India aim to start well in T20Is with multi-format series at stake

India T20I skipper Harmanpreet Kaur © Getty Images

It is hard to forget the last time India took on Australia in a T20I fixture, where 86,174 fans filled up the MCG to watch the hosts break a billion hearts in the T20 World Cup 2020 final. Almost after 18 months, the two teams are up against each other for three T20Is, this time in the last leg of a multi-format series.

For the tourists, the last year has largely been a forgettable one as far as results are concerned. However, there have been sparks, and the rise of a few youngsters coming through are big positives for India ahead of the ODI World Cup next year in New Zealand.

Going into the T20Is, India are facing a similar challenge as they did in England. Trailing by 4-6 in the multi-format series, they need to win all three matches to seal the series. A couple of wins would help them level the series with the hosts. Either way, it is a huge challenge for India to get the better of this Australian side.

Their skipper Harmanpreet Kaur is coming back from a thumb injury and hasn’t played a match in this tour. She scored 68 runs in three T20Is against England at a strike rate of 128.3. A lot will ride on her run of form and consistency in the middle-order for India.

While Harleen Deol played at number three against South Africa and England, it will be interesting to see if Jemimah Rodrigues gets a nod ahead of her on the back of the performances in The Hundred. The latter, too, is yet to play a match on this tour, with left-hander Yastika Bhatia taking her place in the ODI side.

ALSO READ: Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma shut opening blues in pink-ball Test

As they have been over that last year and a half, India will be depending on Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma to get them of to a flying start. Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh and Pooja Vastrakar are likely to fill up the lower middle order. Whether India will go with a spin-bowling allrounder in Sneh Rana, who did well in England, or hand out a debut to Renuka Singh Thakur might depend on the conditions that are in play.

Sharma, who played a crucial role in the sole T20I win in England, has had a poor year with the ball. She has taken only three wickets in six matches at an average of 54.66, operating at an economy of 7.56. Poonam Yadav’s successful record against Australia in the past might tip the scales in her favour ahead of Rajeswari Gayakwad, who has done well in the limited chances she had got this year.

“We have to keep an eye on the conditions, accordingly we will make the team. She (Poonam Yadav) is a really important of our team and she has been really doing well for us. We will definitely keep these things when we make our team,” Kaur said at the pre-match media interaction.

The big conundrum, though, lies in the pace department. Shikha Pandey hasn’t featured in the ODIs and pink-ball Test, but could be leading the bowling attack in the T20Is. Given the preference of the team management and the impressive performance in this tour, whether Meghna Singh will get a chance is still uncertain. Kaur said she was impressed by the performance of Singh on the tour so far and will be in contention for the selection depending on the conditions.

The hosts, on the other hand, will be happy to see Tayla Vlaeminck fit and ready to feature in the T20Is. Vlaeminck, Hannah Darlington and either one of Darcie Brown and Stella Campbell will complete the pace battery. Ellyse Perry found some form in the Test but is likely to play a supporting role in the shortest format.

ALSO READ: India-Australia Pink-ball Test shows why women deserve better

“I think they (Darcie Brown and Stella Campbell) have pulled up really well. I don’t think they have ever bowled four days in a row in their career before. So, it was a good challenge for them. They will be ready for selection at some point in the T20Is, whether it’s tomorrow or weekened. There is a likelihood of (having) some changes to our pace bowling option through out the T20I leg,” Meg Lanning said while talking about the bowling combination.

With Rachael Haynes out of the series due to injury, Australia will be pondering whether to pick a batter – Georgia Redmayne – or an allrounder in place of her. If they chose to go for all-round options, Tahlia McGrath will continue her middle order role from the ODIs, with Sophie Molineux and Georgia Wareham taking care of the spin department along with Ashleigh Gardner.

The top five pick themselves, with Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, Lanning, Perry and Gardner. However, the team management might want to manage the workload of Perry and rotate her with Annabel Sutherland through the course of the series.

Australia have a win-loss ratio of 1.952 in T20Is at home, winning 41 of the 64 matches they have played. Since January 2020, India were the only team to beat them twice in T20Is in Australia. Most of their wins in this period have come while defending a total, and they seemed to struggle while chasing, especially against India.

For India to have a chance at winning or levelling the multi-format series, they will have to start the series with a win. Can they do that, or will Australia yet again stamp their authority come Thursday?

Squads:

Australia: Meg Lanning (c), Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Stella Campbell, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Georgia Redmayne, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham

India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana (vc), Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Shikha Pandey, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh (wk), Harleen Deol, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Renuka Singh Thakur