5
DB Sharma 30 8 643 79 29.22 64.94 0 3 0 60 3
M Raj 32 8 1201 125* 50.04 62.74 1 10 1 117 6
PG Raut 20 2 732 104* 40.66 59.95 1 5 0 79 2
PS Punia 7 1 225 75* 37.50 59.05 0 2 1 26 0
Courtesy ESPNcricinfo

When the squad for the upcoming New Zealand tour and World Cup was announced, the big talking point was the omission of Jemimah Rodrigues and Shikha Pandey. The duo was expected to make the cut and there was no explanation offered for their absence at the time.

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On Sunday, coach Powar didn’t offer any real reasoning behind the squad selections but insisted all the players, since the last six months, have been kept in the loop about their standing.

“Every player in the scheme of things knows where they stand. They know what is their future and present. We don’t have to communicate differently to them, they know their roles and future also,” said Powar.

“The five selectors, the captain and coach discuss all the players. We came up with the 18 players who can play better in the New Zealand series and the World Cup. You cannot pick everyone. There’s only 15 and then three standbys. We were looking at particular things like fast bowlers like Renuka, Meghna, they were doing well. So if they’re doing well, they are going to get their chances in the upcoming matches.”

He added: “Again, the batting unit is consistent with Yastika Bhatia, Smriti Mandhana and Mithali. So everyone is consistent and we didn’t change much. At the end of it, seven of us getting together and picking the right team and backing the players, that matters at the end. Every player, whoever is not there in the team, they know why they are not there.

“This is not a one-time communication, it’s been for a long period of time, at least the last six months. I have been very clear about their roles. I had told them specifically what is expected of them. This is a competitive profession where you have to perform. If you don’t perform, you don’t get your chances.”

Powar remained confident that the team has prepared well every hole has been plugged, and the series against New Zealand before the World Cup will be ideal.

“I think we’ve tried to fill each and every gap after the England series (in July 2021),” said Powar. “We are happy with where we stand now. On the New Zealand tour, we are going to get some experience before the World Cup. We will get acclimatised. I think every gap has been looked at and we will try to maximise the players we have and try to do good things there.”

He added: “We have worked on both batting and bowling in the past six months. Now it’s all about consistency. We know the talent and skill we have but it’s all about being consistent and building momentum heading into the World Cup. This is something we’ll focus on in the New Zealand series.”