SWOT analysis: Will India's bowling woes hinder Mithali and Jhulan's swansong?
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Runners-up in the 2017 edition, Mithali Raj's India were inches away from winning their first-ever World Cup title, a pursuit which began in 1978 and just doesn't seem to end. Barring the two defeats against South Africa and Australia during the group stages of the 2017 edition, the team looked in superb form and conquered every challenge that was thrown their way. They even gave England a run for their money in the final, but were unable to seize the defining moments in the summit clash.
However, the scenario has changed a bit, with 101 rating points to their credit, they have slipped to the fourth spot in the current ICC ODI rankings. But the two recent victories against South Africa and the West Indies in the warm-up matches are just what the doctor ordered for them before their tournament opener against arch-rivals Pakistan on March 6.
Brute batting force
India have a lot of depth in their batting order. They have two power-packed openers in Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma, who are capable of taking the side off to a flyer. Their domineering approach at the top of the order makes the job of the middle-order fairly easier as they dent the opposition bowling very badly. While Verma strikes at 75.14, Mandhana tonks the ball at 84.74 in ODIs.
Their fearless mindset up front allows Mithali, a veteran of 225 ODIs to play the anchor's role to perfection. She is the glue that holds the batting order together and allows the other batters to bat around her. Her presence allows Yastika Bhatia to express herself freely and play her natural game too.
The team has assigned Harmanpreet Kaur the role to take care of the lower middle-order. Although she was seen battling to put bat to ball in the first four ODIs against the White Ferns, she struck a match-winning half-century in the last game to propel India to victory. Kaur also scored a blistering century in the warm-up against South Africa and looked her usual best throughout the course of her knock.
In today's day and age, every team requires a batter down the order who can press the accelerator when the situation demands. And India certainly have that luxury as they have Richa Ghosh at their disposal, who lets her marauding bat do the talking. In seven ODIs, she has scored 222 runs at an impressive strike rate of 105.21. In such a young career, she has already scored the fastest fifty by an Indian and looks set for more such staggering records.
Mithali Raj - the lucent leader
The whole world is aware of the ability of Mithali the batter, the amount of runs she has amassed speaks volumes about her batting prowess. She has aggregated 7623 runs in ODI cricket, the most by any batter in the history of ODIs at an astounding average of 51.85.
But her batting numbers often eclipse her success as a leader. She has led India in 148 ODIs with 86 wins for a win percentage of 59.31%, a testimony to her ability as a capable leader. A lesser-known fact is that captaincy also gets the best out of her batting and makes her more impactful as a batter. As a skipper, she has racked up 5137 runs at a jaw-dropping average of 55.83 (better than her overall average), including five centuries and 45 half-centuries.
Fragile bowling attack
Barring Jhulan Goswami, the other Indian bowlers have largely struggled in two ways recently. Firstly, they haven't managed to provide the side with breakthroughs as and when needed. And secondly, they have struggled to battle the windy conditions in New Zealand. They were unable to defend totals of 270 and 279 in two consecutive games against the White Ferns in the recent ODI series, which is a testimony to their poor form.
Except for Goswami, the other Indian pacers lack experience. The trio of Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, and Renuka Singh Thakur have only played a total of 20 games between them. Although India have the services of Deepti Sharma and Poonam Yadav, the seaming conditions in New Zealand require the Indian pace bowlers to rise to the occasion.
The recent ODI series loss against the White Ferns was not a one-off case. India have not been playing good cricket for a considerable period of time. They have lost their last four ODI series and are not in a very good headspace as a bunch. The string of losses started with the five-match series against South Africa at home in March 2021. They were humbled by the Proteas at home by a margin of 4-1. They then lost to England in England 2-1 in a three-match series. Their next tour to Australia was no different, as they lost 2-1 again and then came the hammering by the White Ferns.
Having come agonizingly close to clinching the elusive silverware in 2017 only to suffer heartbreak, the 2022 edition brings yet another opportunity for India to lift the title. They were in phenomenal form throughout the last edition but lost the summit clash to England by nine runs. Will they be able to cross the line this time around? We'll have to wait and watch.
Mithali and Jhulan's Swansong
Although both Mithali and Jhulan haven't opened up on their retirements, it is highly likely that this World Cup could probably be their last. Both of them have been serving the country for more than two decades and have numerous feats to their credit but a World Cup winners medal still eludes them. Hence it will be worth watching whether they manage to bag it finally.
Another feather in the cap awaits Chakda Express
Jhulan is one of the biggest brand ambassadors of the game and has had an illustrious career. The sheer weight of her performances over the years have inspired many kids to take up the sport and emulate her. Some of the records that she has achieved so far are enviable. And India's spearhead finds herself standing on the verge of two more remarkable records. The 39-year old is five shy of playing 200 ODI games and requires the same number of wickets to reach the unparalleled feat of 250 ODI wickets.
While India's batting looks formidable both on paper and on the ground, it is India's bowling woes that might hurt the team during the business end of the tournament. The bowling attack that India have can help them run over the sides that do not stack up well against them. But they will find it extremely difficult to contain batting orders with their bowling attack that clearly lacks venom.