An improved batting performance will be foremost on skipper Harmanpreet Kaur’s mind when her team, eyeing a consolation victory, take on New Zealand in the third and final T20 International in Hamilton on Sunday.
After taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the one-day international series Indian women have lost momentum, losing the third match and then the first two matches of the T20 series.
With an aim to build a squad for T20 World Cup in 2020 (to be hosted by Australia), the Indian team management has decided to groom youngsters and a consequence of that has been the absence of Mithali Raj from the playing XIs. Raj, who is no longer considered a force to reckon with in the shortest format, was benched in the first two matches.
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It remains to be seen if this is an inspired call that pay dividends in the long run or a miscalculation, but the results have been far from encouraging in the first two matches which India lost by 23 runs and four wickets respectively. It would not be a stretch to say the team has missed Raj’s experience in the middle order.
“We are building a team. Today, we may be facing difficulties but in future we will do well as the young players gain experience. I think the future is good for the team and results will follow,” skipper Harmanpreet had said after conceding the series.
In both games whether chasing or batting first, India’s problems have been similar (and familiar) — a below-par display by the middle order against a top team like New Zealand has overshadowed good starts provided by Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues. The top-order players were top scorers respectively in the first two games.
The biggest problem has been the lack of fight from the middle-order, combined with the lack of big-match experience. There is also uncertainty in Kaur’s game, who seems to be caught between playing sheet anchor and big-hitter. She will need more from the likes of D Hemalatha and Deepti Sharma.
Another concern is Priya Punia’s two low scores opening the batting with Mandhana, as her lack of experience has been evident.
The batting woes will ease if the captain herself can step up her game. Kaur scored 17 and 5 in the first two games. She has been rusty due to lack of batting time since the start of the ODI series, which the visitors won quite comfortably.
“We did not win the series but more than winning and losing, we learnt a lot. We have a very young squad, there are very few players who have played more than 30 matches. Most of the players have played less than 10 T20I matches. It is a good learning process for us,” Kaur said.
Another tactical issue facing the Indian team has been deciding on what exactly is Deepti Sharma’s role in the squad. As an off-spinner, she is neither as restrictive as left-arm spinner Radha Yadav nor an attacking option like leg-spinner Poonam Yadav. As a left-handed batter, she lacks the firepower to up the ante in the final overs of the innings. But, instead of wasting her talents lower down the order, India could look at Sharma as a viable accumulator at the top, perhaps even trying her No 3 and promoting Rodrigues to the opener’s position, as in the ODIs.
The White Ferns have picked up their game since losing the ODI series with senior player Suzie Bates scoring 57 in the final one dayer and a match-winning 62 in the second T20 International. Bates and Amy Satterthwaite’s attacking strokeplay against the spinners even forced India’s hand in bowling two pacers in tandem in a match after a while. It has been hit-and-miss from India’s bowlers so far but due credit, they made a fight out of a low total in Auckland.
Ekta Bisht has warmed the bench in the first two games after her good performances in the ODI series, and is an option for Kaur if she chooses to strengthen the spin department.
Unlike ODIs, there are no points on offer in the shortest format and this is nothing more than a dead rubber, but India will be keen to leave New Zealand with a win.
India: Harmanpreet Kaur(c), Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia, Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Anuja Patil, Ekta Bisht, Dayalan Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, Arundhati Reddy, Shikha Pandey, Priya Punia.
New Zealand: Amy Satterthwaite(c), Suzie Bates, Bernadine Bezuidenhout, Sophie Devine, Hayley Jensen, Caitlin Gurrey, Leigh Kasperek, Amelia Kerr, Frances Mackay, Katey Martin, Rosemary Mair, Hannah Rowe, Lea Tahuhu.
Match starts 8.30 am IST.
(With PTI inputs)