England vs India: Defending champions in desperate bid to keep semi-final hopes alive

India (L) England (R) © Getty Images

The stakes were pretty high the last time England and India locked horns with each other in a World Cup game. It was the 2017 World Cup Final at Lord’s – a game that saw Heather Knight’s side beat India and lift the World Cup for the fourth time. Fast forward to March 16, 2022, both sides are again meeting in the same event but the tale has changed completely as Knight’s side will be taking the field to keep their hopes of retaining the title alive.

The defending champions were being hailed as one of the favourites to make it to the top-four at the beginning of the 2022 World Cup, with no one expecting them to get off to such a horrendous start. Having lost three games in a row, Heather Knight’s side’s hopes of securing a semi-final berth look grim. So who put the mockers on England?

Leading into the World Cup, they were part of arguably the most competitive bilateral series that exists on the international circuit. Although things didn’t go their way in the ODI series (Ashes) as they lost 3-0, it allowed them to assess their preparations before the big rumble. Having landed on February 10 in New Zealand, the four-time world champions had a fair amount of time to acclimatize themselves. But the same hasn’t reflected in the way they have played thus far.

What’s at stake

A loss against India will almost put curtains on England’s hopes of retaining the silverware. Hence, Wednesday’s match is going to be their biggest in the ongoing event. 

Fluffed chances while fielding

Out of all the three disciplines, Knight’s side has been pretty miserable with their fielding. They gave Laura Wolvaardt – South Africa’s top scorer in the last match far too many reprieves. After three dropped catches and one missed stumping opportunity, Wolvaardt was bound to make them pay and she did, as she scored 77 and kept the Proteas in the chase. Lisa Keightley, England’s Head Coach, also admitted that they haven’t been able to field the way they did in the recently culminated Ashes or to their usual high standard. 

Opening bowling woes

England’s opening bowling pair of Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole has not been able to dent the opposition at all. Brunt has only had a solitary success in the tournament and that too came in the first game against the Aussies when she dismissed Meg Lanning for 86. However, it is not uncanny for a bowler to go wicketless for a while if you are frugal enough to compensate for it. 

And that’s where Brunt has failed. She has conceded 146 runs in the 26 overs she has bowled thus far at 5.61 runs per over – something that’s clearly hurt England. On the other hand, though Shrubsole was effective in the last game, where she bagged two for 34, she could not even pick a single wicket in the previous two games and was taken for 102 runs in the 18 overs that she bowled at 5.66 runs per over.

Fortune not smiling on the defending champions

When you are competing in events like World Cups, you are bound to run into formidable oppositions. And while playing quality cricket is the only way out, at times you need to ride your luck as well.

Although the four-time champions have not played anywhere close to the standards that they have set for themselves, they have also been a tad unlucky. Whether it was Deandra Dottin’s stunning grab at point to dismiss Lauren Winfield-Hill, Heather Knight’s drag on off Marizanne Kapp’s bowling, or Nat Sciver double edging a pull shot to Lizelle Lee at slip, luck has clearly not smiled on England. 

On the contrary, the Indian side displayed a lot of character after the 62-run defeat at the hands of the hosts, as they outclassed the West Indies to get their campaign back on track. 

So are India sorted? Not really 

They did vanquish Stafanie Taylor’s side by 155 runs but India too are marred by problems of their own. Mithali Raj’s side has been guilty of losing far too many wickets up front – an anomaly that has been haunting the team for quite some time now. They had lost half their side at 112 against Pakistan, the same with 95 runs on the board against the hosts, and were reduced to three for 78 against the Windies before Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana’s rescue act.

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But did this issue suddenly crop up in the World Cup? Well, the answer is an emphatic ‘NO’. India were guilty of the same in the recent ODI series against the White Ferns. They were reeling at 139-5 in the first ODI, had lost their top-four for just 135 on board in the second ODI, and were wobbling at 105 with their top-six back in the pavilion in the fourth ODI.

In addition to that, the runners-up of the last edition have plenty to reflect upon as far as their bowling is concerned. Often in games that are won by big margins, sides tend to overlook the small mistakes that were made by them, but India can’t afford to do so. Both Pooja Vastrakar and Jhulan Goswami were fairly ordinary with the ball in hand in the last game. While Jhulan conceded 43 runs in six overs at 7.16 runs per over, Pooja was taken for 21 runs in two overs at 10.50. 

As far as fielding is concerned, India have been far better than England as they have the best catching efficiency (more than 84%) in the tournament.

Mithali Raj’s side will certainly head into tomorrow’s clash as the favourites, but the defending champions will certainly not go down without throwing a few punches. What remains to be seen is whether those (punches) will turn out to be lethal or not.

What they said:

“See, she’s someone who has done a really good job for the team and right now you know, I know she’s not getting that game time but she is always very important for us. I think whenever she gets the opportunity she will definitely bounce back,”

– Harmanpreet Kaur on Shafali Verma’s exclusion.

“Yeah, it’s obviously disappointing. With the start that we’ve had, I think the mood has been obviously pretty low at the end of the games. But I think it’s been really good to get behind each other, to come together as a group. And we’ve definitely been able to pick ourselves up before every game so yeah, that’d be no different for India tomorrow,”

 Amy Jones on the mood inside the team’s dressing room.

Players to watch out for: 

Smriti Mandhana: The 25-year old southpaw was awarded the player of the match in the last game for her outstanding century. In 13 ODI matches against England, Smriti has scored 611 runs, including six half-centuries at an amazing average of 50.91. The Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy awardee for 2021 has been racking up runs consistently for the team and it won’t be surprising if she does it again tomorrow.

Nat Sciver: Nat Sciver is one of the very few players who can create a significant impact with both ball and bat. The fourth-ranked allrounder in the world is one of the most reliable players in the English side and provides the solidity that the team requires. Having already scored a ton in the tournament, Sciver will look to add more runs to her kitty tomorrow and keep their semi-final hopes alive. 

Numbers: 

Head to head: Played 72 matches, England 39 – 31 India; 2 No Results

Predicted XI:

England: Tammy Beaumont, Danielle Wyatt, Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver, Amy Jones (wk), Sophia Dunkley, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone, Kate Cross, Charlotte Dean, Anya Shrubsole

India: Yastika Bhatia, Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur, Richa Ghosh (wk), Sneh Rana, Pooja Vastrakar, Jhulan Goswami, Meghna Singh, Rajeshwari Gayakwad