Desperate India rely on batters to step up against formidable England

Indian players walk off the field after national anthem. © Getty Images

“As a batting unit, we need to sit down with the batting coach to figure out how we can get to that 250-mark if we are batting first, when to press the accelerator and how to get our innings together.” This was India skipper Mithali Raj’s statement after the eight-wicket defeat against England in the first ODI.

Since the 2017 ODI World Cup, India have played 30 ODIs and won 16. During this period, Raj’s team managed to win only six of the 17 matches when they batted first. Raj was spot on when she said India should try and score more than 250 while batting first because they have done so only thrice – after the 2017 world cup – winning only once.

The last time India scored over 250 and won an ODI was against South Africa in February 2018. Going into the second ODI, India are likely to have a few changes in their playing eleven. Irrespective of who comes in and goes out, the middle-order needs to be proactive while batting and ensure strike rotation to keep the scoreboard moving.

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In the first ODI, Punam Raut was batting at six runs from 27 balls at one point. Both Raut and Raj – who bat in the middle-order – will have to maintain a strike rate close to 80 throughout their innings to make it easier for those who bat around them. Although it is unlikely to happen, Jemimah Rodrigues in place of Raut is a change that might help them. With Raj confident about her batting position in the line-up, the onus lies on the top-three to provide a better start for them.

The bigger worry is the form of vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur. She has scored only three half-centuries since her century against Australia in the 2017 World Cup semifinal. With the next global tournament less than a year away, India would be hopeful that Kaur will come good in the upcoming matches.

In the bowling department, Pooja Vastrakar is likely to be dropped for Sneh Rana. Though the 21-year-old was impressive with the bat, there was very little she could do with the ball against an in-form Tammy Beaumont. The other possible change is leg-spinner Poonam Yadav coming in for left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht, who had a bad day at the office. However, irrespective of which bowler comes in, there is only so much the bowling unit will be able to do unless the batters step up and put a good total for them to defend.

As far as England are concerned, they are likely to go in with an unchanged eleven, with an opportunity to seal the ODI series. Heather Knight would want Lauren Winfield-Hill to give herself some time in the middle and get some runs behind her. That apart, there is very little to worry about for Knight and Co.

Beaumont is going through a purple patch, especially in the ODIs, where she is scoring runs for fun. Her last six scores in the format read 107, 21, 71, 72*, 88*, 87*. She said that England are not necessarily thinking about putting 250+ beforehand in every match.

“Sometimes a pitch might be a 300 wicket or even a 230. There have been times where we should have got 250, and we fell short. For us, we kind of talk about little phases of the game that we can try and win,” she said after the first ODI. Beaumont and her teammates have been successful in reading the conditions and quickly adapt on a given day. With Natalie Sciver and Amy Jones consistently contributing with the bat, England’s batting line-up is a tough nut to crack for any bowling attack.

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If there have to be any changes in the England team, one of the senior pacers could be rested, and Freya Davies might come in. Otherwise, Knight has a settled unit to seal the series against India on Wednesday (June 30).

Since March 2016, England have never lost the second match of a three-match ODI series after winning the first fixture. They would want to continue the trend and win the second ODI against India. For the tourists, a win in the second match is crucial, not just to lift the morale of the team but also to keep the competition alive in this multi-format series.

“My role is to bat for as long as possible for the team, and certain ball strikers around me can play their natural game at the other end. As long as I am there scoring and not just holding up one end; so, I try and look to get an 80+ or higher strike rate if possible,” said Beaumont on how she approaches her batting in ODIs.

Indian batters consumed 181 dot balls in 50 overs on Sunday (June 27). Maybe they will have to take a leaf out of Beaumont’s book to give their team and the bowlers the best chance at winning in the second ODI.