Is this Indian Team the One?

The BCCI has just announced the 18 member squad to represent India in the upcoming ODI World Cup in New Zealand. We cast an eye over the squad as we ask the question: is this Indian team the one to hold aloft the trophy for the first time?

The Squad

Mithali Raj (Captain), Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (wicket-keeper), Sneh Rana, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav.

Standby Players: Sabbhineni Meghana, Ekta Bisht, Simran Dil Bahadur.

Batters

As could be expected, Mithali Raj leads the Women in Blue into what will surely be her final campaign for India, alongside the player who will lead the pace attack, Jhulan Goswami. Between those two players you have 40 years of international cricket experience across all formats. Experience matters, and no-one has more than these two giants of the game.

Mithali was the leading ODI run scorer for India in 2021 with 503 runs – indeed, equal second highest in the world for the year – and notched up another six half centuries to her tally. She plays the sheet anchor role in the middle order, quite often when there is chaos at the other end. One thing to keep in mind is run rate, for while there is no calamity, runs still need to be scored.

Opening the batting for this team, arguably the best in the world, certainly when it comes to Smriti Mandhana, but the ever improving Shafli Verma makes this combination a dangerous prospect for opposition bowlers. The right/left combination certainly challenged Australia’s bowlers in October – if for no other reason than causing wides to be bowled. Mandhana has the capability to be player of the tournament.
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The number three spot for India is likely to be a movable feast. Should Verma be dismissed, in comes the right handed Mithali. If Mandhana goes, then in comes the left handed Yastika Bhatia, still very new in terms of matches played (3) but this player shows great common sense and can read the game well. That’s what you want at number three, someone who can take the pressure and consolidate or put the foot on the gas.

By her own standards, vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur had a very quiet 2021. While it is foolish to equate domestic T20 form with ODI potential, Harman’s WBBL summer in Australia seemed to break the shackles, shades of her old self. If that transmutes into international runs, we may see a repeat of the 2017 semi-final where her batting blasted India into the final.

Allrounders

That’s a solid top five and then we get into the allrounders. Pooja Vastrakar has probably gazumped Shikha Pandey for this role. While her 2021 numbers were relatively modest she seemed to always be around, whether taking a crucial wicket or landing some boundaries when it mattered. Crucially, she is India’s best in the field and always in the thick of the action. This factor probably earned her the nod over Shikha.

Deepti Sharma has a similar impact. Wickets when needed or slowing the run rate down. With a high score of 188 in this format and now considered a senior player Deepti should thrive at this World Cup.

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Wicket keeper is a no brainer. Richa Gosh should get the nod in the solitary T20 International against New Zealand. Outside of that it is hard to see her getting a game. If you want to win cricket matches you pick your best wicket keeper and for India that is Taniya Bhatia, far and away the best for the job, head and shoulders above her rival. One hopes that the Indian brains trust are not seduced by the potential of quick runs by Richa.

Bowlers

Jhulan Goswami leads the pace attack – as she has done since 2001. The all-time leading wicket taker in ODIs – 240 – indeed the only player in history to pass 200 wickets. This is Jhulan’s swan song. One might be forgiven to think she’s slowed down and nowhere near as lethal. Anyone who saw this ageless warrior in action against Australia in October will attest to the fact that Jhulan still has the pace, the skill and the passion. No-one more than this player will want their hands on the trophy.

Meghna Singh could well thrive in the New Zealand conditions, in fact her style of bowling, right-arm medium pace swing, away from the batter, should be ideal. Could be a real handful and may be India’s trump card.

Sneh Rana might well have been included as an allrounder, but her main discipline is her bowling. Lean returns for 2021, but this player offers so much more than her bowling. She is a leader and with that comes cricket intelligence which she brings whether she has bat or ball in hand. A key component to this squad.

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Is there room for both Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Poonam Yadav? They may get rotated in and out of the team but on form you’d have to pick Raju ahead of Poonam. Both are world class spin bowlers on their day and should never be underestimated.

The Omissions

Doing the rounds of social media, there are three omissions from this squad that have drawn attention and a little anger towards the selectors.

The first of these, Jemimah Rodrigues, an exciting player who is probably India’s best fielder. The fans point to Jemmi’s outstanding performances in the Hundred and the WBBL. She certainly shone, but selecting players for 50 over format based on domestic competitions of 20 overs and 16.4 overs is fraught with danger. Jemimah played in five ODIs in 2021 and the numbers are not pretty at all. Five innings, 22 runs at 4.40 average and 31.88 strike rate. Runs against domestic bowlers in competitions that don’t really matter cannot be compared to international performances.

On the other hand, Punam Raut might well feel aggrieved at missing the squad for she was India’s third highest run scorer (295) in 2021 and the only player to score a century. Her runs came at 73.75 average and is the ideal player to anchor the team after early wickets and guide the team to the finish. Providing there is someone scoring at the other end. Mithali’s ability to fill the role of anchor means there is no room for Punam. This is particularly disappointing for the player because this was probably her last chance at an ODI World Cup. However, as hard a decision as this would have been for the selectors, it was the right decision.

As mentioned above, the young Pooja Vastrakar probably took the spot that might have been available to Shikha Pandey. On every bowling and batting measure, Pooja has Shikha covered and in the field the youngster is a much better prospect.

For the two veterans, Shikha and Punam, while disappointing for them, the selectors have might the right choice, albeit a difficult one. Likewise they chose wisely when it comes to Jemimah. She has a big future ahead of her, perhaps even as a captain of this team, but she needs to prove herself at this level first.

Is this Indian Team the One?

There’s no shortage of talent is there? You’ve got the all-time leading wicket taker and run scorer in this format, backed up by some very skillful younger players. There is no reason why this team cannot make the semi-finals. They’ve done it before and indeed had their hands on the trophy in the final in 2017 before letting it slip away.

That last sentence. That’s the only indicator that the Women in Blue will miss out: it’s all in the mind. They have the talent, the leadership and the will. Can they cast aside the demons of 2017 and go one further? Yes they can, and what a way to send out their two champions.

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